The Right Words at the Wrong Time

HTImpressMarquess_medDear Gentle Reader,

Please do me a great favor. When you are reading devouring my upcoming book How to Impress a Marquess, at some point in your reading, imagine that the following quotation is spoken by my heroine, Lilith Dahlgren: “No coward soul is mine.” Be sure to attribute the line to Emily Brontë. May I suggest mentally inserting something like:

 Lilith could no longer stomach George’s cruel attempts to squash her wild, unfettered heart and, borrowing from Emily Bronte, proclaimed, “No coward soul is mine.”

Confused?

Allow me to explain.

When I was fleshing out my heroine, I imagined that Lilith adored the written word so much she could readily quote poetry and would carry about a tattered beloved volume of Keats’ poems—a literary security blanket of sorts. I borrowed from some of my favorite Romantic era poems, as well as dug through old poems to find the perfect words Lilith would use to express her emotions to my stodgy, unyielding, and uncreative (or so it would seem) hero George. For example, in the first chapter she tells him:

“What would I do with something as horrid as sense? I want wild, overpowering feeling, passion, zest. ‘More happy love! more happy, happy love! / For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d, / For ever panting, and for ever young; / All breathing human passion far above…’ That’s Keats, dearest,” she said. “I know you wouldn’t recognize it.”

How to Impress A Marquess includes snippets from Keats, Tennyson, Milton, and Whitman (yes, Whitman was read in England in 1879, the time period in which the book is set. I looked it up just for you.)

I thought I had gathered a wonderful collection of public domain poems for the story until I visited the Emily Dickinson Museum during my summer vacation. I had forced my family to stop at the museum as we traveled between New York and Maine, because several years ago I fell in love with the book White Heat by Brenda Wineapple, which is about Dickinson and her professional relationship with her editor Thomas Wentworth Higginson. After you read my book, you must immediately purchase White Heat because it’s all things wonderful.

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Emily Dickinson. FYI-she had bright red hair.

I ambled through Dickinson’s home, lulling about in a soft mellow high that only a history and literature geek could derive from a preserved home, knowledgeable tour guide, and poetry. The docent led us to a room with an installation about Dickinson’s poetry for that last segment of the tour. I hadn’t considered Dickinson’s poems for my book because the time frame is wrong. Almost all of her poems were published after her death in 1886. However, the installation listed earlier poets who influenced Dickinson, including Emily Brontë. Painted on the museum walls were Brontë’s words: “No Coward Soul Is Mine.” Dickinson had requested that Brontë’s poem be read at her funeral.

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Emily Brontë

When I read Brontë’s line, I sucked in my breath. My heart stilled. I wanted those words in a greedy, rapacious way. Lilith needed to say them. They were her essence. Why, oh why, did I not know about this poem? And I had even referenced the Brontës in my book. I wanted to bang my head on Emily D’s small writing desk, located by the windows where she would lower gingerbread in a basket to the local children.

Brontë’s words —

Had I discovered — their beautiful violence —

In time for revisions!

I would have captured  —  their substance  —

Rebirthed — on my final copy

Just Dammit!

By now How to Impress A Marquess had been released on Netgalley for review (Review it! Spread your book love around!) I had long passed the point of no return regarding significant revisions to the manuscript. Brontë’s words were perfect, but it was all too late for their gleaming perfection to physically appear on the book’s pages.

But you, gentle reader, have the power of imagination to insert them for me.

So I implore you to mentally sprinkle “No Coward Soul Is Mine” quotes into scenes where you think they would work.

For instance, when George, desperate to improve Lilith’s unruly ways, develops a regime to transform her into a gentle and submissive lady, she might cry out in defiance, “As Bronte said, ‘No coward soul is mine.’”

When George lashes out at Lilith because she has discovered George’s painful secret—that he had been an artist prodigy, but his father had beaten him until he gave up painting—that would also be an excellent time to unleash the quote.

When Lilith takes off her clothes and… Wait, I don’t want to spoil that part for you. But when you get there, you’ll know it.

If you feel the single line “No coward soul is mine” simply isn’t enough to get the meaning across, you might try inserting the entire poem into a scene. It’s included below for your convenience.

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No Coward Soul Is Mine
by Emily Brontë

No coward soul is mine
No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere
I see Heaven’s glories shine
And Faith shines equal arming me from Fear

O God within my breast
Almighty ever-present Deity
Life, that in me hast rest,
As I Undying Life, have power in Thee

Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men’s hearts, unutterably vain,
Worthless as withered weeds
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main

To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by thy infinity,
So surely anchored on
The steadfast rock of Immortality.

With wide-embracing love
Thy spirit animates eternal years
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates and rears

Though earth and moon were gone
And suns and universes ceased to be
And Thou wert left alone
Every Existence would exist in thee

There is not room for Death
Nor atom that his might could render void
Since thou art Being and Breath
And what thou art may never be destroyed.

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Read the first chapter of How to Impress a Marquess

Preorder Amazon,  Barnes and Noble,  iTunes,  Books A Million,  The Book Depository, or  Indigo

Face It, He’s Just Not Into You(r book) or 7 Ways to Cope with Negative Criticism

I’m trying to write blog posts for the upcoming blog tour of my book Wicked Little Secrets.  I’ve been invited onto a blog that gave a not-so-favorable review of a previous book.  Perusing through the list of suitable topics for their blog, I came across “How do you cope with negative criticism?” Oh, yes! My mind was teeming with ideas. But as I started writing, I realized that it was too personal to share with that blog. So I’ve decided to post it on my own site and add illustrations from Alfred Stevens. Enjoy.

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1.)    Do not waste your precious emotion on negative criticism from mean people or internet trolls. They don’t write reviews but project their mental issues.  It has nothing to do with you or your work. If such a person, who lacks self-awareness, empathy, or is driven by dark compulsions, destroys your work, feel grateful. You should be more worried if he/she enjoyed and related to your work.

