Today’s guest is Renee Swindle, the author of newly released A Pinch Of Ooh La La and Shake Down The Stars (NAL/Penguin). Her first novel, Please Please Please, was an Essence Magazine bestseller. Renee has an MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University. An admitted tea snob, Renee lives in Oakland with three rescue dogs and three cats—“Yep, six animals and me,” says Renee.
Dish magazine says, “Swindle has a way of making her characters dance on the page, drawing you deep into the midst of their laughter and their sorrow, their joys and their mistakes.”
If The Buddha Wrote A Novel
I’ve been practicing meditation for almost ten years, and I’ve realized Buddhism, and many of its teachings, relate not only to life, but to writing, which for many of us is synonymous.
First off, please don’t let the title of my post scare you away! Buddhism is far more about psychology than religion; even the Dalai Lama is known for saying his “religion” is compassion. And meditation, the cornerstone of Buddhism, can be practiced by the religious and non-religious alike. Think of it like that hot trend right now—yoga. Yeah, yeah, I hear you saying. So what does all this have to do with writing? That’s why we’re here, isn’t it?
Well, I’ve been practicing meditation for almost ten years, and I’ve realized Buddhism, and many of its teachings, relate not only to life, but to writing, which for many of us is synonymous.
A couple of years ago, while meeting with my meditation instructor, I said something along the lines of, “I love Buddhism—except for the whole compassion thing; that part sucks. Most people get on my nerves and I have zero compassion for jerks!” My instructor, who’d read my first novel, and knew about the novel I was working on at the time, stared at me pointedly and asked if I ever felt my characters were jerks—if I ever lacked compassion for the people who inhabited my stories.
I think it helps as writers if we treat our characters like people—complex, living, breathing people. Instead of labeling your characters as good or bad or whatever, consider remaining curious.
Granted, the heroine of my first novel sleeps with her best friend’s husband (d’oh!), and the narrator of my second novel battles alcoholism and the habit of sleeping with strangers. Still, I felt defensive. I love my characters. I think they’re complex, broken, spirited and funny. When I told my instructor as much, he reminded me about the importance of equanimity: the practice of keeping curious and open without grasping hold to a fixed opinion.
I think it helps as writers if we treat our characters like people—complex, living, breathing people. Instead of labeling your characters as good or bad or whatever, consider remaining curious. Even if a certain character’s backstory doesn’t make it into the novel, you should know why and how they became who they are. If you write your so-called “bad” characters with no sense of insight, or compassion for that matter, you just might end up writing them as flat.
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