Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

What Keeps You Going? (04/15/03)



Featured writer: Christine Falcone



Contributors this month:
Betty Winslow
Christine Falcone
Gay Bishop Brorstrom
Ken Rodgers
Susan Bono
Teresa Funke


What keeps me going as a writer?

by Christine Falcone

The image of a homeless couple sitting on the bolted-down chairs outside Jack-in-the-Box waiting for the doors to open so they can use the public restroom; the image of a pregnant nun or a once beautiful burn victim, her face now unrecognizable; headlines about infidelities, faked suicides, elaborately planned robberies; all the stories, images, symbols-the music of everyday ordinary life. It's my need to record those things, explore the nuances of a personality or the dynamic of some relationship (usually dysfunctional-in fact, the more dysfunctional the better) that keeps me going as a writer.

Even during cold spells when I'm reading a lot more than I'm writing, I have the sense that some kind of incubation is going on, a germination of plot, a crystallizing of character, the faces and details of various lives sharpening like a photograph floating in developing solution. I need to invest myself in peoples' lives, ask questions about things. What does it feel like to be beautiful, to prize one's appearance in the mirror, coolly appraising a perfect pair of lips or the arch of an eyebrow? What does it do to a person who so prizes her beauty to then have it destroyed in a single blast like the woman who was just entering the World Trade Center on 9-11 when it collapsed? What does the town look like from a wet sleeping bag in the alley behind Jack-in-the-Box at 4:30 in the morning?

There are too many questions, too many stories, too many circumstances in life for the writer in me to ever put down her pen.

Christine Falcone picks up her pen whenever she can put down her baby daughter, Giuliana, in Novato, CA.

Betty Winslow



What keeps me going? It's not just one thing, it's lots. The bone-deep belief that this is what I was born to do, what God made me for. The rush I get from seeing my name in print (and on the front of a check!). The excitement I feel when I finally make "the sale" or meet one of my goals (like the poems I sold this year!) The satisfaction from reading something I've written and saying to myself, "Wow, and I wrote that!" The even bigger satisfaction when someone else says that! And finally, the knowledge that I am leaving a mark for God on my world. OK, some days it's more of a faint smudge, but still...

Betty Winslow, freelancer

What keeps me going as a writer?

  by Christine Falcone

The image of a homeless couple sitting on the bolted-down chairs outside Jack-in-the-Box waiting for the doors to open so they can use the public restroom; the image of a pregnant nun or a once beautiful burn victim, her face now unrecognizable; headlines about infidelities, faked suicides, elaborately planned robberies; all the stories, images, symbols-the music of everyday ordinary life. It's my need to record those things, explore the nuances of a personality or the dynamic of some relationship (usually dysfunctional-in fact, the more dysfunctional the better) that keeps me going as a writer.

Even during cold spells when I'm reading a lot more than I'm writing, I have the sense that some kind of incubation is going on, a germination of plot, a crystallizing of character, the faces and details of various lives sharpening like a photograph floating in developing solution. I need to invest myself in peoples' lives, ask questions about things. What does it feel like to be beautiful, to prize one's appearance in the mirror, coolly appraising a perfect pair of lips or the arch of an eyebrow? What does it do to a person who so prizes her beauty to then have it destroyed in a single blast like the woman who was just entering the World Trade Center on 9-11 when it collapsed? What does the town look like from a wet sleeping bag in the alley behind Jack-in-the-Box at 4:30 in the morning?

There are too many questions, too many stories, too many circumstances in life for the writer in me to ever put down her pen.

Christine Falcone picks up her pen whenever she can put down her baby daughter, Giuliana, in Novato, CA.

Gay Bishop Brorstrom



I've grown accustomed to my voice.

The silent voice that sprawls across the computer screen and sometimes becomes black on white paper.

It is a voice seldom airborne, nor received by many ears.

A constant voice, it sits me down and has me struggle over words and meanings.

It transports me to other times, communicates with people and experiences long gone.

It is the voice I'm lonely for if I do not write. I miss it as I do a friend.

Like a beloved child, the voice needs protection, attention and time.

Lots of time.

Gay Bishop Brorstrom, is the author Miss Hallberg's Butterfly Garden, illustrated by Kathy Goetzel (Pipevine Press, 2000). She lives not far from Miss Hallberg's butterflies in Sebastopol, CA.

Ken Rodgers



Boredom squeezed Paco and Dude. They drove out Maricopa Road. Past the sewer farm, Paco turned onto a wide gravel road.

Dude asked, "Where are we?"

"Montgomery Road."

"What's that tall building up ahead?"

"That's where the Giants train."

"Willie Mays."

"Yeah, and Willie McCovey."

"How far is it?"

Paco's truck was doing over a hundred.

"I don't know. Looks like you could grab it."

"Yeah, must be seven, eight miles, huh?"

"Or four or five. All that rain sure cut the dust, huh?"

Cholla cacti flew by. Small owls darted off the road.

