My favorite muse on inspiration, Netflix, and telling other writers what to do

Sandy Ackers

I first met Sandy Ackers 20 years ago when we joined the same writing class in San Francisco.  Sandy’s writing dazzled  me at the time.  Two decades later, she’s inspiring a legion of creators as an online, certified muse for the masses.

Following is an interview I did recently with Sandy from her home in San Francisco.

Sandy, thank you for being everyone’s muse! What is the secret to phenomenal creativity?

The secret is that there is no secret! Working on your craft regularly, whether you feel inspired or not (also known as the butt-in-chair technique) is the path to opening up your creativity. I’d also add that allowing yourself to enjoy the journey, rather than focusing on the result, is crucial. That sounds simple, but many of us judge ourselves harshly if we don’t write something magnificent every time we sit down to work. When we write, we construct a reservoir of creative experience that fills a bit more with every writing session. As you become more seasoned as a writer, you’re drawing on that reservoir and your lifelong experience. Everything you write, even if it’s terrible, adds to your inner writing wisdom. (It’s as important to know what doesn’t work as it is to know what does work.) We live in a culture that values success and results, and it’s crucial to constantly remind ourselves that creativity follows different rules and can’t be measured in that way.

And don’t beat yourself up if you fall off the creativity wagon! We writers can be very hard on ourselves, and I’ll bet that every writer who says something like “I write every morning before work,” has also had periods when they weren’t writing. (I’m raising my hand here!) I wrote more about this in this blog post: http://wp.me/pwZs5-1Tw

Our culture doesn’t really value taking time for creative pursuits, so unless you’re independently wealthy or have someone supporting you, you’ll probably have to set up your creative life in the cracks and dark corners of your “regular life.” But that can lead to some potent creative juice, because your writing time is so concentrated – and exciting, like a secret affair. Use that energy. Treat your creative time like time stolen away with a secret lover!

Who’s your own personal muse?

Good question! I’ve written about my muse on my blog a few times (like I did here: http://wp.me/pwZs5-1Ps

I enjoy personifying my muse for fun. And I find that the qualities I need in a muse vary, so that muse character I create for myself changes over time. But if I get serious about it, when I’m writing or creating art and I’m in flow, I feel a deep connection to the universe and to everything. And that feels like my muse: connecting to something larger than myself that allows me to access more (words, images, thoughts, vision…) than my mind could think up, but is then filtered through my unique personality so it becomes something that only I could create. I find my muse arrives more frequently when I’m in the flow state that comes with a regular creative practice.

You also write for Netflix. Name a movie every artist must see.

A disadvantage of working for Netflix – and of being a lifelong movie buff – is that I have a catalog of so many movies filed in my brain that it’s hard to answer a question like this! So instead of choosing a classic or a go-to movie about creativity, I’m going to suggest watching a recent documentary that I’ve been recommending lately: “Sky Ladder.” It tells the story of artist Cai Guo-Qiang, who makes art using gunpowder explosions and fireworks, and his quest to create a fireworks ladder 500 meters up into the sky. The story ties together his art, his family, his history growing up with an artist father in China during the Cultural Revolution when art became controlled by the government, and so much more. His creative works are awe-inspiring, and the movie is emotional and breathtaking. Everyone I’ve watched it with has been visibly moved by its beauty and power.

(Here’s the trailer for Sky Ladder: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLTT8ogRf50

You are one of the best-read people I know. Name a writer every writer must read.

Well, I’m not big on telling creative people what they “must” do. I tend to balk when people give me absolute directives.  I remember reading a writing book by a famous novelist years ago who said that every writer must spend a couple of years learning Latin and Anglo-Saxon, and if they’re not willing to do that, they’re not willing to be a writer. That’s ridiculous! (I’m pretty sure I threw that book across the room after reading that passage.)

But if you’re looking for books that have helped me as a writer, I’ll go with Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird. It’s got lots of fantastic advice for writers that focuses on taking the pressure off yourself and getting the work done. If you’ve already read it, it’s worth a reread once a year or so. I also find it useful to read poetry because it helps me stay in touch with the beauty and rhythm of words at their most essential, even if I’m writing prose at the moment.

San Francisco – best city on the planet? 

Ha! Well, I’ve loved every place I’ve lived, but I moved to San Francisco right after college, and I’m still here. I was with my brother and a few other people some years ago when my brother asked everyone, “If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?” Beach towns and tropical locations were being mentioned, but as I thought about it, I suddenly realized: “I’m living there!”

San Francisco has all the big-city cultural advantages – great bookstores, theater, film, museums, amazing and diverse restaurants, etc. – but also, I can walk three blocks from my home and be in a Redwood forest in Golden Gate Park. And the beach is just three miles away. Not to mention all the interesting writers, artists, and other people I know here. I think I’ll stay for a while longer!

 

Soulmates Inc. launches TODAY!

soulmates inc RGB 72dpi

Hi everyone! 

My new novel Soulmates, Inc. launches on the world TODAY!  In a spooky fun trip through Seattle’s supernatural nightlife, a young psychic and his best friend team up with a smoking hot demon to stop the apocalypse before last call!!  It’s a hoppy, fruity Seattle brew, made just for you!

Join my friends and family at Vermillion Bar and Gallery on Capitol Hill in Seattle tonight at 7pm for the book launch party and reading #soulmatesinc.

ONLINE LAUNCH SALE*** :Soulmates Inc. in paperback and e-book is 25% off for the next 24 hours at http://www.lulu.com/shop/bill-eisele/soulmates-inc/paperback/product-23138649.html

Buy Soulmates Inc. by Bill Eisele (Paperback) online at Lulu. Visit the Lulu Marketplace for product details, ratings, and reviews.

