Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Identity vs. Essence

At the M&M Conference, special guest speaker Michael Hauge presented a workshop called Six Stage Plot Structure. He gave us a screenplay-based outline to use in developing our novels, and explained the difference between the "outer journey" - the physical challenges facing our characters - and the "inner journey" - the growth and development of our characters - with a special emphasis on romance. This was extremely helpful to me; afterwards, I was able to pin down numerous holes and flaws in my current work in progress. Using my new tools, I will be able to repair them; never again will I attempt to write a book without at least a simple outline.

What intrigued me most about the workshop, though, was Michael's discussion of our hero's inner journey: the transformation from living fully in one's Identity (his false self that he presents to the world) to living fully in one's Essence (who he has the potential to be if he can find the courage). Of course, the outer journey and the inner journey intertwine. But there is a constant tug-of-war between Identity and Essence. And the only satisfactory conclusion for our characters is living in Essence. Because after glimpsing Essence, Identity is no longer fulfilling.

This was also extremely useful to me where my novel writing is concerned. Because once I was able to pinpoint my character's inner journeys, I could then correlate them to their outer journeys; as Michael explained, they must be structured similarly. In other words, I am rewriting my entire book. I will be able to use much of my previous material, but I am also making some major changes. As a result, my finished book will be vastly improved. Thank you, Michael Hauge!

Perhaps even more important, Michael's workshop gave me pause as I considered my own inner journey, the one that has taken place in my personal life. I thought back ten years, when I was living in the Identity of wife and mother, so emotionally shut down that I was incapable of even knowing, much less expressing, what was missing from my life and my soul. Ancient wounds still inflicted pain on me me; deep-rooted beliefs that prevented me from even considering making changes. I'm still not sure how I found the strength to let go of all that. But once I glimpsed Essence, there was no turning back.

Like the characters in my novel, I am constantly shifting between Identity and Essence. I like to think that Essence is winning, but every now and then something happens - something bad, or something good - which causes me to retreat temporarily into my hollow shell of Identity. But, as Michael explained, one can be safe and unfulfilled, or fulfilled and scared shitless; in the end, there is no middle ground. So I must continue to find healing from the past hurts and let go of the old ways of thinking that hold me back.

Onward into Essence.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Whisperings Solo Piano Concert

l-r: David Carnes, Joseph Akins, Pam Asberry, Wayne Gratz, Lee Bartley

I am a lucky woman; I got to attend not one but TWO solo piano concerts over the weekend.

Playing on a beautiful Bosendorfer grand piano at Piano Works in Duluth, Georgia were Joseph Akins, Lee Bartley, David Carnes, Stanton Lanier and Wayne Gratz. Saturday night, there was even a bonus performance by Philip Wesley, who happened to be in the audience and graciously agreed to share a piece with us.

Both concerts were positively delightful. These artists come from diverse musical backgrounds and their music - often referred to as "New Age" or "neoclassical" - is as individual and unique as their personalities. Influenced by traditional hymns, the classics, pop, rock, jazz and native music, their compositions range from slow and contemplative to quick and spirited, sometimes even humorous. Regardless, as emcee Joseph Akins explained, whereas all pianists play with their fingers, Whisperings musicians play from their hearts.

These concerts tend to be very intimate and somewhat informal. Each artist plays a total of four pieces, and shares a bit of back story about each before beginning. Some of my personal favorites were Butterfly Ride by Joseph Akins, First Snow by Lee Bartley, Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring by David Carnes,Captivating by Stanton Lanier, and Natalie by Wayne Gratz. I also got a kick out of Joseph's arrangement of Jingle Bells, soon to be released as a single. (Click on any of the artist's names to visit their websites and find out more about them and their music.)

In between sets, there was a brief intermission and the opportunity to purchase CD's and sheet music from the composers, who were readily available for an autograph or just a handshake. These men are warm and accessible, and I am always grateful for the way they encourage young people to practice and perform and create. My high school students especially enjoy playing this style of music, and some have even been inspired to compose original works of their own. Who knows? One of my piano students may end up being a Whisperings artist of the future!

At the conclusion of each program was a grand finale, beginning with one artist improvising at one piano, growing into two pianists at two pianos, and ending with all four musicians using eight hands at two pianos. This was a hand-clapping, toe-tapping good time for everyone; I could have listened for hours. All that was left to do afterwards was give the performers a richly deserved standing ovation - both nights.

I strongly encourage you to go to a Whisperings Solo Piano concert if you ever have the opportunity. Click HERE to find out about events in your area, or HERE to stream Whisperings Solo Piano Radio for free.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Spicy Pumpkin Muffins

Fall is in the air, and there is nothing like a crisp October morning to put me in the mood to bake. Today I dug out one of my favorite seasonal recipes, Spicy Pumpkin Muffins.


1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
6 tablespoons sugar (I used turbinado sugar, but plain white sugar is fine)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1 cup pumpkin puree (I used canned pumpkin)
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 cup golden raisins (or chopped nuts, or a combination)

Heat oven to 400 degrees. In a bowl combine dry ingredients and blend well. In separate bowl beat egg with milk, pumpkin and butter until smooth. Stir pumpkin mixture into dry ingredients and blend until moistened. Stir in raisins. Spoon into 12 muffin cups prepared with nonstick cooking spray and bake 15 minutes until lightly browned.

These are great hot from the oven, spread with butter and orange marmalade. I usually double the recipe and freeze half. Let me know if you try them!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

2010 M&M Conference

No, I'm not talking about candy coated chocolate; I'm talking about the Georgia Romance Writers' annual Moonlight and Magnolias Conference, held in Decatur, Georgia October 1-3. This year's theme was "Master Your Story, Master Your Destiny," and did I ever!

I spent three days immersed in the world of writing: attending workshops and seminars with wonderful speakers like New York Times best-selling author Allison Brennan, Hollywood screenwriter Michael Hauge, and psychologist and author Kelly L. Stone; sitting in on panels with agents and editors; and spending time with friends, old and new, who are just as committed to honing their craft and seeing their work published as I am. I even got to see some of them receive recognition for their writing - and their service to GRW - at the Maggie Awards Banquet on Saturday night. It was positively thrilling.

And I had the opportunity to pitch my novel - TWICE - to an agent on Friday and to an editor on Saturday. This was terrifying; whereas it is easy for me to stand up in front of a roomful of people and speak, I was extremely anxious about seven minutes alone with each of these professionals. To my relief, they were kind and helpful, and they both asked me to send them the first three chapters of my manuscript. Now I have just a few days to revise my work, based on their suggestions, and submit it to them. What an opportunity!

Informative, educational, inspiring, encouraging, uplifting - those are the words that come to mind when I reflect on my experience at the M&M Conference. I am already looking forward to next year!