An image from one of my walks this past week. There is beauty in the world. It’s nice to be reminded now and again.
Yeah, today’s my birthday. I’m a year older, but, I assure you, no more mature.
I have a lot going on today — work stuff. So I don’t have time to for much of a post. But I thought I would share this photo from a few birthday’s ago — seven actually. Nancy and I went to Chicago for my birthday week and had a wonderful visit. In the middle of the week, a beautiful snowfall transformed the city. This photo, taken along Michigan Avenue, was probably my favorite from the whole trip. I hope you like it.
Late last week, after days of snow and freezing temperatures, we finally had a much needed thaw. But before the thaw began, I took a Friday morning walk out to Jackson Lake, a spot I have visited often in the past year. I hadn’t planned to go, but something in the light, and in the scent of the air, told me I had to. I grabbed my camera and monopod, and hurried through the woods behind our house. I am so very glad I did.
The trees around the lake were rimed with frost, and a mist drifted through the surrounding forest and across the water’s surface, lending a ghostly cast to the entire scene. I was in photographer’s heaven. I took a lot of photos, some okay, some pretty memorable. Here are a couple of the best.
I don’t expect that we’re quite done with winter here on the Cumberland Plateau. But this past week had a springlike feel, and it may be that magically frosty mornings like this one are finished, at least for a number of months. I suppose we’ll see.
I wish you a magical weekend. Stay safe. Be kind to one another.
This has been an unusual winter for us. We’ve had several snowfalls, none of them huge, but almost all of them significant enough to turn our pretty little town into a wonderland. This past weekend was no exception. A snowfall Saturday night into Sunday morning frosted tree limbs and houses, and then lasted for a couple of days before melting away.
The first morning, Nancy and I got up early and walked around our neighborhood, enjoying the fresh snow. The second morning dawned sunny and cold, but warmed quickly. As I took my walk on our rails-to-trails path, a fine mist seeped into the forest, hazing the sun and lending a mystical quality to the light and shadows.
These are just a few of the images I captured on those morning walks. I hope you enjoy them. We have more snow in our forecast, so maybe I’ll have more images for you next week.
Have a safe, wonderful weekend. Be kind to one another.
I took this photo back around Christmas, while on a photo walk with my wonderful friend, John Willis. Like me, he is an avid amateur photographer, and he gets out on photo walks almost daily. Before our walk, he had told me that for a period of a few weeks around the Winter Solstice, in late afternoon, the trees and angled sunlight and reflections at Lake Cheston, in our little town, created a striking pattern of striated light and shadow.
As you can see, the man is true to his word.
Today is my mother’s birthday. She would be 99, if she was still with us. She would have loved this photo and would have been fascinated by the light at the lake that day. She was a photographer, too. Mostly, she liked to take pictures while traveling with my father. And travel they did. To Rome and Paris, to Egypt and Israel, to Peru and the Canadian Rockies and all over the Western U.S.
She was curious and lettered, a voracious reader, a lover of all the arts. But there was nothing she loved more than family, than spoiling her grandchildren and catching up with her own kids. She would have had all kinds of questions about this photo — about the place and the light and my friend. And from there she would have had questions about the town, the university, and Nancy’s place in it. And the girls and what they were doing, and my latest book and my next project.
In my mind, I often carry on long conversations with both her and my Dad. And so, with your permission, I will end this short piece, and spend some time conversing with my the memory of my mother.
Wishing you all a wonderful, safe weekend.
I’m a dinosaur. I have been in this business for more than a quarter century. My first book was published during the Clinton Administration. I could list for you all the celebrities born since that first publication, but I’ve never heard of any of them…
To state the obvious, the business has changed in the time I’ve been a professional writer. Hell, the entire world has changed. Some of the transitions specific to publishing have been for the better, some have not. And, to make all of this a bit stranger, many of the biggest changes fall into both those categories.
Lately, I find myself thinking about the democratization of the arts facilitated by the digital revolution, trying to balance the good with the not-so-good.
Example 1: A dear friend of mine, one of my musical partners from college, has been recording and performing music for years. He does covers, he writes his own material. Prior to the pandemic, he performed regularly in the area around his home in the Northeast. Since the onset of COVID, he has done a series of online concerts and has also produced videos of himself playing — again, his own tunes and covers of songs by others. His music always — ALWAYS — sounds amazing. Not only is he incredibly talented, he has also mastered the technology at his disposal. The result is great music with astonishing production values.
