At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet.
~ Plato (424/423 – 348/347 BCE)

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about love. One of my nieces is getting married next month and just days before her wedding, my husband and I will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.

Twenty-five years.

That’s hard to get my mind around because I don’t feel old enough to have been married that long. And I’m fairly certain neither one of us likes to think of ourselves as “middle-aged.” Ugh.

Some of the loveliest memories I have of our “courtship” are the poems my sweetie wrote for me. Poems full of passion and beauty and dreams.Today, I know, the poetry of true love is all that–and more. It is also full of sorrow, anger, and disappointment. It is full of forgiveness. It is full of time. And, after 25 years, I know it is full of laughter. Laughter is one thing that we’re really good at.

It’s amazing to think we’re still together when so many of our friends’ marriages did not survive. At one point, as I was sharing a bottle of wine (or two) with three of my friends whose marriages were in some stage of dissolution one of them asked me how we managed to stay together and how we appeared to be so happy. “Low expectations,” I answered.

And I was only half kidding.

Marriage is hard and I’ll be the first one to admit I’ve made ours harder. But the key, in my humble opinion, is to have realistic expectations of what it’s really like to live (and in our case work) together with the same person day in and day out. Lust comes and goes. Passion can burn one day and fade the next. Children (as much as you love them) make demands of time, attention, and money. Work interferes. Age takes its toll. Shared interests change. Dreams go unfulfilled. So the best thing that can be said about the man/woman to whom you pledge your troth is that you like them.

Respect and genuine affection for someone can get you over some steep hills and out of some deep holes. Indeed, for my money the true measure of lasting love is mutual respect and shared laughter.

So, while my sweetie wrote poems for me at the beginning of our relationship. Here’s one for him. (Disclaimer: I wrote this a couple of years ago…and no one has ever called me a great poet.)

An autumn chill arrived today
wrapping eager arms
around my shoulders, chafing
my toes with rough fingers,
sending me upstairs for that old
nubby sweater you bought me
that day at the shore when
wind whipped waves danced
at our feet, salt spray kissed
our tongues, and we retreated
inside under the covers and I
think of you now and smile.

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“The energy of the mind is the essence of life.”

~ Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) 

Do you ever feel you have TOO MANY ideas? Sometimes it seems like having too many things swirling around in my head at once leads either to a sense of being frozen in place or heading off in a million directions at once, and that perhaps the energy of my mind has created a logjam preventing me from fulfilling the essence of my life.

How do I know what to start–or finish? What do I focus on? How do I determine which ideas have immediate, intermediate or long-term pay-offs? Which ideas really stink? Which ideas need validation and from whom? I turn 51 in a few weeks and life is half over…how can I possibly get everything accomplished?

As a writer, I’ve started outlining the sequel to ORACLES OF DELPHI and I’m getting excited about where the story is going. I also showed parts of a long-shelved literary fiction novel to a friend and she loved it and said, “That’s the book that you need to write,” and then, after my ego was sufficiently stroked and my confidence up, I showed it to my writers group and at least one member of the group heartily agreed that it is well worth pursuing. But, I’ve got another long-shelved novel–about a group of fiction writers/poets who live a “Bohemian” lifestyle on the in late 19th century rural America that is loosely based on my great aunt–that has also been whispering in my ear lately.

As a publisher/editor, I’ve started editing Blank Slate Press’s third novel, DAYBREAK,–a historical about a love triangle set in a utopian society founded in southern Missouri just before the outbreak of the Civil War. (It’s going to be GREAT, by the way.) I’m also editing and helping a mental health consultant/writer get his book, (AN AMERICAN RESURRECTION: ONE MAN’S JOURNEY FROM CHILDHOOD ABUSE AND MENTAL ILLNESS TO REBIRTH AND LITERARY COMMUNION), on his journey through child abuse and mental illness published. And I’ve been working with a Vietnam veteran on telling his story. Plus, I’m interested in pursuing what I’m calling my Treehouse Writers Cooperative (TWC) idea. (See my BSP blog post on this here.)

