Wednesday, November 24, 2010

All Roads Lead to Home

Thanksgiving has taken its time, but has become my favorite of holidays. My mom died on Thanksgiving Day...and so, for years, it was a day of great grief and sadness in our small home in New Jersey. I was not quite four at the time, so many of the real memories of her evade me even now. But I'll never forget the tears in my dad's eyes when he'd lift me up on his knee. How hard it must've been for him!

One of the first Thanksgiving memories I have was the one in which my sister Dub's teacher game for dinner. I remember her name...Mrs. Tozer, Geraldine, and her husband's name, Warren. It was the second Thanksgiving after my mom had died, and the turkey was not defrosted! Who knew? My sister, Carol, was in charge of that stuff at the mere age of twelve. My dad was overseeing it too, of course, but jeesh, none of this seems real to me, even now, a million years after the fact. That turkey was pulled and plunked in and out of cold water baths to defrost it, but no luck! We had hamburgers for dinner instead! I can only imagine my father's shame. But I do remember the Tozers' laughter, and that was enough to pull us all through.

This year, I'll have 49 guests for Thanksgiving, down from the 55 I originally expected. The ranks are shifting. This kind of event is not for the faint of heart, that's for sure. Years ago, I joined my husband's family for Thanksgiving...I think I was about 21 or 22 at the time. His family of 8 (plus me) joined the McGowan tribe of 9 and that was how it all began. By the time I joined them, they'd been performing this feast for about eleven years. Now it's been well over forty!

What I remember most about our huge family feasts is not the food, or the exact conversations I've had. It's the welcoming sound of laughter that reverberates off the ceilings and walls and sticks inside the core of my soul. I know it sounds corny, and I've never told any of them this...but when you start out a tradition of grief and sadness, it's hard for a little kid to recover from that. Their laughter shocked me at first, really! But now, I live for that sound.

So tomorrow, there'll be tables upon tables in my great room. There'll be chafing dishes and platters of food. The fire will be lit, the glasses all full and the house will burst at its seams.
And I...will suck it all in for another year...me that little adoptive daughter from New Jersey, with the two families of my dreams. Honestly, sometimes I do have to pinch myself. The laughter, the love and the being together...that combination can honestly heal anything! And even though I won't be with my own siblings and my parents too, they're never too far from my heart.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Seeing the Forest and the Trees

Pondering. That is actually where I've been all these long weeks. Feeling a little lost, I've been plagued by self-doubt. Blocked, but faking it all the way. But really. I'd just forgotten to look up! November has its way with me every year, but this started way before that.

Early October hit hard, work, home, commitments, visitors, etc. Distractions and diversions. My writing brain just loves them! I've been playing in the field of self-doubt lately...and that is a dangerous thing.

But today, I pushed myself out of the hole. I've been immersed in memoir with my sixth graders, carving out samples of writing and sharing them with my kids. I've been working on the all too familiar 'Show, Don't Tell' lesson, watching them and reading what they've actually put on the page. When all of a sudden a voice from the back of the room cries out..."Now I get it! It's like living in that moment!"

Well, exactly! Be the moment! I heard a football player interviewed recently, and he said when he's headed toward the end zone, he is transcended...he is the ball. So, my message to my kids was actually the reteaching my writing brain needed too; be one with the story. Not so new to me. But somehow when I'm living in self-doubt, I never seem to see the trees, because I'm staring at the forest floor.

A little while after that, two girls stopped me on the way out of class and asked...no, demanded that I think inside my eleven year old brain. The decision was about braces. "Translucent or metal," they asked. "Metal," I said. "Definitely. I love all the color possibilities...and I could actually arrange my outfits to match!" Suddenly, they (and the universe) had taught me a whole lot more than I could've learned for myself.

So hello to my inner eleven year old; and hello story again! It feels so good to have that buzzing sound back inside my brain!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Swimming Along with the Tide

Yesterday, I had an opportunity for a 'call back,' and it wasn't for stage or screen. I'd gotten a call for a recheck from my doctor, and I was invited to c'mon back in.

