Failures Part III

As I considered my next blog in this series, I came across this article in my mailbox and thought I would inject a small part of it here, between my writings, because Sue Grafton confirms what I wrote about in “Failures Part II,” in that we learn by failing.

Sue is the best-selling and award-winning author of the famous alphabet murder mystery series, with Kinsey Millhone as the protagonist: A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, C is for Corpse…

Here are Sue’s own words about what constitutes success and why failing is important. The source link for her quoted words is below.

What has made you so successful?

I hope it is because I try to be honest, and I try not to sell anything. I just try to let the work take care of itself. . . .

What advice do you have for newer writers?

My big gripe about newer writers is they’re not willing to put the time in. Somebody’ll write one book and they’re asking me who my agent and my editor are, and I’m thinking, Don’t you worry, sweetheart, you’re not any good yet. Give yourself time to get better. Writing is really hard to master. You learn by failing over and over, but a lot of people don’t care for that, thanks. I always wish new writers the greatest good fortune. It’s a helluva journey—I’ll tell you that.

“You learn by failing over and over.”  She’s also confirming that if we write a good story, the writing will sell itself.

Reading her words, I’m being reminded by an expert that I need to stop trying to sell, that I need to turn my focus back to the writing of the stories.

Guest Column. “W Is for Writer: A 2010 interview with Sue Crafton (1940=2017).” Web blog post. There are No Rules. Writer’s Digest, 31 Dec. 2017. Web. 9 Jan 2018.


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Failures Part II

Before I begin, I have to tell you that I had to restart this particular blog at least 20 times. I knew what I wanted to say but was failing every time! Finally, having about six pages of single-spaced paragraphs of various starts and stops, I stepped back and analyzed, realizing I kept segueing off into several other topics of failure. Instead of this blog being a two-part blog, it needs to be three parts or, maybe, even four parts. Yup, more to come . . . but for now, here’s Part II.

My last post provided a list of successful people who failed early in their careers. Did you see it? If not, you may want see it or revisit the list for inspiration. It’s quite an eye-opening list. (Failures: Part I)

But let’s focus on how we fail and how we need to fail in order to learn.

Consider babies learning to walk. They fall down a lot! No baby ever gets up and starts running. They practice.

Kids learn a sport through practice. After school, on weekends, during games, alone, with others.

Most anyone who plays a musical instrument, does so because they practiced. Same with dancers, painters, anyone learning an art, or a trade. They practice. (I say most because there can be the savant that amazes everyone.)

 Failure Is Part of Practice

We learn when we’re frustrated, when we’re unhappy.

Let that sink in for a moment.

We learn when something is hard, when it requires our full attention, our full determination.

We learn most when we fail.

In failure we learn how to do it right. Edison said, “I learned 999 ways how not to create a light bulb.”

So, how does a writer move from failure to success?