"Yeah."

The road shot through wide dips. At the tops the truck went airborne. Suddenly a vast lake blended into the black night.

Dude said, "What's that?"

"Looks like a flood."

"In the desert?"

Lights reflected as Paco slammed the brakes. Couldn't save it, they were stuck; decided to walk.

"Where we going, Paco?"

Paco smiled, "Francisco Grande. They got a phone. Maybe Willie Mays's there."

"It's like an ocean."

"Can't be too bad. This is the desert."

They set off. Water filled their boots. Several times they crossed little dips where the water pulled at them; wet licked their belly buttons. Lightning lit the sky.

Paco said, "It doesn't look any closer."

"Has to be."

The moon looked like a mesquite bean when it dries on the hardpan ground.

Paco said, "I'm scared."

"Why?"

"Don't rattlesnakes like water?"

"Doesn't matter."

"Why not?"

"We're here. Got to get to that telephone."

"Can we make it?"

"Hell, Paco. We can see it."

"I'm tired."

"What do you think Willie does?"

"Willie who?"

"No difference. Mays or McCovey. Want to play, got to work. Start hitting slow pitches, take infield like any kid. That's how you get to the bigs, man."

Paco stepped off. Dude, too. After ten paces they both dropped into a bottomless swirl. Paco sunk, throwing arms. Dude found a collar and yanked him up the bank.

Paco sat on a rock, "I can't go on."

"What?"

"I might drown. I thought I felt a snake on my arm."

Dude grabbed Paco's shoulders, then smiled, "You going to stay out here and just die? You're only seventeen."

Paco hugged Dude, who pointed, "Look at it, Paco. It's right there."

They slogged on.

Ken Rodgers tries to keep his students out of the deep water in Sebastopol, CA.

COMING HOME

  by Susan Bono

Coming Home = Writing, settling into writing, acknowledging the phases as I settle into writing.

Coming home = classes with my writing companions, my teachers.

Coming home, my physical home, I nestle in, comfortable, for the moment. I play with my new cat, Pierre, and then I open my iBook, to my Book, stored in the folder "So Much to Learn," now 411 pages. I am thrilled that it is coming together and I am in a hurry to add the stories I have noted on my clipboard and refine what is already on the page. I grow more cautious, slowing to a more deliberate pace to look deeper into relationships and the shocks of insights that come at me any hour, anyplace. What a deep and trenchant tool this has proved, this memoir, showing me how I have been in my different worlds, and how I have come about, the person I have come to be.

Once this is done, done enough, I think that I will find and open the door and squeeze myself into fiction. Probably through a character and a problem, and without much prior design by me. Themes will present themselves.

Coming home, writing, tells me who I am.

Pat Rea's award-winning work has appeared in The Dickens, Tiny Lights and The Gettysburg Review. She lives with Pierre in Cotati, CA.

What keeps you going?

It's so much easier to think about what stops me from writing. I doubt that I'll ever be seized with the compulsion to write, unlike many writers I know who say they must do it or die.

My lack of ambition, that reluctance to keep going, this shifty ambivalence, makes me wonder if I am a real writer at all. Real Writers give up sleep and socializing in order to pursue their art. I don't want to give up any of the comforts I currently enjoy, including the luxury of wasting time.

And yet, when I force myself to write, even in my journal-something in me shifts. A quality of calm, a peaceful solidity takes root in my being. When I've taken the time to listen to myself (though I get tired of hearing myself complain.) I am usually able to face other duties in my life with greater equanimity. And if I manage to tackle a specific writing project that finds its way to an audience, even if that audience is small, satisfaction wells up and spreads a balm over some of the tender places in me-though I confess that I try to live off the sense of accomplishment too long.

Yes, I feel that I am more focused on the product than the process too often, and that is never going to sustain my writing in the long run. But outward structure is nice. Deadlines actually help keep me going. So does money. Let's not forget praise. But I am trying to cultivate more curiosity about myself. I'm trying to stop listening to the old voices, not my own, who have been telling me I'm being silly and self-indulgent every time I sit down to write. "What do YOU know?" they sneer.

"Plenty," I am learning to say, and that's what keeps me going.

Susan Bono is learning more about deadlines while writing features for the Petaluma Argus-Courier in Petaluma, CA.

