Monday, August 29, 2011


I’m addicted to reading, which should be no surprise as I’m a writer. I can’t remember ever not loving reading. My mother encouraged me, early on, buying me armfuls of books for Christmas. She allowed me to read when we went out to dinner (during dinner, at the restaurant table). She was and continues to be an avid reader herself. Like me, she’s got bookshelves of novels she plans on reading soon and never leaves the house without at least one book she’s reading (two if she’s almost done with the first). As she says, you never know when you’ll be stuck in a line and that book will come in handy.

She saved many of my childhood books and has given them to me to share with my boys. I’ve got boxes of books in closets, books upon books on shelves in various rooms. We live in a house filled with books, and my husband groans when I return from yard sales with – you guessed it – more books for me and the kids. But at such a bargain, how can I resist?

Can you be a writer and not love reading? 

Thursday, August 25, 2011


I pulled weeds in my yard today that were taller than my two-year-old. I’m not exaggerating. And by the time I returned to my air-conditioned sanctuary, I needed the rough side of the sponge to scrub my fingers free of dirt. And not even a fifth of the yard is weeded – and that meager portion was weeded not at all to my usual standard. Ugh!

In my family, my husband takes care of some traditionally feminine responsibilities (washing clothes, cooking at times, rearranging the dishwasher), and I handle a couple of the assignments that perhaps are more masculine. Like weeding. My husband abhors weeding, so the task is left to me, an unspoken delegation. But my life is crazy at times, and I’d rather be living (enjoying the kids, writing, reading, doing practically anything other than weeding) – so this summer the weeds were left to flourish. Finally, as often happens with me, the straw breaks my back, and I’m on a roll of reformation! This week, our entire yard will be weeded. I’ve divided the backyard into quadrants and delegated different areas to specific days.

I’m always amazed (today as well) at how quickly the weeds grow, at the fleshy green mass they acquire during just a few months – while the gardenia my husband tried to root in early spring still looks like less than a twig, four flimsy leaves as small as my pinkie fingernail flagging sunward.

Perhaps there’s some deep analogy I could draw here. Gardenias are to x as weeds are to y. But my back is too sore; my fingers, despite their scrubbing, still sticky. And a shower beckons. So perhaps you can give me the x and y. Would you?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Stuck? Need an idea?

Have you ever been stuck in the middle of your writing or needed an idea (that just wouldn't come) to move the story?

Recently when I was writing, I came across a scene I couldn’t get past or through. I knew something pivotal needed to happen in it, but I wasn’t sure what exactly that drama would be.

My answer to most of the writing bogs I get into is: sleep on it. If there’s a problem, and I can identify what that problem is, often if I put the writing down and come back to it the next day, the solution will have presented itself in the meantime, after a good night’s sleep.

Where do ideas come from? I once knew a woman who said she had people living inside her brain and, if she needed an answer, the people would find it in her filing cabinets… but sometimes finding the answer took some time for the workers in her brain.

While I don’t know of any people living inside my brain and accessing filing cabinets, I do know if I’m looking for a particular word, it comes to me if I give it time and think on it for a day or two: just like my story-solving solution.

Of course, other strategies might also prove helpful, like trying to write the scene from a different point of view (even if you’re going to have to go back and write it again from your original pov). Or, you could skip ahead and come back to the troublesome scene. Sometimes, if a scene is stagnating, adding another character to the mix can liven it up.

For me, I like my zzz’s.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tears, tissues, and donuts: not for me?

I recently turned down the opportunity for a free donut. It came on the first day of my son’s kindergarten. Parents were invited to drop off their children and then join the school counselor for a session entitled Tears, Tissues, and Donuts.

When I first heard about the session, I swallowed a snicker. And when I decided not to go, I made the decision because the whole notion of crying over my son going into kindergarten sounded ridiculous to me. He’s ready for it; I’m ready for it – I’m happy to see him go. That's what I thought. He’s got a whole new world opening up to him, I thought, which is fantastic. Go for it, I thought! Congratulations. Besides, my waistline didn’t need another donut. (Still doesn't.)

Add a few days, add the reality of living with my son away every weekday sinking in. So I’m really swallowing that snicker now. The tears came. Not a whole bunch of waterworks (got to maintain my image, after all, even if I'm the only audience to the tears), just a bittersweet sob or two, or ten. He’s going: already the letting go begins, the subtle growing distance like water eroding sand: first a trickle forms a crack and then the edges fall apart in chunks. Okay, I’m being a little overly dramatic. And, after all, that’s the way it’s supposed to be: the kids grow up and go on with their own lives.

I'm going to go get a donut now.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Writing rituals

It’s bad. I’ll finally have the opportunity to write – kids in bed, husband settled in a different room – and I’ll sit down at my computer. But instead of facing that blank page, I’ll play a game on the computer. Or check my email. I’ll tell myself “Just one game,” or “Just a quick check.” But at least 15 minutes will be blown, and that’s if I’m lucky.

I’m a huge Sodoku-lover. I play the daily games on Yahoo. I also enjoy a little Spider Solitaire, Freecell, and Scrabble. I have trouble closing the game program until I’ve won once. And a quick check in email often leads to responding to Facebook comments or detailed email replies.

