Posted in Uncategorized



I realized something:  I need a vacation.  I realized it while I was journaling a couple of days ago.  I realized I really need to take some time to do nothing but make things.

So I’m doing an Art Retreat next week.  My day job doctor (I type medical records) is taking the week mostly off, so I am taking every thing except one off my schedule and I am going to let my Inner Artist off the leash to play and do whatever she wants — make things, not because they’ll sell, but because I want to, because I want to try new things or just whatever.

If you read my stuff at all you know, I’m a journaler.  I spend a couple of hours each morning reading (usually a self-help book or spiritual or classics/poetry), journaling, and meditating.  I ran across an exercise in Christina Baldwin’s Life’s Companion:  Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest, where you pick one part of yourself to dialogue with another part.  So my Everyday-Day-Job Self had a chat with Inner Artist self.  You wanna hear?

(M=DayJobMe A=Artist)

M:  So, we’re going to have some quality time next week, just you and I.  What do you want to do?
M:  Well, we can’t do ALL the things.  Pick a few.
A:  Why plan?
M:  Because that way we can be ready, and have all our materials, work space ready to go…
A:  That’s boring.
M:  I know, but if we don’t do all those boring things, we end up fiddling with materials or turning the house upside down looking for them, and never get to actually playing.
A:  Fine.  I want to walk in the woods with Bandit and take wildflower pictures.  And make a beautiful website to put them on, a Nature Notebook.
M:  Okay, great.  We’re ready to go on that one, just need to pick a place.
A:  And I want to make an altar cloth, or maybe another small sewing project I can finish in a day.
M:  Might need a fabric store trip for that, or not… we have a stash.
A:  OooooOOOoo…. we could do the fabric marbling on the altar cloth.  I’ve been wanting to do that.  Then fabric paint on it.  We need a cloth for every turning of the Wheel of the Year.  Beltane is coming up.
M:  I like the semicircular ones.  Anything else we need for Beltane?
A:  A light.  Flowers.  Tiny paintings.  Get the oil paints out.  Or maybe acrylic.  And maybe a wire tree for US, inviting whatever it is we want to bring into our life.
M:  MORE creativity.  More play.
A:  YES!  So maybe citrine and tiger’s eye.
M:  I wonder if this might be the time to explore opening an Etsy shop with spirit-centered stuff…
A:  I want to make tons of things in all different ways that are connected in Spirit, I’ve wanted to do that for ages… henna candles, wood burned crystal/incense/oil boxes — no wait, maybe do henna designs on those too.  Wire trees, sun catchers, tarot bags (there’s a one day sewing project), spirit art, fabric stuff, bookmarks… all the art I love to do, with a common theme, and constant innovation and experimentation.
M  Okay.  You play next week, and see what we come up with . There’s no pressure, though.  We could make things for just us if that’s what we want to do.  Just make a mess and see what comes of it.  I’ll make a list of materials.
A:  Yeah, you do the boring stuff.  I want to wander around in the craft store though.

So we did.  We wandered Hobby Lobby and what do you know, she wanted to make candles too (we needed a jar for dipping the henna candles in paraffin wax anyway…).
Next week is part Art Retreat, part Spirit Retreat, part Nature retreat.  We’re getting all the adulting and “boring stuff” out of the way this week and next week she gets to be the little girl playing in the finger paints again.  Oh, and I ditched the Facebook app off my phone, it’s a time suck and too tempting.  Now I’m just dropping in Facebook once or twice a day to upload pictures and projects and say hello.  Hello!  Pinterest, though, that’s a different story.

What would happen if you let your inner artist off the leash?  I might need to make a regular habit of it.

Posted in Uncategorized

Pay Attention


I started this series of watercolor Southeastern Wildflower Postcards last year, and with spring in the air and blooms popping up here and there, the painting bug bit me, which is awesome.  I do random little paintings and I also keep a nature journal.  These are from photos taken by me and by my naturalist friends, and I think in the case of all three of these they are done from photos by my friend Don Hunter.

