Category Archives: Inspiration

My Creator Spotlight – Inspiration for Me, and for You!

You can’t help but be motivated after meeting creators like you and learning what motivated them through the ups and the downs of their journeys.

The year is flying! I can’t believe I’ve already had two amazing guests drop by. If you haven’t met Madeline or Isa yet, visit their posts for inspiration and two super enjoyable conversations.

I thought I would blog a bit about my Spotlight feature. The joy and inspiration I get from engaging in this process has turned out to be the biggest surprise in my writing journey.

I have had the privilege of interviewing members of the writing community and other creators I meet along the way, mostly fantasy and sci fi writers like me who are new at it and working hard to get their stories out in the world. I also interview editors, book reviewers, artists, and photographers. Even an old high school friend is dropping by in March who is an award winning filmmaker. 

My guests are from around the globe, including Australia, Canada, the U.K., Nigeria, Portugal, Texas, Seattle, Hollywood and my own town, Carson City. I’ve got more lined up from South Africa, New Zealand, Scotland, the U.K., Montreal, Vancouver, and Seattle. This is inspiring in an of itself.

Every one of my guests has been a delight and so generous with their time. And this is an opportunity to thank them all for participating. Drop by my gallery where all conversations are housed for continued inspiration.

This month, my two guests proved again how supportive the writing community is. Madeline and Isa spent a lot of time and effort on a robust Q&A. These two are phenomenal at supporting and inspiring others, and it really comes through.

My interviews center around a creator’s life; what inspires it, the highlights and lessons of the journey, and how to balance all the things, and every one of my guests has something different to offer, yet every bit has been relatable and translates to all of us who are endeavoring to grow and succeed through creative expression.

Sunday Spotlight with Historical Fantasy Writer and Musician, Madeline Davis

I’m so glad we finally got to chat on my blog, Madeline! I know this is a super busy time of year for you with all your pursuits. Hopefully, you got a nice winter break. Since we actually need to catch up, tell me first about what you’re currently working on and how are you feeling about your progress? 

Thanks for having me!  A busy time for you too I’m sure, and you’ve got quite a variety of projects running yourself—new books, new platforms, new connections, wow! I’m looking forward to seeing your new ventures as well!

Right now I’m just focusing on completing my first novel: an historical-fantasy based on Louis IX and Isabel of France. I’ve gotten to do a lot of research for it these past few months with a medievalist professor, digging into 13th century France and the royal family, and am now about halfway to a complete draft (various degrees of polish). While there’s still a considerable way to go putting all the pieces together (I write many scenes out of order, and this particular project started as a series of short stories too, so lots of structure work), I am quite hopeful of finishing it in the next few months. 

You make me wish I would have started writing in my youth, combining fiction writing with academia. I don’t know which would be more fun, writing or the opportunity for that sort of research! It sounds exciting, and I can’t wait to read it. We’ve talked a bit about writing scenes out of order, and there is a lot of merit to that method. Can you share a little more on that?

Actually, I’m not sure I would recommend it, unless you have a solid framework for the whole story, and are willing to rewrite those scenes after the other parts are finished–not necessarily very efficient! But it is motivating at times to dig into a more substantial scene, something that reminds me what I found so fascinating about this project in the first place, and which stews in my head without my trying. I find that especially helpful if the gears aren’t turning so smooth at the current place. Rather than saying I’ve hit a block, I’ll write something I know comes later, (but have enough of an idea to write it) and work backwards from that–a little like doing a large puzzle, where you  do the corners, then edges, then chunks of the more singular-looking parts, till you can put those together… but if you don’t know what the whole looks like, that would be quite difficult! (And I have some unfinished manuscripts testifying to that).

The themes of your stories have such a classical feel, like I’m stepping right into medieval times, only where dragons roam. It makes them both magical and entrancing. Tell me how you came to this style of writing. How would you classify your genre? Do you explore writing in other genres?

Funny you should ask about classification, as it took some frantic searching to find historical-fantasy as a genre; I worried for a while I was fiddling too much with the two genres I loved best! I love history, but have a healthy respect that makes me leery of deviating much from the real, so I find the flexibility that fantasy offers very reassuring. 

That being said, I love medieval history more particularly. Delving into the people and cultures that created wonders like Chartres cathedral, the Divine Comedy, the Lindisfarne Gospels and so much more is just fascinating. Also, the themes that it offers are universal—love, duty, loyalty, honor, sacrifice, devotion, and many others—but I’ve found some particularly striking examples in the medievals that it would be a shame for our own time to lose in forgetting. So we need their stories! (Never mind the many misrepresentations and misconceptions about the medievals as dirty, dumb, and monolithic that modern scholarship has been disproving, but still need combatting in entertainment. Highly researched fiction is my penny in that project). 

Also, I think my approach is shaped by my vision of literature–including fantasy—as not an escape from reality, but a lens for better appreciating it. Through literature, we can return to the real with eyes refreshed. Literature can draw into focus the lines of reality with artistic emphasis and perspective. Fantasy’s particular gift for manifesting unseen realities in concrete, memorable ways is particularly compelling, so I do tend to write more in the fantasy genre than anything else. But I’m quite a new writer, and wouldn’t box myself into any category just yet, having experimented with science fiction, more strictly historical, memoir, and contemporary so far, with plans to try others in the future! 

I am catching your passion! Thanks for sharing that. I’m experimenting with a historical fiction novel (though not that far back in time) mixed with fantasy, and this is encouraging insight.

Oh lovely! Actually, in researching the genre, there seem to be many more examples of more-recent historical (especially Victorian) than medieval, so I’d say you’re likely in good company! And if you enjoy research as well as writing–double win!

