Gold mining – poem

I keep writing these things
and maybe one day 
there will be a piece of gold.
Like a miner with a pan, 
I keep coming to the river,
sifting rocks, hunched over.
It is lonely work.

Will I ever strike it rich? 
Am I asking the wrong question? 
Because really, the treasure
is the doing. The daily
coming to the river, doing
the work. Even if nothing
amazing appears, I’ve put
in the time, I’ve gotten the
practice. 
Writing is a skill, after all.
Being born into the language 
is no excuse for not
practicing it

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How many books?

A friend recently asked me how many more books I have in me – on a rough count 8 are already to be assembled / edited.

– the short stories “Short and Strange”

– secular poetry

– a novella called “The Visitors” – speculative fiction.

– a book on creativity, to inspire other people to create

– women’s issues/rights

– other short stories inspired by ephemera

– yet more short stories – no particular theme

– Bible study (yes, there is some in Free Range Faith, but other stuff, and just Bible study – no essays)

There are probably more. These are what I can think of right now, based on what is already written. I have written a lot of material in the five years since I started my blog. I have slowed down on creating and producing new material and am assembling books with what I wrote. I might assemble a book based on my “Invisible House” musings. This will include pictures.

I will also write a book using the pictures my husband and I have taken using the Doctor Who action figures as models – a story based on those characters. Just taking them has been fun.

Grave-keys

gravekeys2

There is something magical about this picture.  I found it online, and I don’t yet know where this photo was taken.  Where is this garden?  When I find out, I’ll change this post to reflect that.

Keys from a computer keyboard, and they look like gravestones.

This reminds me of the scene in “Iris” when the aging writer Iris Murdoch is on a beach in England with far more stones than sand.

iris

She wants to write, but she can’t remember the words anymore. Or perhaps she can’t remember the letters.  So she takes pages from her notebook and puts them on the rocks, holding them down with other rocks.  She points joyfully to them and says that is her writing.  Her caregiver is distraught at how lost she is.

Yet she wasn’t lost.  I understand this completely.  This is writing.  Trying to hold down thoughts.  Trying to capture the uncapture-able.  Pinning down butterflies kills them, after all.  They are no longer butterflies when you try to define them, to draw them.  Ideas are the same.

This image above speaks to that.  What is writing, but memorializing what was?  The thought has changed now, evolved.

I don’t write fiction. I report it.

I don’t write fiction. I report it. This may make no sense. Reporting is something you do with facts, and fiction isn’t real. Right?

I didn’t used to write fiction. It all started with pictures. I found a box of old photographs of people (family photographs from albums, most likely) at an antique mall in Boone, NC. I bought a few because they were intriguing. It is as if they reminded me of something I didn’t know yet. I needed to write about it to understand it. This too makes no sense. Stick with me here.

I’ve heard of other writers creating detailed maps of their stories before they even start to write it. They like to know where they are going before they get there. I’ve heard of others who just write. They start and see where it goes. The first way seemed too difficult, while the second seemed unlikely. I couldn’t see how a story could be constructed and make sense without a plan, but I’d been doing the same with collages and paintings for years, so I decided to try with words.

I am just as surprised as you are by how these stories develop. Writing for me is like reading the slowest book ever. I discover as I go.

I don’t normally write fiction. Essays and Bible study are my thing. They are solid, verifiable. It is like putting together a paper for English class – something I’m very familiar with. Fiction? That is out there. I love reading it, but have never felt that it was something I could do.

What do I mean when I say I am a reporter instead of a writer? I ask the basic questions – who, what, where, why, when. And then it goes from there. When I get to a place where I’m not sure what is next, I ask the questions again. Often I know just one step at a time what happens. It is rare when I know the goal and have to write to catch up with it.

I’ve heard that you should always write things that you’d like to read. If you as the author aren’t interested in it, then your readers won’t be either. I like reading things that surprise me, thus I write things that are surprising even to me. This too makes no sense. I, the author, should know what is happening, what is going to happen, right? Yet it is often sentence by sentence that I discover where the story is going. I don’t make up stories so much as write them down, almost as if I’m taking dictation.

I start by looking at the picture. These days I find unusual pictures of people online, since I don’t have ready access to family photos from strangers. I look very closely because there are often details I’d miss in a brief look. So often our eyes look but don’t see. Details make the difference. There is so little to the image, I need all that I can get out of it.

I’m OK with deviating from the picture if the story calls for it. The picture is a seed, a starting point. It is not a frame that limits, but a doorway that suggests and invites. Once I get inside the story, I can see more.

