Now Available

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Creativity ~ Part I: Imagination

Creativity: An 8-Part Series

By Kristy McCaffrey

When I was in the final stages of completing my third book, The Sparrow, I had a strong sense of cultivation, as if I were gardening. As I strove to refine the story and add more details that would, hopefully, enliven the tale more deeply, I could literally feel the soft, sweet, moist earth fall through my fingers as I scooped it up and packed it into the world I'd created. In moments like these, the creative life fully connects with ordinary reality. It's why painters paint, sculptors sculpt, and writers write. It's why we, as humans, create. We want to bring meaning to our lives, and art—in any form—presents an outlet for us to express this yearning.

We all create, whether you label yourself an artist or not. Decorating your home, landscaping your yard, crafting long letters to friends and family—all are forms of self-expression, a deeply-rooted desire present in all of us.

Artmaking is making the invisible, visible. ~ Marcel Duchamp

Studies have shown that activities such as writing, drawing and even knitting reduce stress and increase serotonin levels. A UCLA study found that when young people engaged in artistic pursuits from a young age, they outperformed their peers in categories ranging from academics to life skills.

Cross-cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien states that in many traditional cultures, a healer will ask an ill person four questions: When did you stop singing? When did you stop dancing? When did you stop telling your story? When did you stop sitting in silence?

We need our creativity to survive. And we need to move through our creativity ourselves.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught. ~ Oscar Wilde

In this series on Creativity, I'll be discussing the following, each in a separate post:

I.      Imagination
II.    Domestication vs. Wildness
III.   Shape-Shifting
IV.   Forbearance
V.    Maiden/Mother/Crone
VI.   The Virgin and the Sacred Prostitute
VII.  Synchronicity
VIII. Magic

Let's get started.

I. Imagination

Imagination is when you step outside of time. I've often thought that imagination is less something we create and more something we tap into. As a fiction writer, I most definitely conjure ideas and make-believe people to fill the pages of my stories. Or do I?

I wrote my very first novel, The Wren, based on an idea that came to me when I was 15 years old. It was at that time I first became acquainted with my heroine, Molly Hart. Years later, as I drove cross-country with my mother and sister—a leaving-the-nest move from Phoenix to Pittsburgh—we pulled off at a rest stop outside of Amarillo. It was a desolate place, with wide-open sky and the endless flat expanse of the Texas Panhandle. And that's when I felt her, standing in the tall grass, watching me. It was Molly.

I was about 22 years old at the time. I didn't write Molly's story until I was 33, but in that moment it was as if she breathed her spirit into mine. For a while, I tried setting her story in Arizona, but it didn’t come together until I moved the tale back to Texas. It's been said that stories chase the right person to tell them. On that day, Molly most definitely pursued me, conveying in no uncertain terms that’s where she belonged. It was my job to pay attention. So, perhaps imagination is less an activity of making something up and more a sense of remembering.

Copyright 2014 Kristy McCaffrey

How might you trigger this remembering?

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Playing. Children know it, and animals do as well. When children play, they follow their innate talents. It simply doesn’t occur for them not to. Playing is any activity that disengages the rational mind—for some it may be sports, or sewing, or playing a musical instrument. As adults, we often encapsulate play into vacations, but it should really be present each day. How can you add more play to your day? Think about it, and then let go and just have fun.

A Labrador retriever plays through its lifetime and dies a child. ~ Dr. Stuart Brown

Copyright 2014 Kristy McCaffrey
Dreams. Whatever your personal beliefs about dreams, and why we have them, there is nothing better at shining a spotlight into your life than your dreams. The key is learning to work with the imagery. Renowned dream archaeologist Robert Moss suggests keeping a dream journal to begin understanding the messages relayed. Working with dreams isn’t a passive endeavor. Everything around us is alive with meaning; all you have to do is pay attention. For further guidance, read Moss's Active Dreaming—Journeying Beyond Self-Limitation to a Life of Wild Freedom (New World Library, 2011). If you’re still not certain that there’s something to be gained from this dreaming thing, check out his book The Secret History of Dreaming (New World Library, 2009) in which he elaborates on the dream lives of Joan of Arc, Mark Twain, and Winston Churchill.