  • Keep writing. Finished your first book? Great. Start writing a second one, while you edit the first. Finished your fifth? Great! Start writing the next one, while you edit, polish, submit, or consider making changes on the other three.
  • Be prepared to gets rejections. Maybe lots of them. I can paper the walls of my house with my rejections. Even the best writers still get them. Know that rejections are never personal. Your work just wasn’t a good match (think dating which leads to marriage) for that publication.
  • Enter contests. Placing in a contest is a sign that you’re writing is better than the average. However, different judges could have determined different results. Humbling, isn’t it?
  • Keep writing. Keep practicing.
  • Take classes. I’ve been writing for nearly forty years and I’m still taking class AND learning new things.
  • Get a degree in writing. Getting my BA in creative writing and then an MFA in drama were the best decisions I’ve ever made. One, because I was forced to embrace writers and readings I never would have chosen on my own, and second, the MFA allowed me to get a day job in my favorite passion and that job became fun! That education both broadened and deepened my writing skills.
  • Read everything, especially read outside your genre. Analyze what you read. Stop and think about that phrase you praise.
  • Write and experiment in different genres. If nothing else, try them just for the fun of it. I learned how to write better fiction by learning how to write scripts. I learned how to write better dialogue by writing plays.
  • Find your niche. Most find their niche in a single genre. I finally recognized that my niche is a variety of genres. When I began having success in romance writing, I became bored. I still write romance, but I write fantasy, nonfiction, and other genres, as well. Thus the romance writing is part of the spice again. Variety keeps all genres fun and interesting.
  • Keep writing. Keep practicing.
  • Learn about the business!!! I can’t stress this one enough. If you know the business, you’ll know when someone is trying to scam you.
  • Learn grammar. Yes, learn it. Find an expert who will teach you the rules. Otherwise, be prepared to spend lots of money to line editors who will fix your errors. It’s not a wasted skill. I wasn’t an expert when I began writing, but I became an expert by having to teach others. Seriously, the best way to learn something is to teach it.
  • Read articles, the how-to books, and then ask your questions. Don’t join a forum and ask questions that you could have easily found the answers to.
  • Join writing groups. If nothing else, find a few people and start your own group. There’s nothing more inspiring than meeting with people who talk your language.
  • Find beta readers. People who will read your work and provide honest feedback. Like finding a marriage partner, agent, or editor, it could take a while to find good beta readers. They shouldn’t be relatives or best friends, however, unless they have a degree in English.
  • Become a beta reader yourself. You’ll learn lots by reading the writings of others. You’ll see your mistakes in their work. And you’ll probably discover that you’re writing is better than you thought.

And above all, keep writing. Keep practicing.

If you still keep failing, remember Edison’s lesson of finding 999 ways not to do something. He had to keep changing his process 999 times until he found his success on his 1000th try. Nine hundred-ninety-nine times. Are you willing to go that distance?

Do you have the ability to change up what isn’t working? To put in the hours of practice?

If you do, then you’ll preserve your way to success . . . eventually.

Happy writing!

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Failures – Part I

So many times, I’ve witnessed students and new writers exclaim that successful writers never failed.

That’s when I would share this list of successful people who failed early in their careers.

When I shared this list with my students, immediately I had their attention. I knew what they were thinking: well, if that person could fail and still be successful, then there’s hope for me!

Everyone, absolutely everyone, unless they are a savant, start their craft as a beginner and will encounter failures.

Yes, there are exceptions, but they are few, and more often than not they will experience failure somewhere else in their career. Or they’ll stop with that one huge successful book fearing failure if they continue. Margaret Mitchell, who wrote Gone with the Wind, was one such person. Truman Capote, of In Cold Blood, was yet another.

Here’s a list of successful people who failed:

  • Dr. Seuss was rejected 23 times.
  • Michael Jordon was cut from high school basketball.
  • Henry Ford went broke 5 times.
  • Helen Keller graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College, became famous author & lecturer.
  • Albert Einstein was rejected by University of Bern on his PhD dissertation saying it was irrelevant and fanciful. (And if not for his wife who typed the papers and submitted them, he never would have been published.)
  • Richer Hooker worked 7 years on M*A*S*H and was rejected by 21 publishers.
  • Babe Ruth struck out 1330 times.
  • Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper for lack of ideas.
  • Beethoven’s violin teacher declared him hopeless as a composer.
  • IBM, GE, RCA all rejected the Xerox machine.
  • Parker Brothers turned down Trivia Pursuit.
  • Bette Davis, Clark Gable, Maurice Chevalier, Shirley Temple, and Laurence Olivier all failed their screen tests.
  • Fred Estaire was cited in a memo by MGM executive after his first screen tests in 1933 that he “can’t act, slightly bald. Can dance a little.”
  • John Grisham’s book, A Time to Kill, was rejected by 28 publishers.
  • William Golding’s book, Lord of the Flies, was rejected 21 times.
  • Pearl Buck’s book, The Good Earth, was rejected 14 times.
  • George B. Shaw’s first five novels were rejected.
  • Mary Higgins Clark’s first short story was rejected 40 times.
  • Louis L’Armour’s first story was rejected 350 times.
  • Stephen King was rejected 41 times before his first manuscript was accepted.

Doesn’t this list give you hope? Sure did me!

