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6527212 May 24, 2010

To Thine Own Self Be True: Sandra Carey Cody

"There are, of course, times when someone will try to push me in a direction I know is wrong for me."

The more years I spend writing, the pickier I become as a reader. Lately, I've been digesting a lot of disappointing novels. Who am I to judge the literary work of others?  I may not have earned that right but assessing writing has become second nature after years of tearing apart my own scribblings.

My guest today, author Sandra Carey Cody, says she gobbled up books when she was younger, never considering the elements required to create a great story.  I gobbled a lot, too. It was great! Like stuffing your face with candy, fries, and gigantic burgers topped with too much cheese before having a clue about calories and fat content.

It's not so easy these days: no more woman versus books. Rather than simply tasting a book as a whole, each ingredient jumps out at me one by one. And when you realize fat-free milk was used instead of whole, the wrong spices were added, or that a key ingredient was left completely out, the whole shebang loses something.  These days, very few books strike me as perfect. Interestingly, those I've found are as unique as the writers who crafted them.  This is one of the reasons I'm so hard on myself.  I want to write perfect novels, genius works not easily forgotten, work that can only take rise from me as an individual. 

In 1980, around the time my dreams were solidifying, Irene Cara sang:

You ain't seen the best of me yet,
Give me time,
I'll make you forget the rest.
I'm gonna make it to heaven,
Light up the sky like a flame.
I'm gonna live forever,
Baby, remember my name.

She wanted fame. All these years later, I still just want to be excellent at something that lives forever and makes my life meaningful. I sense that it's there. I'm trying to find it, tap it, dig it out and show it to you.

Is that sad, or am I narcissistic?  How vain is this dream I've always had?  Well, don't be so hard on me. Sandy has a similar dream. Maybe it takes a dash of vanity to be a writer.  To believe others will be interested in all the fantastical, crap, craziness, ideas, conversations, whatever, that spin round and round in your head.   

During the five torturous years I spent writing my first novel, I couldn't read fiction.  I feared reading would somehow hamper or twist my own voice. Now, I can read anything while writing my own stuff. While it doesn't confuse me, it does makes me think about what I aim to say and how I want to say it. 

We writers must stay true to ourselves. I read so many books that are similar. I wonder how these carbon copies of plot and prose rose out of the heap literary agents, editors and readers pick through.  It's puzzling, and sometimes discouraging, but I forge on.  

Sandy is a self-professed late bloomer.  She didn't start writing until she was about fifty. On days when I fear time is running out for me (as I slide over the hill), I think of her journey and realize I'm just getting started.  You see,  there's no set recipe for success. Many writers, or people who want to be writers, try to follow a nice, neat formula straight into the bookstores.  I'm sure some can and have, but not people like me. I was never one to follow a formula anyway; I'm just not good at it.

If I have the opportunity to share all that I've created with the world, I want it to be just right, nothing skipped, nothing out-of -whack, and nothing spoiled. I'll wait and work toward that, even it takes a lifetime. I'm creating my own recipe. So what about all those twenty and thirty-somethings already on the shelves of Barnes & Noble?  I don't know who they are but they aren't Sandra Carey Cody, and they're not Penelope Przekop.  Great for them but I'd rather be me.  

What’s your story (in a nutshell)? Are you surprised by where you are or did you always see it coming?

My story is a little different than most writers in that I didn’t begin writing until I was about fifty. I started with short stories. I made up characters, put them in places I wanted to be and gave them lines to say that were much more clever than my ordinary conversation. I was having a grand time, but it didn’t take me long to realize that, while my stories were fun for me, they were probably too abstract to appeal to anyone else. I knew they needed structure (in other words a plot). I was lost when I tried to do this. Though I was an avid reader, I had no clue about how a story is built. For most of my life, I had just gobbled up books without realizing that there are certain elements common to all really great stories. Just as buildings as different as the Taj Mahal and the Guggenheim Museum both need to follow certain principles if they are to remain standing, so do stories.

I started reading writing books. (I know. I should have done that first.) John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction

As for being surprised at where I am, the answer is a resounding “yes”. I’ve always loved books, but I held them and the people who create them in such awe. I didn’t dream when I was younger that I could be a part of that mystical process. I think that’s why I was such a late bloomer. I had to reach a certain age to gain the confidence to actually write a book. Also, there’s an element of courage involved. You’re stepping way out on a limb when you expose yourself to that degree.

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an “ah-ha” moment you can tell us about?

I suppose the realization that it’s important to me that my stories resonate with other people could be called an “ah ha” moment. At some point, to feel complete as a writer, you need to share what you’ve written. When I write the first draft, I write to please myself. When I start to revise and polish, I’m very aware of the need to connect with a reader. Writing is communication.

For you, is writing more about creation or expression? It could be both, but does one dominate with regard to your need/urge/desire to be a writer?

That’s a tough question. The line between the two is fine. I guess I would say creation. I’m not really trying to express a point of view. I’m inventing my own universe. It’s exhilarating to start with a torn photograph in a trashcan and to spin it into a story of a doomed love affair or . . . you fill in the blanks. The possibilities are endless.

Do you believe that a highly creative person can give more than one art form 100% of their ability/soul (i.e., writing and painting, music and art, etc.) Can a person succeed at more than more, or does trying to do so dilute what they have to offer?

That’s a tough question. The line between the two is fine. I guess I would say creation. I’m not really trying to express a point of view. I’m inventing my own universe. It’s exhilarating to start with a torn photograph in a trashcan and to spin it into a story of a doomed love affair or . . . you fill in the blanks. The possibilities are endless.

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life’s aberrations, or both?

First, I have to say that I’m not sure I am highly creative. One thing I would like to change about myself is the fact that I am very shy. I suppose shyness could be considered an aberration in that it deviates from conviviality, which is supposedly a normal human trait. Has this shyness helped me deal with life aberrations? It causes me to observe and to reflect on those things that may at first seem aberrant and thus increases my chance of understanding them. In that sense, yes, it is helpful.

Have you had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you’ve dealt with it?

For the most part, I’ve been blessed to spend my life among people who are willing to accept me as I am. There are, of course, times when someone will try to push me in a direction I know is wrong for me. When that happens, I find that if I take time to first figure out the real root of the misunderstanding and then speak about it as honestly as I can, it usually works out. If that fails . . . well, sometimes you just have to stand your ground and be misunderstood.

Unfortunately, many creative people never achieve the success they dream about. Which of your dreams have come to pass and what do you dream about now?

When I first started writing, my dream was to have a published book, one that would be in the library, sharing shelf space with all the great authors I admired so much. I have achieved that (actually I have three published books, with another coming next spring) and, though it is satisfying, it is not enough. My dream now is that my books will last, that they will still be read when I’ve been dead 100 years and that the reader will feel our common humanity. How vain is that!

Is there a difference between being creative and being talented? What are your thoughts on this?

Interesting question, one I hadn’t considered before. To me, a talented person is one to whom accomplishments come easy. They have the ability to do things, and do them well, without expending too much effort. Creation is different in that it involves struggle, reaching deep within one’s self. That is not to say that a talented person is not creative. When you combine the two, talent and that extra effort, the reaching within, wonderful things happen. From this, I believe, comes real art–even genius.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

Shakespeare said it best (isn’t that usually the case?): “… to thine own self, be true.” I hope to be true to my own self, to be always growing in awareness of exactly what my own self is and, just as important, to always be open and respectful of the others as they seek their own self.

To learn more about Sandy, also visit her blogs: www.avalonauthors.blogspot.com and www.birthofanovel.wordpress.com.

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