Well, I don't have to tell anyone how nerve-racking something like that can be. I let myself get into a little bit of a state, but then as always, I remembered to fall back on my faith. I had more than a few responsibilities in front of me, so I tried to put it out of my mind. I'm a drama queen first and foremost though, so I knew...in order to get out of that trap, reaching out to someone else is always my only safety net in this world.

I went over to the hospital, signed in at radiology and took my seat in the waiting room. I couldn't help notice the two women sitting alongside me there. Both of them were a bit jaundiced looking and both had lost their hair. I saw them, and they saw me too...both smiled but then both turned their eyes away. I have to admit, it scared me, seeing them both sitting there. But then, my name was called and I made my way down a very long, very white corridor and sat again and waited. House Wives of Orange County was playing up on the screen. It felt surreal, honestly. Like all this was a part of a dream.

I went to the first technologist, and she assured me she saw nothing, but the doctor would just have to check. She then came back for a few more, and that made me even more nervous. She said she'd be right back...but it wasn't her that returned. The next tech that came in was from ultra-sound...I laughed at that point, and I really don't know why. I told her I didn't really want to graduate, I only wanted to go home.

But it was in that time, after she finished with me, and before the doctor came in...that a certain peace came over me, and the words...'it is what is,' started swimming around in my brain. I thought about all the women before me...my mom, my grandmother, my sister, my mother-in-law, and the countless others too. All these women throughout the ages and we haven't beat this still. But mostly I thought about my family.

The doctor came in then, and she said she wanted a first-hand look. She told me not to try to read her face and not to worry she'd tell me the truth right there. I was very, very fortunate, what I had was a cancer scare. She showed me the spot in question and told me it was really nothing to worry about at all.

Yesterday, I learned the real lesson of life...it really is what it is, and no amount of fighting can ever change that at all. I have no power over it, but I sure can treat it like it's my most important treasure. So...yesterday, life's lesson led me right to the Icecream Shop! Life is good! Icecream, babies, laughter...choose your pleasure and live it up to the hilt!

Monday, August 23, 2010

How Low Can You Go?

The question isn't always how far down you can dig, but how to get there from here. Right? I do think as an author, I can only give what I've got at the present moment. But...there's a certain amount of excavation, a little bit of blood, sweat and tears and a whole lot of living that has to go on in between.

I've been sitting, steeping, thinking and trying to live my life while I go deeper into the skin of one of my characters. It's the youngest of the three POV characters that has given me the hardest time. As everyone knows, characters do come from the deepest parts of our unconscious, but are often a conglomeration of the past, the present and our imaginings in the future too.

When I was told to go back to my work to sit and let it settle in, to marinate for a while...I had no idea what I was missing. Now I know, but I'm still struggling to make what's true and real hit the page in a big way. Today, I hit a bit of pay dirt. My fourteen year old was crying out in my mind as I drove home from the other side of town. "That's MY mother!" Her voice was screaming in my head. Well...darn-it, she's right.

I have no right commenting on HER mother! It's her story. I do have a right to slip into her skin and write it like it's happening. So today...and just for today, the blood was real, my character was seeing it, and boy, oh boy, was she responding to it. By the time I finished, I was crying right alongside her...but damn, it was really her tears that mattered--I was out of the driver seat, letting her take the wheel for a change. I hit pay dirt...and that's where the true feelings lie.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Before and After the Grapes

Chautauqua; a beautiful enclave of creative, intellectual thought and meditation. It is such a hard place to describe. It's built around an ampitheater that houses daily lectures, creative discussions and a host of evening perfomances...symphonies, operas and even the Oakridge Boys!

A maze of streets with ornate, gingerbread style houses weave their way down to the sea, Lake Chautauqua. The Athenaeum Hotel with its wide porches and large wicker rockers welcomes visitors from all walks of life. There are churches of all denominations and people from birth to 90 and beyond. Small boarding houses, condominiums, larger single family homes and mansions crowd the space along the shore. But there's a balance of open park space and walking trails too.