Could I use photos of people I know? I doubt it. They already have their own stories that I know. I think I’d be limited. I also think they’d get angry at my fabrication of their lives. I often use ideas and events from reality to flesh out my stories, however. People I know might find themselves, for good or not, in my words. You have to write about what you know, even if you are writing fiction. Saying it as fiction helps express it, get it out, in a way that can’t be construed as insulting someone’s character, because their name isn’t mentioned.

Humus

Sometimes I think that my father’s failure to produce a book is one of the reasons why I am so driven. My father had a dream of writing a book about Beethoven. He died at 60 having never even jotted down notes. I’d hoped to find them after he died and assemble the book in his memory.

I found nothing of the sort. It was all in his head.

Perhaps he was afraid, fearing what others would think. He never was able to rise above “staff” position as a college teacher. He never finished his PhD work. He wore fear, insecurity, and a sense of worthlessness like a cloak. He never pushed through it to learn that doing hard work is its own reward. That just trying and failing is better than not trying at all.

Perhaps he was waiting until after he retired to put it together. We are never guaranteed that we will live until retirement. We are never guaranteed we will even live out the rest of the day. My parent’s deaths taught me that. Their early deaths taught me that nothing is ever guaranteed and you’d better start paying attention right now and living life. Not just enduring it, not just living day by day but actually living out your dreams.

I don’t mean dreams of living on a beach in Cancun and having maid service. I mean actually doing the thing that you were put on this Earth to do.

I’m starting to think of my parent’s failure to live life as being like fertilizer or humus. When plants die they are allowed to rot a little bit and then that dead and decaying material is put around newer plants. Those plants gain nourishment from that decay and are able to get stronger.

It doesn’t happen right away. There has to be some time between when the plants died that they are useful to new plants. So I’m seeing that the time between their deaths and the time it is useful to me is relevant and meaningful.

I know my parents would be very proud of me for having become an author. Perhaps my father would even be jealous. Or perhaps he would be inspired. He’d be 81 now. It is possible someone can become an author at that age, but it is harder. People lose energy and drive when they get older. Best to start sooner.

Sure, there is more time when you are older, but less energy. It isn’t easy working a full time job and writing and making art right now, but nobody else is going to do it. I have learned that the more I do that is good, the less junk I fill my day with. I’ve become very mindful of what I read, watch, and do – every hour counts. I’ve started to see that spending time is like spending money – if I use it up, I don’t have any to spend on anything that matters.

Re-verse

I have to re-verse my book. I’m not making it go backwards. I have to take out all the Bible versions in the translation I have, and change them to another translation. This is the third time I’ve had to do this. Not every chapter in my book has Bible verses, but enough do that this is a real task.

I started off using the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation. I find it very easy to read and understand. The words don’t get in the way. I started using it because I’d gotten a free version of the Bible in that translation at the time I had committed to reading the Bible the whole way through. When I was writing my blog, it was easy to copy from this translation online because it was the same as what I was reading. The website “Bible Gateway” made doing this very simple.

Then I started thinking about publishing my blog as a book. I also started thinking about copyright and permissions. The Bible is old enough that it is in public domain – but not all translations are. The HCSB is new enough that I’d need permission to use its translation if I’m going to make money off of it. I’d probably also have to give them some royalties too.

I wanted to avoid all of that mess, so I did a little more research and found a website that said if the translation is older than 25 years, then you can use it with no problem. One option is the Revised Standard Version. It is fairly readable, even though there are a few examples of “thy” and “saveth” going on. I had to entirely re-write one post to make it fit this translation.

That was the least of my troubles, though. My book as it was assembled was 76K words. That is 76K words I had to wade through, find all the Bible verses and switch them out from HCSB to RSV. That took a long time. That was really boring. I wanted to quit the whole idea of publishing and move on to something else. There were more posts to write. I couldn’t be bogged down in re-versing this whole book. I doubt I’m even going to make money off this thing. Why am I spending so much time on it?

I had to really fight with myself over this. I decided that even doing a little a day was better than doing nothing. It wasn’t going to do itself. Every day I’d work on re-versing one post. Some days I could fix two or three. Meanwhile, I was still writing a new post every day. This is in addition to running a household and working a full-time job.