Without digital technology, without the ability to turn his basement into both a recording studio and a performance space, he couldn’t manage to do any of this. Of course, he is hardly alone in this regard. Musicians around the world can now record and produce their own music, reaching audiences that they never would have found twenty years ago. And it is hard for me to look at this as anything but an unalloyed good. Major recording studios should not be the only arbiters of what you and I get to hear. Once upon a time, they were, but not anymore. As a musician myself, and as a fan of music in general, I’m pleased by this.
Example 2: As most of you know, I am an avid photographer. I specialize in nature photography — landscapes and close-up work — but I also have done a good deal of urban photography. I am, I believe, a very good photographer. I have also been, for years and years, a collector of photography books, and I have a small collection of photo prints by other artists, as well as many of my own enlarged images, framed, and hung on the walls of my home.
I have a high quality digital camera and I have several applications on my computer that allow me to process my photos to a fine degree. Once upon a time, when I first got into this hobby and was still shooting film, I was very much at the mercy of the photo labs that developed my pictures. I couldn’t control the production of each image the way, say, Ansel Adams did in his darkroom. Only with the advent of digital technology, have I gained access to the tools I need to develop my photos precisely as I wish to. At this point, I can produce professional quality images. My best photos, the ones on my walls as well as those in the one coffee table photography book I have created, can stand alongside the best images by some of my favorite professional photographers.
As with the musical example, given how much joy I derive from my photography and my ability to produce images with such quality results, I have a hard time seeing this as anything but a positive historical development.
Example 3: In my capacity as a writer, I have seen the impact of the digital revolution on my own profession. Yes, more and more authors can now reach readers. Authors who might otherwise have never had a chance to get past the gatekeepers at major publishing houses, can now put their stories within reach of audiences that crave what they offer. This means that unconventional, risk-taking stories can now be told and sold. It means that diverse voices now have an outlet for their work. Authors of any race, of any gender identity, of any sexual orientation, of any religious or cultural background, now have an easier time making themselves heard. I welcome all of these changes.
But those of us who are familiar with the publishing business also know that the democratization of publishing has not been an unalloyed good. Yes, eloquent voices who for too long were excluded from mainstream publishing are now reaching audiences. But there are also too many books being produced that require substantial editing, but aren’t getting any. There are too many authors now being published who weren’t excluded from the field because they were innovative or speaking from underrepresented groups — they were excluded because they had not yet mastered the rudiments of writing prose and creating narrative.
I know lots of young, talented authors — of different genders, races, cultural traditions — who are deserving of success in publishing, but who can’t make themselves heard in the new marketplace, because that market is already flooded with stories, many of them of questionable quality. Because I know the publishing world so well, I understand the nuances of these new dynamics, the good and the bad.
And I find myself reconsidering all that I said before about music and photography. I don’t know those industries the way I know the literary world, but I have to imagine that musicians and photographers face the same struggles and frustrations writers do. I do have a friend who is a professional photographer. He is successful, having worked for years for National Geographic and other prestigious publications. I know the fact that amateur photographers like me can now make our work look “professional” has made his business harder to maintain. I have no doubt that many professional musicians face similar challenges. So all the confidence I expressed earlier in this piece, about how the opening up of technologies in music and photography to everyone is nothing but good — that now strikes me as ill-considered, a reflection of my ignorance.
I have no answers. To be honest, I’m not entirely certain what questions I’m asking. I simply know that the artistic world has changed thanks to digital technology and the opening of artistic industries to everyone from the most advanced professional to the laziest weekend hobbyist. Lots of good has come of this. But for those who make their livings in the arts, these changes, taking place on a historic scale, present new and daunting challenges as well.
A week ago this morning, we woke up to a few inches of fresh snow. Now, this may not seem like a big deal to you, but for us, down here in Tennessee, snow is a too-rare treat. Even when we do get a nice snowfall, it usually vanishes within a day or so. Not this time. It fell wet and fluffy, and then dropping temperatures solidified it. We had snow on the trees for days. It was glorious — a welcome distraction from less savory goings-on in Washington.
These photos are from that first beautiful morning. The water shot is of a small shed on the property of a neighbor. I’ve actually always thought the structure was a bit of an eyesore, but on this day, in the snow and mist, it added a nice touch to my photo.
The two trail photos are from the rails-to-trails path where I take my morning walks. You’ll notice that there are two sets of footprints in the photos, one on the right side, heading away from me, and one on the left, harder to see, coming toward me. Those are Nancy’s. She had gone running on the trail about an hour before I took my walk. We were the only people to brave the trail that morning.