Here’s why I love drawing and painting things in nature:  you notice things.  As an example, I noticed that the veining on these tiny common blue violet flowers (Viola sororia) is the same as the veining on the leaves, which makes perfect sense of course.  I noticed that it looked a LOT more like a violet when I added the scalloped edge to the leaves.  And I noticed that Inktense watercolor pencils are splendid.

This was my meditation this morning.  I put on groovy meditation music, which not only facilitates the right-brain shift that makes art so much easier, but once you’re there, you’re meditating.  And it’s different than sitting with a mantra or some other focus… youre noticing, in a way you don’t tend to see all the time, unless you are making art on a regular basis.  Then you tend to see that way all the time, or at least much of the time.

kayak canehollow 3.20.17

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
— Heraclitus

Russ and I went kayaking this afternoon, the maiden voyage for 2017.  Rivers seem like a theme today.  I found a lovely river meditation that I want to try in which you ARE the river, surrendering to the course.  I’m looking forward to trying it.

Russ was getting frustrated with the wind, the current, everything. I told him I’d paddle, just chill. We passed a little waterfall and stopped paddling and just listened to the laughter of it. Then we started noticing a heron following us along the bank, a beaver dam along the water, the chill the evening wind was carrying as it whispered through the newly budded trees.

On the way home I asked if he had fun and he said he’d had a hard time relaxing but once he did, it was fun. You can paddle and paddle up the river of life, cursing everything along the way, striving, feeling like you’re getting nowhere and everything is against you. But the minute you stop and get quiet and notice things… sounds you’d been ignoring, the beautiful thing right under your nose, the sensations in your own body, the glory of the sky… well, it changes everything.

I listened to an On Being podcast (my favorite) this week with Gordon Hempton, an “acoustic ecologist” who mourned the loss of quiet places in the world.  I’m going to send you there to listen to it.  In it, Hempton walked listeners through a journey into a rainforest, accompanied by his own recordings of the sounds you’d hear there, and it’s pure magic.
These things — meditation, spending time in the quiet places in nature, being with horses, making art — are training to do just that:  slow down and notice.


Posted in Uncategorized

Going Gentle

Dink Magoo 0504a
Magoo with his best friend, Dink, two years ago

My cat Magoo is dying of probable cancer.  He is so weak, fading away before my eyes.  Last night I lay on the office couch (his preferred spot) with him, crying.  So many people have said, “Noooo, not Magoo.  He is the best cat.”  To know him is to love him, even if you’re not a cat person.  Everyone is a Magoo person.

So I will take care of him and pray for the miracle I guess I have expected.  He told me a few days ago that he was dying, but I wasn’t ready for it and I pretended I didn’t hear it.  No, my spirit said.  He didn’t argue, that’s not his style.  But I took him to the vet yesterday and I can’t be in denial anymore.  I was worried I’d lose him overnight, while he was alone.  I don’t want him to be alone.

Why is that?  Why do we fear being alone at the moment of death?  Is it something everyone fears?  I didn’t realize feared it until just now.  The reason I was so insistent on being with my old dog Rascal for his surgery is because, if he died, I did not want him to die alone, without someone he knows there.  Surely this is some sort of projection of my own fears onto them.

I have always believed that the animals in our lives teach us about life and death.  I have always thought that it’s good for kids to have pets so that they understand this process before the time comes when they must face the death of a beloved human.  And each creature I have loved teaches me some new thing or things.  We can see the whole of their life spans; in Magoo’s case, truly the whole.  He slid into the world under my desk 15 years ago when I was fostering his mama.  I was 31, and I think he was the first creature I had ever seen born (not counting my own son, because I was hardly watching that), the first of his litter of five, his eyes squinted shut and his ears pasted to his head, which looked gigantic on his tiny kitten body (thus his name).  I have never believed in breeding animals just so your children can “witness the miracle of life,” but I was grateful for this opportunity for my son to see it.  I think it’s important for human children to see life begin and end, and not be shielded from either.  Is it callous to say, get your kid a goldfish, because he needs to see it die?