In the upcoming days, I hope to wrap my mind around this wonderful Chautauqua experience. I was transformed by the company of strangers...like-minded adventurers that joined me while I was there. We were seekers, set on a journey to explore the craft and the ideal of writing and storytelling for children. But first we had to come to know ourselves...just a little bit more.

On the last night, Kent Brown, former publisher at Boyds' Mill Press and founder of the Highlights' Chautauqua Institute for Children's Writers, spoke of a time in his town where grapes were the currency of all that was done. The pay-off apparently, always came after the grapes were harvested. He asked us to think of our writing as not before or after grapes, but before and then after Chautauqua. I feel like I crossed a bridge as a writer during that week's adventure in Chautauqua. It sure was a Utopian place to be. I'll be passing along the little bits I experienced there in the upcoming week, and in that...I hope to process it all myself!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Things I Know by Heart

What really lies in a name, anyhow? How insulted would you be if someone forgot your name, but could remember everything about you that really mattered to them over a lifetime?

My friend, Jim, is a fighter...beyond any type of fighting I've ever known in my life, that's for sure. He's fighting fighting four brain tumors that are trying to rob him of the many things he's known all his life. Names are a problem.

But.

Jimmy? Knows so much in his heart, he actually doesn't need names to pick out his friends in a crowd. I've seen Jimmy twice in the past two weeks. He's been out and about, fighting to keep up with the world.

First, we all went out to dinner, and his wife sent him with a picture of all the guys. He showed it to us all and said, "See this horseshit? This is what it's come to..." Superimposed over each of the guys' tee-shirt was each of their names. But Jimmy was laughing as he showed it to us, still proving that he can rise above it all. A couple of times I heard him refer to my husband and one of his other good friends as "my man," which really cracked him up, and of course, cracked us up too. Laughter is good medicine. It's the stuff that our circle thrives on.

The second time, we went to see James Taylor and Carole King in concert. We met in a parking lot and drove up together, Jim and his wife in one car and all of us in two other cars. When we approached the car, we could see the look of terror in his eyes. He was overwhelmed. We immediately backed off. But once we got to Tanglewood, and the music began to play? I watched Jimmy transformed back into his old silly self. He sat back in the chair, a wicker rocker, and just let the music take him away...to a place where names and memories just drift along in midair. Music is a healer too. It allows a spaciousness and a freedom...a place to rise above it all.

The music that evening gave us all a certain sense of hope and self-forgetting. It reminded us that our friend Jim has the heart of a lion...and an army of friends that would do anything on earth to bring him to the other side of this nightmarish disease that eats at his brain each day. Jimmy tells me all the time, "Don't give me anymore of that Mets shit, or I'll kick your..." But I'm forever reminding him that it is I who'll kick his scrawny butt. Right now, however, I'm hoping he can keep up all this fighting, scratching and clawing...staying in the now. Because it is precisely in the "now" that a miracle could actually occur!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Finding My Ground and Trusting the Process

Revision sure is a tricky old friend. It requires great thought and tremendous dedication to the process. When I first got started on my latest revision of this current WIP, I had to settle back in, outline a bit, but prepare for the unexpected.

Getting myself out to the cottage every day is not a problem. In fact, that's the easy part. I set up a plan, reread the previous day's work and fire up a new chapter to get started for the day. But it's the unevenness of new ground...ideas that pop into my story that really starts to make me itch.

The other day, I wandered into the house for a cup of tea, a seltzer, a sweater...to switch the laundry, etc., etc., etc. I've come to the conclusion, that I don't mind word-smithing, layering more detail or adding to a conversation. But when ideas come out of left field...well, I just fight it. I don't know what it is. Honestly. Am I afraid I'll have to write a different novel? Am I afraid the new ideas will ruin my chances for publication? I have to say...in my heart, I'm a storyteller, so that can't be the reason for my angst.

