Some Habits Of A Sleepless Writer
Last Update September 27, 2015
Mastering Night Sherrida Woodley 2014
Sometimes reality is all
that remains of a myth.
Mastering Night has been quietly out of touch for a few months now. The reason has been
mostly because of finishing a novel, another one that's taken me three years to write. But I've also
wanted to consider where the site needs to go. A web presence should always have a compelling
reason for being, because readers deserve your best. It's taken me about six months to re-think
Mastering Night. At one point, I considered shutting it down. But that doesn't seem to be the
right answer. Neither does something complicated. The site still has visitors, and it's time to
simply tell them what's happening.
Ancestral, the novel, is now finished. I've moved a lot of the books and research material, stacks of
notes, the pre-writing sessions that took up their own share of computer space. Cleaning is good.
But novels don't erase themselves from a writer's memory. They take months, maybe years, to
free-up from your mind's well. Novels embed themselves in your psyche. I wouldn't doubt, in
some vague way, they change your DNA, or at least tamper with it. Parts of them implant
themselves in your everyday experience.
Like the picture of a condor that still sits on my desk. Years ago I named her Octavia, after
Ancestral's most mysterious bird. Every day for months I looked in her watchful eyes and told her
I'd finish the job I'd started. And when I did, I still couldn't put her face-down in a drawer. For
that matter, I couldn't take apart the storyboard that continues to cover one of my office walls.
Condors and totems, a young woman with her back to me walking into a line of evergreens, and a
depression in the ground containing a clutch of monstrous eggs, make me think of this story. All
of this visual conglomeration has spurred me on. Some days I never even glanced at the reminders
all around me. But they were there, goading, cheering, ceaselessly reminding me I had a job to do.
Even now, they're not easy to let go.
What's important for me to remember right now is how long the next process could take. Books
don't just materialize out of a manuscript. They're queried and silenced, queried again and hoped
for. Like one's shadow, they trail alongside you during months of waiting. “If you are never
alone, you cannot know yourself," Paul Coelho once wrote. And yet, a writer who's waiting. . .
for acknowledgement, for acceptance, for that moment when she receives those first ARCs, is
never more aware of her inner desire. No doubt, she can move on. I know because I have, from
book one, to two, and now three. But even as I research and jot notes and outline the novel about
to begin, I look over my shoulder at Ancestral and wonder at the course ahead. Two dynamics,
poles apart, happening at exactly the same time.
So I pamper myself with old thoughts. Of how it went with Quick Fall of Light, now at least eight
years in the making. Because a book isn't just its publication. It's an entire system of odd
connections and magnificent obsessions. The story engulfs and releases, brings people to your
side, gives you moments of satisfaction, begins to distill itself into your everyday life. You don't
really know who's read it, who likes it, who feels it has merit. But you do know someone,
somewhere can select one passage from it that may be more closely identified with the book than
you are. Quick Fall's dominant quote has become, "The reality that someone you love has died is
its own tragedy. But it's separate, isn't it, from the way it happened?" I'd never have guessed that
would be the line most remembered.
In a way, I couldn't have predicted the amazement I'd feel either. I let myself dream, and dream
big, but over a year of querying agents/publishers before Quick Fall was published brought me
slowly back to earth. A small press taught me that faith goes both ways, and much of your
success depends upon you, the author. Interviews came my way, so did awards and reviews. But
what surprised me most were people. . . people I'd never met, some of them still.
As I look back on endorsers and reviewers, on emails shared back and forth with friends and
contacts over months of Quick Fall's trajectory, I believe this is what gave me the most confidence
and certainly the most happiness. There was a sense of deep sharing that continues to this day,
and all because of that book. One of them stands out in my mind. An author herself, she helped
me understand the intense commitment to writing. . . how first it follows you, and then you
begin to realize you must follow it. She told me I could create again, and again. She drew me
toward others who enforced the daily rhythms of writing. And in that evolution of writing, I
found the next story. The condor, it seemed, was that element of transcendence I knew I wanted
to explore. And now, all these months later, all these words written, it's done.
Ancestral is a story of myth. It is a tragedy for our time, which is what myth is all about. Animals,
particularly birds, symbolize our lost selves. They hold us to admittance. . . that not everything is
based in human reality. As we discover their hidden capabilities, we learn more about their
elusive senses. Are we capable of understanding their secrets? Did we once? And if we could now,
in the early part of this century, how would it change our oncoming fate?
It's a story that will stay with me, not just because I wrote it, but because I know how painful it
would've been not to write. After all, that's the writer's dilemma. Once dreamt, a dream can still
float away. But the voice of that dream can perpetuate its spell, and who knows, that might even
help save the world.
Scotland brings Ancestral its rightful setting, and a long-told tale of a mythic bird finds a new
and terrifying beginning.
September 27, 2015
Here at the time of lunar eclipse, the storied fourth "blood moon," and the beginning of autumn,
thought I'd share something with you. Maybe it's a response to all the discontent in the world or
worries of a nearing apocalypse. Maybe it's because I hadn't written a short story since about sixth
grade, until I wrote this one. Could be I'm thinking it's just plain time to get it "out there."
I sent "One-Eyed Jacks" to a Pacific Northwest writing contest in which I was fortunate enough to
receive two reviews, each from an editor who critiqued it. One came in with a 94% "like," the other
89%. Both of them wrote they'd like to "see more from this author." In turn, I revised it, as
recommended by the one most interested, and continued to send it out, this time to literary journals,
Tin House among them. They held it for a long time, seemed to consider, then passed. Others have
passed too. Yet, I continue to love this story, because of its pathos, its enduring question. Do dogs
sense things we humans can only assume are as important to them as to us? Can they "foresee" a
disaster? And if we discovered one particular dog who did this particularly well, what would we do
I'm not sure this story will ever be published in the traditional sense. I'm not sure it deserves it. After
all, it's the first of a string of short stories I've written since 2012, and I'm sure it shows a beginner's
touch. But then again, I'd already written two novels before "One-Eyed Jacks," so I wrote it with
conviction. And a sense of the future. Because the next novel, now taking form, is about a dog very
much like this. Mysterious, ancient lineage, strangely preoccupied with the fate of man.
At a little over 3600 words, it isn't overwhelming. But it gives you a bit of thinking and another look
at the potential of man's truest friend. Personally, though this story sits clearly in the lap of science
fiction, I believe something like it could happen. . . . . . . . . or, perhaps, already has.