Bottom line: The only ones who really fail are those who give up!

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The Lettuce Myths

Seriously? A blog about lettuce?


It happened because I was trying to write a blog about my bucket list, which morphed into two other blogs. There was no continuity with any of the writing, so I gave up, answering the internal lunch bell, AKA, the stomach growlies that scream, “Feed me!”

I lay a bed of kale in a bowl and got out a knife. Immediately, I heard my mother’s voice: Always tear lettuce. If you cut it with a knife, you destroy its flavor. Yes, she used to say that. More than once. Every time I had to set the table and put lettuce on our plates, she said it. I set the table every other night. We had iceberg lettuce with nearly every meal.

And then, not so many years ago, I had this friend who told me she never eats iceberg lettuce because it has no nutritional value; she only eats the other lettuces. I actually laughed at that one because how can one lettuce have 100% nutritional value and the other have 0%? I found that comment irrational from a critical thinking standpoint and because this was coming from a highly degreed individual. Where had that information come from for it to be parroted so strongly?

After that discussion, I will admit, however, that I began to wonder: do different lettuces have different nutritional values?

I did the research.

Yes, different lettuces do have different trace levels of nutrients, but they are trace levels, as in a hundredth of a percent! I reported back to my friend, but she didn’t believe me. She continues to blissfully buy the more expensive lettuces, choosing to believe the marketeers over the science. I continue to buy iceberg, but I’ll admit that I do add spinach and kale to the mix, when wanting to splurge or add a varying blend of green to my plate.

As to the cutting versus tearing myth, I couldn’t find one source that said anything about diminished flavor, but there were many sites that talked about the myth of cut edges turning brown not being true.

Turns out that both these myths were just that: myths.

Of course, now I’m also wondering, where in the heck do these myths come from? What is any myth’s genesis?

The research continues.

This is where I have a love relationship with the Internet. Researching is far easier now than it was pre-Internet.

So, what myths have you debunked or always wondered about?

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A Village at Work

As a writer, I’m privy to a lot of conversations. A good majority of those conversations come from my characters who converse inside my head. Sometimes they gang up on me, like little kids, demanding, “Me next!” “It’s my turn!” Other times, as I write their journals, they talk about their deep wounds, their darkest secrets they want no one else to know. Other times they make me laugh at the things they say to each other.

As a teacher, I was privy to a lot of conversations. Before class would start, I would overhear two guys boasting about their 1) truck mudding weekend, 2) their beer/sports binging weekend, or hear about 3) their boring weekend where nothing good happened because 1) their truck was on blocks or 2) they were so broke, they couldn’t buy any beer.

I’d overhear young mothers exchanging stories about their kids; or, I’d overhear an older student reveal that she wrote her draft due that day late the night before while in a hospital or hospice room or at the home of a parent because a parent had 1) fallen and broken a hip, 2) suffered a heart attack, 3) or that the end was near.

I overheard many, many heartbreaking stories, ordinary stories, and sometimes the extraordinary story that got many of us involved in conversations well before class started and often become part of the class discussion because of the topic.

As a citizen who enjoys eating out, I’m privy to a lot conversations that swirl around me in the restaurants. My favorite place is a local diner where the tables, as opposed to the booths, are close, reminding me of New York and Chicago, where tables for two are lined up in neat tight, rows, with just enough room for the booth-side occupants to squeeze through to get seated.

On Father’s Day, I took my step-father out to breakfast at our favorite diner. Naturally, the place was crowded. In a corner that had four tables in close proximity, we were hearing each other’s conversations.

In the middle of our group was a family of three: mom, dad, and a young man of college age. The dad was telling the son that he was embarking on a life-altering experience and not to shrug away the wonderful opportunity that he had been given.

The topic: getting a college education.

The initial discussion was about algebra. Dad was saying that even though the son might never use the algebra as he was taught (the equations specifically) that he would be using algebra his entire life to solve other kinds of problems.

It sounded like the son didn’t like algebra and didn’t want to take the class because he didn’t know what he wanted to do. That such classes were a waste of time. The son respectfully listened as his father explained that no class is ever a waste of time, that those first classes are building a foundation for all other classes that would follow.

