Carmel is so charming, unaffordable for most of us, but charming. Go back, you’ll love it.
Fiction Writing, write to heal, survivor
Muse-less on an Abandoned Shore
I recently took a writing journey to learn if I truly wanted to continue writing. During my wandering, I discovered a few things I’d forgotten about myself.
We all struggle with life’s hard lessons of loss, heartache, depression, illness, or for me, grief. These emotional battles can zap your writing spirit and leave you shipwrecked, muse-less on some abandoned shore surrounded by murky waters.
I was in the middle of my current WIP (work in progress) and was laboring over my story’s plot, not sure if I cared about finishing my novel. But more, plagued with whether I had the energy or creativity to go on. I knew I needed help and a change of scenery, a break from my life, and the recent family deaths that impacted me profoundly.
So, I signed up for the Algonkian Monterey Writer’s Retreat. It would be a journey outside my everyday reality, and a deep dive off that marooned ship into my writing life. I told my husband, and my dog, I’d be gone for a few weeks. I told them where the food was, what the daily routines needed to be, and assured them I’d face time. Then off I went, from tiny, rainy Camano Island WA to sunny Monterey CA.
I rented a petite cottage near the beach, hired a car, and met up with the fifteen or so other writers who gathered in Monterey for a multitude of reasons, but mostly to connect with other writerly souls. Finding, and connecting with your tribe is vital.
For the following days we met with premier literary agents and editors, worked on our prose, plots, and pitches. It was an energizing meeting of minds and hearts. I know some of the friendships I made there will last a long time. The writing, and especially plotting and pitching knowledge I gained was a life changer. Knowledge truly is power.
But mostly, the time alone did my spirit wonders. Instead of drowning in those murky waters, I swam. I walked sunny beaches, photographed flora and fauna, traveled to other areas, prayed at the gates of the Carmel Mission Basilica, and not bound by the routines and desires of family and a demanding (though precious) dog, I ate whatever and whenever I wanted. I wrote in the coffee shops, a favorite little Thai Restaurant, and I wrote on the beach, in the life affirming sunshine.
I walked the streets of Carmel where I viewed stimulating art from Parisian artists and bought Rugelach at the posh bakery. The rugelach was a gateway back in time for me, it was my favorite dessert when I was a teen in downtown Portland Oregon––trapped in a life I didn’t want––dreaming of being a writer or an artist. That rugelach in Carmel reminded me how far I’ve come, and how far I still want to go. That seventeen-year-old writer-wannabe is now a published author with so many more books to write.
Standing on the beach in Carmel I felt a bolt of energy. I was renewed, reenergized and ready again to leave my recurring grief behind and get busy living, and for me that means writing. And now, I’m back on schedule writing every day. My spirit was restored.
When you attend a writer’s retreat or conference it’s important to set your expectations up front. Not everyone goes for the same reasons or has the same experiences at a retreat. I believe if you set your intentions, as the eminent philosopher, Mick Jagger famously said, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need.”
Algonkian Writers Retreat in Beautiful Monterey
I’ve tried NUMEROUS times to leave this review on Google, but it won’t show up publicly, though it says it’s being posted publicly, so I’m gonna just leave it right here, along with my frustration with #googlereviews and their lack of response to my request for help.
“I attended the Monterey Algonkian Writers retreat 2 weeks ago. We took over a huge coffee shop, worked, and ate at the local Thai restaurant and others. Walked pristine beaches, visited Cannery Row and the spirit of famous writers who came before, then worked till the wee hours on our manuscripts… ah, the writer’s life.
I’ve been involved with, attended, and taught at numerous writers’ conferences, but this one stands out far ahead of the others if you’re ready for it. The reason is, the prep work, and the one-on-one time with agents (like incredible #PaulaMunier) and editors discussing your work specifically, and not in some abstract way.
Yep, that’s me with Paula at the coffee shop.