When and how did you start writing?

Before I could write! Well, at least I like to joke that the pictures I drew and scribbled squiggly lines around before I had learned letters were my first attempts—these princesses and maids must have had tales! But I don’t really remember not being able to read, and books have been such a substantial part of my life, it seemed natural to want to make my own as soon as I could. So I’ve scribbled away at stories since grade school, and always thought I wanted to try to give back some of what I enjoyed—I guess I’ve more or less always had something simmering, though in high-school I started paying more attention to the craft of writing itself; that might mark my actual “beginning,” entering the world of online writing forums and focusing on improving different aspects of storytelling. 

That is a great concept, to give back what you enjoyed. To me, that means you experience joy both ways. Can’t lose with that as motivation. I also love hearing when a writer has grown up with a passion for telling stories. Thanks for sharing that.

Who and/or what were your biggest influences?

To pick one author, I’d have to say J.R.R. Tolkien. That sounds natural enough for a fantasy author, but I would say not just for his creation of Middle Earth: I’ve found his views on literature (particularly in his essays, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”, and “On Fairy Stories,” and especially his short story, “Leaf by Niggle”) really resonate with the view of art I feel called to create: a sort of “subcreation” that reflects the beauty that already exists but bringing to light particular facets in a profound collaboration with the first creator. 

In addition to that, I’m driven by the notion that art exists to delight and instruct (Can’t claim originality in that either—Horace defined art that way over 2000 years ago). If either of those is missing, it’s falling short of its potential, as there is always so much more for us wisdom-hungry humans to take in, but we need help—especially the help of delightful beauty—to really learn! So I find it essential for me to write with a solid philosophical and theological framework that gives enough light to grasp the edges of mysteries, and yet realize these are only the edges. The idea that our human intellects can fathom a measure of beauty, order, and purpose in the universe, but not contain it— and then to highlight that with literature—that idea, slowly forming for me, has influenced why, how, and what I write.

But we are what we eat and we write what we read, so I’d have to say I owe a huge debt to my mother for making classics fun (homeschooling), and to the authors of many classics (Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Flannery O’Connor, to name a handful); in the realm of fantasy, C.S. Lewis, Andrew Peterson, and Megan Whalen Turner as the most inspiring; and many, many different historical authors (some fiction, some not) as well as philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, and G. K. Chesterton, just to get started… 

Wow! Thank you for this, Madeline. You’ve given our readers some well-articulated concepts to analyze for themselves why they might love literature and writing. I know it’s given me some things to chew on. Reading Tolkien’s essays-Way to go. and when it all comes down to it, Mom was the one who started the ball rolling. Awesome!

We belong to a great writing community and you were there to greet me when I joined. What drew you to the group? What do you think are the biggest benefits of belonging to a community of writers? What other communities have you found beneficial to your growth as a creator?

Writing is, of all art forms, I think, the most bonding, and yet also the most isolating. Writing can reach very deep places in the human person, engaging us on different levels of being, and giving us those moments where we exclaim “How did they know that?!” Or “Me too!” 

But the writer doesn’t usually get to witness someone experiencing that, but instead spends a lot of time withdrawn from the rest of the world typing symbols that have no inherent meaning onto a screen. [(I love words and crafting them, but studying a variety of languages, I’ve come to be pretty sure there’s very little in any one alphabet that really gives the symbols themselves intrinsic meaning, which is different from the media of other arts—think of how color exists apart from painting, notes apart from music. Words–particularly written words— just don’t work like that.)]

But writing is art, also reflecting reality. Having support in creating it is immensely helpful not only for persevering through the process of making it, but giving it an authentic balance—it won’t resonate and connect if it comes from an island! 

For that reason I’d say that I’ve even found less-than-communal participation in various writing forums helpful. Fanstory.com, writingforums.org, Underlined.com, and Absolutewrite.com,  where people were pretty much all strangers, were each helpful (in different ways–absolutewrite being the largest) because of the outside perspective exchange they could facilitate. For writing to bridge well, getting feedback from different perspectives is critical, and I am grateful for finding those there.

But having a more tight-knit community of people who all know what the joy and struggle of writing is like, and with such a diverse pool of experience (writing-related and also not) to draw on–that’s another type of support that I would say is quite helpful. I’ve appreciated finding that through Richie Billing’s discord group, where it’s much easier to get to know individuals and exchange on a more personal level. I’ve also found that in a local writing group at my college, where having in-person community adds another dimension of encouragement and opportunities for sharing—resources, feedback swapping, or just writing at the same time, like buddying up for an exercise program. 

An African proverb that runs something like: “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together” sums it up well, I think. Putting in the actual work to write well at all is the first essential, and requires personal commitment– as Stephen King well said in his On Writing: “Life isn’t about supporting art, art is about supporting life.” But finding support sure makes the long-term commitment seem more feasible!

I appreciate when my guests give us quotes to illustrate the conversation! These are wonderful and convey the benefits of support communities perfectly. Thank you! Also as a note to our readers, I’ve provided the links to Madeline’s listed resources in the text. I also belong to Richie Billing’s group. His Fantasy Writer’s Toolshed Podcast, and newsletter are phenomenal free resources.

I love that you play the harp. Another element of you that is classical. Can you share that journey? How long have you played and what kinds of engagements do you participate in? Does playing an instrument help with or influence your writing and vice versa?

