Meet My Muse

Mnemosyne (aka Lamp of Memory or Ricordanza), c. 1876 to 1881, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Have you ever felt so absorbed in concentrated urgency that you can’t leave your chair but you somehow fly from your laptop huddle in Central Jersey to say, an ocean view from the Port of Gibraltar?

Let’s up the ante. Book that flight in the 4th century AD.

The muse is just such a vehicle.  She whisks you through the gridlocks in your mind-and scoffs at physical restrictions such as time and space or the fact that you’ve had to pee for six hours.  It’s the muse that will take your hand and stamp your “don’t you dare close your eyes” passport. You might forget that your mind is her very powerful engine, your hands, her wild factory.  You are an active participant once you accept her invitation.

Yet, even with her ancient breath in your heartbeat, a multi-octave song that floods your chest with ever-more accurate, unfolding waves of “oh my god, that’s it”, you might hesitate and stumble when you walk toward her velvet rope. Like every other meaningful experience in life, the muse(s) asks you to participate, which means you gotta be bold and humble all at once, and show way more cards than you may like. The muse requires your soul documents, the truth of who you really are.

Let’s face it. If you are anything like me, you might rummage through such scattered torn papers and feel small and inadequate, or get cocky in defense or curse at what you are likely to lose with each revelation (it’s always something), but should you follow her voice, it is steeped in the sound of dazzling time. And with new attentive spark, the rippled hum of a bell, with care and delight at the ancestors you realize you carry in your hair and eyes, and the lives and sacred feelings left in scattered books and music lyrics and piano concertos and dusty footprints and stories told on benches upon a trodden carpet amidst cardboard cut outs and ballpoint pens in airports and every booked flight. Stories upon stories. It was all–always– there.  Go ahead, take your shoes off and place them in a box. It’s the only way to make it through the gate.

The muses, nine goddesses of art, literature, science and music,  born to the Goddess of Memory, Mnemosyne, remind us again and again what it means to pay attention to our best selves, which means capable of and willing to learn. With delight and elbow grease and the flow of purpose and inspiration.

But how do you, during long dry spells, find the Muse? I hear you.

Well, I can only tell you what I’ve learned. That, if the muse is fickle, she is also generous when we devote our thoughts to her regularly, when we plant careful seeds to pour water upon even when we don’t see them bloom for a long while, they sprout where it matters, slowly, indiscernibly, in the tiniest flowerings underneath the ground, the most reliable of all.

The Author’s Muse is my “garden of thoughts” as singer song-writer Ani DiFranco once sang… “Got a garden of songs where I grow all my thoughts.”   I’ll devote space to my articles and musings about the creative life in the Author’s Muse, but I’ll also devote time for all the others who bring me towards a fuller bloom, to articles and quotes and songs and conversations and books and films that make my hair stand right on end, expressions that stretch me and remind me who I am– and who I want to be. In them all, I feel her, the voice that rises in my stomach when I remember why I’ve been writing since before I was ten years old. Many many years later, how good it feels to continue to grow my own voice and nurture the same for others. Right in the middle of that garden of connection, warm sturdy dependable hands tending each other under the ground — where no one else can see.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this.

Kim

Juggling the Creative Life? Kimberly interviews Virginia Woolf for some writerly advice

Virginia Woolf

When I officially became a writer and editor, formalizing the fact of my vocation on my business card, I kind of stopped writing. Of course, on the surface, my most cherished dream began to materialize all around me… I’d worked in the publishing world for over ten years, but now I was writing for a living.

I sculpted blurb copy, researched and composed feature articles, translated dense land-use policy and encyclopedic entries, ghostwrote business books, organized marketing and publicity plans, white papers and other specialty publications and countless other projects, all of which expanded my skill-base, which I took increasing pride in. But from the second I gave notice at my day job and pursued a freelance life, I hardly allowed myself to “write” so much as one innocent stanza of one measly poem, let alone freestyle prose.

Maybe because I knew that one line was enough to leave me staring all too intensely at a non-income-generating screen for days.

Dangerous! And I had a point to prove, success to demonstrate. I wanted to make a living “by my wits and my words” and as Virginia Woolf pointed out in A Room of One’s Own, “money dignifies what is frivolous if unpaid for.”

But…

But on a deliciously silent night, unpaid frivolity called me back, and I began to break my creative fast. In a hot blur, phrases, stories and words swooshed up and down my spine and billowed smoke-like into the six tiny layers of my cerebral cortex. I was…Back.

But dang it, if the creative force isn’t/wasn’t/ in my case, will always be: messy.

Beyond the subterranean portal of my computer and my journal, books everywhere and scattered notes, words filtered into my dreams, forced me to pull over while I was driving, distracted me while I was cooking, walking, talking, working out at the gym.

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How a Literary Magazine Grew into a Publishing Business

Denise Petti,Raquel Pidal, Joy Stocke, Kimberly Nagy

Beyond the Glass Ceiling | Women, Collaboration and how two women grew a successful publishing company from grass roots

October, 2014: Princeton, NJ: When Wild River Consulting & Publishing, LLC, owners Joy Stocke and Kim Nagy first met for coffee in 2005, neither could have predicted how their futures would merge. Fueled by a passionate conversation about literature and more important, the power of stories to heal and transform, Stocke and Nagy—writers, editors, dedicated entrepreneurs and busy mothers—felt an instant kinship over the impact stories can make in every sector—and the craft it takes to tell them well.
They believed strongly in a nearly unheard-of approach at the time—the power of collaboration—a force slowly picking up speed with the growth of the Internet.