“You always wanted
Something more from my body
And said you needed
Something more from my loving
But all you got was me
And that’s all that I can be
I’m sorry if it let you down
But I’m not gonna sit around
And waste
My precious divine energy
Trying to explain
And being ashamed of things
You think are wrong with me”

–lyrics from Esperanza Spalding’s song “Precious”

2.) Surround yourself with compassionate, intelligent, fearless, battle-hardened writers who have studied and appreciate good craft. They probably suffered through years of workshops and critique groups until they found artistic enlightenment. These people’s opinions are the only ones that matter. You can stop reading now.

“We should know why we practice zazen, and we should be able to tell the difference between something that is good and something that just looks good. There is a big difference.

Unless you train yourself through hard practice, you will have no eyes to see and no feeling to appreciate something that is truly good…I don’t expect every one of you to be a great teacher, but we must have eyes to see what is good and what is not so good. This mind will be acquired by practice.”  — Shunryu Suzuki, Not Always So, Practicing the True Spirit of Zen.

2.)    Diffuse.

Call a friend and bitch. Nasty, bitter, ugly, name-calling bitching. Don’t get off the phone until you laugh.  And be there when your friend needs to do the same.

Exercise. Work out your anger without being arrested or getting drunk, going online and starting an epic flame war. Trust me, this will not end well.

3.)    Face it: He’s just not into you(r book).

Reading is like dating. It’s a personal experience. An author is sharing a world created from the raw material of her subconscious, the place of dreams and nightmares.  She wants to connect to you. She is asking you to dance. She’s a ready lover, demanding your heart and soul.

Let’s say you’re Sally. You speak four dead languages, have a fourth degree black belt, spent several years in the Peace Corp,  knit sweaters, raise Llamas and organic vegetables on your farm where you have renovated a nineteenth century home.  You are interesting as hell. And you are in love with Steve, who likes women who live to cook casseroles and adore Thomas Kinkade paintings. (I wasn’t sure how to spell the artist’s name, so I had to reach for my copy of Simpler Times by him. I admit I’m a sucker for light spilling from windows. You could make a drinking game from how many times gold light spills from windows in my writing).

Girlfriend, this isn’t going to work for you.  Go date Ronald, the handy man, masseuse, and chef.  Everyone will be happier for it. That is, once you get over Steve’s nasty review of y’all’s date on his extremely popular date review site.

“I think you’re just about there: You’ve listened to your friends; you’ve listened to the record; you’ve tried. Great music isn’t great to everyone — it simply can’t be. Great music stirs intense emotions, and intense emotions are destined to polarize, or they wouldn’t necessitate intensity.

Now, I do happen to think that In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is a masterpiece, and it’s certainly one of my favorite albums of the last 15 or 20 years. But I’m not coming to it cold. I found it on my own and I fell in love with it at my own pace, under pressure from no one, on headphones, during solitary walks. It came to me a little late, when I was ready to come looking for it — I was ready for its passion and intensity and sideways beauty, and the mystery of it transfixed me. But that doesn’t make me ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ about In the Aeroplane Over the Sea; if it were made for everyone to love, that fact would alienate the people it now attracts.” — from Stephen Thompson’s NPR music blog post “The Good Listener: Loved By Millions, Hated By You — What To Do?”

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4.)    Do you know the difference between these two negative comments?

a.)    “I hated the character Amy, especially when she went bat shit on Billy before kissing him in the Krystal’s drive thru in Unadilla, Ga and then lying about it to Ed while they were in bed at the Paris Ritz the next day. What a bitch. She ruined the story for me. I read the whole book, hoping that she would get run over by a Renault.” (Blogger’s note: I don’t know if Unadilla, Ga has a Krystal.)

b.)    The Amy character was poorly developed and unengaging.  She lacked nuance or dimensionality. Her actions were inconsistent and implausible.”

Answer: B is a valid excuse for binge eating Trader Joe’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups.

“I know this, even though my personal practice is to ignore what is written about me. I do not, for example, read interviews I do with news outlets. I hold that it is none of my business what people think of me. I arrived at this belief after first, when I began working as an actor 18 years ago, reading everything. I evolved into selecting only the ‘good’ pieces to read. Over time, I matured into the understanding that good and bad are equally fanciful interpretations. I do not want to give my power, my self-esteem, or my autonomy, to any person, place, or thing outside myself. I thus abstain from all media about myself. The only thing that matters is how I feel about myself, my personal integrity, and my relationship with my Creator. Of course, it’s wonderful to be held in esteem and fond regard by family, friends, and community, but a central part of my spiritual practice is letting go of otheration. And casting one’s lot with the public is dangerous and self-destructive, and I value myself too much to do that.” — Ashley Judd in The Daily Beast.

5.)    Just because something is flawed doesn’t always diminish its merit. I thought the movie Up in the Air was a convoluted mess. I thought the main character’s arc was superficial and petered out to an unimpressive ending. That said, there were scenes in that movie that were so gut-churning real and soul flattening painful as to transcend all its flaws. And maybe that made it even more powerful.  It ranks as one of my favorite movies.

6.)    There, I’ve given you enough rationales to effectively remove you from reality. So the New York Times thinks you wrote the worst book in this century and all the previous others. Look, it’s not you. They’re just not that into you(r book.). They don’t understand the fears, the insecurities, the monsters you battled on the page. They mistook your soul’s blood splattered on the margins for ketchup. Don’t take it personally.

7.)    Accept and be vulnerable anyway. Write more. Write through the pain, hold it, transform it, make it beautiful, allow it connect to others. And watch that Brené Brown vulnerability speech on Ted TV again.