Harperpages

The blog of author Harper Alexander


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“Hello?…Is Anybody Out There?”…

Hello?

Is anybody out there?

I can hear my voice echo in the silence, skipping down the ghost-town streets like a rock skipped over water.

But there is no water, of course. It’s barren here. Everything fallen into the cracks of the dry ground.

‘Here’ being this blog. Oh, you thought you were reading an excerpt from one of my books? Ha. I wish. Because then you’d actually be reading this. And I suspect that you’re not. That I’m talking to nobody. I’ve run into a strange phenomenon, here on this blog. Post after post, these days, seems to go straight into some persnickety Abyss intent on sabotaging my connection to the readers I once had. Maybe they’re just not interested in what I have to say, anymore. Maybe I’m not interesting.

Except…I can post the exact same thing on another blog, and it gets hits, and likes, and comments. I’ve started running experiments, and, sure enough, without fail, my posts get noticed elsewhere (still on WordPress, mind you, just under other blog names). Just not here, on Harperpages.

Is Harperpages cursed? Well, I don’t believe in such things, but it is strangely like clockwork. And I’m not sure what to do about it. Abandon my main headquarters? That’s…kind of out of the question.

But I’d rather post excerpts where they’re actually going to get read. I’d rather post news where someone is actually going to notice. I’d rather share exciting tidbits where people are actually going to get excited about them.

But, I mean, really? It’s the same stuff, people. Can’t you humor me and rave over ‘Chapter 1’ of my latest book here, instead of on my cooking blog?!

I don’t actually have a cooking blog.

But the principle remains.

Since I don’t believe in curses, I’m going to stop this rant now and stubbornly keep posting to this blog, as I always have, and wait for the wayward readers to find their way back. They will. They have to. It’s the same stuff they’re liking elsewhere. They’re just in their rebellious teenage phase. Yes, that must be it. They just don’t want to be seen with me, because I’m the mother, and it’s embarrassing. Everybody loves Mom, but they’ll never admit it.

So they show their affection in secret. Where nobody will ever be able to make the connection.

But hey. If my cooking blog becomes famous for my book excerpts, who am I to complain? I’ll go down in history as the famous author with a cooking blog as the hub of her literary empire. Why not? As Hayden Christensen once said, as smolderingly-awkward Anakin Skywalker smirking at the Uber-Famous Natalie Portman as I will someday, “Well?…If it works?”


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Switching Perspectives

So I switched Crooked Bird from first-person to third-person. I thought I had decided that first-person was my thing, that I just can’t get into the characters and make them real unless I make it really personal for me, which is where ‘I did this, I felt that’ seems to come in handy fleshing them out for me. But I kept straining through the first-person narrative in this particular case, and it just wasn’t working for me.  I would say ‘I’, but I didn’t feel the personal connection that I usually feel with first-person characters.

And I think this is because I’ve been doing too MUCH first-person. Too much for me to feel like I am all these different characters at once. Like I can possible BE all these different characters at once.

So I took the plunge back into third-person, just to give it a shot, and while I was skeptical it was going to work for me again since that had always been the reason behind flat characters for me before, it actually worked like a charm!

I’m finding all the ‘she’ references strangely beautiful, like ‘she’ is actually a delicious prose word I never had the sense to recognize, flourishing in to grace the page with loveliness where ‘I’ has been clogging up the book with self-righteous, clipped tones.

Funny what works for one book, and not for another.


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Pacing the Beast

Today was one of those days where I wrote nearly 4,000 words.  One of those days where I actually had to stop myself, because I was so driven and oddly able to express myself that I realized I might just be breezing by some parts of the story that would be better off more gradually-developed.  It’s sometimes a rough call for me, though.  There are two ways to look at it: slow down and let things develop so you don’t rush/miss anything, or breeze through without caring because it’s a first draft and you ought to humor the inspiration when it comes, and worry about filling the rest in later.