The TWC idea is very attractive for me as an entrepreneur. My husband and I have been running our own consulting business (he consults and I do marketing/back-office) for 11 years and we started Blank Slate Press together. I like having control of my destiny and, although I am actively looking for an agent for Oracles of Delphi, I have to admit I am more than a little intrigued by the idea of getting a bunch of writers together to “curate” our own work and publish it under the TWC imprint.

The rapidly changing technology enabling POD and eBooks, along with the changes in attitude toward self-publishing makes forging a “middle way” in curated group publishing very exciting. Call it a writer-owned/controlled imprint or cooperative self-publishing or Hogarth Press revisited or whatever…

Often, when people find out that I’m both a publisher and a writer and that I’m actively looking for an agent for my own work, they ask, “Why don’t you publish your own work?” And I answer, it’s not that simple. Yes, since publishing two books through Blank Slate Press (and editing many others as a subcontractor/editor) and working closely with a talented book designer, I know how to get a book “out there.” (I am in the market for a really, really, really good proofreader, though, because I su*k at doing the final copy/proofing and the last one I hired, while admittedly much better than I am, still missed typos that shouldn’t have been missed.) But, I love the success we’ve had with our first two Blank Slate Press authors (Fred Venturini and Anene Tressler) and we’re so excited about our next author (to be revealed soon!) that I want to keep BSP “pure” so to speak…no work by any of the BSP principals will be published through BSP itself.

So, that leaves the divergent paths of either self-publishing or continuing the work of trying to get an agent. Right now, I’m focused on the agent path…but I’ve got so many other things going on and there are so many new publishing possibilities that working hard to get an agent’s attention–and waiting, waiting, waiting for a response–might get real frustrating real fast.

Anyway, somehow I got off topic … which is exactly my problem! Gah! Too many things going on! And yet, after all this interesting discussion about writing and publishing, I must sign off and get back to the electricity industry–which pays the rent. But, before I go, I’m interested in finding out how you balance it all? How do you prioritize your work? How do you keep yourself sane in the face of competing interests and demands so that the energy of your mind allows you to fulfill rather than impede the essence of your life?

For the things we have to learn before we can do, we learn by doing.
~ Aristotle (384 – 322 BC)

(Warning: Sunday afternoon rambling alert…)

What am I? Since my novel is not published (yet), am I a writer, an “aspiring writer,” an unpublished novelist, or what? I don’t write short stories, so I’m not submitting to lit journals and I’m a sometimes prolific but almost always pretty terrible poet, so I’m not submitting to poetry anthologies. I write novels. But I haven’t been paid to write novels, so am I merely an amateur novelist?

Last night I took my youngest daughter out to pizza where we talked about a story idea she’s been working on and possible plot twists in the next book in my Aithera series. She’s nineteen, a sophomore in college and has already had more recognition for her writing than I have. She went to the Iowa Young Writers Studio and was awarded a full scholarship to the Young Writers Institute at Washington University. In high school, she won both poetry and short story prizes in the writing contests judged by alumni authors. And she received a poetry prize from the Wednesday Club (founded in 1890) which has honored many famous literary figures in the past. She has worked on countless poems, short stories and novels over the years and still she hesitates to call herself a writer.

Why?

(She’s also an amazing artist, but I digress….)

I paint (not as much as I’d like to) abstracts canvases where I like to play with color and texture, but I do it as a hobby and I would never presume to call myself an artist. But writing is different. I don’t want to “be” an artist–I want to “be” a writer. And yet, even though I’ve written all my life, I too have hesitated to lay claim to the title: writer.

There are lots of people who ride bikes for exercise, sport, or just enjoyment and they may call themselves cyclists. Do they have to be competing in the Tour de France to earn the name? There are people who cook for a living and are “chefs” and people who cook for enjoyment and are “gourmet chefs.” Do they both have to be credentialed?

What is it about the creative arts that makes some hesitate to lay claim to the title? Many artists and writers achieve success without MFA’s or other degrees–without credentials. And many more people sketch or paint watercolors for fun or write in journals every day and would never dream of showing–or trying to sell–their work to someone else. Are they artists? Writers? Or must you create/write with an external audience in mind in order to earn the title?