Finally I was done. I started looking around for help in formatting. I have a friend who has self-published books and I thought I could hire her. She told me that she’s gone out of the book business, so she gave me the name and contact information of someone she worked with. I dislike contacting new people, but I finally worked up the courage. Turns out she too was unavailable, so she gave me the number and contact information for yet another person. By this point I wanted to do it all on my own or give up, again. But I pushed on.

His price was too high. I couldn’t get how I should be expected to give a stranger $500 to make my book look pretty on the inside. I had done all the work putting it together – he was just going to polish it. He didn’t even have to edit it. He wasn’t going to touch the words – just tweak the margins and put page numbers and headers in. I shopped around for other people who provide this service and found similar amounts. I even edited out 10K words of it to reduce the cost. I figured I could publish those chapters later in a second book, depending on how well this one does.

Remember that I still don’t think I’m going to make money on this. I still don’t have any spare time to do all of this. I’m shoehorning all of this into everything else I have to do to pay the bills.

Then I hit another snag. I found out that the RSV translation is fine to quote from only under specific circumstances. I was looking up the exact wording on how to cite my use of it, and the citation said “Used by permission”. It turns out that permission is automatically granted up to 500 verses. After that, you have to contact the copyright holder and get written permission. That is The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. I looked up their contact information and emailed them. I still have not heard a response, and it has been a week.

I am not going to take the time to count how many verses I have used, but I’m certain it is over 500. Time is slipping by. I’d like to publish this by Christmas.

Sure, in a way, it is already published. It still exists on my Betsy Beadhead blog. I created a second blog called “The Empty Cross Community” in order to put it together in a logical order. The words are out there. People are reading it and commenting on it. Two posts have been published in the Huffington Post. But it isn’t the same. It isn’t a real, physical book. I want that. Maybe some of that comes from having grown up in libraries. Maybe some of that comes from having an English degree. Books are special. Sure, the words are special – but there is something about having an actual printed book with real pages to turn that is satisfying and substantial.

Even the title was up in the air. I’d thought about using “The Empty Cross Community” for it, but found that there is a sculpture of a cross called “The Empty Cross”. There is a “trademark” symbol after that name. I wrote the group that is connected to the sculpture to ask for permission to use the name and didn’t hear back. This was yet another thing that blocked my forward progress. I’ve since contacted them again and found that they have the trademark on their design for the cross, but not the name. They can’t trademark the name (they tried) because it is not unique. I’m free to use it for my book title if I want, but by now I’ve committed to using another name. It is “Leaving Church, Finding Jesus”.

Meanwhile, I’ve started re-versing this book once again. I’ve saved it as a separate file, just in case the copyright holder gets back to me. Once again I’m grateful for the Bible Gateway website for making this a not-so-painful process of copying and pasting. There are a lot more examples of “thy” and “-th” at the end of verbs in the American Standard Version. There is nothing I can do about it. I’m using this version because it was put out in 1901 and is most certainly in the public domain. Anybody can use it for anything, with no restrictions on the amount of verses used.

Sometimes I feel like I’m in the story of Balaam with his donkey. Is there something in the way that is preventing me from moving forward that I can’t see? In that case an angel stood in his way and only the donkey could see it. He beat the donkey but it refused to budge, keeping him alive. Or is this entire ordeal like the struggle of Jacob wrestling with the angel all night long? He got blessed in the morning because he didn’t give up.

Maybe it is a little of both.

Cherry picking

Every now and then some stranger will disagree with one of my religious posts by saying that I’m “cherry picking” the Bible. Of course I cherry pick. The whole tree is too hard to digest. That is the silliest thing to accuse somebody of.

Perhaps I should just say what I’m going to say and not reference chapter and verse at all. Perhaps I should stop citing any references and just assume that everybody has read what I am referring to.

Jesus did that. He just said what he was going to say and assumed that his audience had read the whole Bible for themselves. He assumed that they could follow along with his logic and know that what he was saying was true.

When people accuse me of cherry picking they’re saying that I’m picking and choosing what I’m using to cite. Of course I am. Everybody does that. That is part of writing. Perhaps they want me to use an argumentative structure? Perhaps they think it would be best if I quoted all sides of the debate? That would draw away from my argument. No writer would do that.

Well, I’ll do it if Jesus’ words disagree with what I’m saying. Paul’s words don’t count. He isn’t the Messiah, and his words aren’t counted as the Gospels. Too many people think they are, but they are the ones accusing me of “cherry picking”.

How about this? I’m going to write what I write and quote what I quote and if “they” get it, then great. If “they” don’t, that is their problem. Jesus’ message wasn’t accepted by everybody either, so I’m in good company.