Essentially, both methods work out, but, having had the pleasure of editing and seeing a few different rough drafts of stories through to completion, at this point, I’m realizing that it’s much easier (for me) if I just do everything as best I can the first time around.  As my writing has matured, I find that I write a more tight-knit story just kind of naturally, from the beginning, which means that if I get to the end and realize I want to go back and add something, it makes it increasingly difficult to find a place to stick it in.

In the past, it wasn’t so.  There were so many holes (or at the very least, simply ‘loose’ areas) throughout the story that I could essentially add whatever I wanted, wherever I wanted to.  Now, I seem to have reached a point where my brain is always trying to connect things, make things clean, follow a nice cause-and-effect formula that makes the story flow more.  It seems funny that such an approach could be counter-productive, but if I’m not careful, I don’t leave enough room for improvement.

That’s why, sometimes, I find it necessary to slow down, to pace myself, to make sure I’m thinking of all the angles and putting in all the necessary information and the extent of the scenes that are desired to flesh out a given part of the story.  But it’s easier said than done.  When I’m on a roll, I really want to just keep going.  It’s great, it’s elating, it’s invigorating when the writing just comes, and you can just let the keys fly and watch the story unfold before your very eyes.

But another thing I have to remember is that the art of writing is just as important to me as the story.  Sometimes, it is entirely more fulfilling to spend a good ten or fifteen minutes on one sentence, and see it come to stunning fruition, than it is to punch out 4,000 invigorating words in one sitting.  If I get going too swiftly, I lose a certain prose, and the poetry that I feel when I really allow myself to get into the soul of my writing is a big part of the writer that I am.  It’s a big part of why I write.  The depth that aches to get out of me, to express itself.  If I overlook that aspect of my writing, I neglect a big part of why I’m doing this.

And I’ve found that the poetry of something, for me, tends to come a little bit better as you’re first writing a thing, during its creation when you’re really feeling it, really possessed by the current idea of it.  It is difficult to go back and add prose to a thing that is already described, already put in a box.

Writing is such a learning experience.  I love that it is as much a journey for the writer as it is for the character(s) inside of a story.  I love that it can teach me things even as I am its master.  I love that, as much as I am crafting it as a piece of writing, it is crafting me as the writer.


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The Fruits of Depression

Today we’re going to talk about Depression.  But don’t worry – this isn’t going to be some bleak detour from the norm to bemoan all of life’s current darknesses and dredge up all its ruthless pitfalls.  I want to talk about depression and how it pertains to writing (or creating in general, really).  Because there seem to be two differing slants of depression – the one that immobilizes a person and kills inspiration like nothing has ever been killed before, and the one that sends you into that deep, dark place of brooding where some of the most soul-deep ideas are born.

For some people, you hear of depression weighing on them like the heaviest cowl of fatigue, sapping the life out of everything they love and love to do, leaving them in a zombie-fied state of unproductive, thoughtless existing.  Barely functioning through the haze.  And then there are those who seem to find their greatest muse when they retreat, who seem to draw from their woes as if going to that place of utter torment is the only way to truly dredge up the inspiration to create something with soul.

For some, it’s as if creating becomes their therapy.  They channel that pain, get it out of themselves and onto the paper, perhaps into a character who can carry it instead of (or perhaps simply along with) them.  They draw from the raw feelings and create things that just glow with substance, with depth, with – well – feeling.  It’s as if they get in touch with their deepest depths, where pain has gouged out the path for them, where they retreat so far inside themselves, and there they tune in to their greatest capacity.

It seems a common thing that through devastation comes the burning need to create beautiful things.  When life tears everything beautiful and dear from your side, you cope by creating beauty for yourself.  At least, that is one of the two tendencies.  The one that I prefer to subscribe to, but it doesn’t always work that way.

So why is it sometimes one, and sometimes another?  Two completely opposite extremes born of the same condition?  Are you the kind of person that gets dragged down during those dark times of your life, losing interest in even your greatest passions, or are you the kind who draws from that?  Whose muse thrives during those lows, blossoming from the painfully-plowed soils of your deepest (and perhaps most profound) recesses?  Does depression stifle your creativity, or does it inspire you to resort to it as an escape?