It’s certainly been a journey, with multiple providential moments.  I had to have become fascinated by the harps in books, as there’s no way I saw one in person before I became obsessed. But I do still have the concert programme that says, “Madeline, I’m sure you’ll be a lovely harpist someday”–I’d run up to get the autograph of the harpist in the President’s Own Band because here was the first real live harpist I’d ever seen! (hard to hear in the middle of such a large ensemble,  but that was certainly the highlight of that special concert for me). At the time, that seemed incredible–we already had a piano (which my mother taught), so why on earth would I play harp? Never mind how. But a few years later, a friend of my grandmother’s heard about my interest and offered to lend me her little lap harp, just at the same time that we met a family with a daughter who played harp and had found a teacher, and we could carpool, and so, 14 years ago… it all worked out! 

It has certainly been a journey since then. Each of the teachers I’ve had have really shaped me–not only as a musician, but also as a student and person, and the way I approach learning and accomplishing new things. 

Because of that formation, it’s always been quite clear to me how intertwined the different arts are, even while distinct. Music is more imitative than writing, consisting of sounds and rhythms that evoke associations and emotions, and perfecting the performance of a piece usually written by someone else. But writing shares with music the requirement of perfecting technique by repeated, focused practice (it’s not just practice that makes perfect, as one of my teachers insisted—practice makes permanent, but focused  practice, as perfect as it can be in certain aspects, makes for perfection). And while a musical performance has a certain time-sensitive finality—once that wrong note is played, there’s no reversing it–writing is also subject to that in a way with publication; the practice, practice, practice of the music room finds a reflection for me in the revision process, and bringing a piece to performance level has become to me a model of editing written work. Also, in both music and writing it takes another special skill to synthesize all the technical aspects and make something beautiful, but it does come with diligence in the bit-by-bit exercises. And then, the result: humanizing beauty to be shared with fellow humans.

I’ve played harp in a variety of settings–weddings (of course), funerals,church services and other special events, as well as concerts as soloist and as an ensemble member. Of all the venues and types of playing I’ve done, two have impacted and shaped me the most: playing in nursing homes for the sweetest, though often loneliest people, and being part of an ensemble. 

In an ensemble, I really experienced the mutual dependence of being an artist with a small role participating in a larger whole. That whole was definitely greater than the sum of its parts, but it depended on each part performing well. Even while any part played individually might not make much sense, the great whole depended on the quality of its contribution, (which was itself a combination of personal preparation, knowing one’s part really thoroughly, and flexibly following the conductor and listening to the other musicians and their parts). That doesn’t sound terribly different from any other type of teamwork, but it really demonstrated that to me in a singular way for the arts, and how much could depend on the personal commitment of an individual, as well as the work of the ensemble as a unity.

In writing, I think there’s a similar interdependence of artists, each with their own part, their own contribution–but the whole is much harder to grasp, something that might be generalized as cultural, but really defies a perfect synthesis. So I hold onto that truth of the parts coming together in the orchestra, and work on my part, but try to also listen to “the other parts”–other writers, which across time and place, can form a symphony of the human imagination. 

Goodness, that was a long answer to a straightforward set of questions! But if you give a mouse a cookie, or you give a writer something fun to think about…

I was utterly riveted, Madeline! And you gave me exactly what I hoped for.  I am fascinated by multi-creative lives and how the aspects of one art impacts another. Thanks so much for providing this insight.

How do you balance all your pursuits with life and work? Do you have any tips on time management and how to fit in what you love doing with what you must do on a day-to-day basis?

That’s an excellent question that I’d be a giant hypocrite pretending I have a very helpful answer to, but as best I can: for me it mostly comes down to evaluating (and regularly rechecking and reevaluating) priorities, particularly lining up where things fall on an urgent-important grid (I think I first read that in Sean Covey’s 7 Habits of highly effective teens… Excellent book, and there’s an “adult” version by his father too).

But sometimes it is possible to combine necessities and art. 

Practically speaking as a writer, I’ve found audiobooks extremely helpful. To fill the need for direct instruction in the craft I’ve found books like Sol Stein’s On Writing, and several lecture series from The Great Courses on writing and editing particularly insightful in laying down principles. But besides that, listening to quality literature sharpens my own sense of style, and makes me more aware of the patterns and rhythms of fine English prose. And enjoying lighter works in my genre helps me understand what’s already been done, works well (or not). And listening to any of these is all manageable while doing other mundane things! Driving, cooking, cleaning, dog-walking,(I do those also for part-time work), exercising (actually very helpful supplement for creative work!), etc—I’ve really appreciated the efficiency audiobooks allow. 

The beauty of art, though, especially writing, is that everything can be seen as “research”; that is one reason that, even when occupied with life and work, I think of myself as a writer—it’s a lens for the way I look at the world, gathering strands from every source I encounter. Not that I’m quite like a journalist that’s always ready to pounce on some incident thinking, “Ooh, that would make a good story”–but it’s always in my mind that what I live day-to-day can help shape my writing—I just have to keep my senses and mind open.

My part-time job helping an older woman as a living assistant for example—it’s not just a job, but an opportunity for me to recall the trials of getting older most of us will someday face, and to keep in perspective what I do with the limited time I have. I find that especially valuable for me as a college student, usually surrounded by youth who don’t have that at the top of their minds—but preparing for death and dealing with the loss of abilities is worth reflection, and I’m grateful for the reminder.

Experiences pleasant or painful, awkward or funny, happy, sad, and everything in between can all help deepen the well I write from. Sometimes it just takes a simple perspectivizing of an experience to make that happen, and sometimes I realize later I’m processing something through writing—so I don’t see “real life” as getting in the way of writing so much as providing the material for it, and shaping me as a writer. Perhaps that’s a view that will shift for me with time, but for now, I’m settling into the awareness that much of what I want to write requires long processing—there’s much to be gained from my own maturing before I try to “literaturize” some of these ideas, and I’m not so worried that the world is missing a lot if my still inchoate efforts don’t reach the light of day very soon. True, some things require more of the approach I take to poor writing—but that hardly leaves them valueless, if analyzed as examples of errors to be corrected for myself, or warnings of what to avoid.  