For those of us who create/write and want to get our work out there to external audiences but just haven’t achieved that goal yet, it’s sometimes difficult to get over the lack of credential without the imprimatur of having an agent represent you (so you can say, “yes, I’m a writer and my agent is working on getting the book out there”) or an editor/publisher who actually puts your words between two covers and puts a real book up for sale–with their logo on the spine.

But I think I’ve finally learned, at age 50, that, as Aristotle says, “For the things we have to learn before we can do, we learn by doing.” For years I’ve been writing. And during all that time, hopefully, I’ve been learning to be a better writer. And with each new project I undertake, I’m learning by doing. So with a new novel started, one completed, and three others in some state of suspended animation, I finally feel confident in saying:

I am a writer.

And so is my daughter.

Now, I have to get back to my story…

If you wish to be a writer, write.*
~Epictetus (AD 55 – AD 135)

For at least 2,000 years, the best advice for aspiring writers was to just do it. Just write. Write every day. Like any other habit or exercise, the writer who writes daily will get better at his/her craft. And the writer who reads incessantly–and who reads great writers–will inevitably internalize what looks right on the page and learn what sounds right to the ear.

We all know we should write every day. The problem is not the want of writing, but making the time for writing (and/or blogging, tweeting, editing, marketing, promoting, working the day job, eating, sleeping, exercising)…. As I start looking over a long-neglected manuscript and filling in the outline for my next Aithera novel, I have to keep Epictetus’s advice in mind and know that if I want to be a writer, I must write. Period. No excuses.

* Epictetus was a Stoic philosopher who was born into slavery in Hierapolis, Phrygia which is present day Pamukkale, Turkey. He lived much of his life in Rome as a slave for a wealthy freedman (former slave) and secretary of Nero. His owner apparently encouraged his studies and eventually he gained his freedom and began to teach philosophy. Sometime around 93 AD, the Emperor Domitian banished all philosophers from Rome and, ultimately, from Italy. Epictetus left Rome and founded his own philosophical school in Nicopolis in Epirus, Greece. He believed philosophy is not merely a theoretical discipline to be studied, but a way of life to be lived.

By words, the mind is winged.
– Aristophanes (446 BC – ca. 386 BC)

I started my first blog in 2007 as a sort of online journal in which I recorded my thoughts and reactions to current events, book reviews, some poetry (mostly bad), and song lyrics which, along with their basic chord patterns, were all less than good and all sounded like the same knock-off quasi-political protest songs I grew up with in the 1960s-1970s. Over time the blog grew more political and less about books and writing. After the 2008 election, I was exhausted and the blog fizzled out.

But now that I’m attempting to become a published author, I keep hearing that I should have a blog to promote my work. After all, that’s what I told my own authors. As a co-founder of Blank Slate Press, a small press devoted to discovering, nurturing, publishing and promoting new voices from the greater St. Louis area, I urged our debut authors (Fred Venturini and Anene Tressler) to not only blog, but to get Twitter accounts (@fredventurini and @AneneWrites – please follow them!) and to use them to connect to others in the writing community and to potential readers. So, it is seems only fair that I should take my own advice.

The problem is that, GAH!, I don’t want to add one more thing to my plate. I’m already behind at the Blank Slate Press blog and I’ve got manuscripts to read and edit, marketing for my authors, and I’ve got two novels of my own in progress. So…I’ve come up with a partial solution.

While I may blog here about writing, reading, publishing, and marketing, my main focus is going to be on Ancient Greece. I’ll include what I think are fascinating tidbits about the culture, the people, the myths, the wars, and whatever else about Greece that strikes my fancy. But most of all, I’ll be posting quotes and/or passages from the works of many of the greatest thinkers in the history of civilization. My aim will be to post quotes and passages that inspire, provoke or that serve as “food for thought.” So welcome, return often, and, above all, remember that “By words, the mind is winged.” So, let’s take flight together.