I justify the game-playing by claiming they help clear my mind of the day’s clutter so I can write. Really, the habit is pure procrastination!

Do you partake of any electronic procrastination tools—I mean mind-clearing activities—also?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I used to be good

I used to be really good at piano. Not Juliard good. But good enough that I won a four-year music scholarship in a statewide competition. Good enough I once had more than 150 pages of music (a Chopin fantasy, a Beethoven concerto, and a piece by a Russian composer with a name I wasn’t certain I could pronounce correctly) memorized. So I used to be good at piano. Not so much anymore. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I sat down at the piano for five minutes when I wasn’t interrupted by my children! At least today I got in 15 minutes of practice, albeit part of this involved fielding requests from my five-year-old, including one request for the “Indian song” so he could run circles around the house to the pounding beat. (He also enjoyed my take on the Indiana Jones theme song.) Then my two-year-old insisted on sitting at my side and turning pages before I’d finished one line of music.

When I was younger, I always was torn between piano and writing. In college, my passion for writing overrode my love of music – just barely. But now that my free time is limited, and now that I find myself having to choose between whether to write or – say – take that bubble bath with that novel, or between writing and tinkling the ivories, I am learning that writing trumps piano, especially at night when the children are asleep. And during any free time I might find, if I’m in a creative mood, I’m drawn to the paper and the writing. My musician’s fingers are not in the shape they once were. Now they are clumsy, slow, fumbling. I do feel guilty, neglecting my upright and its “88 reasons to smile.”

But unlike some people claim, I’ve learned you can’t have everything. You can’t do everything to the best of your abilities. Sure, you can do everything – but it’s not going to be the best you can do if you’re splitting your attention. You can be a great pianist and a great writer – but imagine if you devoted yourself to one or the other and how much more those particular skills would develop.

To be the best writer I can be, I need to devote as much time as I can to it. Do I feel guilty about neglecting the piano? Honestly, a bit. But I’ve made my choice, or my heart has made my choice for me, and I’m sticking with it.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The agony of finding a title

If you’re looking for advice on choosing or discovering a title for your manuscript, read no further. I can offer you no advice. Tune in next week for a blog entry that hopefully will be more helpful to you, your craft, and your time.

I’m struggling to find a decent working title for my second novel. And it’s not just novels. I recently wrote a short short story, 200 words, and came up with the title “Acknowledgements.” But my two beta readers, both family readers and both non-literary readers, didn’t quite get the title. I loved the title! Now I’m thinking perhaps I should change it. Still, one of those beta readers suggested the title “Death Stinks” for my second novel. Sure, the suggestion was a joke, but I continue to flail, searching for a decent phrase. None jumps out at me. Isn’t there a hotline I can call for help?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Precious time

My son begins kindergarten this week. My son begins kindergarten this week! I didn’t cry for preschool, but I have a feeling that as he climbs onto the bus or as that orange behemoth chugs away I’ll be shedding a few tears.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m totally ready and he’s totally ready. Shoot, he’s already reading on his own and begging for me to do science projects with him. He’s ready to experience a new environment and soak up something from someone other than me with my pathetic ideas of what constitutes a science experiment (clean, contained: let’s see what floats in water today). (Of course, there were those times we exploded plastic bags using baking soda and vinegar. Sssshhh!) And I’m ready to release him unto the world (and get some one-one-one time with my youngest son, finally)!

I think, when I cry, the tears will be sweet. I’ll be proud of him. I’ll be crying because I’ll be hoping for good things for him and wishing I could grant him more. But mostly I’ll be crying because the first day of kindergarten marks the beginning of an exciting new era in our lives. And these first five years passed so quickly!

Earlier this summer, I took a walk on the beach with my son, just him and me. On his own accord, he reached out and placed one of his hands, soft and wrinkled from playing in the ocean, inside mine. We walked along, casually talking, still holding hands. And I thought to myself, if only I could remember this moment forever. If only I could never forget this gesture, this sweetness.

Because the days when he thinks I’m cool, the days when he reaches out to hold my hand on a crowded beach, they’re coming fast to an end. And that orange school bus is coming around the corner very quickly!

Monday, August 1, 2011

A few of my favorite blogs

You know a blog is good when you get back from an unplugged vacation and find yourself ignoring pressing emails to check what’s been recently posted. Here the blogs I just couldn’t wait to read after I returned from the beach:

This mystery writer and mom always comes up with fantastic posts that deal with various aspects of writing – not just mystery writing. She’s also a terrific twitter-er. From her blog: “Author Elizabeth Spann Craig is a laptop wielding, mystery writing mom who metes out murder on the keyboard.”

Badluckdetective’s blog
This fantastic blog follows “Suzie Ivy” as, after a midlife crisis, she enrolls in the police academy and becomes an officer… and then a detective. Begin at the beginning of the blog and read through the entries from your computer chair if you can’t become a police officer yourself.

A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing
Author Joe Konrath gives the lowdown on self-publishing. Entries can be long and detailed, and R-rated, but the info is invaluable.

The Writer’s Guide to E-Publishing
“E-Publishing is here to stay. We’re here to provide answers to all your E-Publishing questions,” says the blog. I couldn’t state it better myself.