Copyright 2014 Kristy McCaffrey

In dreams begin responsibilities. ~ William Butler Yeats

      Solitude. Numerous studies tout the benefits of meditation, but even if you can’t quiet your mind enough for a deep practice, time alone can trigger a rush of ideas, from planning dinner parties to writing a book. Immersing yourself in the words of others can offer additional stimulus. Perhaps you’re inspired by perusing the latest fictional tale, or devouring Deepak Chopra, or quietly absorbing passages from the Bible. Or perhaps soothing music does the trick, or a hot bath and candles. A practice of daily solitude will fine-tune your access to imagination.

Copyright 2014 Kristy McCaffrey

To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work. ~ Mary Oliver

Imagination is the act of creating new ideas. The key is learning to open the floodgates within the mind that can hold it back. Playing, dreams, and solitude are three ways to allow the remembering to enter your life.

Imagination is more important than knowledge. ~ Albert Einstein

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Don’t miss Part II in the Creativity series: Domestication vs. Wildness

Until next time…

Thursday, August 28, 2014

My Fourteen Rules Of Writing

 By Kristy McCaffrey

Image by Kristy McCaffrey
Many an author has posted such a list, and there's much good info out there if seeking guidance in the writing arena. I've been at this inscribing thing now for over ten years (more like thirty if you consider my childhood scribbles—yes, they do count), so it goes without saying that I've learned a few things along the way.

Here they are.

—Watch 'Romancing the Stone', a wonderful movie about romance author Joan Wilder. It's incredibly accurate, right down to the sticky notes all over her kitchen reminding her she needs to do this and that. When writing, we writers forget everything.

—I've given up trying to write before I've checked email, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I write in the afternoons and evenings, which pretty much ruins dinner every night.

—Get an iPod to block out the kids and husband. I make playlists for each story, offering me one more avenue to procrastinate on my writing.

—Buy bookshelves to hold research books, but know that it won't matter. You'll still run out of room, so make peace with tomes strewn all over the floor.

—When I'm stuck on a scene, I've found the most effective method is to stop writing and wait for inspiration. Three days later when nothing hits, I return to the computer pissed off and write a scene in frustrated anger. But, hey, I've finally moved forward.
Image by Kristy McCaffrey
—I rewrite any sentence that contains 'lie' or 'lay' because I'm unable to remember the rule and too lazy to look it up.

—I always keep a thesaurus and dictionary handy. My trade is words, and my work is to make 'em count. (By the way, this doesn't count for 'lie' or 'lay'—a loathsome trickery in the English language.)

—Don't name an animal after a color. If you decide to change the name later, a 'search and replace' in Word will make you realize how many times you used the word 'white' within your manuscript (because it will replace all the wrong 'whites'). Now, it becomes apparent that the thesaurus has been neglected.

—I refuse to feel guilt when I use an adverb.

—I have a tendency to put spectacles on my heroines in every first draft, which I must later delete. It's the oldest trick in the book to make my ladies appear 'smart'. Did I mention that I wear glasses?

—I've learned to trust my muse. She's a sneaky little devil, never making things clear until the end of a project. By then I've eaten too much ice cream and moped around believing I'll NEVER make this story work.

Image by Kristy McCaffrey
—I'm a writer, not a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist, and therefore there's no sense dwelling on bad prose (mine or anyone else's). Move on. I can always do better next time. (This is my pep talk after bouts of insecurity and lots of ice cream.)

—I obsess constantly about where to put commas, which has led to more than one restless night. I will edit year-old blog posts if I realize I missed a critical comma. And no, I'm not obsessive-compulsive, hyper-focused, or anal. (I will probably re-edit this post next year...)

—I keep writing until the heart of a story can be excavated. It always exists, and it's my job to clear the dirt and debris so that it can shine. I'm simply a translator of myth and symbolism into something others can enjoy. It's my gift, and my curse. I imagine brain surgeons feel the same way.

So, to recap. Writing is exhilarating, but also crappy. (I can't find 'crappy' in my thesaurus, so have no other word to use. Sorry.) Come join the fun!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Interesting Facts About Humans

By Kristy McCaffrey

Within 200 milliseconds of seeing an image, the brain can decide whether it’s a face or something else.

We are made up of 100 trillion cells, 22 internal organs, 600 muscles, and 206 bones.

You can survive without sleep for eleven days only.

Skipping breakfast may do more than affect your waist. In a series of classic studies on what it takes to age in a robust and healthy way, public health titan Lester Breslow (who died in 2012 at age 97) showed over and over again that just a few habits were critical. They included not smoking, exercising, watching your weight, no excessive drinking, not snacking, eating breakfast, and getting 7-8 hours of sleep.

