Fire in the Mind wins SFWC Grand Prize

Fire in the Mind won the Grand Prize in the 2022 San Francisco Writers Conference Writing Contest. For this annual contest, literary agent judges read excerpts from unpublished manuscripts and choose First Prize Winners in four categories. The Grand Prize Winner is then selected from among the four winners. Fire in the Mind took top honors in Adult Non-Fiction. The Grand Prize includes free entry to the next conference, which will take place in February.

On procrastination

In starting this blog, I might also congratulate myself (he said with a sigh) for launching what may well prove to be the most alluring method of procrastination yet.

Though I constantly tell myself that the book is my first priority, I just as constantly find “little things that need doing so why don’t I get them out of the way first.” So I water the plants, check how the stocks in my IRAs are doing, work on replacing the broken passenger side mirror, and soon enough most of the day is somehow gone.

The best I have been able to do is construct a hierarchy of procrastinations, so that I procrastinate from doing the thing that should be first priority by doing something else I do need to do but a little further down the list. While writing a chapter on the story of the four elements, I came across a great source about the tarot which could be mined for a quick addition to an already drafted chapter, about divination with fire. It’s just so tempting to take a little detour… it shouldn’t take long to research and repair a minor gap in a web already woven, rather than pick through and select threads of sources and concept about something new… Soon a day or so has gone by, I have read most of two books on the history of the tarot and yes, made the “finished” chapter a little tighter, but all the threads about how Greek atomists alchemists, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Cartesians and scientists conceived the elements that had been gathered in my head ready to be stitched together lie jumbled in a heap of broken neurons.

Oh well. Whatever the flaws in my process, it reflects something in my character that I need to just accept and get on with it.

Origins of my book about fire

So now I have decided to write a blog about the process of writing my book about fire, and here is the first entry. I hope it will be a useful exercise to step back and scrutinize my process at some level of abstraction, and even result in something of interest to anyone who stumbles across these musings.

This project grew out of my work as Worship Associate at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, California. Offered the opportunity to lead a worship service, I asked myself what subject I might address in a sermon. Having attended the Burning Man festival over a dozen times, an event where many attendees use fire as a celebratory spiritual practice, I decided to center my service on fire. In preparation I looked for books about fire and spirituality, or the meanings humans have imagined for fire over the centuries.

To my great surprise, no such book exists. Though plenty of books have been written about fire, they primarily focus on the history of practical uses of fire, fire prevention, famous fire disasters, and fire in particular cultural traditions. No author has comprehensively addressed the subject of fire and the human imagination. Toni Morrison once said “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it yourself.” So here I am six years later, fourteen chapters drafted of a planned nineteen, beginning to look for a publisher.

It may be that no-one has ever taken on the subject in such breadth because no-one with any credentials to write about some aspect of the subject would imagine tackling such an ambitious project, inevitably requiring venturing well outside any particular field. in researching this book I have had to educate myself in many disciplines including anthropology, archaeology, theology, history of religion, mythology, cosmogony, eschatology, and the history of science. I have no real credentials in any of these fields; the audacity of the outsider may be my main advantage. Though I have many published (and unpublished) writing projects to my credit, as detailed on the Selected projects page, this will be my first full-length book. The process has been exhilarating and fulfilling. As the prospect nears of completing the project, I look forward to seeing it make its way in the world.

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