I can attest to the trials of getting older, so kudos to you for opening yourself to so many perspectives in your daily life! And then using the efficiency of experience and absorption to generate art. Harks back to your Stephen King quote about art supporting life.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Teaching Latin and/or Greek (what I’m majoring in),and/or history, literature (probably in one of the classical charter schools that I’m glad to see developing in various places, especially not far from where I’ve grown up—go classical learning!). In terms of writing, I hope to be publishing short stories, and if traditional publishing hasn’t worked out for my current novel (and the next), getting into self-publishing. That’s a flexible vision, though—I know a lot can change in five years, especially looking at the last five! (Five years ago I was entering a cloistered monastery, and if I hadn’t run into health issues 2.5 years in, would have happily spent the rest of my life there. As it is, I will be eternally grateful for the time I did get to spend in that vocation).

What were your biggest highlights in 2022? Any exciting plans for 2023?

Writing this historical-fantasy novel was certainly one! I only realized the other day that before February of 2022, I didn’t have a single inkling of this story, and now it’s certainly grown more than I would have thought. Another 2022 highlight has been meeting other writers (live and through discord)–which has also led to joining a small, live critique circle, that’s just getting started. I’m very excited for the possibilities there, especially with my experience in 2022 of feedback swaps—both the giving and the receiving feedback on longer pieces has brought growth I can almost see as it happens, and I’m looking forward to continuing that (moderately) as well. 

In 2023 I’ll also be tackling a different kind of writing challenge: researching and writing a thesis (for graduation) on a topic from either a Greek or Latin classic. While writing 50 pages of academic writing is quite different from 50 pages of fiction, I’m looking forward to the growth as a student and crafter of words such a process will entail. 

Thanks for sharing this and demonstrating how life can zigzag surprisingly for us all, and here’s to more exciting things ahead for you!

Thank you so much for visiting with me. Do you have any parting advice for our readers who want to pursue their creative passions?

Time is precious, and making art is worth it. The time, dedication, and patience that it takes to make good art, though, is also worth remembering, and this is not a journey that has to be done alone—support, instruction, and the wealth of experience that each person accumulates through a reflective appreciation of their life can all contribute to something beautiful. And there are so many people out there with a lot more experience than me—if you found the time to read this advice, you can find someone wiser too!

If you missed my December Guest and need a little art in you life… I’m reposting…Sunday Spotlight – Artist and Teacher Audrey Markowitz

Artwork by Audrey Markowitz

D. I could talk all day about your teaching and how wonderful you are at motivating and supporting those around you. That is my experience with you, …

Sunday Spotlight – Artist and Teacher Audrey Markowitz
Artwork by Audrey Markowitz

“…that’s when art is not a luxury, it’s actually sustenance.” Ethan Hawke

A blogger friend shared this amazing Ted Talk with Ethan Hawke. Listen to his thoughts on the necessity of acting the fool in our creativity so humanity might have a chance to survive intact as humanity. That’s my take on his compelling discussion, anyway. Please share yours in the comments.

Sunday Spotlight – Artist and Teacher Audrey Markowitz

D. I could talk all day about your teaching and how wonderful you are at motivating and supporting those around you. That is my experience with you, Audrey. But this is my opportunity to dig into what motivates you. What gets your creative juices flowing? 

A. Whether I’m putting a new class together as an art teacher, or working on an art piece for myself, I’m motivated by different things. As a teacher, it’s the desire to get my students excited about a new project, a new technique, a new medium, new tools, etc. that motivates me. Knowing that people are growing as artists and becoming more confident in their ability is what drives me to create classes.

I start with a project that interests me and one in which I feel there will be lots of learning opportunities. I create the piece of art that I will teach probably 6 or 7 or more times in different ways in order to find the one I think will be a real “WOW” for the students as well as which one will present the best learning opportunities. I also want to pinpoint specific areas that will perhaps be more difficult to learn so that I can begin to think about how I will teach them. This entire process so far is what gets my juices flowing and excites me. Now I have to create the class and the detailed and structured lesson plan my students deserve!

When creating art for myself there are a number of different things that get my creative juices flowing. The main thing that keeps me motivated is that I LOVE what I do and that’s probably the most important thing of all. Other things that excite me are ideas from my journal that I want to try out. Keeping a journal of things I see, hear, learn, and want to pursue is an invaluable tool. Learning and trying new things is also a huge motivator for me. So, I take lots of classes. And no matter the topic of the class, I find it usually helps me refine a skill, take a new approach, reinvent a technique, and just fall in love all over again with what I do.

I have a very close friend who is an accomplished silk painter and when we’re together we bounce new ideas off each other and support each other.  If I’m stuck or she’s stuck, we try to ‘unstick” each other. We definitely find ways to get each other’s juices flowing! It usually involves a LOT of laughter. Laughter is a HUGE part of my life.  And so is music. I find it both inspirational and motivating. So, you can rest assured there’s music on when I’m working in my studio.

Taking a long walk is also a huge help if my creative juices need some stirring up. I’ve learned that sometimes I just need to get out of my chair and do something different that I enjoy.  And I’m always amazed at how many “Eureka!” moments happen during some sort of relaxation activity that gives me pleasure. 

D. Zentangle inspired art is what I’m most familiar with in your body of work. And we will talk more about that style in a bit. But you incorporate so much more into your pieces. Have you always pursued art? Did you start out on another career path? If so, what made you change? How were you able to focus your life on art and what types of events crafted your unique style? 