Fortunately, the answer to all of this lies in my writing group, and my wonderful mentor, Patricia Reilly Giff. Many friends and family members have offered to read my work. They know books, they're readers of course...and I completely respect them for the types of books they enjoy. But...a seasoned writer can call me on it when I'm dodging the fire in my story. My partners in crime know my pitfalls, and they always get me back on track. They keep me focused, so my eyes don't wander too far, and they force me to make my work pay-off for the reader.

Right now, I'm marinating and simmering...sometimes coaxing the flame in order to keep that one idea lit. But that is the process. And for now, I just have to trust the tender nature of the process, my writing partners, and that elusive Muse...because she eventually shows up each day. Most of all, I have to trust myself and simply write the best book I'm capable of...a word, a paragraph and a single page at a time.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Say It with Flowers

There's something about a man with an armful of flowers that really just makes my day. Last week, I was shoving vegetables in a bag when a blonde-haired guy sailed past me in the grocery store. I smiled at him and his face lit up in a grin. It was the flowers that said it all.

He was a tall, rugged looking guy in a beat-up pair of jeans. But none of that mattered. What mattered was the bundle of blooms he held upright in his hands. A bit of an amateur, the smile, the carry, that much I could tell.

Today, it was my day. The door opened and in rolled my guy in his chair. I saw the grin on his face, the same one I see every day. But then, as he swung around? I heard a hint of a rattling sound. A crimson bundle was sitting on top of his lap. The occasion? Well, none really. He is so not an amateur. And that is what I love most. You see with my guy, I've learned to expect the unexpected, to savor the small things for sure. But two dozen roses? I'm spoiled right down to the core!

What surprises have you found waiting inside your front door?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

An Alligator Went a Courtin'

A young gentleman caller has been sitting outside my deck all day,
pacing, and waiting and watching and making this deep
grunting/croaking sound...hoping his magical mate will appear.

It's mating season around these here parts, and apparently alligators are tireless in their mating habits. Every now and then I see a fearful bunny scurry past, always careful to look over his shoulder. But. He needn't worry, this gentleman caller has only one thing on his mind.

The birds and other beasts have been talking all day too. I think they wait in tense apprehension for this guy to get his gal. Early this morning, I watched the most magnificient blue heron fly overhead and then land on the far side of the pond. Does he know the plight of our pal?

As a writer? I know the pain of his plight! I've waited on a few shores myself. I've hit 'send' and sat there, staring at the blue screen, crossing my fingers and letting go. I try very hard to busy myself, take a load off, and forget what it is I'm waiting for. If the universe wants it, the universe gets it.

Many glimmers lately though, in my pond! My friend, Jame's book, Three Rivers Rising just launched this week. (BUY IT!) That waiting took forever. She's well on her way now, though. Ann Haywood Leal's Also Known as Harper (BUY THAT ONE TOO!) awaits her baby sister. And there are a few other very hopeful stories that will find their way into this little blog soon.

So, stay tuned, dear reader. More will be revealed. As I finish here, I'm hearing a second grunting voice answering out there in the the mud! That means...all good things DO come to those who wait! The universe never lets us down!

Have you ever had to spend your days in waiting? What on earth would make you wait with baited breath much like our friend in the pond?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Living Inside the Character's Skin/The Continuing Adventures of the Revisionist Writer

I am the co-pilot now. My characters are in total control. (Well, almost.)

A few weeks ago, I was surfing around on the net, looking at all my favorite blogs and reading up on my craft. Writer Unboxed is a great resource, current as far as trends go, but even more valuable in extending all the little gems that make for great story.

I came across Skyler White's guest article in two parts, so I poured myself a hot cup of tea, and read it all the way through. Skyler writes urban fantasy, which in a way, couldn't be any further from my own contemporary young adult fiction. But...as we all know, all story is connected. And technique is a collaborative effort. Writers study great writing, they generally work with a group and thankfully most people are looking to pass it on. Skyler's article suggested, Goal, Motivation and Conflict, by Debra Dixon, a primer for anyone engaged in writing fiction.