Is there the potential for both in everyone, and some other factor tips the outcome one way or the other?  Or are there different forms of suffering that inspire either one or the other?  Are some of our greatest masterpieces truly dependent on these soul-raw times of suffering in our lives, or do they come to fruition simply because, in our moments of personal crisis and need, we find the motivation to create something beautiful for ourselves?


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Come out of your shell, Effie!

Everyone used to tell me I needed to come out of my shell.  This was the single most resentment-inspiring sentiment I think I heard growing up.  I was like – but my shell is where the voices are.  They wanted to take me away from the voices.  From my horde of imaginary friends, my innermost cloud of ideas, my bubble of imagination.

I was the typical reserved/anti-social/shy introvert.  Except that I wasn’t really anti-social – I just didn’t happen to care for what I saw in most people, or feel very inclined to add my two cents where they had all already added their ten to topics that weren’t even worth two cents to begin with.

Okay, maybe that does make me anti-social.  I just know I was perfectly willing and happy to be social if it was worth my time – if there was intelligent conversation to be had or if the people having it were actually interesting or funny or genuinely nice.  Or if I just happened to like them, which wasn’t often, but happened once in a blue moon.

Anyway, my point is that everyone was always trying to coax me out of my ‘shell’, and I couldn’t understand what the fuss was about.  I liked it there.  There was a lot of good stuff in that shell.  It’s  not like I didn’t have friends, and following the voices inside of my shell saw me self-published by the time I was sixteen.  What more did people want from me?  They seemed to want me to get out there and try new things.  But why, begged the resistant voices in my head.  Why, if I was already doing what I wanted to be doing?  I tried other things as a kid – T-ball, barbies, bike riding, digging to China with tooth-brushes and burping my A,B,C’s with my boy cousins…  I’d already been there and done that.

(In all seriousness, I was a 4H-er, a horsewoman, a competitive gymnast, an artist, an animal-rescuer, a soccer player, a dancer, a volunteer-of-the-year…  So I did, in fact, get around some.)

They told me I shouldn’t limit myself, but I always felt as though that was a silly thing to say to someone in the business of imagination.  Imagination is limitless.

This has always been, and probably always will be, my stance.  I’m not saying there aren’t things out there worth trying, or that I wouldn’t be happy that I did, or that you shouldn’t get out there and try those things.  Trying things is great.  I tried paintballing recently, and it was awesome.  Experiences can only build character and add to the pot of material and experience that you can draw from.  There is a world full of inspiration out there.  I’m just saying that I’m not going to waste away in my ‘shell’, or fail at life just because I happen to think it’s warm and cozy (and bursting with aweseomeness) in there.  I’m saying sometimes a shell is fine.  Sometimes a shell has good things inside of it.  There is a lot inside of a shell you can draw from, too.  Diversity is great, but so is a deep connection to yourself, to the things that make you live and tick and breathe and imagine without all those other influences.

Sometimes, the sweetest nothings are whispered inside of a shell.  Sometimes there is a world all its own – maybe even two or three – inside of a ‘shell’.  Maybe ten or twenty.  I’m just saying it may be vaster in there than you think.

I’m just saying sometimes shells can be a good thing for someone who might have been born with one, who might be meant to have that kind of a filter.  There are those of us who would be naked without it.  Who wouldn’t be ourselves if we weren’t allowed to maintain our reserved nature.  So the next time someone is minding their own business and you feel the need to help them with that shell problem, I invite you to consider this point of view, and the following two related videos, both entirely relevant, which I share on their behalf;

(Thanks to a friendly blogger who shared the second of these videos with me in the comments below.  This post has  been updated to include it, because it touches exactly on everything that I’m getting at, here.)

And if you know someone whose life truly is suffering from shell-like inhibitions, perhaps telling said soul “You need to come out of your shell” is not the most inspiring or encouraging way to draw them out of said shell.  Something to think about.