Mastering Night
Some Habits Of A Sleepless Writer
How I Wrote Quick Fall of Light
Archives 2013
A Poem to my Mother
Last Update September 27, 2015
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Mastering Night Sherrida Woodley 2014
Ancestral Blueprints

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10,000 Birds
a guest post, November 5, 2013

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The Internet Review of Books

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(Boise, ID)

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The Condor's Shadow

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A Feathered
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Archives 2014
Sometimes reality is all that remains of a myth.
Mastering Night has been quietly out of touch for a few months now. The reason has been mostly because of finishing a novel, another one that's taken me three years to write. But I've also wanted to consider where the site needs to go. A web presence should always have a compelling reason for being, because readers deserve your best. It's taken me about six months to re-think Mastering Night. At one point, I considered shutting it down. But that doesn't seem to be the right answer. Neither does something complicated. The site still has visitors, and it's time to simply tell them what's happening.

Ancestral, the novel, is now finished. I've moved a lot of the books and research material, stacks of notes, the pre-writing sessions that took up their own share of computer space. Cleaning is good. But novels don't erase themselves from a writer's memory. They take months, maybe years, to free-up from your mind's well. Novels embed themselves in your psyche. I wouldn't doubt, in some vague way, they change your DNA, or at least tamper with it. Parts of them implant themselves in your everyday experience.

Like the picture of a condor that still sits on my desk. Years ago I named her Octavia, after
Ancestral's most mysterious bird. Every day for months I looked in her watchful eyes and told her I'd finish the job I'd started. And when I did, I still couldn't put her face-down in a drawer. For that matter, I couldn't take apart the storyboard that continues to cover one of my office walls. Condors and totems, a young woman with her back to me walking into a line of evergreens, and a depression in the ground containing a clutch of monstrous eggs, make me think of this story. All of this visual conglomeration has spurred me on. Some days I never even glanced at the reminders all around me. But they were there, goading, cheering, ceaselessly reminding me I had a job to do. Even now, they're not easy to let go.

What's important for me to remember right now is how long the next process could take. Books don't just materialize out of a manuscript. They're queried and silenced, queried again and hoped for. Like one's shadow, they trail alongside you during months of waiting. “If you are never alone, you cannot know yourself," Paul Coelho once wrote. And yet, a writer who's waiting. . . for acknowledgement, for acceptance, for that moment when she receives those first ARCs, is never more aware of her inner desire. No doubt, she can move on. I know because I have, from book one, to two, and now three. But even as I research and jot notes and outline the novel about to begin, I look over my shoulder at
Ancestral and wonder at the course ahead. Two dynamics, poles apart, happening at exactly the same time.

So I pamper myself with old thoughts. Of how it went with
Quick Fall of Light, now at least eight years in the making. Because a book isn't just its publication. It's an entire system of odd connections and magnificent obsessions. The story engulfs and releases, brings people to your side, gives you moments of satisfaction, begins to distill itself into your everyday life. You don't really know who's read it, who likes it, who feels it has merit. But you do know someone, somewhere can select one passage from it that may be more closely identified with the book than you are. Quick Fall's dominant quote has become, "The reality that someone you love has died is its own tragedy. But it's separate, isn't it, from the way it happened?" I'd never have guessed that would be the line most remembered.

In a way, I couldn't have predicted the amazement I'd feel either. I let myself dream, and dream big, but over a year of querying agents/publishers before
Quick Fall was published brought me slowly back to earth. A small press taught me that faith goes both ways, and much of your success depends upon you, the author. Interviews came my way, so did awards and reviews. But what surprised me most were people. . . people I'd never met, some of them still.

As I look back on endorsers and reviewers, on emails shared back and forth with friends and contacts over months of
Quick Fall's trajectory, I believe this is what gave me the most confidence and certainly the most happiness. There was a sense of deep sharing that continues to this day, and all because of that book. One of them stands out in my mind. An author herself, she helped me understand the intense commitment to writing. . . how first it follows you, and then you begin to realize you must follow it. She told me I could create again, and again. She drew me toward others who enforced the daily rhythms of writing. And in that evolution of writing, I found the next story. The condor, it seemed, was that element of transcendence I knew I wanted to explore. And now, all these months later, all these words written, it's done.

Ancestral is a story of myth. It is a tragedy for our time, which is what myth is all about. Animals, particularly birds, symbolize our lost selves. They hold us to admittance. . . that not everything is based in human reality. As we discover their hidden capabilities, we learn more about their elusive senses. Are we capable of understanding their secrets? Did we once? And if we could now, in the early part of this century, how would it change our oncoming fate?

It's a story that will stay with me, not just because I wrote it, but because I know how painful it would've been not to write. After all, that's the writer's dilemma. Once dreamt, a dream can still float away. But the voice of that dream can perpetuate its spell, and who knows, that might even help save the world.

Scotland brings Ancestral its rightful setting, and a long-told tale of a mythic bird finds a new and terrifying beginning.
September 27, 2015

Here at the time of lunar eclipse, the storied fourth "blood moon," and the beginning of autumn, thought I'd share something with you. Maybe it's a response to all the discontent in the world or worries of a nearing apocalypse. Maybe it's because I hadn't written a short story since about sixth grade, until I wrote this one. Could be I'm thinking it's just plain time to get it "out there."

I sent "One-Eyed Jacks" to a Pacific Northwest writing contest in which I was fortunate enough to receive two reviews, each from an editor who critiqued it. One came in with a 94% "like," the other 89%. Both of them wrote they'd like to "see more from this author." In turn, I revised it, as recommended by the one most interested, and continued to send it out, this time to literary journals, Tin House among them. They held it for a long time, seemed to consider, then passed. Others have passed too. Yet, I continue to love this story, because of its pathos, its enduring question. Do dogs sense things we humans can only assume are as important to them as to us? Can they "foresee" a disaster? And if we discovered one particular dog who did this particularly well, what would we do with him?

I'm not sure this story will ever be published in the traditional sense. I'm not sure it deserves it. After all, it's the first of a string of short stories I've written since 2012, and I'm sure it shows a beginner's touch. But then again, I'd already written two novels before "One-Eyed Jacks," so I wrote it with conviction. And a sense of the future. Because the next novel, now taking form, is about a dog very much like this. Mysterious, ancient lineage, strangely preoccupied with the fate of man.

At a little over 3600 words, it isn't overwhelming. But it gives you a bit of thinking and another look at the potential of man's truest friend. Personally, though this story sits clearly in the lap of science fiction, I believe something like it could happen. . . . . . . . . or, perhaps, already has.
One-Eyed Jacks