But we do.  We need to know that death is a sad thing, but not a fearsome thing.  Loving a thing that dies creates a call in your spirit, an opportunity to grapple with questions we didn’t know we were asking.  Like, why am I afraid of being alone at the moment of my death?

I always said Magoo was a Zen master.  When Otto was small he would crouch, butt-end wiggling, getting ready to pounce on then seven-year-old Magoo, who was sitting, dozing (meditating?) in the sunshine with his eyes closed.  And eventually the kitten would work his wiggle into a pounce, and Magoo would lift a paw and bat him down while not seeming to move a muscle otherwise.  He is the ultimate Taoist, yin and yang in his fur, going with the flow of life and enjoying it all along the way, loving and offering love at every opportunity, making every friend he can gather.  Nothing really rattles him.

He meets the end of life with the same equanimity.  He never read Dylan Thomas.  He knows that his words (meows?) don’t need to have ever “forked lightning.”  It is enough to be, and to have been, and to love, and to have been loved.

We humans want to make our indelible mark on the world.  We want to have children so that something of us survives.  We want to create things, knowing we are brief, looking for something to outlive us.  But nothing we can do while here will mark ineffaceably the time we spent here in this body.  The epochs are inexorable and even Oyzmandias falls, his features erased by the sands of time.

But our spirits endure.  Each moment I am alive, I am sending my spirit out to make a connection.  What I create on paper or stone may not last forever in its own right, but if for the briefest moment it, or a word I said, or a gesture I made, made someone else feel less alone, then that spark of memory will come around again.  I do not have to wait for death to be reborn.  All I have to do is, like Magoo, send my love and my light out into the world.  I cannot know where it connects, flickers, becomes something new where it joins the light another creature is sending into the world, but I do know this: where those flickers are, there is no darkness, and we are never alone.


My good friend Ric Finch told me that this post is incomplete, that I should tell the story of Magoo’s final hours, which happened after I wrote this.

Magoo had a fan club.  The last two days, half a dozen people came to see him, and he said goodbye to each one, sitting in their lap, his bones jutting out.  I think it was important to him, the goodbyes.  I think he was waiting until he’d said them before he was ready to go.

He had a rough go of it the morning of the last day and I started fearing that I’d made the wrong decision, that I should have taken him to the vet for assistance in the passing.  But I should’ve trusted him and me, that I’d made the right decision.  I think I did.

He grew weaker and weaker throughout the day and I finally put him in a little box next to my desk so he could be beside me as I worked.  Throughout the day all of my other animals came and paid him respects, checking on him as he slipped away.  And I was there at that moment, the same as I was there the moment he came into the world.  My hands were on him as he took his last breath and he did go gently, peacefully, at home, surrounded by love.

After he had passed, we sat in the room with him in a little wake of sorts, talking about what an amazing cat he was.   Otto, Magoo’s protege, came and moved aside the towel covering Magoo so he could look at him and say a final goodbye.

Otto grieved with me for weeks afterwards.  I was sitting one morning, journaling and crying, and Otto came to me and curled up in the space between my body and my journal as I wrote, with his comforting purrs.  “I guess you’re the wise old cat now,” I told him.  He head butted my cheek.  “I guess I am.”

How ironic it is that nonhuman creatures can teach us so much about what it is to be human.

Posted in Uncategorized

Running Into Life

runningrain_112014My friend Susan is a runner.  It is so much a part of who she is.  Yesterday she was speaking of running in the rain.  She said, there’s something uncomfortable about going from dry to wet, but once you’re there, it’s amazing.  You’re splashing through puddles like a child, and you feel exhilarated.  She said drivers go by and yell “It’s raining!” and she yells back, “You’re missing it!”

Sometimes life connects dots for us in strange and unpredictable ways.  This morning I found a guided meditation called “Exploring the Wilderness of Discomfort,” and I thought of Susan.  And doors opened for me.

What if we didn’t avoid discomfort?  What if we pushed past that barrier of initial discomfort, or fear, or hesitation?  What if we lived our lives that way?