Sleep doesn't just clear your head. Scientists now say it literally flushes out waste and toxins that build up in your brain during the day. During sleep, cerebral spinal fluid is pumped around the brain, and flushes out waste products like a biological dishwasher.

In females, about 1/2 a million eggs are produced on average, out of which only 400 have the potential to develop into a baby. Men produce approximately 10 million sperm every day, enough to re-populate the earth within 6 months.

Sugar may give you wrinkles via a process called glycation, in which excess blood sugar binds to collagen in the skin, making it less elastic. Cutting back on sugar may help your skin retain its flexibility.

We all have traces of Neanderthal in us. It’s been more than 5 million years since we separated from chimps, but only 400,000 years since human and Neanderthal lineages split. Asian and Caucasian ancestors interbred with Neanderthals as recently as 37,000 years ago, when they crossed paths in Europe.

Photo Credits

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Reverse Bucket List

By Kristy McCaffrey

Unless you've been living on Mars, then you've heard of a Bucket List. (And if you are living on Mars, then you win top prize for best Bucket List destination.) But what about a reverse Bucket List? I'll wager you've not penned one of those.

What is a Bucket List in the opposite direction? It's looking back on your life and shining a spotlight on what you've already accomplished. Since all you have to do is remember, it's super easy, not requiring saving money, booking an airline ticket to Africa, and working out like crazy so you won't bonk when climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. What's even more exciting about this list: you'll find yourself again. You know, that younger version of yourself, the one who faced life with uncharacteristic enthusiasm, the one who followed his/her inclinations and passions without worrying about the whys or how-to's.

Here's mine:

1. As a child, I read TV Guide cover to cover each week. I was exceptionally talented at the crossword puzzle inside due to my vast knowledge of the Boob Tube.
2. I was entranced by clouds. I studied them, photographed them, and categorized them. At school I wrote reports on them at every opportunity. Why am I not a meteorologist today?
3. When in high school, I had the same chorus teacher (Mr. Millsop) as my mother when she was in high school. This just shows how close in age my mom and I are. (Sorry Mom, your shotgun wedding is out.)

4. At age 15, I discovered the Dragonriders of Pern books by science fiction/fantasy author Anne McCaffrey. A few years later, I met my future husband: last name McCaffrey. But more importantly, I started writing fan fiction in her Pern universe, which eventually motivated me to write something original.
5. At age 17, I worked in a movie theater. Best. Job. Ever. (Free movies, anyone?)

6. In 2nd grade, I was accepted into the Gifted Program because I did exceptionally well on the placement exam. While I believe there must have been a TV Guide crossword puzzle on the test, in truth, I guessed my way through it. It really sucks to be labeled 'gifted' so young since expectations always ran high that I'd get all A's, become a fighter pilot, and whip up something tasty at Christmastime.

7. When I was about 10 years old, I put my bare feet in the ashen remains of a campfire (it looked so inviting). Shortly thereafter, I put two metal barrettes in a power socket. Blisters on my feet and electricity zipping through my body were obvious indicators of my sense of adventure and, of course, my giftedness (see no. 6).
8. When I was 9 years old, I lived on the Navajo Indian Reservation. As a writer, it's been a goldmine of unresolved issues buried in my psyche, forcing me to scratch out an essay every few years about how miserable I was. Why won't anyone ever publish these?

9. I earned a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Mechanical Engineering. There were many days that I felt intimidated by the intellect around me and was certain they'd discover I was an imposter, but I'm proud to look back at all my hard work and say that I've done absolutely nothing with it.
10. My children. Thanks to my four offspring, I have a permanently flabby stomach (10-pound babies will do that and I'm too lazy to get a tummy-tuck). But, they are also the most gorgeous and fantastic creatures ever. What a privilege it is to love and fight with them (and torment them).