A. I have been creating “stuff” and making “messes” since I was five years old, using whatever materials I could find! I do the same thing today, but now it’s called Mixed Media Art. LOL! I am inspired by playing with color and layering and fascinated by texture. I always have been!  However, none of my formal education focused on the visual arts. I have a BA degree in Communication Arts and Science and an MA in Human Resources Management and Development.

I needed to earn a living and support myself and felt that creating art wouldn’t allow me to do that, so I focused on a career in Human Resources.  And what a wonderful and exciting career I had. I zeroed in on the training and development aspect of human resources and did a lot of motivational speaking, as well. Eventually I started my own training and development business. I did a lot of team building for organizations, management development, and taught teachers how to teach. Throughout my professional career, I used my spare time to create art (collages, jewelry, greeting cards, etc.); after all, this was my passion. And I sold my art at juried craft shows. I also took lots of art classes. I promised myself that when I retired, I would transition into a full-time artist

D. Who and/or what were your biggest influences?

A. A wonderful and talented artist in New York, who I took classes from on a regular basis, was a huge influence on me. She encouraged my mixed media work and I learned so much from her. In fact, she was the one who encouraged me to become a Certified Zentangle Teacher. She felt that as an artist, I would love to incorporate Zentangle into my work. And she knew how much I loved teaching.

D. What made you decide to bring the joy of art to others? 

A. As a breast cancer patient, the positive effects that Zentangle had for me as I experienced the anxiety, tough decision making, sleeplessness, etc. associated with this disease, was a strong force in my wanting to share it with others. I learned firsthand what a meditative and calming process Zentangle could be. I found it particularly helpful when I went for my radiation treatments. I would sit in the waiting room and “tangle” like crazy in my journal so by the time they called me in for my “dose” I was truly relaxed. I remember years later I had a student in one of my Zentangle classes who had been in that waiting room with me (her husband was receiving radiation) and at the time she wondered what the heck that red headed woman was so enthusiastically doing in her notebook! She learned that it was me tangling. At any rate I, both the artist and cancer patient, wanted to bring this magical and beautiful art form to others. Whether my students chose to use it as a meditative tool too or simply to create art and find joy would be up to them. But as a cancer survivor I truly felt compelled to share it with everyone who was interested. I am a big believer in “paying it forward.” So, as an artist I have used teaching art as a way of giving back the joy, the serenity, the magic, and the creative inspiration that art continues to give me!

Enjoy this TEDx demonstration of the power of Audrey’s motivational speaking.

D. Now let’s peace out and get a little more Zen.

There are so many benefits to learning and engaging in the art of Zentangle. And I for one really appreciate that you were there to pass them on to me. The meditative aspect, portability, minimal supplies needed, and ability for anyone to produce a piece of art after one lesson are just a few. What are the most important aspects of Zentangle for you from the perspectives of a practitioner and a teacher?

A. As a practitioner, I love that Zentangle can be incorporated into practically any other art form!! Whether it’s pottery, quilting, painting with any medium, jewelry, etc. As an artist, I find this very exciting; being able to have this tool in your kit no matter what your discipline. As a teacher, I love that Zentangle allows everyone to be successful and tap into their creativity. Additionally, it’s an art form where folks are encouraged not to be self-critical or judgmental, but rather to enjoy the process.  

D. I remember my first class so well. Zentangle 101. We were in the fabulous old Brewery Art Center’s ballroom. The class was full, and you had a margarita bar set up. I was hooked before we even got started. But when the night was over, and I had several tiny pieces of art I could call my own that I could hardly fathom were created by my own hand, I was a believer in the method.

Zentangle 101, September 2015

More classes at the BAC

You have been teaching folks like me for a long time, adapting to Zoom like a pro during the Pandemic, and constantly producing exciting projects for your students. I will miss those sessions now that you’re moving on to your next artistic stage, but so grateful for the wealth of memories and skills you instilled in me, and I’m thrilled you can spend your hard-earned time pursuing your passion. 

Tell us what’s next for you. What projects do you have in the works, or are you just going to let the creativity flow? 

A. I am returning to the mixed media aspect of my art. I miss that. And I am looking forward to letting the “creativity flow” without the schedule and discipline associated with teaching. Here’s a photo of a mixed media piece I’m working on now. It’s a combination of collage and acrylic paints).

D. Thanks so much for that glimpse into your studio and a sunny piece of beautiful art! Let me take the opportunity to share more art you have generously provided for our chat.

D. On this note, one of the things I love to discover about creators is what kind of space they utilize for inspiration. Are there any secrets you would like to pass on about creating the perfect studio, environment, or mood? Do you have a special time of day or a process in addition to a place that helps you be your most creative?

A. Okay, not really a secret :-), but for me two important things one should make sure they have is good lighting and storage space. Even if your funds are limited… Just google “creating storage space in my art studio” and you’ll find tons of very creative, inexpensive, and wonderful ideas for storing your supplies. You want to be able to find things when you need them and have a workspace that you can clear up when starting a new project. Insofar as lighting is concerned, watch for sales at the craft stores (on-line too) for Ott Lites.  An Ott Lite provides a precise balance of contrast and brightness that allows you to see details clearly and colors accurately. Other light sources can create harsh glares, distortions, and eye fatigue. An Ott Lite is like having natural daylight indoors! 