Go Dad! It was a speech I’d given with experiential understanding as to why they are necessary.

The father continued saying that anyone who has earned a doctorate deserved to be called doctor, simply by the fact that the degree involved a lot of work. Dedicated years. The son was saying he didn’t know if he wanted to go to graduate school, with dad saying even though he didn’t know now, not to blow off the early classes, as they would become important.

And then, the magic happened.

A father at the next table on the other side, spoke up, saying, listen to your dad. He knows what he’s talking about, that what you earn in life is determined by the education you obtain.

Soon, these two families had me and a woman at a fourth table engaged in the conversation, because we had been nodding our heads in agreement.

What I wanted to be able to tell that young man was:

College is not like high school. College attracts people who want to be there.

College is about your beliefs and your values being scrutinized in a way never done before or by people you’re not related to. That college is about turning your life upside down and inside out, which forces understanding of why you believe what you do. For some, it’s a huge transformation because it’s their first encounter of such scrutiny, and where they first realize that their values and beliefs belong to their parents, not to themselves.

College is where you’ll find your people: people who think like you do, who have the same career dreams, who act like you do; meaning, you won’t be the only nerd in the room; now, it’s a roomful of nerds! And yes, we’re all nerds of one kind or another. I’m a writing nerd. There are language nerds, literature nerds, math and science nerds, computer nerds, accounting nerds…

College is where swear words are allowed. I always found it amusing when a student would throw out the first f-bomb and everyone held their breath, waiting for my retort. I would laugh. That’s when the real conversations began to take place, because we professors are after the ideas behind the words.

When the dad had sent the son off to pay the bill, to figure out the 20% tip that needed adding, we asked and learned that the son was 19.

That’s when Dad turned to Mom and said, “He’s not your little baby boy, anymore.”

Yup, the magic of a village was happening that morning in one small diner in one small town.

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Conferences, Retreats, & Write-Ins: Oh, my!

A number of my writing peeps are blogging about the our recent Retreat From Harsh Reality, a weekend where we as an organization, Mid-Michigan Romance Writers of America, put on an annual writing retreat.

I don’t want to repeat all of their accolades and what we did specifically; so instead, I’ll answer those questions that writers often ask:  How is a conference different from a retreat?   What is a write-in?

Both writing conferences and writing retreats desire to make money for their organization, or at the utmost minimum, pay for the expenses, such as was my goal last fall when I put together our organization’s Halloween weekend write-in retreat.  Otherwise, what’s the point?  Write-ins can be free or they can involve costs depending on their location or whether they are sponsored.


These are formal affairs.  Dress is generally business casual.  There is always one main speaker, a noted professional of rank and success, which is a draw for the conference.  This individual becomes the plenary or featured speaker, sometimes providing a workshop or two.

Additionally, there will be other speakers:  published writers, agents, editors, sometimes publishers, and they provide workshops or sometimes speak in a panel workshop or panel event.

Smaller conferences may offer a day of speakers, where the audience stays seated and the speakers come up front.  Other conferences offer several workshops at the same time, forcing the attendees to choose from two more different workshops.

A common theme for all conferences is where members of the sponsoring organization offer workshops in their field of expertise.

Some conferences are specific genre focused, such as fiction writers or poets.  Other conferences invite writers of all genres to attend and then offer multiple genre tracks of workshops, such as fiction track, non-fiction track, writing for children track, and so on.

I’ve attended small conferences of 100, with the biggest having over 3,000 attendees.  Costs are in relationship to the size of the conference, its location, its speaker headliners, and the number of meals provided.

Generally, at the bigger conferences, only a few main meals are provided with attendees finding restaurants for the rest of their meals.


These are less formal events, but they still provide some structure.  Jeans are appropriate.  More often than not, there is a speaker.  It could be someone from within the group sponsoring the retreat or it could an invited professional, whose expenses are being paid.

Depending on the event location, some or all meals can be provided.  The retreats provide writing time for the attendees or free time where they can meet for brain-storming or discussing the business of writing.  Some retreats providing workshops in the morning, writing time in the afternoon, and sharing time at dinner.