GMC is a great book, a short read, packed with great ideas and exercises related to story construction. I've posted about my current revision process, and this time, I've been a little more quiet on the blogosphere. I've decided to focus and stay awhile, live inside my characters' skins. I'm writing my story in the voices of three characters...so for each segment, I've got to all but dismiss the other two in order to follow the conflict, and chase the motivations of only one. It's a tricky process, requiring many more revisions than I'd expected. But I've grabbed hold now, and can tell I'm closer than ever before. It's all so real to me. Let's hope it's all there on the page.

Last week, I sat down with one of my writing friends, and she grilled me for the better part of an hour on Caroline. She wanted to know the who (character)...what (goal), why (motivation)
and why not (conflict) of it all. For me, Caroline was always the easiest to explain, because she's so full of conflict both inside and out. What we found though, was that I'd set her up with a conflict she couldn't overcome way too early on. So now? I've got it straight. And even though it's hard to put yourself in the mind of the character and defend your every thought and action?
The interview is an awesome way to get unstuck when you inevitably hit that awful brick wall.

Caroline is the wild child in the novel, she's risky, flirty and always on the run. She has to keep ahead of the gossip, and bowl people over with her behavior, and that in a way is how she finds love. It's not the real kind of love most of us crave, that's for sure. Caroline's concept of love is attention-driven. She's attracted to the adrenaline-pumping shock value. "If I can keep you watching me, you won't be able to resist me." So when the boy of her dreams attempts to get away, she jumps into the backseat of his jeep, crowds his space and her story evolves from there. Caroline's story is one of madness and mayhem...with lots of risks riding on her schemes.

And now that I've spent the last ten days inside her skin, I'm forced to move into the more serious goal-oriented head of Deirdre. Crazy, right? Writing makes you a bit schitzophrenic...a temporary condition, believe me. Thank God for treadmills, yoga and the great outdoors, otherwise the madness could choose to stay!

How do you escape the madness in your life? What tricks to the trade work in making your struggles lessen? I'd love to hear it!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Taking that Long Way Down

I've had a head full of story simmering inside my brain. But I've been careful enough to take my time and stop along the way. The descent into a deep revision can never be taken lightly, especially when you've gone that way before. I want to put the best version of this baby on the page! I know, though, the story will never find its way into the light if it's not clear all the way through.

This time, I've done something I almost never do. I put together a 'flex-plan.' It's not quite an outline, but it's a loose rendition of what I think I see happening to each of my characters. It's lined out chapter by chapter so I'm sure to keep it all straight. Mine is a story told in three voices, so each of these girls has to be unique and true right to the end.

Just today, I've read a couple interesting blog posts that have fired me up and made me know that the universe has a message for me. One reminded me to pay attention to the very intricate details, and another told me to keep going in order to get unstuck, and then I feasted my eyes on the lesson in just letting it all go once in a while too. You see, I look to all of you out there to inspire me, shake me loose and hold my hand along the way. You give me the steps to land on, the companionship and confidence to see it through. Most of all, you let me know I'm not alone in this journey.

Life would never be the same without the small circles of friendship and inspiration we find along the way. How about you? What small circles of inspiration do you find yourself surrounded in?


Monday, March 15, 2010

Making 'Someday' Happen

I was out on one of my daily strolls, walking and talking to the universe on a fine day just a few short years ago. I was asking for a wee bit of a connection to my roots back in the old sod. My mom died when I was just a little girl, and then my dad did the same. Sad story, right? Well...life moved on and so did we, my brother, my two sisters and me. We raised ourselves way back in the 60's, when the world of organized social work was just a dream of the future. But that's a story for another day.

My parents had come from Ireland, and even though they did the best they could to set their American dream in motion, they never lived long enough to see it all the way through.

My father dreamt of building a family and a home, having a garden, educating his children and living to see his grandchildren. I barely knew my mom, but I'm sure her dreams were much the same. My dad had other dreams too. One of them was to make it back home to Ireland one day. As a little girl, I'd ask him if he'd ever bring me there. He'd lean on his rake or the rung of his ladder and get that far away look in his eye. "Someday, Gaelie," he'd say.

Ever since that time so long ago, I've had that dream etched in the corner of my mind. Someday. It was always more than a possibility, I knew that day would come.