Additionally, the assignments that are sent out the weeks preceding the event are a priceless expedition through your own story, guided by the conference founder, the incredibly accomplished Michael Neff. By the time you get to your destination–be it Monterey or New York–you know the lingo, you have attempted a pitch (which they help to perfect) and you have a much deeper understanding of the story you’re trying to tell. For me, pitching and plotting are my weakest writerly attributes, so to have them addressed by professionals was priceless. If you’re ready to really work, explain your work, and expose yourself in a pitch, this is the conference for you. Oh, and making new writing friends from all corners of the country doesn’t hurt either.
I will return to other Algonkian events in the future, you know, after I finish my next novel. Keep writing. Cheers,
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Meet Mindy (Halleck) Meyers
Sometimes we open a wound not to watch it bleed, but to allow it to heal.
I just returned from a writer’s retreat wherein I was asked why I don’t write about the story seeds of the novel I’m currently crafting. That question opened a wound I didn’t realize I had. Bear with me ….
First, I’ll start with why I will now write under a pen name, a Nom de plume, or literary double, however you coin the term, it’s my new/old name. I’ll be writing under my mother’s name, Meyers, for many reasons. But the one HUGE reason is to honor my grandfather Frank Meyers who wanted to be a published author but never was. And the other, to honor my Jewish roots, denied to us because in the 1930s grandpa (non-religious) moved my mom and her siblings from the south to the west coast and immediately put them in Catholic schools. He also allowed my Irish/Scottish grandma to take them to Baptist churches: determined that his children would not experience the discrimination he did. His own father was murdered in front of him in New York, simply for his name. Meyers. So, I staunchly take the moniker and move it forward, in a time when our country seems to want to move backward.
Why does this matter now? The holocaust should never be forgotten. I’ve just completed one novel with a holocaust survivor as a protagonist and am now working on my next novel which––though not a war or holocaust story––is populated with holocaust survivor stories. Clearly, the holocaust may not be my story to tell, but I had a ringside seat to its aftermath. And it is in that 1950s and 1960s aftermath where my story seeds took root.
Last week at that writer’s retreat, a New York agent questioned my name, and then asked if I was a non-Jewish author writing unauthentically about the Jewish experience. I explained that though I grew up in a Christian household, my biological father was Jewish, and my mother’s father (Grandpa Frank’s) mother and father were Jewish. She asked what their family name was. I told her, and she exclaimed, I can sell a Mindy Meyers writing stories about victims of the holocaust. It rhymes, and it suits the stories you’re telling. Besides you have genealogy.
At first, I recoiled at the idea of a marketing platform based on something I thought I wasn’t. And deeper yet, genealogy is a wound of mine. Being born under the shadow of scandal, the feeling of being ‘illegitimate’ has always bloodied the waters. So, that night, I returned to my hotel room and cried, deeply, irrationally, as if mourning the departed or resurrecting a scarred over wound.
Then, about 3:00 am I realized the reverse was true; Mindy Meyers is who I’ve been all along. It was the first name on my birth certificate, before dad rushed in and married mom to give me legitimacy.
Heck, even at the Oregonian Newspaper in the 1950s, where grandpa worked, I had a name tag that read, Mindy ‘Minnie Mouse’ Meyers––Minnie Mouse was my very official nickname. So, making a LONG story short, Minnie Mouse is reclaiming her identity. Mindy Meyers is now my Nom de plume.
That was the first step toward telling my long-held stories. I’ll be blogging about them in the coming months. For now, I’ll share that in the early 1960s, when I was nine years old, I worked with my dad at his shoe repair shop in northwest Portland. I stood on a milk cate at the 1940s cash register, took in money and gave change. I was the official greeter, purveyor of cookies and tea for ladies who waited for dad’s popular 5-minute-heels, and I held down the fort when dad took a smoke break.