Wishing you a wonderful weekend filled with beauty and peace.
Back in January of 2019, Nancy and I spent a weekend in Washington, taking advantage of the fact that she had a conference there, and had traveled from another professional event that placed her in the city a few days early.
We had a great time — wonderful food, including a spectacular Ethiopian dinner our first night; visits to museums; a morning at a small crafts fair; walks along the Washington Mall. It was a memorable visit. Part of what made it so special was a gorgeous snowfall that started Saturday evening and had turned the city into a wonderland by Sunday morning. Many places we hoped to visit that last day were closed because of the storm, but our walks were especially scenic.
I took this image of the Capitol Building while literally standing in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue. That should tell you how quiet the city was in the midst of the snow.
There is no building, no structure, no monument, in this entire country that means more to me than the U.S. Capitol Building. In a nation not always known for its inspired architecture, it is both a wonder and a work of art. It is, to my mind, the embodiment of all that we strive to be as a nation, a physical expression of our history and our most just and humane aspirations. The White House, to me at least, is a symbol of power; the Capitol speaks to our democratic republicanism. It belongs to all of us.
Which makes what happened there this week, all the more tragic. Seeing that building overrun by seditious thugs, watching insurrectionists — domestic terrorists — occupy the building’s exterior balconies and porticoes, smash windows and doors, and carry weapons and Trump flags into the chambers where the people’s business is done, filled me with despair. Seeing racist assholes carry Confederate flags through the Rotunda enraged me. Knowing that these people were spurred to violence by an egotistical autocrat and his Congressional enablers, who sought to use mob intimidation as a cudgel in order to overturn the results of a free and fair election, leaves me grieving for our nation.
I fear that I will never again look at the Capitol quite the same way. I usually hesitate to use words like “desecrate” for secular sites, but that’s what this was: a desecration, an assault upon and violation of the most hallowed ground in the United States.
I may or may not have more to say about this week’s events in next week’s Monday Musings post. For now, though, I wanted to share this image, and my memories of the Capitol Building in happier times.
Have a wonderful weekend. Stay safe. Be kind to one another.
At long last, 2020 is in the world’s rearview mirror, and good riddance. We have a couple of weeks of craziness to get through, and a pandemic to beat back. But I enter this new year optimistic, for our planet, for our nation, for my friends and colleagues, for my family and me. Maybe that makes me naïve. So be it. I spent too much of 2020 anticipating the worst, and making myself miserable in the process. I choose not to do that again.
And so I share with you this image, captured last week during a lovely photo walk I took with a dear friend. I came back with several good pictures, but this one spoke to me. We are, I believe, crossing to a new normal that will be different from what we have known, but tempered and — dare I hope — better for what we have learned.
I wish you a wonderful New Year. May you find light in unexpected places, clarity in reflection, and joy in the simple beauty of the world around us.
I just reread my first post of the year, when I first discussed my weekly blogging plans, and my goals for the months to come. I closed the post with “Happy 2020. May it be your best year yet.”
How did that work out…?
This is likely my last post of the year, and my final Writing-Tip Wednesday post before I shift Wednesdays to a slightly broader format. It’s also a slightly longer post than usual; I hope you’ll stick with it. I have posted about a vast array of topics over the past fifty-one weeks, and all of them have dealt with creativity in one way or another. At times, the creative elements of my posts have been explicit and obvious; at other times, when discussing the business and the state of the market, the connections have been less clear. But always it comes back to the act of creating, the process of harnessing the imagination in order to produce… something.
Creativity is integral to who I am, to the life I lead. I consider myself fortunate beyond words in this regard. And I’m not just talking about writing. If you follow my blog or my social media, then you know that I am also an avid photographer and a longtime musician, and I’m passionate about all of my creative endeavors. But I do each of these things for different reasons, and I think this speaks to something all writers ought to consider.
Why do we create?
I like to tell people that I wrote my first book when I was six. It wasn’t much of a book — a few sheets of paper on which I had scrawled a story and scribbled illustrations, sandwiched between a couple of pieces of colored construction paper and bound with yellow yarn. But it was, to my mind, as much a book as all the titles on my shelves. All through my childhood, there was nothing I enjoyed more in school than creative writing. Any opportunity we were given to sit quietly and write was, for me, like the most glorious sort of recess.