A retreat at a bed and breakfast, or one with a great vista location and themed with a great writer, such as the weeklong retreat honoring Virginia Woolf, A Room of Her Own Foundation for Women, in New Mexico every year can provide the camaraderie for those who don’t belong to a writing organization that meets locally or regularly.


These are events where the goal is for participants to get away from day-to-day responsibilities and to spend their time writing.  While you’re all together physically, you’re working individually.

I’ve been at twice-weekly write-ins at various eateries, such as Panera Bread, Grand Traverse Pie Company, Starbucks, or other locations that cater to writers, while I was living in Kalamazoo.  We would meet for a few hours in the evening after work and then again on Saturday morning.

Last year, I hosted a Halloween weekend write-in at a nearby bed-and-breakfast, Lily Hill Farm in Paw Paw, where we brought in our own food and we came together at meal times.  Otherwise, we were spread throughout the spacious farmhouse working alone, whether in our rooms or at various tables in the main rooms.

Also, I’ve participated in virtual write-ins, such as are sponsored by the Capital City Writers Association through their Finish the Damn Book program.  As a member, while it isn’t feasible for me to travel an hour one-way to participate, I am able to participate online, quite easily.


These write-ins can be as long or short as you want.  They can cost nothing, cost little, or cost much more, depending on your need or desire.

I’ve always wanted to do an Ernest Hemingway Key West Retreat for a week, taking someone with me.  Or go to Mackinac Island for a few days alone or with another writer, or taking the train across the country while writing.  Lately, renting a castle in England sounds like a fun write-in event.

What about you?  Do you have any favorite writing retreat locations?

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The Sun Also Rises … It Does?

“Everyone behaves badly–given the chance.”
― Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

It’s 10 p.m.  I’ve been at my desk 11 hours today, starting the revision of a script I wrote more than a decade okay but had to lay aside, hoping one day I’d return to it.

That day has arrived.  I want to keep writing now but the so-called bedtime calls.

And yet, that call seems to escape me when I retire directly from the writing.  My creative mind is still a-whirling.  There’s no stopping it.

Writing is my full-time job now.  This is my fourth month, third actually, as the first month I was settling into my new apartment.  I seem to have settled into a routine but it doesn’t really jive with the rest of the world.

I’m really not surprised at the 11 hours.  What does surprise me is that I think I’ve only been working for 5 or 6 hours, which can easily be 15 or 16 instead, with 11 and 12 becoming the average.  Obviously, I’m in the zone and falling down the rabbit hole of creation, losing track of time.  The White Rabbit would be furious, of course.

Strangely, I find myself wanting to arise with the sun.  Instead, it’s closer to lunchtime.

I’d like to more in sync with the rest of the world.  Although, there is something to be said for empty restaurants in the middle of the morning or afternoon.

Also, I’d like to spend evenings watching the news, then some favorite programs.  Instead, I’m watching the recordings of these programs late, late, late at night, speeding through the commercials.

I’m reading while eating.  Not a bad habit, until I’m eating more than I should because I want to keep reading.  Okay, I  can fix that habit.  Now that spring has finally arrived, I can sit out on my patio and read, enjoying the birds and relative quiet while others are at work during the day.

Overall, what’s wrong with this picture?  Nothing really.  I’m reading, writing, and enjoying life, ecstatic that each day is mine.

So what if at 5 or 6 a.m., I finally fall asleep, getting my best sleep.  A nap, really.

So what if I’m answering the door in my PJs when the mail, UPS, or Fed-Ex arrives, and I look like someone’s worst nightmare?  “Oops, you caught me!” always gets a laugh.  I’m sure it isn’t their first time.

I’m even considering sleeping in my clothes so they won’t be so embarrassed, but that just seems wrong somehow.

Trouble is, I have two early morning appointments coming up this week, the first in two days.  That means blowing the cobwebs off the alarm clock.  Actually, rising with the sun.

Maybe I should practice tomorrow morning.  Just to make sure I still hear the alarm’s obnoxious ring.  What does it sound like again?