Stocke, a literary journalist with a degree in Radio-Broadcast Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was already a well-established author, community organizer of writers, and a founder of the Meridian Writers Collective reading series in Philadelphia (one of the first of its kind) and grass-roots publishing initiatives. In 2004, she brought her reputation for editorial direction and content curation to The Bucks County Writer literary magazine, situated in the heart of the “Genius belt”.

Fascinated with rapid technology developments (and possible cost-savings) Stocke was soon looking to bring the publication’s reputation and presence online to grow its demographic. She faced resistance. At the time, many publishers thumbed their noses at “online” magazines. But two years after Wild River Review (www.wildriverreview.com) launched its first issue in 2006, the Utne Reader named the website one of the “great” literary magazines, and praised its international literary flavor and “exceptionally interesting interviews”.

Groomed in the boardrooms of traditional publishers from London to New York City, Nagy came from the world of marketing and publicity management for houses such as Princeton University Press, Routledge UK and WW Norton. In 2003, shortly after the birth of her daughter, she left publishing to write as a work-at-home mom, focusing closely on content creation. But, Nagy never forgot her marketing and PR training, which relentlessly begged the question: “Who am I writing for?” for her clients. As passionate about promotion as she is about creation, Nagy stressed that without user-centric analysis and outreach, no creative or business initiative could ever connect with its core audience.

It was an approach the team at Wild River adopted and expanded as Stocke and Nagy rapidly grew their literary audience of creatives well beyond the mailing list of the Bucks County Writer to include international authors and journalists, publishers and TV-producers, academics and photographers, as well as non-profit leaders and entrepreneurs. In 2009, with a growing demand, Stocke and Nagy combined their talents under one roof to form Wild River Consulting & Publishing, LLC.

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Got Truth Hunger?

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr bookcover

“No matter how much you’re gunning for truth, the human ego is also a stealthy low crawling bastard and for pretty much everybody, getting used to who you are is a lifelong spiritual struggle. “The Art of Memoir, Mary Karr

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself.” Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Art of Memoir, Mary Karr’s how-to on memoir writing, should have come with a warning label.

As soon as I got a whiff of Karr’s no-nonsense loosely-organized, at times stream of consciousness, smack-down on memoir that the Washington Post called a “hodgepodge of a book,” I wanted to read it in one sitting.

When I finished, I circled right back to all of my underlined phrases, reread where I scribbled in the margins, all of which made me want to turn off my phone, hide in my office and write. Inspired by her pages, one of my tough-love self-prompts in the shape of an orange-sticky note read: “What would you write if you weren’t afraid,” which a Jesuit priest once asked Karr.

From there, new paragraphs looped in my mind while I was trying to get to sleep– sitting in traffic–helping my daughter with her homework–cooking breakfast. All becoming scattered piles of notes right next to my morning oatmeal and in growing stacks of paper on my office floor.

Despite mixed reviews, including two rather bracing New York Times reviews (Gregory Cowles and Janet Maslin) the latter of which warned away general-interest readers (And I will concede. This is a book most of all for hungry writers), The Art of Memoir fully delivered the attention-carrying quality that Karr herself calculates at 100% for any writer —a full bodied, crafted (“high-voltage”) voice.

“A great voice renders the dullest event remarkable,” notes Karr. Yes, and something else too–a truly great voice strums chords of the most highly desirable variety in me–the kind that wakes my ass up. And naturally makes me want to clear my throat, get up and sing, too.

In Carr’s case, a salty-tough, but warmly-timbered voice humbled with mea culpa that owns the complicated human being inside. So, the rest of us can nod our heads as we flip pages, quietly admit our own screw ups and inconsistencies, or wonder at our lack of experience in other places, and trail behind her cobble-stoned, toe-stubbed path to expanded perception.

And, that is the potent rocket-fuel that first brought me to my knees in the church I call writing.

church of writing

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Wondering about Kimberly’s work with Wild River Review and Wild River Consulting & Publishing?

Joy E. Stocke and Kimberly Nagy

December 27, 2014. It was 2007 when Joy Stocke and Kimberly Nagy did the unthinkable: They essentially converted the highly regarded literary magazine the Bucks County Writer – founded in 1998 and published by the Writers Room of Bucks County – to an online journal.

“We were told we were going to fail,” Stocke recalled.

In reality, failure was the likely outcome if the magazine reminded in print form, she said.
“We could no longer afford to distribute print,” said Stocke, 57, who, as a literary journalist, author, and community organizer of writers, took over the Doylestown-based nonprofit Bucks County Writer in May 2003, editing it until the winter of 2006. It had been funded through advertising, subscriptions, and donations.

Both the name “Bucks County Writer” and the printed edition are no more, succeeded by the online launch of Wild River Review. Within two years, Wild River Review (at www.wildriverreview.com) was being hailed in literary circles for its international reach and interesting interviews – and that still amuses Stocke.

“Afterwards, you’re called a visionary,’ she said, rejecting such highfalutin praise. “That was completely a business decision. For a successful business, you have to be practical.”

The Wild River Review, designed in part to get readers to think critically about social issues and leave them “nourished – they’re going to get some food out of it,” Stocke said, has attracted not only readers but potential book authors to Wild River’s publishing and consulting services.
Nagy, 48, honed her marketing and publicity-management skills at publishing houses in London and New York before becoming a work-at-home writer mom in 2003. That was prior to joining Stocke in the Wild River enterprise.

Going online was not a hard sell to the bookish Nagy.

“I love books. I am passionate about beautiful books,” she said. “But books alone aren’t enough anymore. Having an awareness of the digital world is mandatory for any author.”

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