On Relevance – Part II by Janine M. Donoho

The view from our balcony in Leavenworth.
I had the opportunity to attend Write on the River in Wenatchee this May. Actually, my friend and critique partner Anjali Banerjee was a speaker, so we made it a girlfriend weekend of three that included best buddy and fellow writer Kate Breslin. Since Kate ended up coming a day late due to her spousal unit’s truly wretched bout of gastroenteritis, on Friday before the conference I assisted Anjali as she visited two schools. Incredible writer and presenter both, she gave four different and delightfully relatable programs for various elementary school grades. Introducing her, then juggling props, especially wrapping and unwrapping children in a stunning sari that belonged to her mother, I got a good taste of the peripheral nature of a sidekick. Yes, ‘relatable’ and ‘peripheral nature’ both refer to relevance.
 
Then on Sunday, opportunity again shone when Larry Brooks, who writes critically acclaimed thrillers, spoke passionately about The Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling. This offered another view of storytelling as espoused by Christopher Vogler’s “The Writer’s Journey” and more recently by Donald Maass’ “Writing the Breakout Novel”. However, Larry’s approach, soon to be followed by his book on the subject, clarified the process even further. One of the samples he gave for dissection was the movie Collateral, starring Tom Cruise and Jamie Fox. Dutiful student of the craft that I am, the movie arrived via NetFlix the following week. It delivered on all of Larry’s elements.
 
However, the shocker of the day arrived as an aside. Larry claimed that actual writing, that sublime weaving of words, comes in dead last when weighed against concept, theme, character, structure, scene execution and writing voice. Last.


Leavenworth goat–apropos of this writer’s journey.
As a writer enthralled with both the import and nuance of words, this served as a body blow. All the books on my shelves, also known as ‘keepers’, are well written. However, Larry’s notion does explain many of the big brands in publishing, some of whom no longer write their own novels. So to be relevant to publishers, the six core competencies are paramount, while beauty and specificity of your words rank much lower. Ouch.
 

Which means I need to review my stories for those competencies–again. Maybe you’ll want to do the same. Perhaps publishers will overlook that they’re also delivered with well-written language. We want to be relevant after all.

On Relevance – Part 1 by Janine M. Donoho

Okay, I’m struggling with relevance, which according to a random web definition relates to:
1. Pertinence to the matter at hand.

2. Applicability to social issues: a governmental policy lacking relevance.

3. The capability of a search engine or function to retrieve data appropriate to a user’s needs.
Evidently, humor seems inherent in this journey to find something like relevance. A black humor, in this case.
 
I’m back in the process of recovery–deja vu all over again. The frozen shoulder, unlike an annual thaw, did not simply wake up one morning revitalized into action. Instead, it required ‘medical intervention’. Read into this a nerve block and general anesthesia followed by manipulation that led to new holes in the shoulder and sawing away adhesions along with a repair to a blown bicep. Okay, the nerve block was geeky cool. My arm stayed totally asleep for 28 hours, during which time a tapping against my thigh  turned out to be my hand knocking against the leg. Oh, and I finally get the whole phantom limb thing my dad experienced. Still…
 
Remember the story of the woman who had a mouse infestation, so she got a cat to take care of the problem, which led to a need for dogs to deal with the cat problem…
 
So now at 3:30 am, after an ice pack and a pain killer, I’m deeply into questioning relevance. It’s A BIG ISSUE at this time of night. So let me shrink it to human scale first, then to being a writer in a world that seems to consider those who string words together less relevant than ever.
 
I’ve been at this writing thing for a while, my friends. Even as I write that word in plural, is it even germaine? For who reads this silly blog, after all. Yet as a reader first, I know two books that have been significant to me in this last month of deja vu recovery. The first is Kristen Hannah’s latest, WINTER GARDEN. The second? Guy Gavriel Kay’s UNDER HEAVEN, both of which make me question my ability, my vision, and yes, my relevance. Yes, they’re both wonderful. While this would be my usual cue to wax eloquently on the why of this, I just can’t right now.

Granted I haven’t been writing with any facility since December. Pain, drugs and loss of belief in self can do that to creativity. Frankly, my search engine’s gone awry. While I have four novels residing in my brain, why bother to put the time in the chair to bring them to fruition? Does the world need another of my evidently underwhelming works?
 
Instead, I’ve taken on a local job with a community school as programs manager. The relevance of that is to bring local creatives who have something to share into an environment where they can do so. Yet even here, this month of drugs and pain has limited my intention. There’s a catalog due to go out at the end of this month, yet I’m still in the ferret roundup stage of trying to get the creatives to commit. Ah, irony lives.
 
So, how to find relevance as a writer in this search engine world? More on this later.

Soundings, Water Elemental

LaunchFebruary 27th, 2015
The big day is here.

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