WAAAAY way back, Scotland’s gem of an author Shehanne Moore and her diabolical hamsters threw a ball full of questions my way. Tucked in among those questions was an award:
I never realized Hamstah Dickens and his crew thought of me so highly, and my deepest gratitude to Shey for the honor. 🙂 Now, as for those questions…
What made you choose your current blogging platform?
Naiveté. After reading time and again of the importance of platform, and that all writers simply must have a website, I decided to see what forms were out there. After five minutes of half-assed research, it seemed WordPress was the most flexible with the imagery and text.
Introduce yourself and tell us about your blog
(sheepish wave from the back of the room) Hi.
I’m Jean Lee. You meet me in the street, you’ll see me defined by marriage and motherhood. Appropriate involvement in church life and PTA. Part-time teacher.
But you’ve met me here, haven’t you?
Here, I struggle as many others do: to read, to write, to discuss both with an iota of intelligence. Also, in the hopes of easing the struggle of others, I share the music and landscape that inspire me so.
Are you a once in a while blogger or a daily one?
Once a week is the best I can manage with the rest of life’s obligations.
Do you wish to publish and if so, what type of book?
Publishing would be the shot to the moon, yes. As for type…not literary. That’s best as I can narrow down for the moment.
What is your favorite thing to do besides write?
Read. The time to not focus on Life Out Here is one of the most precious luxuries a mother—and a writer—can have.
After these very professional questions, I came across the hamsters’ furry lines of inquiry.
What is your favourite line of poetry about a hamster? Oh okay, we mean a small furry creature, or animal.
Oh, dear. I’m not much for poetry…
Wait, dear hamsters! Don’t fly over the Atlantic and seek out my house! (stall stall stall) I will say that mice were primary characters in two of my favorite children’s books: Reepicheep in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, and Ralph in Beverly Cleary’s The Mouse and the Motorcyle.
Whew! Found a line from Seamus Heaney’s Squarings I marked long, long ago:
What came first, the seabird’s cry or the soul
What was your favourite children’s book if it was not Mrs Tiggywinkle?
I didn’t know of Mrs. Tiggywinkle as a child (runs and hides). Seriously! When I was 8, I discovered The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Of all the stories I read in my formative years, I latched onto those the most. They influenced my taste in mystery and the love of murder described with a foreign accent. Sure, I still enjoyed the ripping good fantasy every, but the mystery became the epitome of Good Story. I even tried writing my own when I was a kid. Kind of hard when one doesn’t know the intricacies of human anatomy and forensic science…
You’re in the forest. It’s dark, it’s cold, it’s mysterious. Suddenly, the bushes part and there snarling before you is a savage, giant hamster. What happens next?
I drop the giant vegetarian wrap I was gnawing on and flee, screaming my little girly head off. I’ll storm to the local Field of Care Wizarding office, pound the door until the bugger wakes up, and file a complaint while talk-gasping my way through the paperwork, and then refuse to let him go back to bed until he’s followed me out and found the thing and given it a good talking-to for scaring me.
Is there any place in the world you would like to set a book or poem and why?
Honestly, I’ve always been content with where I am. I don’t understand the draw to writing about urban life. Not that it’s bad, mind, but I’m not at home in the city, so unless I need that out-of-place feeling for a character, I’d rather avoid it.
No, Wisconsin’s always felt like The Setting, with the forests and farmlands, its forgotten roads and secret rivers.
You can have dinner with your favourite book hamster character. Who is it and what will the first course be? Recipes are welcome. Of course if you can’t find a hamster, just choose another animal.
See, here’s the thing about being a frugal Midwesterner: everything’s a casserole, or something that can eventually become a casserole. If you can’t just throw it into a crockpot (aka slow cooker) for eight hours and top it with cheese, it ain’t worth eating.
So when I’m asked what I would eat with someone, I am so totally caught off here that I have no clue what to say, because I can’t just say “leftover casserole.” (Though I have a feeling that Basil of Baker Street wouldn’t give a toss about what he eats, so long as he has the energy to keep working.) Hmm. Best play it safe, and say Mrs. Brisby and her children from The Rats of NIMH, and that we would share a grilled cheese sandwich with a side of tomato soup and a cup of cold milk, with chocolate chip cookie bars for dessert. (I, um, don’t do courses. It’s all and done.)
Forget all this hero stuff. You’re being cast as the villain and it’s your choice who you pick so long as they are from a book.
Well that’s full of all sorts of delightful potential. In terms of my reading experience, Livia from I, Claudius is the THE greatest spider ever to spin the villain’s web. She manipulates dozens of people over the course of several generations. As one character puts it, “Time means nothing to her.” Because her ambition is on par with her patience, she doesn’t care how slow others move, so long as they move in the direction she wishes and carry out the actions to which she leads them. Sure, the in-your-face-bwa-ha-ha villain is fun, and so long as he/she has a clear motive for being evil, I’m all for the volcano lairs and plans for world conquest. But the spider web…damn, that’s wicked fun.
What was the last book you read?
I recently finished The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee, which was recommended on Fiction Advocate. A vivid and entertaining read, though I never understand when a writer refuses to use quotation marks for dialogue.
How much of you is in your characters or your poetry?
<Stop squirming and just skip, the little dudes won’t notice>
Who or what inspires your writing?