What Keeps Me Going?

  by Teresa Funke

What keeps me going? The timing couldn't be better for this question. I've spent the past week trying to convince myself to quit this ridiculous business, give up this writing nonsense once and for all. This happens at least twice a year and has for the past eleven years and yet, I'm still here! Why!? Too stubborn to quit, to intent on reaching my goals, I guess. Too selfish to get a real job when the job I want is waiting in my home office. Too scared to find out what else I might be good at, too scared to admit I mightnot be good enough at this. Too addicted to that high that comes from an acceptance or a great review, too set on proving to my critics how wrong they are, on making those editors wish they'd never passed on my work. Too much in love with the thrill of creating my "best work ever," which, coincidentally, always feels like what I'm working on now. Too hopeful to admit I may never be great, too content knowing I'm still pretty darn good. Too intrigued by the process of learning this craft, the crazy ins and outs of this business, too delighted by the challenge of nailing that pitch, convincing that agent or editor she needs to see my work. Too completely at home around the many perfect and flawed writers I count as my friends. Too captivated by the thrill of reading my work in front of others or speaking on the processes of writing, the benefits of doing what you love. Too satisfied when this expanse of knowledge I've accumulated over a decade helps a new or struggling writer. Too eager to make my family proud. Too intent on doing something "important" with my life, on leaving something behind. Too sure that none of it really matters except that on some days, at some moments, it makes me happy.

Well, this has helped, but I'm not quite there yet. I'm still downhearted by this most recent setback, by my latest batch of rejection letters, by another failed relationshipwith another agent who seemed so promising. But I'll find my way back to my passion soon and that's what irritates me. I can't quit. I can't. Because the voices won't leave, the ones that start out as a first line in a story or the last line and drive me crazy until I know what they want. Because I can't shut off the writer part of my brain that eavesdrops on people's conversations and hears great lines of dialogue, that notices a couple obviously on a first date and wonders how they got together, that sometimes believes in reincarnation because it can so clearly picture other times and places. Because every time I decide to quit, I get an e-mail from someone who says my work inspired them or a note from an editor praising my piece or an invitation to speak. Because (and I still can't make my husband completely understand this) writing is not what I do, it's who I am.

Besides, the dream won't die. God knows I've tried to kill it, this business has tried to kill it, but I still find myself driving past where I'm supposed to turn, lost in daydreams, the ones that bring very real, if only momentary, joy. Check back in eleven years and I'll likely still be here because, God help me, I'm hooked. Hooked on the dream.

And any writer knows we write our dreams in order to live them.

Teresa Funke is the author of "Remember Wake" as well as many published essays and short stories. Please visit her website at www.teresafunke.com

Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono

Columnists:

Christine Falcone, David Samuel Johnson, Betty Rodgers

Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer whose work appears in newspapers, anthologies and the Internet. She has published Tiny Lights, a journal of personal essay, since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at tiny-lights.com. From 2000ó2005 she helped coordinate the Writer's Sampler series for the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. Her short essays and columns have appeared in various anthologies, magazines, newspapers and on the radio. Her most recent credits include Passager Magazine, Red Hills Review, the St. Petersburg Times, the Petaluma Argus Courier, the Anderson Valley Advertiser and KRCB radio's Word by Word.

Christine Falcone has been writing most of her life. Her work has appeared in print and online, and it has aired on public television and public radio. One of her writing goals for 2008 is to find an agent for her recently completed first novel, "This Is What I Know," which was named as a finalist in the William Faulkner Wisdom Creative Writing Competition out of New Orleans. She is currently in a new writing space, painted purple for inspiration, busily at work on another novel -- this one having to do with the nature of violence.

David Samuel Johnson was reared on a mountain in Arkansas. He lived the bohemian lifestyle in the Ozarks as a hillbilly vagabond, traversing the mountainside shirtless and most of the time shoeless, exploring the sensuality of the aromatic, organic-rich soil of the forest floor or the harsh poetry of greenbriers twined around a devilís-walking-stick. As a kid he wanted to be a writer and own a snake farm when he grew up. His Mama knew she couldn't dissuade him from either goal. When he brought a poisonous copperhead snake home in his pocket, she bought him a book about snakes so heíd know which ones he could bring home and which ones to leave behind. When he wrote his first poem to a girl in kindergarten, she showed him how to use a dictionary so he could spell the word "beautiful." David's goal of a snake farm and the love of his mountain have manifested into a PhD in ecology. Davidís dream of writing has evolved from his first poem in kindergarten to essays in newspapers to interview articles in magazines and columns in this journal. He is living a beautiful dream, some of which you can glimpse below.

David the Writer

David the Scientist

Betty Rodgers and her husband, Ken, live and watch birds in Boise, Idaho. A transplant among transplants, she has chosen to learn the local landscape through the lens of her Pentax K10D. Her writing career began at an early age when she wrote plays and coerced her boy cousins to perform them. She has enjoyed a life-long affair with journalism, writing for the Sacramento Bee, the Cloudcroft Mountain Monthly, the Sebastopol Times and News, and the Boise Weekly. Born in Steinbeck Country, she has also lived in Maine and New Mexico. Betty publishes a bi-monthly online newsletter for Idaho writers, a labor of love inspired by Terry Ehret. In 2006, she published A Mano, a book of poetry by the late Vince Pedroia.

Thanks to all who participated this month. It's good to know you're out there! We're looking forward to hearing from you and those you inspired sometime soon! Check this column each month to see what's new. Return to Searchlights & Signal Flares menu for future topics and guidelines.

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