And visit me at www.billeisele.com for more updates on the launch!

Thanks to everyone for all the cheers and support,

Happy/spooky weekend,

XOXO!

Bill

American, writing from Iran

unspecified-5A supermoon, a painting done with cat hair, and some empathy in an elevator are just a few of the wonders my good friend and travel writer Mariana Noble experienced on her recent journey to Iran.  She also happened to be abroad during the U.S. presidential elections (see below).  I got to ask her a few questions …

How many days was your trip, and what were your destinations?

The trip was 12 days. We began in the capital, Tehran, where we spent several days getting acclimated, visiting the city’s museums and eating wonderful Persian food.

We flew south to Shiraz, where we got to explore the mindboggling ruins of the royal city, Persepolis, begun in 515 BCE. Huge limestone blocks stacked one on top of the next formed pillars, gateways, monumental statues of horses and humans, all created more than 2,500 years ago.

We took photos of the colored light pouring through the stained glass windows at the Pink Mosque, and inspected the wares along the skinny lanes of the Vakil Bazaar.

Next, the group drove to Yazd, an ancient city where a good portion of the dwellings are still made from the baked desert mudbrick of the past. Here there are remnants of the pre-Islamic Zoroastrian religion, including tall flat-topped hills called Towers of Silence, where the priests used to bring the dead for the vultures to eat.

The final stop was beautiful Isfahan, where we happened to be on its elegant Imam Square as the sun went down and the supermoon, closest to the earth for hundreds of years, rose over the fountains and minarets.

How should travelers prepare for a trip to Iran?

I always tell people to read as much as they can about a place before they visit. I read Reading Lolita in Tehran, which told about how difficult things were there after the Islamic revolution of 1979. I looked at guidebooks and read online articles, and I read Lawrence in Arabia by Scott Anderson for background. (Its subtitle is “War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East.”)

I also brought a little English/Farsi phrasebook so I could communicate a tiny bit without the inevitable interpreter.

Did you have any fears/concerns traveling as a woman or an American?

My main concern as a woman was how to make sure my headscarf stayed on. The company I work for, MIR, which runs the trip I was on, has a good video on how to follow the rules of hijab (the dress code for women) that was very helpful.

When I told my friends and family that I was going to travel to Iran, they reacted like I was going into a war zone. In the U.S. the memory of 1979, when radical students kept 52 Americans hostage for over a year, is still painful. Iran doesn’t get much good press in the U.S, its name connected mainly with sanctions, nuclear capabilities and terrorism.

It’s true that our governments don’t trust each other, but what I found is that most people in Iran are happy to see American visitors. Groups of school kids surrounded us at monuments and outside of museums, trying out their English phrases and taking selfies with us. Iranian adults were quick to point out that governments do not always represent the values and ideas of the people. We found unfailing hospitality and goodwill at the personal level.

What impressed you most on your trip?

What I thought was coolest was the way that antiquities seem to be everywhere in this landscape. I live in Seattle, where the oldest buildings are maybe 120 years old, so the contrast is striking.

And to see, in the museums, evidence that humans have been creating beautiful things ever since they first scratched pictures on cave walls with rocks. Evidence that humans have always longed for and valued art and beauty.

How do you hope to write about your trip?

First I have to tease out the stories, the small things that happened like the surprising gift of a miniature Scheherazade painted by a master with a brush made of his cat’s hair. Sometimes the story is simply the interactions among the people you travel with, sometimes the strangeness of a place itself.

What food do you recommend?

I recommend, wherever you travel, that you try some of everything you see, unless you have allergies. One of the best food experiences I had in Iran was at a cafeteria-style restaurant, where I got separated from our interpreter and had to order by pointing at dishes. I ended up with a huge spicy meatball and a rich stew of eggplant and peppers. They eat a lot of lamb in Persia, and we ate tender little grilled lamb chops several times. Rice is served at every meal, and it is always decorated with a dollop of golden saffron rice.

I like to shop for spices in the bazaars when I travel, and I try to recreate a few of my favorite dishes at home. This time I bought a beautiful layered spice mix and some dried barberries, and when I got back, I ordered a Persian cookbook/travel account, Taste of Persia, by Naomi Duguid. I’m going to try a lamb and chickpea stew called dizi.

Funniest thing that happened on your trip?

Our group didn’t really have a moment of hysterical laughter, as you do when something goes ridiculously wrong, although we did laugh a lot at the squat toilets we found everywhere besides our hotel rooms. And the strange hoses meant to wash off our undersides afterwards. (These were in our hotel rooms.)

What we had was an early morning huddled around a laptop in the lobby of a five star hotel in Shiraz watching the U.S. election returns. Iran is some 11 hours ahead of the west coast, and some of us got up extra early in anticipation of watching our first female president being elected.

On my way to my hotel room to cry alone, I apologized tearfully for the results of our election to an Iranian couple in the elevator. The couple told me that they well knew how a country can be captured and manipulated by radical and unwelcome ideas. They sympathized. That made me feel even worse!

Our tour manager, Farzaneh, tried to cheer us by telling her story. She was 15 “when the revolution happened.” She’d been a modern teenager going to high school, and overnight had to wear dark baggy clothes and cover her head with a scarf. For many years after that, there were no jobs and people went hungry.

“But now look at me,” she said. “35 years later, I’m a tour manager for a big company, I meet and become friends with foreigners all year long, I make good money and can support my mother, and I even lead Iranian groups abroad. I have friends all over the world. I’ve been to Paris, London, Berlin.

“Terrible things may happen, but life goes on.”

I saw that in Iran. Life goes on, and it has done just that here for thousands and thousands of years.