Back when I was a child, the answer “who” was simple:
My dad, first and foremost. As a pastor, he was always writing his own sermons, liturgies, bible studies, and hymns. So often I would visit him in his office, typing on that god-awful blue DOS screen of Word Perfect. His voice was always beleaguered by allergies and acid reflux, but never his real voice: writing in sickness and in health, for the celebration of a marriage or a life passing on through Heaven’s gates. Writing fortified the soul against life’s terrors. So I, too, wrote stories, endless stories, and shared them with Dad. We’d sit in front of that blue screen for hours, talking about character and plot, just him and me.
But then I grew older.
Time to set aside the childish things, prepare for God’s Calling. God’s real gift to me was in music. Time to go to school, learn to be a music teacher. Play in church. Sing in choir.
But then I grew older, and set aside the music instead for prose.
Well. God’s children need good stories about Jesus and the power of faith.
But then I grew older, and started to write about the tarnished base of shiny Jesus school.
Why are you writing about that? That’s not a good testament of your faith, Jean. That’s not what people need to learn about Jesus.
My dad stopped reading my stories. I stopped offering. There was no point in sharing them with someone who no longer had faith in my writing.
And, I guess, that’s when my own faith died.
There’s a line in a Christian contemporary song (as opposed to a 15th century hymn) that came to mind as I considered walking away completely. Just, let the blog die. Pull the WIP out of my room, and pack it up in the basement. Pack away the childish things. Grow up. Focus on the little hands tangled in my hair and punching my thighs. I once wrote about my focus being torn into strips. It was time to sew them together. To piece myself together. Wasn’t it?
Anyway. The song’s line: “We walk by faith, not by sight.”
Those who inspire me and support me now, I have never seen face to face. Yet I know them better than blood relatives. Each has such beautiful imagery to share, be it photographs or prose. Life dictates to them, and yet they somehow maintain control, and drive themselves forward no matter what Life demands. No criticism stops them. Every trial is transformed into a newly discovered strength. This is why I nominate them for the Epically Awesome Blog Award, which calls for them to answer the non-hamster questions at the beginning of this post:
Dyane Harwood: Birth of a New Brain
Michael Dellert: Adventures in Indie Publishing
Inesa MJ Photography: Making Memories
Nathan Filbert: Becoming Imperceptible
Peggy Bright: Where to next?
Shey, who’s already received the award, lifts me time and again by showing me her own journey, and that the trials encountered on the Writer’s Road are worth pressing through for the tribulations that await.
Another name comes to mind: a college friend, the only one who also writes, who told me to take on a new name and write myself into existence: Ben Parman: https://bendanielparman.com/
The friendship formed through theater and writing, then he went on to film school, I to grad school. His faith and homosexuality fought inside him for years; few saw the bloodshed’s toll. But for all the counseling, rehabilitation camps, family and friends, it was writing, really, that brought about the ceasefire. That writing transcended into a play: Starlings. I attended, and saw the facets of my friend reenact their war.
Perhaps that is what I need: a bloodletting.
Somehow, I have to uncover the faith I lost in myself. I cannot be a fighter until I do.
Tell us a bit about what you are working on now.
Which brings us here.
Normally, this question shuts me down. After all, what was I working on? The same damn WIP I started a few months after my daughter was born. She just turned 6.
Six bloody years on the same story. Adding characters, taking them out, changing pov, changing plot points, changing descriptions. Never happy. Never sure. Never ready to walk away because it just needs one more change, one more time and then I’ll start something new. Whatever that is.
I look at my story, and all I feel is embarrassment. Shame. I don’t want it out there with my name on it, any kind of name. It’s not worth anyone’s time. It’ll prove that for all the talk about writing, I am only that, talk. When it comes to finally showing what I can do, I’ll show I can’t. And for all the wishful language of writing and story, I am incapable of drawing any imaginative life from inside me onto the page.
But I can’t let the WIP go. It got me out of postpartum. It was the closest thing to light I had in the fog of those years, even though now I wonder if it was merely a trick my eyes played on my mind.
Those who can’t do, teach. And I do teach, but it’s just basics. Remedial writing. Hey, this is how to write a paragraph! Maybe we should focus on sentences, first…no a verb doesn’t work like that…
The basics. As basic as it gets.
Maybe that’s where I need to start. Everyone moves forward from a beginning. It’s time I did, too.
So I looked to a writer who’s done more to instruct me than all my undergrad and grad years put together: Diana Wynne Jones.
(Hush, like you didn’t know.)
I compiled all my posts about her from the past year (Good God, it’s been over a year since I started this) into a single collection. Her stories are a marvel in craft and imagination, not to mention just plain fun.
Hmm. Not quite done. Not quite done reading, true, but it’s the blogging that wasn’t done, either.
So I wrote two new pieces on the influence myth and her own traumatic past have had on her writing. They’re not for the blog.
They’re for you.
Whatever piqued your interest about my site, I humbly thank you. You’ve read, shared, and commented on my rambles week to week. You’ve made me feel my words are worth something after all.
You’ve helped me uncover the embers of my old faith.
But like a fire fairy, they are fast and fragile. If I grasp them too roughly, they’ll crumble in my fingers. If I chase them too quickly, they will fly out of reach, and become indistinguishable among the stars. So we will move slowly, you and I, beginning here.
Next week’s post will offer my Lessons Learned collection to those who sign up to follow me. Perhaps a word or two in them will bring a fire fairy to you.
Don’t let it get away.