Madhu Bazaz Wangu | Nancy Springer: April Guest of Honor
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Nancy Springer: April Guest of Honor

Nancy Springer: April Guest of Honor

Nancy Springer was my Guest of Honor Online Mindful Writers Group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/706933849506291/?source=create_flow

Nancy Springer is a lifelong professional fiction writer who has passed the fifty-book milestone, having written that many novels in genres including mythic fantasy, contemporary fiction, magical realism, and mystery.  She has collected starred reviews and other honors until it is no use mentioning them anymore, except maybe for those two Edgars from the Mystery Writers of America. Her latest release is “GrandGhost,” women’s literature with a paranormal twist. But her most popular works, no contest, are a series of short novels about Enola Holmes, Sherlock Holmes’ younger sister. Beginning with THE CASE OF THE MISSING MARQUESS, these six books have been optioned in a major film deal by Legendary Productions.  Emmy-nominated young actress Millie Bobby Brown will star in the brilliant, devious and daring role of Enola Holmes.  Nancy Springer could not be more thrilled.

Know more about Nancy’s at: nancyspringer.com.

Here is what she shared with us:

ON MEDITATION

Over the years, several wonderful people have encouraged me to learn meditation, but I have not done so. To paraphrase Clint Eastwood, a woman’s got to know her limitations, and I am too squirrelly. Right from the start, my writing spewed from inner turmoil. I think I am more of an emotional writer than a mindful one. Wordsworth has said that writing (poetry, in his case) is remembering emotion while in a state of tranquility, but for me it is mostly about processing pain into art. 

Not that I recommend turmoil.  In fact, I cherish my occasional moments of tranquility.  Does fishing for bluegills from a little white rowboat on a peaceful lake count as meditation?  When I go fishing, I find my way to a mindset in which I notice only the sun on my shoulders, the aromas I breath, the pattern the oars make on the water, the heron on the shore, the turtle or snake swimming nearby (yes, I like snakes). When I catch a fish, it is like pulling a mystery up from beneath the water’s surface, like finding a symbol swimming in the subconscious mind.  I gaze upon the beauty of the fish – they are all beautiful – and then I let it go, and I feel wonderful.

Sometimes, not often, the fish swallows the hook and must be most unpleasantly killed.  This is ugly. But I accept the ugliness because it allows me access to the beauty the rest of the time.  This probably has nothing to do with meditation, but I think it may be a useful metaphor for living.

ON JOURNALING

I have filled many, many notebooks with journals, but I have never maintained writers’ journals like those of Anton Chekhov or Virginia Wolff.  My journals have been devoted to getting me through various emotional crises – postpartum depression, parenting problems, divorce, empty nest, menopause, aging, and the process is ongoing.  But after the journals are filled, I destroy them.  I don’t want anyone to see them, ever, and especially not my kids. Journaling has saved my life, but I don’t want my words to hurt anyone else. I know a woman whose parents were writers who kept meticulous journals, including comments about how they perceived her and how they chose to raise her, and their contents have caused her great pain.

What I DO keep around are notebooks, dozens of them, for my writing and for my own amusement, notebooks in which I “collect” all sorts of things: graffiti, bumper sticker slogans, tacky lawn ornaments I’ve sighted, odd snippets of conversation I’ve overheard, new words that might be fun, jokes, adorable things my hubby has said, great names for heroes, euphemisms for stupidity, and much more.  I keep lists – things that have bitten me (white mouse, boa constrictor, cilantro), absurd crafts people make, archaic names of jewels – and extensive notes on anything that interests me.

And then, of course, for every new novel I start, I need a special new notebook serving as a “bible” of research, chronology, characters, etc. 

All of this I keep.  In fact, I hoard.  But I throw out my journals.

ON NON-VERBAL ACTIVITIES

This is probably where I should have talked about fishing.  It’s probably where I should describe horseback riding, or coloring with my big set of Prismacolor pencils, or crocheting, or drawing mandalas with compass, protractor, and the all-important eraser, visual equivalent of an editor. 

But while all of these activities come and go, there is one that, like writing, has stayed with me all my life, and that is what I guess you might call a mindful way of seeing.

My foremost non-verbal activity every day is looking at things with intent to see them truly, not as other people teach me to see them. This focus may have begun when my mother, a visual artist, refused to give me coloring books when I was a child.  She told me things don’t have lines around them, birds in the sky are not v-shaped, and trees do not simply have brown trunks and green leaves. She encouraged me to look at things for real.

Later, culture decreed that butterflies are beautiful, and so they are, even when sipping on fresh manure.  I see the glistening manure.  I see how buzzards are not ugly after all; they soar magnificently. I see the blue fire in the depths of a horse’s brown eye. I see changes in the sunlight that make all the wildflowers in my lawn look glorious, and I wonder why people call them weeds. I pick up toads to study their mottled colors and many textures and the hidden gold in their eyes.  

I see people, an amazing variety of people, and wish I could hold them like the toads, gently, in my hands, to examine them more closely. I look for people with their own individualistic teeth — to reassure myself that we are not all clones of what I observe on TV.  I look for the varying shapes of the skull beneath the skin. I look and look at the people my friends shy away from because they cannot classify them.  I treasure the mysteries of ambivalent culture, ambivalent gender. I see beauty of some sort in almost every stranger I meet, and I am not talking tolerance and diversity here; I am talking about seeing our world. Just seeing.  Mindfully.

ON BOOKS ABOUT WRITING

I am fortunate to have been raised by literate parents, in a household of correct grammar and good books.  I am fortunate to have studied English literature and written hundreds of essays criticizing fiction for the ways it succeeds and fails.  So when I started to write fiction, I thought I knew what I was doing.  Of course I made all the usual mistakes, but I had editors to correct and guide me.  I have not been much influenced by books on writing.

Except for two.

Early on, THE LANGUAGE OF THE NIGHT:  Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction, by Ursula Le Guin.  My first literary agent recommended this to me, and I treasure it to this day.  It nurtured me as a fantasy writer.  It mentored me.  It guided me and took me by the hand and led me into mysteries.  

Much later, when I was well established in my career, I happened to pick up a book called HOW TO SUPPRESS WOMEN’S WRITING by Joanna Russ, and it affected me in an utterly different way.  It was a revelation to me and it revolutionized me, providing an in-depth education on how women have been and still are marginalized as writers.  This is scholarly writing, not easy reading, but I urge you to undertake it because I know how much it has revealed to me. It has given me the awareness to recognize sexist criticism and the courage to write from the center of who I actually am, gender and all.

A WRITING PROMPT

This is about seeing mindfully.  It is a very basic show-don’t-tell prompt but it always and forever applies to good fiction writing.

Choose a subject, something in motion, or in case you cannot decide, I will provide one for you:  a squirrel crossing a lawn, climbing a tree and jumping to a rooftop.  Write a paragraph that will make the reader envision this happening.  Do not just describe. Try not to use any modifiers at all.  No adjectives, no adverbs.  Instead, depend on exact, active verbs and exact, vivid nouns. Extra credit if you find your writing blossoming into simile or metaphor.

Thank you for having me as your guest today.

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