Most importantly, make your studio space your own! I like to be surrounded by things that are important to me, which is why I have a cozy spot on the floor for Sophie, my fur baby!! Also visible in my studio are mementos, photos, artwork, quotations, etc. that inspire me or hold a special meaning. In terms of time of day, process, place when I am most creative, I don’t have specific ones. If I have a deadline for something, well, that obviously helps! :-).My MO is to go into my studio every day to do something… and if the creative juices just aren’t flowing I go and do something completely different. I’ve learned not to angst over it. Rather, I will make the most of whatever else I decide to do… whether it’s: take a walk, physical activity, read a book, cook, whatever. And I will enjoy what I’ve chosen to do! 

I’ve discovered that making sure you put joy into your life is important to me as an artist. 

D. Where can our readers follow your progress? Any upcoming art shows or plans to that effect?

A. I’m just getting started and have plans to turn my current Zentangle blog into one that will showcase my art as well as any shows, etc. I plan to exhibit a couple of my pieces at the next judged show being held on January 1 at the Nevada Artists Association in Carson City.

D. Thank you so much for visiting with me, Audrey! Do you have any parting advice for our readers who want to pursue their creative passions, art, or Zentangle?

A. Just do it!  Jump in!  It’s easy to find distractions and reasons not to pursue your passions. Taking action will help you get started. Making that first brushstroke will help you begin to paint away and remove those blocks that are getting in the way. 

The most important thing: LOVE what you do! And remember what Rumi said,

“Inside you is an artist you don’t know about.”

So, go discover her or him!

All artwork by Audrey Markowitz. If you share, please give credit to the artist.

Below are examples of Audrey’s traditional Zentangle tiles, using the Zentangle method of creating corner dots on a square tile and connecting them into a frame or border divided by “strings” that you can fill in with repeated tangles (doodles).

The Zentangle® method was created by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas. Zentangle® is a registered trademark of Zentangle, Inc. Learn more at: www.zentangle.com

Views From My Place

I often talk about the inspiring setting in which I live that plays a huge role in my stories. Yesterday offered particularly spectacular scenes, though my amateur photographs don’t do them justice, especially when shot through a window on a cold morning, or from my car on a cold afternoon.

The Sierra Nevada Mountains, Nevada USA

For perspective on geography, Lake Tahoe is just over the mountains.

Writers, are you doodlers when you need to get those thoughts flowing?

This month’s guest spotlight will focus on the creative process and the mindful art of doodling (otherwise known as the Zentangle method), which was passed on to me by my friend and artist, Audrey Markowitz.

Audrey, a great teacher and unflagging motivator, will be joining me on Sunday, December 18. Stop by and find out how easy it is to put down a bit of ink on paper in a mindful way that helps get those creative juices flowing. In fact, Audrey will be talking about how she accomplished that in her everyday life.

I thought I’d gather and share a few of my past creations inspired by Audrey during so many amazing classes over the years. Zentangle is super easy to learn, perfect for creating a piece of art with few supplies, just a few lessons, and in a short time… all while being immensely satisfying and relaxing. There are no mistakes! If you can doodle, you can Zentangle. If your hand leads your pen in a direction you didn’t expect, all the better! Mostly, you can use it to unclutter the mind, and restart that imagination.

If you Zentangle or do other arts or crafts to relax and unclutter the brain, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Happy creating!

Can’t have a complete art journal without adding a spread about my teacher.

Happy Cozy Winter Writing

For me, winter writing means cozied up with blankets, my dogs, coffee or tea, and my laptop. It’s blustery at my house, with snow all around, and it’s been bitter cold. But that all adds up to the perfect conditions for writing.

How about you? What is your favorite season for writing. If you love writing in every season, what is your favorite thing about each?

My Spotlight Guests for the New Year are Lining Up to Meet You – Here is a Little About Them

January

Madeline Davis – Harpist, Scholar, U.S. Fantasy Writer

Madeline and I met in the Fantasy Sci Fi Writer’s Alliance and enjoy helping each other with story feedback. Her insights and editing tips have been invaluable. I love Madeline’s imaginative stories infused with the elements of her classical education and feel privileged to share in her writing journey.

Madeline is a harpist and an avid student, currently working towards her undergraduate degree in the Classics, as that field allows her ample exploration in her favorite subjects–literature, philosophy, theology, history, and languages–all at the same time.

She also enjoys poring over ancient texts and researching in her chosen subjects to incorporate the results into her fantasy genre stories. She hopes to give others a share of the delight she has derived from so many fine tales. And I’m delighted she is joining me for a Q&A, so she can pass that on to you.

Isa Ottoni – Teacher, Fantasy Writer, Enjoys Life in Portugal

I also met Isa through the Fantasy Sci Fi Writer’s Alliance, and like Madeline, Isa is extremely generous with her feedback and support for all of us there. For me, she has been an inspiration and invaluable to my writing journey.

Isa started her career writing science and teaching English as a Second Language, before falling in love with crafting her own fantastical universes. Her comic fantasy tale Braza is featured in Funemployment Press’s Quarterly Summer of Year One. She lives with her husband and their dog in a flat that overlooks the ocean, and spends her days writing, reading, and wondering about the what-ifs of life. I can’t wait for her visit, so we can all experience her joy and generosity.

Click below for the digital Summer Edition of the Funemployment Quarterly, and a collection of short stories, including Isa’s Braza. There is also a print version available. Funemployment Press is featured on my Indie Publishers Page.

February

Sevannah Storm – Artist, Sci-Fi Fantasy Romance Author, NaNoWriMo Buddy, Hales from South Africa

I met Sevannah on NaNoWriMo in 2021, and wow is she a writing machine. Her progress is always motivating. And she has a fantastic collection of books on Amazon for you to check out. I’m including a link to the first book in the Gifting Series below.

Sevannah was born and raised in Africa and is a slave to her internal muse, Reginald. She writes action-packed romances with happily-ever-after and is a firm believer in relatable characters who are strong, capable yet bowled over by love.