Dad’s shoe repair was in a building long rumored to be haunted. To nine-year-old me, it was a place of magic and mystical beings. At that time PDX was very international, multi-cultural, and filled with politics and fear of strangers, Nazis hiding in the shadows. There were Hasidic Jews with long black side curls called Payos, thick black beards and black hats, such a contrast to my ex-Air Force dad with his short hair and clean shaved face. There were palm-reading Gypsies, and the infamous King of the Gypsies who walked about the city with two large men behind him (bodyguards). He’d bring dad a cigar and have a laugh while those men waited at the door, keeping anyone else from entering. And then, the very cranky Rabbi who liked arguing with Dad about politics. And SO many other colorful people.
Occasionally it was my job to deliver shoes to a few of the customers who lived across the street in the (then) Nortonia Hotel. One was a woman who I thought was very shy. I’d knock on the door, listen as she unlocked seven locks, then crack the door open to where I could see only her eye and half her face. “Who are you?” she asked every time. “Oskar’s daughter,” I’d hold up the brown paper bag. “I have your shoes.” She’d quickly shut the door. I’d wait. She’d return with a fresh baked raspberry Rugelach cookie. To this day my favorite. She’d hand me the cookie that smelled of sweet burnt sugar and warm raspberry––through the narrow passage of the barely opened door. And then she’d say, “Sit, child eats’ das cookie while I inspect das shoes.” I would slide down the wall, sit on the floor and eat my cookie. She never looked at the shoes. Instead, she smiled the saddest smile I’d ever seen, while she watched me eat. When I finished, she handed me a napkin, “Vwipe face. Now hurry child, go to your papa, tell him all is goot. Do not talks to das strangers. Go now, hurry.” I’d rush down the hall while behind me the sounds of a bolting door, clanking chains, and the locking of seven locks echoed against my fleeing footsteps.
There were five women, holocaust survivors who lived in those apartments. My dad explained to nine-year-old me, that someone had hurt them in the war, and now they were a little frightened of people, and that they were lonely, so to spend time with them. Be kind, he’d said. Listen to their stories. So, I did.
As a child I grew to believe that like dad’s building, these people were haunted.
Now that hotel is the lovely Mark Spencer Hotel where I stay when I’m in Portland. To me, it’s a sacred place. I feel these women there. And I am comforted by their presence. I always grab a Rugalach at a local bakery to take to my room where despite the beautiful furnishings, I sit on the floor leaning against a wall, eating and remembering. Who’s haunted now ….
In the coming stories, blog posts, and novels, I honor these people who imprinted so deeply on nine through seventeen-year-old me, that they have become my ghosts, the spirits who walk with me. I’m honored to create stories around the essence of who they were to this child now woman who aches with their sorrow, and yet smiles when remembering their unique humor. In bringing them out of the shadows, I’m giving them an identity, while at the same time, reclaiming mine. In honoring them, through my storytelling, I am healing an old wound, mine and theirs.
Returning to the Writing life
Since last year I have abandoned my writing, my blog, my health, and much of my life. Not due to covid, though that has certainly made life more difficult. I’ve lost my mother and my two younger brothers in the last few months. It’s been a painful time. For me, pain does not inspire creative flow. For some writers it does. But not me.
I envy those writers who write through the storms of life, when I feel like all I can do is try to survive them. If you’re one of those writers, my hat is off to you, I curtsey, I bow, and I’ll even have a nip of scotch in your honor.
When life gets tough I tend not to write. I tend to binge on movies or Netflix and chill. Ozark was great, but while my brothers were sick in December and January, both passing 30 days apart, I binged Longmire, not just because I like the show, but it was their favorite also. We were in need of a hero like Walt Longmire.
Anyway, getting back to my writing life, rediscovering some creative energy is a life-saver. I, we are so lucky, so blessed to have writing as an outlet for our emotions, the good and the bad.
Since I hadn’t looked at my WIP (work in progress) in a good long time, I needed to review my notes and writing tools, to get back in the saddle, in Longmire speak.
After rereading my premise (a vital #writers tool) I started my rewrite. Below is from David Corbett’s book The Art of Character—another vital writer’s craft guide.
This premise example from The Hunger Games is great.
