Author: P.W. O'Reilly

Pamela is the author of "The Kandinsky Project", a time-travel espionage story set during World War II. She is a WWII history buff, and has an Art History degree from the College of William and Mary with a minor in French. Willem de Kooning is her favorite artist, and she is currently working on a sequel. She lives in the Washington DC area with her husband, daughter, and two dogs.

Same Old Problem

Just read an old blog post from the beginning of July, and see that I had the same problem then that I just wrote about in my recent post. So….not a lot has changed. Hmmmmph.

The Opposite of Writer’s Block…

OK, I know we were just talking about writer’s block in the early part of last month. Writer’s block is a real thing, and it stuck with me for a while. It may have had something to do with the fact that all my energy was taken up with job searching (long story) and I had no time for fiction (which is, after all, a hobby for me at the moment).

Then I got a job, and went on vacation for a week to the beach, which is my happy place. (I’d like my happy place to be Paris–today’s Paris, not the Paris that Rebecca gets to see, but I can’t afford a Paris vacation once a year, so the beach it is…). I relaxed and saw new things and experienced something besides the four walls of my house and my creative brain got bigger. NOW my problem is that I have too many ideas, all rolling around in my head and I’m having trouble organizing all of them and getting them down on paper. The possibilities are endless, and I think that’s as much of an issue as not having any ideas at all. Rebecca could be still in World War 2–a time period with which we’re both very familiar–or she could go almost anywhere. My initial idea was to have her at Los Alamos while the US is building the atomic bomb (if you haven’t seen the TV Show Manhattan, I highly recommend it). What an interesting place to set a story! All the secrecy and the science, people living in close quarters, all these strangers coming together to accomplish a common goal…it was such an appealing venue, so full of mystery and glamour…

Until I started doing research on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I can’t even imagine the horror that people experienced. People who were just going about their mornings as usual, people who had no idea what was coming. A lot like September 11th, 2001. I read some eyewitness accounts of the horrors at Hiroshima, and suddenly, writing about it didn’t seem as palatable. Maybe I’m getting more sensitive as I get older, or maybe it’s just that the last three years have been filled with so much chaos, so much ugliness. Back when I first learned about WW2, we had no idea what war was like. Those of us born in the 70’s and 80’s were trained to hide under our desks because of the Cold War, but we didn’t understand –what actual war looked like–when our friends and relatives went to war and didn’t come back. There were a few skirmishes, but we lived largely in blissful ignorance until 9/11.

Recently, of course, we’ve had more than our fair share of ugliness, sadness, anger, frustration. My dad always use to say “The world’s going to hell”, and I used to nod and smile and say, “I think every generation thinks that about their own timeline–it’s really not that bad.” Lately, I’m beginning to think my dad was right. So to combat that, when I next take up my pen (or pick up my laptop) to write something, it’s either going to contain and express all that anger and frustration and ugliness…or it’s going to be something distracting and diverting (Bridgerton without all the sex?)–an escape from all the anger (because we all need those sometimes). OR, it may be both. (Because who says you can’t write two books at the same time?). I’ll keep you posted.

(*Note: I am not going to write another Bridgerton. It’s already been done very masterfully by Julia Quinn, and if you like historical fiction, it’s really fun to read and very well-written. I’m now making my way through the prequels.)

Writer’s Block…

Forgive me if you’ve heard this before….but I have writer’s block. I have so many ideas rolling around in my head it looks a lot like it did when Dorothy and Toto got sucked up into the tornado, except my particular tornado is filled with words and colors and disparate images.

Everyone is asking for a sequel to Kandinsky, and I totally appreciate that people want to read more of my words, and I will get there–I promise. But lately, I’m wondering if I’m made for something more–If I could write something more, if I wasn’t scared. My friend, the amazing Jamia Wilson (whose book “This Book is Feminist” is wonderful and you need to read it) once asked me whether the characters in my stories are fighting to be heard, and I said that we all discover each other inside the writing process. For Kandinsky, that’s what happened. But for a while now, I’ve felt another story simmering, and other characters that are trying to break free and exist as part of a larger tale–one that I could write if I had the courage.

What could we all do if we weren’t afraid to fail? To get rejected, to have people hate our writing–the bits and pieces of it that come out of our bones and are such a personal part of us. It’s a terrifying prospect. But at the same time, I feel like I’m not stretching my brain enough. One of my friends who read Kandinsky said that she didn’t particularly like the Prologue, that it didn’t seem like something I would write, and she was concerned about what the rest of the book would be like. (Fortunately, she kept reading and actually ended up liking the book quite a lot). Here’s the thing: I want to write something that doesn’t feel like “me”–something that comes from the murkiness, the misery, the depression, the anxiety, the anger, the bitterness that we all experience in life. Something that comes out of the dark night of the soul. The artist Francis Bacon certainly understood that darkness–his painting Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1953) is almost viscerally disturbing–my skin crawls every time I look at it and all I want to do is look away. His Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944) was painted the same year that photographs of the Holocaust were made public–again, art reflects the pain and suffering of life. We’re artists on the edge of history, and it seems only right that art (any art) should echo who and where we are right now. To do anything else would seem….irresponsible. (Says the girl that just read four Bridgerton books in a row). It’s this odd combination of wanting to escape life and wanting to communicate life in a creative way–and I’m lost in the limbo between the two, completely paralyzed.

So I’ll ask these questions: What is our obligation to reflect the current state of affairs, and what could we accomplish if we weren’t afraid to fail?

(As soon as you figure it out, let me know).