Her home is a land south of Wakanda, where animals roam free. Born in Zimbabwe, she grew up in South Africa. The crisp blue skies with cotton-candy sunsets expand her heart and soul, encapsulating a sense of freedom. Check out her website and newsletter. I can’t wait to chat with her about her writing life and insights.

Musings

Once I realized the “real world” was largely in my head, it became infinitely easier to interact with the reality of others.

Musings

Kent is My New Guru

Check out our conversation and meet this sci-fi author who gives us more on his insights.

My Pod People Had Their Own Plans for NaNoWriMo – My Decision to Unpublish

What a surprise this November is turning out to be. The best laid plans… as they say. But I have never been one to stick with plans if something tells me I need to mix it up and to go a different direction.

For NaNoWriMo this year, my Pod People (aka characters seeded in my brain by aliens) spun me around blindfolded under a pinata and after bashing away, I’ve made all sorts of turns and transitions in my writing career.

And I’m totally thrilled and surprised by the results.

In the first week, I changed my project three times. Then, I had an epiphany. I needed to unpublish my novels. Books One and Two in The Starlight Chronicles were languishing, loveless in the nether regions of the Kindle Universe. I’m still working on the conclusion and thought at one point that would be my focus for November.

But the pressure of completing my series has been weighing on me. I decided that getting them off the market, using the time to finish and polish them, finding a book cover artist for a cohesive professional look, and launching them with a fresh marketing campaign might be exactly what they, and I need.

An exhilarating freedom resulted. I’ve been infused with new energy. There are three other novels in the works that are getting the attention they deserve. I made one of them my focus for November but decided not to worry about hitting my goal if I want to write on other projects. What a relief that has been, and I’ve made progress with them all.

I have also allowed myself to participate in various flash fiction and short story competitions, which have been more enjoyable without the pressure of getting that third installment done.

And I’ve spent much time this month giving renewed love to The Starlight Chronicles. My Pod People have spoken, and I listened.

Other factors played a huge role in my rejuvenation. I belong to a writer’s alliance and the support I got for this crucial decision was phenomenal. A Twitter post by a member of the Writing Community about deciding to unpublish was ever so timely. And advice on holding onto the joy of writing while letting go of the drudgery of marketing sealed the deal. You can join that discussion in my recent interview with Sci-Fi author, Kent Wayne.

The month is not over folks… I wonder what other surprises might be in store. And please. Tell me how your November is shaping up.

The Death’s Head Omen is a recent micro fiction story I entered in a contest. Results in January.

Guest Spotlight with Sci-Fi Author, Kent Wayne, aka The Dirty Sci-Fi Buddha

Or is it the Dirty Sci-Fi Buddha, aka Kent Wayne? Hmmm. I’ll let you decide after you meet him. Read on!

Click on images to link to Mr. Wayne’s books and blogs.

You might guess my first question today, Kent. What seeds that imagination when you write your “Yet another weird ad for my novels” blog? They sure caught my attention.

Believe it or not, no one’s asked me that before.  Oftentimes, it’s a throwaway joke I hear on a comedy podcast.  It takes root in my mind, grows into a premise, then I change the context so I can make a miniature story out of it. Other times, I’m struck by a “What If,” then when I sit down to write, I tease out the possibilities within that premise.  

You’ve created foes, heroes, and the most zany and naughty superpowers from just about every likely and unlikely personality in our universe, with Kent Wayne extracting himself by the skin of his… well, you know… every time, as long as he has that precious second to activate his eReader. I read them because I can’t wait to see who might show up next in your action-packed appendage battles! What’s the story behind the stories?

One of my writing principles is to amp things up as much as I can (by “as much as I can,” I mean constrain events with logic while reaching for maximal absurdity or the emotionally evocative), and then smooth things over as I edit. That definitely applies to my ads, where I write about prehensile genitalia or Martha Stewart shoving a mithril lance into Smaug’s nether-hole.

As a kid, I read Calvin and Hobbes over and over.  I especially loved the arcs where he imagined he was a noir detective, articulate dinosaur, or Spaceman Spiff.  Barry Ween was another big influence.  

I love the idea of extraordinary circumstances arising in the ordinary world, then reveling in the adventure and fun as madness ensues.

D. Awesome. Thanks for sharing your techniques! I have to say I would like to emulate that effect. There’s nothing better than an enjoyable read over breakfast that has my brows shooting up and laughter coming out of my nose with my coffee.

Click on the Dirty Sci-Fi Buddha to visit Kent and follow his posts. And click here for his volume of Musings on Amazon

Do the blogs spring out of nowhere, or do you have an arsenal of notes to pull from when you’re ready to give us another one?

When I have an idea, I’ll write a cliffs notes version of the basic gist, usually no more than a sentence long (ex:  defile jock’s jacket, jock gets mad, defeat jock and hook up with his mom).  I also do this with books–if I’m afraid I’m going to forget what I want to write, I’ll write a cliffs notes version in brackets at my furthest point in the manuscript.  

In the past, I have at times sat down with no idea or clue and just started writing on a blank page.  In some of the older blogs, you’ll see me start with “What to write, what to write, what to wriiiiiiiitteee…” and then I let my fingers go and come up with something on the spot.  

I know the ads/blogs are popular. Do they work to sell your books? Would you say they’re an extension of your published stories, or are they in a world all by themselves? And are they as fun to write as they are to read? 

Not at all, LOL!  I’ve given up trying to sell books; it’s made me miserable in the past.  I just try and have fun with writing.  The primary reward for me is the fulfillment and engagement I get from crafting a story–it’s the one activity that always seems to flow without any effort for me.