11. My husband. As he said to me recently, "How did you ever find a man to put up with you?" (Umm, tag. You're it.)

What's on your Reverse Bucket List? Give it some thought. In shamanism, there's a technique called 'soul-retrieval', in which pieces of the self that are lost during a lifetime are embraced once again. This exercise may just help you find long-forgotten nuggets of yourself, aspects that can help you remember that life is a playground, and it's all about playing. (Just watch out for those power sockets.)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Columbia River Gorge

Post by Kristy McCaffrey

Last month I visited Portland, Oregon and had the opportunity to enjoy the riches of the Columbia River Gorge, a canyon that defines the Oregon-Washington State border. The gorge stretches for 80 miles through the Cascade Range as the Columbia River makes its way to the Pacific Ocean. The area is known for a high number of waterfalls, with over ninety on the Oregon side alone. The gorge has supported human habitation for 13,000 years, but is most famous as a pathway for the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805.
The Columbia River as seen from the Oregon side.
Multnomah Falls, with a total height of
620 feet. Be sure to have lunch at the Multnomah
Falls Lodge, at the base of the falls.
View from the top of Multnomah Falls. A one-mile hike on a
well-maintained trail will get you there.
Bridal Veil Falls.
Latourell Falls.
The Pacific Crest Trail spans 2,650 miles from Mexico to
Canada, with a portion running through Oregon and
the Columbia River Gorge.
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) at Cascade Locks.
Bonneville Dam, one of three on the Columbia River.
It provides electrical power and aids in river navigation.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Cowboy Cravings ~ Just Released Historical Western Anthology

Post by Kristy McCaffrey

It's been a busy summer for me so far. I'm happy to announce yet another short story published this week.

Craving a cowboy on these hot summer nights? Here are four stories that are sure to turn up the heat! If you love tall, dark, and handsome cowboys with a touch of danger thrown in, and the ladies that show them they've met their match, Cowboy Cravings is a must-have. Fast guns, smooth action, and hot love sizzle in one delicious recipe for these spicy stories. The summer has never been hotter in the Old West than it is when you have to satisfy those COWBOY CRAVINGS!

Includes my story ~ Lily and Mesquite Joe

Arizona Territory 1872
Ranch hand Mesquite Joe Riordan has always considered Lily Kingston out of reach. As the daughter of a prominent rancher in the Arizona Territory, she'll one day inherit an empire. When Joe's past threatens not only himself, but Lily and everything her father has built, he knows he can't stand by and do nothing. But can he give Lily his heart when he believes she deserves better?

Lily Kingston has long loved Mesquite Joe Riordan, but when he doesn't step forward to protest her betrothal to another man--arranged by her papa--her heart breaks. When Joe is blamed for the murder of a ranch hand and disappears, Lily knows exactly where to find him. Facing the truth of his past will test her resolve, but only her stubbornness can win his heart.

Prairie Rose Publications is throwing a Fandango, a fun cyber-party on Facebook. It will cover two days -- Wednesday, June 25, and Saturday, June 28. Each hour will feature an author (list forthcoming, but I shall be there on Wednesday, 5pm EST), and all you have to do is JOIN the event and comment for chances to win all sorts of prizes: gift certificates, swag, and lots of books. Everyone's welcome! Click the link below for more info.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

This Summer Storm ~ A New Young Adult Anthology

Post by Kristy McCaffrey

I’m pleased to be included in a new Young Adult anthology—THIS SUMMER STORM. It’s now available in print and digital formats.

THIS SUMMER STORM is a collection of some of the best young adult stories out there today! In this exciting group of tales, it seems “one of everything” happens. Tornadoes, comets, hurricanes and raging river waters are all set to wreak havoc. But just when things can’t get any worse, along comes a life-changing experience in each story that is just as unsettling as the threatening weather.

A wilderness course on the Green River in Utah has sixteen-year-old Amy Whittaker stuck on a raft with football players and cheerleaders from her high school. When a torrential rainstorm flips the boats and strands everyone, Amy is forced to take charge.

When a tornado approaches, Steve Cooper and Christy Reed both run for cover—straight into the blazing guns of gang warfare in their apartment stairwell. Will they survive? What a way to start a relationship!

The papers promised death from the skies, but will wild west legend Abby Drake’s secret prove even more explosive for Jo Harper and her 1910 Wyoming town?

Cassie is excited to attend her first party at popular Lyndsey Stapleton’s house, but will her mother’s recent changes get in her way?

Starting a new job turns into a life-changing summer for Angela Spencer, who learns who she really is and just what she is capable of.

When unrest threatens her kingdom, a mermaid princess must choose between loyalty and love.

When Cassie’s new stepmother threatens their family’s well-being, Cassie enlists the help of her dying grandmother and the secret of an old Victrola—the last of her kind, as Cassie’s father says, to try to make things right again.