I thought of her running, every day, of experiencing every day and every thing it brings her.  Today it is sunny and warm, tomorrow it is raining, the next day there is a dog that runs alongside her.  It might be the same route every day but if we’re there, if we’re showing up, if we’re truly present, life has new gifts to bring us every day.

But we have to get up and get out and live, and run into life.  What are you running away from? the meditation asked.  When you experience discomfort, what are you doing instead of being with that discomfort, what are you escaping to?

There is so much here for me.  I think we as a society have learned to run away from discomfort.  We get the first twinges of a headache or indigestion, we take a pill.  We find someone on the Internet who doesn’t agree with and we “delete” them from our friends list.  We go into a creative endeavor and find that we’re not very good at it, which is uncomfortable, so we give it up, before we have given ourselves a chance to play.

A chance to run in the rain and splash in a puddle.

So I’m asking you today to do something uncomfortable.  Sit with it, push past it.  Don’t grit your teeth and bull your way through it.  Approach it with a childlike, running-through-a-puddle curiosity.  See what happens in your heart.  See what happens in your life.  Maybe it’s raining, but maybe, if you’re driving by, you’re missing something.  See what it is.


Posted in Uncategorized

Here’s My First Interview


I’m listening to a podcast called the Ten Minute Writers’ Workshop in which they interview seasoned writers.  Nobody has any reason to be interested in my answers to these questions since I have nothing more than a few poems published, but I’m answering anyway.  Someday, when I’m famous, someone will come back to this post and give a crap, yeh?  Never know.   And yes, I’m interviewing myself.  I might interview some of my fellow writer or artist friends later, that’d be fun.

What’s harder the first sentence or the last?

Oh, the last, definitely.  The first sometimes arrives in my head whole and ready.  The last, that’s the thing you want the person to close the book or look away from the poem and stare off into space thinking about what you’ve just said for a good ten minutes, and then carry it around with them for at least part of the day.  People fish around for a “hook” for ages, but for me it’s all about the resonance that stays at the end.

What’s the best advice you were ever given in a creative endeavor?

When I was learning oil painting, my painting teacher told me, “Don’t be afraid.”  Which was her way of saying Just Do It.  Sit down and put something on the canvas/page.  What’s the worst that could happen, right?

What’s your best time of day to write?

I’m totally a morning person.  Whatever I do first thing in the morning sets the tone for my whole day.  If I put off writing till evening because of something else going on, I’m likely to either not do it, or not like what I’ve done.

Do you have any rituals for writing?

I’m made of rituals.  I get up in the morning and do my Morning Pages/Journaling with a good black tea with cream and sugar at my bedroom desk, then (hopefully) I meditate, then I stroll down to my studio with a second cup of tea and get to work on whatever the current obsession is, usually either art, or currently writing my first novel.  I turn on my little iCube speaker, put on thinking music — Jim Butler for brainstorming, my Epic Movie Music Pandora station for cranking out writing.  I do the brainstorming first, then the writing, hopefully.

Plotter or Pantser?

Yes?  I started NaNoWriMo with no option but to Pants it, and I really disliked it.  I am now backing up and doing my plotting.  BUT, that said, I think diving in and doing real time writing was important too.  I intend to write some back story and interpersonal character scenes this month that may or may not ever make it into the book, but letting the characters actually function on the page makes things happen that pure outlining probably wouldn’t.  So I think I’m in the process of developing a process.

What is your fantasy job other than writing?

Do I have to pick one?  I wanted to be a horseback riding instructor when I was a teenager.  I still would love to rescue and train horses.  I want to be an artist, I want to illustrate children’s books, I want to do a little bit of everything in life.  Oh, and who doesn’t want to be a National Geographic photographer?