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Creating Characters

I love creating characters.  This part of creative writing is one of my favorite activities, along with creating plot, and then creating the outline.

Whenever I begin a story, I usually have a visual of my main character and a slight idea of their nemesis or the counter character if a romance.  Generally, I see their goal and wound or flaw that drives the goal, and this goal becomes the driving force for the rest of the story’s development, both in plot and characterization.

Real relationships develop over time but in creating characters, I don’t have that kind of time.  I need to learn about them deeply and quickly.  So, I’ve learned to create character journals.

Starting with the main character, I write pages that are that character’s diary pages.  They’re simply recording on paper anything and everything they want to tell me.  I don’t care about what the character looks like, what their favorite ice cream flavor is, what they like to read, and other superficial characteristics.  Instead, I want to know if they were bullied, how they get along with others, what is their deep dark secret that they would be horrified if others know.  I want to know how they developed, emotionally.  What drives them to despair, what frustrates them, what gives them profound pleasure.

In the writing these pages, their voice appears before I’m at the end of the first page, especially in tone and sentence structure.  One may use flowery language, another speaks in short, choppy sentences, while another swears in every sentence.

I get to know these characters intimately, as if they are living with me.  Well, actually, they are:  in my head.

Early in my novel writing career, I discovered this method of creating characters for a romance I was writing.  In addition, I discovered this method by accident.

Because I was a journal writer myself, I thought, why not let my main characters write in their journals?

On this particular day, when both my hero and heroine had exhausted their thoughts on paper, each providing me with about four pages of single-spaced text, I had my daughter, who was in high school and good with English, read their journals.

When she was finished reading, she said, “Who wrote these, Mom?”

I replied, “I did.”

“No, who wrote these?”

I did.”

“No,” she said.  This time she spoke slowly, enunciating each word.  “Who.  Wrote.  These?”

I replied in like tone and enunciation.  “I.  Did.”

Exasperated, she said, “No, these were written by two different people.”

I grinned.

My characters were real.

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Creating a (Writing) Space

I moved recently.  I noticed as I removed items off the shelves and walls, those items some call knickknacks but I call reflections of my personality or that provide Feng Shui cures for structural obstacles, that the chi (another name for energy, pronounced chee) began to swirl around the room.

As the books came off the shelves and the pictures off the walls, the rooms began to echo.  Sounds became almost disturbing.  Hollow.  Lacking depth.  I shivered not liking this energy.

Suddenly, I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

Prior to the day of the big move, when movers would take my dozens of boxes and heavier, bulkier furniture to my new place, I was moving my kitchen and bathroom, getting those two rooms set up.  My office equipment and supplies, along with my mementos and other Feng Shui materials were stacked, waiting for later placement after the big furniture arrived.

During this pre-emptive moving, I watched these two rooms became warm and the welcoming, positive chi return.

Because I moved into a much smaller apartment, moving from 740 square feet to 520 square feet losing 220 square feet in the process, once the furniture was in position, the boxes were piled everywhere, with most of them stacked in the living room.

Diana's new living room - from this to

The energy was stifling.  Instantly, I was reminded of my grandmother.  She was wonderfully creative and funny but a hoarder, a product of the depression, who lived with a single pathway through her living area.  For nearly a week, my home resembled hers and I thought of her often as I waded through my sea of boxes.

As I unpacked, I discovered I hadn’t pared down enough.  I had more furniture to get rid of.  A dresser.  A small buffet-like table with big, expansive drawers, a large bookcase, storage bins.  Lots of office supplies that I might use one day.  And, an assortment of other stuff.

As I hung pictures, placed my jars of collected sands, beach rocks, and other mementos on the shelves, I listened to and observed the clues that I was creating creative and positive chi:  goosebumps, a new movement of air, even an audible (in my mind’s ear) sigh that this was that item’s home.  Quickly, I noticed that a number of Feng Shui items I had used in my prior apartment weren’t needed for this place: the energy here is far better than the energy was there.

Almost two weeks after my official move, I’m finally settled in.

