I’m not dead. No, really, I’m not. I occasionally smell like it but my vitals still register in spite of chronic fatigue.
Is it really true, though? Yes, it is! I spent a buttload of time familiarising myself with the laws and regulations around self-publishing, taxation, and early retirement. Now I have finally published my first anthology of folklore short stories: The Good Neighbours.
The anthology is available now in ebook format and will be available in print in June. You can find a whole list of retailers here.
This has been a truly emotional time. I’ve wanted to have a book out since I wrote my first one-page short story at the age of nine. The dream has been with me for a very long time. And it doesn’t end here, of course — I’m intending to continue to tell old, Danish folktales as fiction, with every anthology having a theme of its own.
There is no sound more soothing that that of a horse chewing its hay. A slow, rhythmic sound that implies an absence of stress, a freedom from concerns. It is a relaxing sound, so much that I have actually seen ‘hay chewing meditation’ advertised for city people who need to de-stress.
To me, it’s a way to recharge my mental batteries. My writing sessions are 4-8 hours long. They are often nocturnal, all depending on my husband’s rotating work shifts. I usually have a lot going on my head, with anxieties, occasional bouts of depression, poor health, and chronic pain to keep me busy. I need that time-out.
I like to sit next to Emilie as she chews her hay and watch her. There is so much going on in those dark brown and blue eyes. Her long lashes are two-coloured — red in the inner end of the eye and white in the other, a gradual change of colour.
Horses live in the present. While horses have formidable memory and rarely forget something once learned, they don’t have a lot of cognitive processes going on. They look to their immediate needs. Emilie wants sunshine on her big red butt, hay to chew on, and she enjoys human company. She likes people. I am okay company. She doesn’t think I’m another horse, but she does think I’m okay to hang out with.
When I sit with her, I forget everything else that’s taking up bandwidth in my head. Sunshine. Hay. Company. All that matters. It’s a bit like hitting the big reset button on one’s mind. Wiping the mental hard drive of clutter and corrupted bits. Washing the plate clean before filling it anew.
I come home, sleep like a rock, and next morning I am set to get right into writing because of the peace and quiet in my head that Emilie gave me the day before.
I finished a story this week. A fan fic, at that. What started out in 2010 as probably just a few chapters of Labyrinth fluff turned into a 91,000 words romance novel with a dark subplot about narcissism and abuse. And I just finished it. I let my characters go on without me.
During my life I have started more stories than I can count. Most have died one or two chapters in when I’ve realized that while this sounded good in my head, there was in fact no real story in it. Some of them died slow, agonizing deaths because I found myself unable to bring them to an end.
It’s harder than it sounds like. You need to wrap up all the loose ends. Catch all the plot bunnies and put them back in their cages. Read and re-read to make sure you did not forget some important clue that you gave in chapter 23.
But the hardest part, I am finding, is accepting that the story has come to an end. That there is nothing more to say. Oh, sure, I could drag the culmination out for a chapter or two more, and perhaps I could write an epilogue, and you know, maybe there should be a sequel…
It’s time to let go. My characters are big people. They can face the world without me. What’s an ending to me is a beginning to them, and maybe, maybe some day, I’ll go visit them again. But for now, it’s time to part ways.
24 hours. That’s what’s in a day. Not nearly enough to be a productive writer and enjoy life with my beautiful horse! How to cope? Do both at once.
Spending time at the barn is mental downtime. I let my brain relax and exist in the very present, just as horses do. What happened yesterday and what’s going to happen tomorrow, neither of those matter. There is only the horse mental state of an ever-present Right Now. I recharge my mental batteries, and in the meantime, my subconscious mulls on my work — just as it does when I sleep, working over what takes up space in my life at the moment.
After a day like today, a beautiful, warm May day, I can write anything.
That is, if health lets me. I suffer from chronic pain and sometimes, I can barely fall out of bed for it. I’m currently trying out a new acupuncture treatment and so far, it seems to be working very, very well. A body that’s wracked by pain or stoned on pain killers is not a healthy environment for creativity. To have the energy surplus to keep yourself writing even during low inspiration periods, you owe it to yourself to do what you can, to be healthy and feel at home in your body.
I need light to thrive. I’m one of those sunlight-dependent people who pretty much hibernate through winter and emerge like a sun-starved crazy person at the first sight of spring. May is one of my best months. Everything in Denmark is exploding out of the ground. Every field is bright emerald and sun yellow with dandelions. The weather goes from cold and unpredictable to warm (and unpredictable, it’s always unpredictable in a coastal climate). I feel like life begins anew. I need the hours out doors to recharge my solar batteries. It pays off, the more bright light I’ve soaked up the stronger my ability to express myself creatively.
Another thing that I sometimes struggle with, is getting enough sleep. I have sleep apnea, which doesn’t make it any easier. Left to my own devices I will gradually stay up longer and longer in the evenings, then be utterly comatose the day after. I have to exercise a fairly strict sleep schedule in order to not place undue stress on my mind and consequently, on my creativity. If I am not rested, I can stare at a computer all day, the words won’t happen.
We all find mental peace and clarity in different things. To me, the best source is the sound of my best friend quietly chewing her hay. The sound of horses relaxing and eating hay is so calming that in fact, there are professionals selling ‘hay meditation’ courses nowadays. And that’s exactly what you think: It’s sitting down on your butt, turning off your cellphone, closing your eyes, and listening to peaceful chewing for an hour.
The story I’m currently working on has been tentatively named, “The White Cat”. Unsurprisingly, there’s a cat in it (a white one, at that). Of all the things I thought I’d struggle with researching for this tale, I did not expect cat vision and cat psychology to be the biggest contenders.
Did you know that cats see the world in panorama-view? That they actually do see a hell of a lot better than we do in the dark? That they have absolutely crappy long distance vision?
This is what I love the most about writing. The process will send you researching the most bizarre factoids. Most of them you’ll never actually use. Some will be sprinkled around the story like little Easter eggs. I squeal like a fan girl when I read someone else’s story and realize that like me, they went on a nerdy research spree and slipped their research in between the lines, so to speak. When you can tell that the author may not have decided to use every tidbit, but what’s there is one hundred percent consistent and well researched. When the writing is confident, the author at home in his or her field. When you end up learning something.
A story works for me on multiple levels. Sometimes, a story is just a story. You read it, you toss it away, you forget about it, an hour or two well wasted and done with. Sometimes, you may not recall the story itself later but you remember the things you learned from it. A writer who can teach a lesson and tell a good story at once, that’s a writer who’s managing to balance lecturing, research, and storytelling.
Did you know that in the original Italian version of Cinderella, the benevolent fairy godmother figure was a cat?