Posted in Uncategorized

Gatlinburg is Burning



are a thing that happens in California every year,
not in lovely, green, humid Tennessee.
Nearly everyone in Tennessee has been to Gatlinburg
so when we heard it was burning, it was as if
a friend was on fire. Waiting for news. Is the candy shop still standing?
Is Dollywood burning?
Are the Ripley Aquarium animals all right?
It’s hard to imagine these things as ash. Places that feel like childhood friends, consumed.
It’s hard to imagine the Great Smoky mountains actually smoky…
but there’s the evidence, on the news, on the Internet
the mountains you remember lovely green misty
are now angry burning dying; a monster threatening
the streets decked in Christmas lights. An orange glowing haze as the fire
creeps closer and closer.
The people get out. Mandatory evacuation.
I imagine the horror of that one road out of town
the one that feels interminable when you’re waiting
for vacation to begin
and imagine sitting on that road
gridlocked in fear
as the flames creep closer.
We sit in our homes further west on the Plateau
praying, dancing, lighting candles for rain (the latter is ironic) —
please let the months-overdue rain that drenched us last night
go East —
save the people, save the animals, save the green things,
bring relief, stop the flames eating our memories.



Posted in Uncategorized

It’s Garbage



My therapist tells me that all things in the history of my scanner brain are bringing me to a confluence.  I’m a 5 on the Enneagram, and that means I’m great at pulling crazy things together and making something new out of it.  Up till now I’ve been mostly gathering.  Maybe I still am.

There have been many times in my life as an artist when I looked at the piece of art I was making and decided it was garbage and consigned it, literally, to the trash heap.

But they weren’t novels.

But there were other times, especially when I was painting oils, that my wonderful painting teacher told me it was okay to blot out that lovely perfect eye that was in the wrong place and paint over it.  She even took the paintbrush from me and painted over that perfect horse’s eye and told me “go again.”

Life is art.  Whoever told you there are no do-overs is totally wrong.

So yesterday, when I felt like the 37,000 words I’d written on my novel were absolute garbage that didn’t even care about, I already knew the answer to that problem:  Just Keep Swimming.  You can’t edit what you haven’t written.  Get to the end of the first draft, then go back and fix all the things that need fixing.  I really was getting discouraged.  I thought the whole project needed to go.

And then, I wrote Murphy into the story.  If I write the sequel to this novel, he will be a main character, but in this story you just get a glimpse of him.  And I love him.  He made me realize that all the other characters thus far are cardboard cutouts next to him, maybe (horrors) even my protagonist.

Here’s a glimpse, in which my intrepid protagonist is hiding in the closet hoping “Billy” doesn’t discover her and her mates:

“Mmn,” Murphy grunted. He never once looked in our direction. “You know, my shift doesn’t start for another six hours. And I beat Green at cards last night and he owes me a flask. Tell ye what, if you’ll go get it from him, I’ll share it with you.”
I heard the man’s bunk creak but I couldn’t see him. “Yeah?”
“Yeh,” Murphy said, reaching out and tapping his empty whiskey bottle. “I’m out, and that’s a thing I can’t stand. But it’s dark and I don’t feel like walking over there.”
There was a short silence. “You never share your whiskey.”
Murphy, whose voice had been soft through all of the conversations I’d heard from him thus far, thundered, “MAYBE I’M FEELIN GENEROUS!”
“Jesus,” the other man muttered. “Fuckin’ crazy Mick.”
Murphy shrugged. “Your choice.”
“Fine,” Billy grumbled. The bunk creaked again and I saw him get up and pull his boots on. Then he headed toward the closet. “Where you goin?” demanded Murphy.
“To get my coat. It’s cold out there.” I heard two other tiny sharp intakes of breath as all three of us in the closet caught ours, quietly.
“Ye fookin pansy,” Murphy muttered. “I’ll get yer damned coat.”
“What the hell have you got in the closet that I’m not supposed to see, Murphy?” I felt Emmanuel’s big hand clamp down on my arm and I felt him brace to fight, if he had to.
“Best ye doont know, Billy. Ye’d have to tell and then I’d have to kill ye.”
The door cracked open and he wisecracked, loudly, “Shoosh, love, don’t make a sound now, I’ll pay ye as soon as he’s gone.”
There was a hearty guffaw from the room. “I don’t know how you managed that, you bastard. Captain Briggs catches you, he’ll have your left nut.”
“Good thing he woont, then. Go along now, Pansy boy, the whiskey’s waitin.” He threw the man’s coat at him.
“And if I drink it before I get back?”
“I’ll shit in yer boots.”
“Filthy mouthed damned Mick,” the man muttered, and the door slammed.