The blogs are my overtures toward advertising.  But I hate advertising, so I decided why not exercise my writing muscles when I publish an ad?

D. Great points. I only started writing fiction a couple of years ago. I did it because it was fun. The first year stayed fun, the second year, I went down the marketing rabbit hole, and I keep trying to climb back out. This is encouraging. Thank you!

Tell us about your other books on Amazon.

My other books are Echo, a four-book science fiction series that follows a warrior who’s pushed it as far as he can in a militarized dystopia, then embarks on a quest for personal transcendence.  In addition to the robo-suits and high-tech pew-pew, I throw in a lot of psychic stuff and existential philosophy, although they don’t come into play until volumes 3 and 4.

Kor’Thank:  Barbarian Valley Girl was my way of trying something new and branching into humor.  It’s kind of like a long-form version of my ads, but it’s got heart and character development in it since it’s a full-length book.

I write books I want to read (or I would have wanted to read when I was younger), so after I covered the robo-badass stuff and the zany high school fun, I wrote a YA fantasy called A Door into Evermoor.  Now that Dungeons and Dragons is cool and you can admit to playing it without being encircled and laughed at by trend-worshipping mouth-breathers, I’ll freely admit I played D&D as a kid. 

D. Haha. One of the best reasons I’ve heard for writing a story!

What inspired you to write fiction?

I kind of stumbled onto it via a happy accident. I tried writing in my twenties, but I was like most writers where I couldn’t get past a premise or a couple of chapters.  For some reason, I was able to do it in my thirties. I suspect it was because I had some life experience, but mostly because I was starting to understand the psychology behind a narrative–how a character’s personality should develop through a story, and how corresponding events should complement that development.

D. Another great nugget of inspiration. Thanks!

Which authors have inspired you most? 

Stephen King, specifically his Dark Tower series, specifically the second volume, The Drawing of Three. The part where a gunslinger-knight from another dimension lies dying on an alien beach, then gets his first taste of Pepsi, is burned into my mind as the most viscerally impactful scene I’ve ever read.

Also, Robin Hobb and the first two volumes of the Farseer series, Assassin’s Apprentice and Royal Assassin.

Can you tell us about your works in progress, any ones you’re particularly fond of at the moment, and when we might expect to see them in print?

Right now, I’ve finished drafting the second volume of the Unbound Realm, which is called Weapons of Old. I’m deep in the edits, trying to work out the logic holes, spice up the descriptions, and kicking myself for not remembering to set up this or that for the next volume.  

After that, I plan on writing volume 3, then tackling an extradimensional detective noir.  The release dates depend on when I can do a smooth read-through without catching major problems. That typically means I can read through the entire book in less than a week without anything big jumping out at me. 

D. I really appreciate getting some insight on your creative process. It’s helpful to glimpse how writers tackle the sheer volume of work that’s always in play.

Which of your characters is your favorite, and why?

I’m always biased towards whoever I’m writing about, so Jon from the Unbound Realm is my favorite at that moment.

What has been your biggest highlight of the last year?

My biggest highlight is finishing the first volume of my YA fantasy series. I’ve spent most of my life as an emotionally stunted, tough-guy meathead, so it’s nice to see that I can tap into the wonder and adventure I wished for as a kid.  I never expressed it back then, so it’s nice to see it flow onto the page.

D. I think you just tapped into one of the many unexpected benefits of being a writer and thank you again for sharing your experiences.

What are you most excited about over the next year?

I’m excited to publish the second volume of the Unbound Realm, write and publish volume 3, then move on to my astral detective noir.

D. All the best on those endeavors. I love anything with noir, and that last project sounds super intriguing. Keep us posted!

Any parting advice for those who dream about becoming a writer, or starting up a blog?

Fun is the priority. There are better ways to make money. If writing doesn’t bring you joy, then the pain and inconvenience better be worth it in some other way–maybe fulfillment or pride or internal validation–but that’s not my approach. I think that’s similar to someone who stays in a miserable job so they can retire in their old age and enjoy a few years of not having to do a miserable job.  

I used to idolize hard-chargers, folks who preached constant sacrifice and austerity, but now my role model is Keanu Reeves. From my perspective, that guy is a horrible actor, he’s kind of weird, and comes off as not the brightest, but it seems like he prioritizes enjoyment and stays true to his heart (he turned down Speed 2 and the buttload of money that came with it, looks for roles he likes, and cuts his salary to boost production he believes in). Success is nice, but if you’re outwardly successful and inwardly miserable, what’s the point? Whatever is outwardly happening to me, regardless of whether it meets someone else’s definition of miserable or happy, I’d like to honor my inner compass. I don’t want writing to become a horrible office job with loads of obligations and constant low-key anxiety. I’d like to be the Keanu Reeves of writing, if that makes any sense.  

I’d also recommend learning how symbolism works through imagery and action (in cinema, smoking a cigarette almost always means the smoker is going to be self-destructive, and taking a shower almost always references some form of rebirth because the character is naked and drenched like they would be in a womb). Those are just artsy tools, however. I think understanding the hero’s journey–which Joseph Campbell does a great job of breaking down–is probably of utmost importance.  The audience doesn’t want to see a guy just putter through life and never experience meaningful change; we see too much of that in our day to day. The advantage of a well-told story is you get to see the highlights of a character’s life.

D. That is the best ending advice I’ve had to date. If I didn’t have only twenty months left to retire and get my pension, I’d be out of that office so fast, my hair pins would be spinning! 😄 At the very least, I’m feeling a lot better about slow book sales and can focus again on the joy of writing them. Thanks so much for visiting with us on my Spotlight blog today. This has been a lot of fun. All the best to you, Kent.