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It was my first trip abroad in 32 years. For two months I wandered solo from Paris to the French countryside and attempted time-travel. In my computer was a half-completed novel called Looking Glass Girl.
I’ll start my story near the end, with a poem I wrote in the final days of my artist residency at Camac Centre d’Art in Marnay-sur-Seine, population 236.
The real story is that I struggled with my novel and its painful subject matter.
Many people have been asking me what Deep Characterization is. I know what it is to me, but I wanted to share some of Janet Lee Carey’s thoughts on her Deep Characterization practice, which she’ll unpack even more at the Full-Bodied Novel retreat in July. Janet has just returned from a meditation retreat in Hawaii.
Katherine: Welcome back, you lucky girl! How are you doing?
Janet: Today I woke up groggy.
“Attached to the wall below me was a ladder. It must have been for building maintenance people to do whatever it is they do. I was both crazy-happy and terrified to see it, but I knew there was nowhere to go but down. I pulled Toby as close as I could. I had to crouch to grab the ladder. Keep breathing Toby, I won’t drop you. One foot down — easy — there’s the rung,
Deep Characterization Exercise #1 Being Two Places at Once
The purple mass looked for a moment like a plump of organ pipes, then like a stack of rolls of cloth set up on end, then like a forest of gigantic umbrellas blown inside out. It was in faint motion. Suddenly his eyes mastered the object. The purple stuff was vegetation: more precisely, it was vegetables, vegetables about twice the height of English elms, but apparently soft and flimsy.
The expression “to lose yourself” in the part or in the performance, which has so often been used by great artists in the theater, has always confused me. I find it much more stimulating to say that I want “to find myself” in the part. —Uta Hagen, Respect for Acting
To lose yourself in a story is to become utterly unselfconscious. This can be just as true of reading a story as of writing one.
“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”
I was ten when my librarian grandmother pulled from her suitcase a book called A Wrinkle in Time. It had a funny cover with silhouettes floating in circles. I’d seen it at school and it looked too science-fictiony for me.
The taut ground of soothsayer
Who broods in caverns for a glimpse of light.
How have I lost the glinting stone
I kept so long in my fist?
I have thrown down despair
And taken Struggle
And now it prowls round me as I sleep.
The eyes of Struggle
Are amber and do not blink,
The eyes of Seer in the dark
Who pleads for just one breath of day.
My mom has always been all about stories. When I was little, she read and read to me: Winnie the Pooh, Ramona the Pest, the Book House books (which, heartbreakingly, were lost in a move.) She was, and is a teacher, and she made sure I became a reader.
But there was another gift she gave: she showed me that stories come from ordinary people–and that it is our birthright to create them.