The bad news is, I am definitely a character-first writer, so if my characters are crap, my novel is crap.  The good news is, I know how to go back and make them better.   Dory has it right.  The answer to art is the answer to life.

Just keep writing.

Just keep painting.

Just keep swimming.

Posted in Uncategorized



This is Nin-Nin the journal kitty (among many other talents).  Every morning I have to fold his blankie for him and put it at my writing desk in my bedroom, where he comes to visit and hangs out while I journal.

I started journaling in 2001.  I wish I could say I’ve journaled consistently every day since then but it comes and goes.  I started journaling because of a book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and if I had to pick one book that’s changed my life, that’s it.

At the time I had just left Jehovah’s Witnesses and I was in a dark place.  I thought God was going to kill me at Armageddon, but I was so disenchanted with the religion that I didn’t care.  Julia asked me to look again at my concepts of God.  And more importantly, how they related to my art.  Because, she says, all art comes from God.

That might be an unpalatable suggestion to some people and it was to me, at the time.  Jehovah doesn’t care about that stuff, I thought.  But I had to learn that she meant (at least, this is how I feel now) that place of the divine inside you, the thing that is soul, or essence, or truth.

Ah, maybe I’m getting a little deep for a Saturday morning.  The point is, in the last 16 years I’ve come a long way, baby.  I went to my journal to figure out what I thought about everything, because I’d been told for years what I thought about just about everything, and I had to figure it all out for myself again, from scratch.   In the meantime I’ve written the odd poem, a lot of essays, a few articles that were published in the paper, and I have come full circle to writing a novel, now.  I have ideas for other things I want to write.  It’s easy to discount the writing I do on a regular basis.  Over the last couple of years I’ve become pretty consistent and I write in my journal every day.  I put stickers in it and I write in colored pen that you would probably find obnoxious but I love them and I love the process.  I start by documenting where I am in space and time:  what am I making (I am always making), what am I reading, what am I listening to or watching, sometimes what’s in the news, what’s’s word of the day, what tarot card did I draw today, what are my current obsessions.  Then I just write, sometimes about what happened yesterday, sometimes about how I’m feeling.  It’s the place where meditation, catharsis, rambling and inspiration come together, and I wouldn’t be without it.

Some day I feel pretty sure that I will write a book about my journaling journey because it’s a thing I think everyone should do, and I have a lot to say on the topic.  If you have a hard time with a meditation cushion, it’s an active thing that can get you in a meditative frame of mind without navel-gazing.  If you’re grappling with tough feelings about something (brother’s death, election went very wrong, whatever), this is where you figure it out.  If you’re so tired and bored you can gripe about life.  It’s not for anyone else.  It’s for you. And then it clears out all that junk so that you can open up the channels and let your creativity off the leash, which is the point of The Artist’s Way.  It’s meant to help blocked artists, but it’s done so much more than that for me.

So each morning I sit with my kitty and my cup of tea and from the end of Daylight Savings Time to the beginning, my happy light (oh, I could wax poetic on that topic too!), my colored pencils and my pretty journal and my stickers, and I tell the Universe what’s going on with me.  I have no idea whether anyone besides me will ever care to read them… I like to think my son might, some day when I am gone, but there is a LOT to go through because I keep other journals besides these, and there is a whole big box of them in the closet.  It doesn’t matter though.  I do it for me.

I think you should do it for you, too.

Posted in Uncategorized



I thought I didn’t want to bring politics to this blog, but I gotta be honest, y’all, I’m struggling with the results of this election.  I’m not the only one, am I?  I mean, even if you picked the winning side, you didn’t feel 100% great about it, did you?  I know I wouldn’t have if it had gone the other way.  And yet we have to carry on and figure out how to come together, how to make a bridge over the divisive rhetoric.

I may  have more to say on this topic in the week to come, and I apologize for the politics, but I can’t help it.  I wanted to give you all of me in this space, and here I am.