And then, a few years ago, my Australian cousin, Eilis, challenged me to meet her in the very cottage where my mother was born. "We'll have a nice dinner together there," she'd said. The thought was wonderful. I entertained it and talked about it, and then finally got real and put it out of my mind.

At the time, we were up to our eyeballs in new debt...kids in college, a new house that needed repairs, and all sorts of things we call life! But then? My birthday came around, and I suddenly realized that I was at the very same point in my own life that my dad was when there were no more 'somedays'. What was I waiting for? And even though it made no sense at all, we booked our trip...our 'roots tour,' and found our way to that little town of Castlebar along the west coast of Ireland.

With more of this to come...what dreams are etched in the corners of your mind? What obstacles stand in your way?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Wading through the Blarney

About three years ago, we packed it in and headed back to the Old Sod, a trip of a lifetime...my chance to trace my Irish roots, to visit the girlhood home of my mom and to stand on a hilltop where my grandmother was born. Really, who could ask for more?

Well, in doing so, I discovered the wonderful nature of the Irish...and why I've been so chatty for my whole lifetime, really! My kindergarten report card said just that, "very chatty," short and to the point. It baffles me, even today. Amazing how we can be branded by others or brand ourselves without even knowing it.

I, for example, was born talking and I haven't shut up since. This is why I write, I'm sure! It was in my genes. When I went to Ireland, I met many a version of myself. Some a bit long-in-the-tooth, as they say over there, and some pretty young. The Irish stop everything for a good story! (As well it should be!)

But my goal in writing is to keep the story on the road, dole it out in small bites and captivate my audience all along the way. So now? I'm working on cutting back on the blather. Putting what's real on the page, and not wearing out my reader along the way. That, in the end, keeps them turning the pages!

If you had to boil it all down to a few small bites, how would you characterize yourself in two words? Go ahead, stretch the truth, brag a little bit...isn't that the gift of the Irish?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Inevitable Fork...Writing and Living through the Hard Parts

A week or two ago I rolled up my sleeves and took on yet another opportunity to revisit Eggshells, my young adult novel. I was excited and eager. You see, I'd known all along that something in that storyline was just not working for me.

But now? I've hit that inevitable fork in the road, and I realize that this time it's not going to be the race to the finish line that I'd first expected. I'm taking it slower, letting it simmer and writing shorter, hoping for pages that are vivid and clear. In the end, anything that's forced ever seems to work, so I might as well keep my focus and go after it.

The universe presented another opportunity...that looked plausible and seemed believable, so I took it. I realize now, I'd short-cutted the ending in the first round, because I wasn't seeing an ending that worked. I was forcing my way to the finish line. And now...I think I have a chance to change the outcome entirely. Forks in books are just like forks in real life. Often they lead to other forks, and a few twists and turns as well. The road grows clear, and then it gets crowded again. Writing, like life, is wonderful and tortuous at the same time.

What forks have you been presented with in life? How has your path changed as a result of it all? You never know, it might end up in print someday! ;)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Singing the Revision Song!


I love when good things start to happen. Changes occur, ideas bubble to the surface, and voila! A new story appears. What was once a small bud...a bare dream, reaches up and finds its way.

Well, here in New England, nothing's budding out there. It's cold and slushy outside today, and travelers are struggling to make their own way up my icy hill. I've got my butt in the chair and I've got an idea...or two. I'm back to my sister story again. For as much as my own sisters drove me crazy growing up, I'm loving them both to pieces right now! What fodder they've given me for my stories!

Yesterday, I got a little bit of a break...an email from outside my own small circles, with a few pretty terrific suggestions for my manuscript. A few friends joined in the conversation, and now I'm back at it again. Some people hate revision, but oddly enough, I like it. The characters are all there, but the puzzle pieces need a little moving, so...hello revision! Here I am again...marinating my story, and letting new thoughts sink into my brain. I've got my laundry list, I'm clearing the wreckage. And already, I'm seeing things I never saw before!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Calling on the Universe: A Few Answers to the Questions of Ethnic Writing


The universe has been talking to me! For a long time, it was an absolute no-no to write about your own childhood and encapsulate it in the period in which you grew up. My childhood was set in some pretty turbulent times, and much like the kids of today...if we ever thought about it, we'd never have left home. But we did. In fact, we left home for the scope of an entire day and no one panicked or even noticed at all.