Diana's new living room

One friend commented that I have an office that comes with a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen.  She’s right.  Virginia Woolf would be proud.

My new life is devoted to writing and my space wonderfully reflects this new path.

I’m home.

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A Writer’s Hell

It was a frightful dark and uprooting stormy night
when The Muse woke me with a start. The
clock struck three when she commanded,

“Follow me.” With her pixie face, light colored curls,
and luminous eyes, I was more than happy to
comply. The lightweight filmy material

of her dress danced around her body as the winds
blew through my bedroom window, first
hugging the dress to her body, then

pulling it away only to flutter and swirl around her
legs some more. She has fetched me many
times before. At first, I thought our journey

would be of light and merriment, maybe another trip
down the fragrant but mindless primrose path
we’ve past journeyed. Instead, I was led to

the edge of the sea where waves crashed repeatedly,
pounding the rocky cliffs, reducing rock to
gritty sand in the milieu of time. The

Muse forged a trail weaving among the rocks. A
virtual maze; there was no way back alone for
me. A huge gaping hole in the rock, like

the mouth of a giant snake with its jaw unhinged to
swallow its prey whole faced me. I trembled
in fear. When we crossed the cave’s threshold,

the ocean’s roar disappeared, replaced with a constant
rumble that tightly coiled itself around my
nerves. I glanced at my guide. I stumbled and

fell against the craggy wall. I didn’t care for this
experience already. Fear gripped me tight,
squeezing the air out of my lungs. The Muse

sensing I was no longer behind her, stopped,
turned, and looked back. I gasped at the
transformation. Her beautiful dress was

now a heavy, dark cloak that covered her so
completely that she was now a mere shadow.
When had she turned from a delightful,

playful creature to one who looked like the epitome of
Death? Gaunt bones, white skin, and dark
hollows where bright eyes should have been

stared at me vacantly. “Where. . .where . . . where are
we?” stuttered I, afraid to hear the answer.
“The Hole of Death.” Her voice was now

raspy, a harsh whisper. “Where all writers must
come.” “Must?” I shivered. “The price of
participation.” Her lips thinned into an evil

smile. “You think any of you can write without me?
I am your window of light, the door that
allows you entry into the New World where so

few are allowed, but the door so many want to enter.”
“But why me?  Here now?” I asked. “I’m not
yet dead in body.” “So you will know what’s

to come,” she replied. I learned all writers are given
the tour, but never a cure. Could I ever stop
my use of Her, I wondered. Did I want to?

She turned, knowing I would follow. The further we
traveled through the tunnel—the snake’s
body—the steeper became the downward

slope, the more stagnant the air. A sharp turn. The
assault to my ears and eyes unbearable.
Screams, insane laughter, shouts, and

an overall din of babble bubbled forth like hot lava.
There was no escape. A huge abyss, deep into
the earth yawned before me. What

should have been darkness was lit instead. Across the
hole was a catwalk that led to the other side.
On the other side was an elevator—

totally glassed. And around the rest of the hole was a
rail. While I noticed there were other
people—writers I was told—it took me a

moment to realize that each writer was accompanied
by their own Muse. All The Muses were
clothed similar to mine. Suddenly, at my

side was the Marquis de Sade, tears running down his
face. “Why are you crying?” I asked. “Because
I can’t be down there, being punished. I’m

forced to remain here, to act as host. Worst of all, I
have to keep my clothes on and I have no
feeling in my hands!”  In between racking

sobs, he guided me to the rail. There I could easily
look down into the pit. I saw a multitude of
levels, thousands of writers, and various

activities taking place on each level. As more
writers—partnered with their Muse—entered the
area, the Marquis sobbed. “Is there

anyone who doesn’t want to write?” he moaned,
guiding us into the elevator. The Muse pushed
the only button. Down. The glass box

 stopped at the first level, but I noticed there was no
door to open. A wall of glass for viewing only.
The Muse told me that the residents reach

their different levels by a one-way slide. “Once you are
in The Hole, you are there to stay. ” “There is no
redemption?” I asked. “None.” I quickly

learned those on this first level were librarians,
bookstore owners, writing conference
attendees, English teachers, and students

who never wrote. They lay on the floor, side-by-side
and stacked, tight like sardines in a can, but on
their stomachs, chins pointed down, close

to the edge of the wall where it dropped off, their
mouths sewn shut. “Their sin was in the desire
to know writers, but to never do the work of

one. They bragged of their famous writer friendships,
too. Forever and more they are forced to look
upon that which they can never know or speak

of again.” The Muse pushed the Down button again.
We dropped down to the second level.
Immediately, I recognized many. Lewis