I’ve engaged in some hearty introspection this week, I have to tell you.  I scribbled out this poem this morning.  Take from it what you will.



Is never the wrong anser,” I said,
Frolicking through fall leaves.
“What if someone is bullying you?” he said.
“Never,” I said, making a snow angel. “People
Bully because they feel unloved.”
“What if someone hates you?” he said.
“Not then,” I said, making a daisy chain. “My
Mama taught me to always counter
Hate with Love.”
“What if they’re killing you?” he said.
I tucked my flower skirt aside and sat in the sunshine. “Gandhi said,
‘An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.'”
“What if they’re hurting your family?” he said.
And darkness fell, and I became someone else.
“Then there will be hell to pay,” I said.

Posted in Uncategorized

How Strange – Your Protagonist’s Flaws


The world looks completely different when you are creating.  I have always noticed this when I’m painting.  You finish up a painting session, and then you go outside and the trees are suddenly a collection of shapes and shadows and lights.  It’s your right brain putting the world together the way IT sees it, and it’s really nice, because most of the time your left brain is the boss.

But I noticed it again when I went to the movies last night and saw Doctor Strange.  Here in the throes of trying to craft a story, I saw the movie as just that… I saw the character arc, and the protagonist-antagonist dynamic, the rise and fall of the action, the flow between where the protagonist is prevailing and where he is knocked down and almost out.

And I ate. it. up.  Love the movie, by the way, and while I will be talking about the story here, I will not spoil it for you.  I’m enough of a New Age geek that I absolutely adored this movie.  Nature of reality, damn, let’s have more stories about that, with special effects that mess with your head, woo!

Anyway, the monumental character flaw of the protagonist absolutely slaps you in the face here.  He reminded me of House from the TV series of the same name… medical genius but arrogant as heck and a real ass about it.  But House (at least as far as I watched the series, which honestly wasn’t that far) never really resolved that flaw.  Ultimately Stephen Strange gets pretty self-sacrificing (not saying more than that!) in solving the problems that plague his world… problems he never asked to be involved in solving.

I have a pretty solid background setup for Once a Rebel, 10,000 words (ish) in, but I realized two things about my book watching the movie:  my character is not flawed enough, and I am not thinking nearly epic enough as far as the challenges that face her.

So I’m going to talk for a moment about character flaws.  Specifically, about protagonist flaws.  Here’s a link to a list for your writerly use, with a list of possible character flaws.  Please click and open it because otherwise the rest of this blog post won’t make that much sense to you.

First of all, looking at that list, you need to be really careful about this.  There are two reasons you want your main character to be flawed, which essentially boil down to one, the second one.

  1.  It makes a good story… static characters are not interesting.
  2.  The reason it makes a good story is because your protagonist is in actuality a stand-in for your reader, and you want them to identify with your protagonist.

So, while you must have a flawed protagonist, they cannot be too flawed.  You don’t want an axe murderer, probably not someone who sleeps around, probably not an extreme racist or skinhead or something.  There are certain character flaws that are unforgivable in a protagonist.  It’s easy to err on the side of making them too likeable, so making them hate-able probably isn’t a worry.  It’s more likely that the writer will give them flaws that are more like quirks.  Some examples from the tropes list above:  forgets to eat, fear of thunder (unless thunder figures into your story or your world pretty heavily), heavy sleeper.

So ultimately, the character’s flaw and basic fear need to play into the conflict you’re planning, because the conflict is the catalyst that causes the character to change.  In Doctor Strange’s case, his towering ego and mastery of science has to get slapped down in order for him to embrace becoming a beginner again in learning the occult arts and looking at reality in a different way.

Here’s the important takeaway:  the protagonist’s flaws should be big enough to make it a question of whether they will overcome them and sort out the conflict.  And the conflict should not be just a series of bad things that happens to the character, but something she has control over if she does overcome her own inner obstacles.

So, my plan for today is to sit down with that list and think about George’s personality as I’ve already established it, what her great fears and flaws are, what her desires are, and how those are going to play into the conflict I haven’t quite sorted out in my head yet, in hopes that those concepts will generate the conflict.

Happy writing!