I’m back on track with my writing life now and it feels great. I still may watch the series, Longmire again, for the 4th time, just because it reminds me of my brothers. They’d like that. But meanwhile, I’m writing again, walking again, living again after holding my breath (so to speak) for over a year.
Wound, Fatal, or Tragic Flaw?
Interesting fiction (and real) characters have flaws, big messy self-sabotaging flaws that make them fascinating. Perfect characters seldom hold a reader’s attention.
But what’s the difference between a wound, a fatal flaw and tragic flaw?
It’s your job as the author to identify the backstory event you can define as “the wound.”
Painful events change a person. Locating a single backstory moment can help you better understand the root of your character’s psychological damage, their WOUND and why, as a result, they question their self-worth, or the world around them. This will also help you pinpoint the lie they believe and that they must overcome in order to become healthy and whole, fortifying them so they can achieve their goals.
And contained in every wound is a toxic lie. Psychological wounds are more than just painful memories.
Buried deep Inside each wound is a kernel of doubt. For example; How many adult children of divorce have wondered, Was it somehow my fault? Was I culpable? Am I unlovable?
This doubt grows (as the child does), eroding their sense of self.
“The term FLAW refers to the character’s weakness,” “the deep-rooted center of a character that makes him vulnerable to emotional attacks and the story’s forces of antagonism,” says Jim Mercurio (screenwriter) . “If its severity will destroy the character, then it is considered a tragic flaw.” “A flaw or weakness that does not rise to the level of tragic will challenge a character, but she will ultimately overcome it . . . by what is called a character arc.” http://www.jamespmercurio.com/
The last half of that quote says it all; if the character is ultimately destroyed by his flaw, then it’s tragic, like a Macbeth or The Talented Mr. Ripley–Mr. Ripley, the MOVIE, not the book. If not, then it’s a fatal flaw conquered so the character can move on and succeed at their goals, like Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games ). Major character flaws come from life-changing events that impacted the character. For example, Katniss Everdeen has a fatal flaw of valuing others (beginning with her sister) and putting herself last. She does this numerous times, especially with Peeta. This major flaw in her character nearly gets her killed several times. She must overcome it to survive. And so she does. Her character arc is in overcoming her fatal flaw and not letting it destroy her.
If you’re writing a character with a change arc (like Katniss), it’s vital to know their fatal flaw so you can get them to the point of dealing with it head on. This is equally as significant in a failed arc, but instead of overcoming the fatal flaw, the character will succumb to it, resigning themselves to a tragic ending, like Macbeth, or Tom Ripley (Talented Mr. Ripley).
Tom Ripley is afraid. He believes a lie, that he is a worthless nobody (likely a childhood wound). He desperately wants to belong. He wants to be hip, cultured, cool, and heterosexual. Everything he isn’t.
As a man existing deep in the closet Tom’s entire life and identity is a lie. Like all homosexual men of the 1950s Tom takes on a dual life, one that is his day-to-day and the other another version of himself, one that he would like to be, and one that he’s willing to commit murder for in order to maintain.
Unlike the book, in the movie, when Tom kills Peter he kills himself, smothers the life out of his very soul. With Peter, the only one who ever loved him, tom had happiness, held it in his arms, touched its warmth against his skin … and then snuffed it out. Because he was afraid, afraid to be found out, to be found an impersonator, a liar, a manipulator, to be un-cool, un-hip, unworthy, totally worthless. All the things, the lies he believed. His tragic flaw won.
What is your character’s wound, or fatal flaw? Does that fatal flaw cross a boundary of no return and win?
If you like it, TWEET it out! Thanks, MindyTweet
Your retreat and the use you made of it are just amazing! Congratulations and best wishes. I’ve only been to…
Thank you for reading. It is the hope. Mindy
Thank you. It’s profoundly personal for me, but I think sharing our journeys helps others who may be on similar…
That’s a beautiful backstory for all the blogs, stories and novels you’re planning to write. I’m looking forward to seeing…
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