Carroll, Dr. Seuss, e.e. cummings, and A.A. Milne
among them. There was a table and chair and
an old typewriter on the table. “These are

children’s writers,” said I, “but why is cummings
there?” “Because he wrote small.” It was then I
noticed that they were all only one quarter their

normal size and that no one could sit on the chair; it
was too tall. To do so meant they’d have to
work as a team to boost someone up there. It

appeared, however, that they were squabbling, pulling
anyone away who got remotely close to
reaching that destiny. We moved down to

the third level. There were the drinkers and lover,
who indulged themselves every way possible, and
followed the fun. I recognized Poe and

Hemingway but couldn’t determine who the others
were by their weary and tired expressions.
They were forced to stand without aid,

without leaning, gulping ice water after every poem
read from the gentle poets, the likes of Robert and
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Frost,

Lord Byron, Longfellow and so many more. For all
eternity the poets read aloud works to those
who didn’t want to hear. At the fourth level,

Oprah’s authors, and others like Michener, Burroughs,
Clancy, the big volume, best-selling authors,
heavily were ladened with their tomes.

Bookshelves circled the room, but there weren’t nearly
enough for all these books, so they were
carried, not to be put down as more books came

They fought for the shelves, never succeeding. At
the fifth level blood flowed freely. Plagiarists!
All covered in ink and unrecognizable. There

was only one bottle of ink and everyone hacked each
other with sharp instruments—deadly pointed
quills—as they tried to dip tips into the bottle.

At the sixth level, Truman Capote received paper cuts
from Margaret Mitchell, Wm. Faulkner,
Tennessee Williams, and Mark Twain. His

high-pitched squeals made the blood run cold. Conan
Doyle, Earl Stanley Gardner in the following
level continuously told O’Henry synopses of

their tales with O’Henry crying piteously with his ears
covered, “Don’t tell me the ending!” On
another level, teams of writers, like Virginia

Woolf & Mary Shelley, Ralph Ellison & Boris
Pasternak, Anna Sewell & Oscar Wilde, were
slugging it out with the Bronte sisters, forced to

learn the sisters’ manners. The ninth level was the
romance writers. Chocolate hung from the
ceiling just out of reach, tempting, teasing,

tantalizing them to a bloody frenzy as they climbed
over each other. The floor was littered with the
sharp points of their author giveaway pens. The

tenth level contained the critics, forced to drink ink,
and stab themselves relentlessly with #2 lead
pencils. The Muse then told me there was only

one more level, but that we could continue no further,
for the flames were unbearable and would roast
me as I was still alive. I could see flames and

feel the heat rising from below despite our glass
enclosure. “Writers of erotica—they like it hot,
so now they get to feel the heat,” the Muse

declared. “No more,” I wept. “I can’t take seeing
anymore!  This is a nightmare.”  She cackled
with laugher. “This is no nightmare.

This is but the dream. For creation continues here. In a
nightmare, there is no writing. Only writer’s
block. The only way to avoid this future

of hell is to put down your pen.” The Muse assured me
my salvation was guaranteed if I walked away
from The Word. I vowed my promise. A

vow I was determined to keep. I awoke, sheets wet
from the nightmare, frantic at the unbearable.
No hell for me! To the computer, I went,

resolved to delete my files. It automatically opened to
Word, and the last words I had saved flashed
back at me. I screamed. My fingers

trembled, unable to delete, poised to add more. In
black and white horror, the page read: “It was a
frightful dark and uprooting stormy night. . .”

Diana Stout © 2004

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