Winter and Writer’s Block

It’s the dead of winter in Virginia, and I’ve been absent from the blog for a while. My dad was sick, and then passed away just before Thanksgiving last year. I’ve been in the doldrums since then, buried in a punishing full time job and dealing with grief, burnout, and absolutely NO creative motivation. The last few days felt like Spring was coming! And then…it was 35 degrees yesterday. Ah, Virginia, how I love your weather. So I quit my job at the beginning of February–said no, thank you to the grueling pace with no time off (since July, unless you count my dad’s funeral…which I don’t), disrespect and other frustrations–and said YES to self-care and life and family and creativity. Yes, I’m looking for another job, but it has to be the right job. For the right company. And I’m writing again, working part-time on the Kandinsky sequel, and part-time on a little pet project about a woman who builds a glass house at the beach. (Because I’m an architecture nerd, it was inspired by Mies van der Rohe and the house he built for Edith Farnsworth in Pennsylvania).

I was in Boston a few weeks ago for work, struggling with anxiety and depression and generally feeling overwhelmed, when I thought of Rebecca. She was sent away from her safe, comfortable life into a world of intrigue and uncertainty, and she managed it in spite of her fear. I figured the least I could do was leave my hotel room and go do my site survey. There’s something to be said for the growth that comes from being pushed out of your comfort zone–it makes a lot of things possible. But I think there’s definitely a balance–outside the comfort zone isn’t someplace I can live full-time. Living with chronic anxiety, I need a home base, a nest that I can retreat to when the world gets too scary–and that can be my home, or my job, or the people I interact with on a daily basis. I think that’s okay. It gives me the strength I need to go back out and attack the world again, to live up to the next challenge. Just like Rebecca did. For now, I think she’s probably regrouping, learning more about code-breaking so she can take over the training from Mr. Baumgart when he retires. So she (and I) will be ready for our next adventure.

Welcome Fall

Fall is my favorite season, and not just because my birthday is around this time of the year. For me, fall feels like a rest break from the busyness of the summer–vacations, travel, trips to the pool, camp, etc. I always feel compelled–obligated, really–to spend as much time as possible outside in the bright sunshine before the winter arrives, and for someone with anxiety, that can feel like a lot of pressure. (I know, it’s weird). The fall weather gives me an excuse to wrap up in my favorite sweatshirt from Elly & Grace, put on my big fuzzy slippers (which I have been known to wear out of the house), and catch up on my reading. I always read “Outlander” in the fall–I first read it in October of 2017, when I had bronchitis and broke my foot. I remember having “Dragonfly in Amber” in the hospital with me, and every nurse that walked in commented on how much they loved those books. Once it gets chilly, I love to wrap up in my lambs wool Outlander replica tartan stole and throw my Outlander-themed blanket on my bed. (Yes, I’m obsessive).

My nesting habits that start in October are probably different than what Clemence would do in the fall in Paris. I think she would nest a little, too–but she would do it in some fabulous pink wrap with marabou feathers, and her apartment would be filled with mink throws in her favorite colors. Max would, no doubt, have purchased her a beautiful full-length white mink coat (for his darling dove), and she would help him off with his long camel-hair coat, or his gray uniform coat, whenever he visited.

Rebecca would nest like I do–even though her life as Clemence left her with a new love for the color pink and a thing for feathers on her clothes. (She may have gone out and purchased some marabou feather slippers once she got back to DC). Life in the bunker is isolated from nature, so anytime is a good time for a cozy blanket, a good cup of hot cocoa (or tea–she loves tea), and a good book. She and Julian do like to go to fall festivals and visit the wide variety of wineries that can be found in Western Loudoun County.

I wish fall lasted longer–but winter will soon be upon us, so it’s time for me to go grab “Outlander”, a blanket, and a cup of tea, and settle into some reading. Happy Fall!

Why Kandinsky?

Kandinsky is one of my favorite artists, but the reason that he ended up in this book was the correlation between math, formula, and art. I’ve always loved abstract and non-objective art–it was one of my favorite periods in art history to study; I spent several years as a docent for the Muscarelle Museum and the Denver Art Museum, working to make modern art accessible to the public.

Kandinsky didn’t start out to be an artist–born in Moscow in 1866 to a wealthy family, he studied law at Moscow University and ultimately became a law professor. He had always loved making art; he recalled in later years that when he was a child working with a drawing coach, “drawing and a little bit later painting lifted me out of the reality”. His early art consistently focused on very specific color combinations, where “each color lives by its mysterious life”. He noted two events that changed his life work from that of law to painting: Visiting an exhibition of French Impressionists in 1895 (particularly the work “Haystacks” by Monet); and seeing Richard Wagner’s “Lohengrin” at the Bolshoi Theatre.

Kandinsky founded several artist groups, including the Phalanx and the Blue Rider group; he was also associated with the Bauhaus, first in Weimar and then in Dessau, until it was closed down by the Nazis in 1932. His work consistently examines the play between color, line and figure, and those works–his Compositions from the 1920’s (particularly Composition VIII from 1923) were the perfect paintings to use for Rebecca’s coded information. The Nazis hated art by Kandinsky and his associates, and sought to eliminate as much of the “degenerate” art they could find. As such, it makes perfect sense that the codes were hidden under a layer of paint depicting bucolic landscapes and idealized towns and villages. Unfortunately, as it happened in the art gallery where Rebecca worked, many paintings were destroyed and a portion of that history has been lost.

Some information for this article is courtesy of wassilykandinsky.net, which is a wonderful resource for the artists work, life, and associates.

If you’re interested in reading/learning more about Kandinsky, the Blue Rider, and the Bauhaus, the Guggenheim has a great site related to their Kandinsky Research Project.

Amazon and Barnes & Noble also have a lot of great books on Kandinsky, including “Concerning the Spiritual in Art”, and “Klee and Kandinsky”. There are also a number of good books on the Bauhaus.