In junior high, my classmates and I were assigned to keep a creative journal. For an entire semester, we were to write every night — or as close to it as we could manage — and we were free to write whatever we wanted. I still have mine. I did write every night. I wrote short stories and poems and my reflections on the world as I saw it. I LOVED keeping that journal.
All through high school and college, I wrote. I saw the world through a writer’s eyes. Always, my first thought upon seeing a sunset, or enjoying a meal, or even dealing with emotional problems, was “How would I write this?”
My love of storytelling, of the creative alchemy we perform when converting emotion and sensation into words, still drives me, challenges me, fills me with joy and satisfaction (when it’s not frustrating me and making me want to chuck my computer through a window).
But, of course, my writing is also my job, and I have to think about it as such. That’s fine. I am so lucky to be able earn money doing what I love; I can hardly complain. At this point, though, I write to publish. Anything I work on for any amount of time, I expect to sell. If I don’t, then that piece of writing has…failed in some respect. That sounds harsh, I know, but it’s true. It also sounds mercenary, and that, I fear, is unavoidable. I can be passionate about my work, and also want to make money off of it. I make no apologies for that.
I feel quite differently about my photography. I am, I believe, a very good photographer. I have spent years studying photography, teaching myself techniques, making myself see my surroundings with an artist’s eye. I was drawn to photography early in life, in part, I have to admit, out of jealousy. My older brother, Jim, is a renowned and immensely talented painter. He was a bit of prodigy — his talent emerged in his early teens and as passionate as I am about writing, that’s how he continues to be about visual art. I wanted to creative images, too, but I have never been able to draw. Oh, I tried. But I’m terrible. There’s no other way to put it.
When I was thirteen, I asked for a camera, thinking that perhaps photography would offer me a path to visual artistic expression. My early efforts didn’t amount to much, and eventually I stopped trying. About fifteen years ago, though, I decided to try again. I dedicated myself to learning how to shoot, how to see, how to frame. The results have been deeply satisfying. I have sold a few photos and I’ve had work in local galleries. But while I have been pleased by these moments of public attention, I mostly capture images for myself. Nancy and I recently enlarged and framed several of my best images and they are now gracing the walls of our home. I have also produced a coffee-table photo book that I shared with just a few friends and family members. And my computer’s screen saver is a slide show of my best images.
I get as much joy out of seeing my own images in my house, in that book, on my computer, as I have from any sale of a photo. To be honest, I took nearly as much pride in hanging those images as I have in selling a new novel. I do it for me, and that’s enough.
And I feel still another sort of love and pride for my music. I have been playing guitar for more than forty years. I have always been able to sing, and for a while, in elementary school and junior high, I was content to express that talent in school musicals. But at some point I figured out that playing guitar might attract the notice of girls. (As it turns out, guitars weren’t enough. I also needed charm, height, and good looks, none of which I possessed. But hey, I learned to play guitar.)
I still love to play — for myself, for Nancy, occasionally for and with friends. Playing for my girls when they were young was truly a joy. I’ve never been very good at writing songs. I tried. I wrote a very few decent tunes in college, but I had a couple of friends who wrote amazing music, and my inability to craft songs as good as theirs, and as good as I thought mine should be as well, frustrated me. At some point, I stopped trying. Today, most of my playing is fairly derivative. I hear a song I like and I teach myself to play it. It’s fun. I get to recreate songs I admire, either for a small audience or for me. The truth is, though, I’m not adding much to the world’s music. I’m just another guy learning to play another James Taylor tune.
And so I ask again, why do we create?
I create stories for my livelihood. I create photos that are utterly original, but only for my friends, family, and me. I create music in order to pay homage to something I love, and to entertain myself.
I have tried throughout this year to gear my writing tips to writers of every ability level and every aspiration. Some of you won’t be satisfied with your writing until you’ve published a story, or a novel, or a series, or a bunch of series. I get that.
Some of you write because you want to craft the best story you can, and if you publish it, great. If you don’t, if the only people who read it are your friends and family, that’s okay, too. The process itself is the point. Your goal is to create the best piece you can.
And some of you take great joy in writing fan fiction, in writing homages to characters and storylines that you admire and want to be part of in some way. That’s great, too.
There is no single right answer to “Why do we create?” No matter where you fall on the continuum of creativity I’m describing here, you can learn to be a better writer, you can take satisfaction in the act of creation, and you can engage in that alchemy I mentioned earlier.
Because there is something truly magical in creativity — in the simple act of harnessing the imagination — something that has nothing at all to do with money or reviews.
I wish you joy and inspiration in all your endeavors.
And, of course, keep writing.