We had a lot of freedom, but we also had some pretty serious rules and social mores to live by. Consequences were swift and final. We were, after all the first generation of immigrant parents, the sons and daughters of WWII Vets. We were brought up on some pretty fear-based ideology. My tribe was Irish. We were typecast...strongly encouraged to stay with our own kind. People had their places, afterall.

The backdrop to all this was the Cold War, the Apollo flights, the Beatles, and the Vietnam War, with actual shots of the day's combat showing up on tv each night. The hippie generation was already sporting their rag-tag, ripped jeans...burning bras and all sorts of other unimaginable things. Rebellion!

It was right about then that people of color made their way into my life and onto my block. I had a new friend named Roland. I'd watched his house being built all summer long, and couldn't wait to meet him. I finally had someone to walk to the bus stop with, and I didn't care about the color of his skin, but I knew the adults around me did.

Fear ruled the adult world, and stereotyping was the order of the day. It would, in their minds, keep us all close and locked up within our own tribe. But the battles outside were raging. The cork was already out of the proverbial bottle. My sister was riding a motorbike...she'd bought a German car, and was dating boys that were...NOT Irish!! And she had friends that were people of color and different ethnicities too. We knew people were talking. But...too bad. Hello freedom!

So now? Characters of color are turning up in my writing. But I would never go there without doing the legwork, checking in with the real representative principles of this type of story. I, myself, love books with people of varied backgrounds. I cherish the wide array of friendships I've had in my own life. But I know that doesn't qualify me as an expert on this topic. I have no right to take liberties in the ways of another cultural/ethnic group's story unless the characters themselves are honest and authentic. No cheesy, gratuitous writing of any kind should ever make it out into a public arena. For that, we all know, is just plain putrid!

I want to thank everyone for the thoughtful responses on FB this week! Please feel free to join my blog and stay close to the conversation. I welcome your thoughts and ideas. My friend Barb left me with a wonderful link I'd like to pass on here. Also, Mitali Perkins fills her blog with many wonderful entries related to life and people in a globally diverse world. There's a list of selected reads and a pretty terrific interview with Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, author of Eight Grade Superzero. Years ago, I went to Whispering Pines Writing Retreat and met Sharon Flake, the author of a favorite of mine, The Skin I'm In. Sharon says she "writes about hope in hard places." She inspired me then, and made me think hard about my roots growing up. I think she planted a seed for me about hope...not so much in hard places, but in hard times.
Right now, that is the seed that I'm exploring. It's a little seed, so we'll see where it goes from here.

I also came across a great blog entry by JA Konrath. What a classic! He talks about knowing the industry and knowing the facts, experimenting, listening, asking questions, taking chances and staying alert. Sage advice! I'm grateful for all the ideas that surround me. But I'm most grateful for the compass that points north every morning at 5:30, and the characters that appear on the page.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Hearing Voices...and Going Along for the Ride

I've been wrestling with a few wonderings for about six months now. Can white authors really write African American characters well? You see I have some great characters talking to me, and I'm wondering if a) I have the right to put them on the page, and b) if they'll they sound authentic enough. I love these characters. They came to me in the middle of writing Eggshells. I shared the two chapters I wrote as a result, and my writing friends looked at me like I was crazy.

They weren't judging me or anything like that. They were wondering why, after I'd invested a full year and a half in writing of one novel, I was getting sideswiped by another. The answer was simple: I was hearing voices. I knew in my heart I was coming to the end of Eggshells, and those four girls had become a part of the fabric of my day to day writing life. I lived and breathed inside the heads of those characters...and letting go was hard. Ending a book feels like death to me. So...my brain was doing a round-up; raking through all the possibilities and sending out a notice for free auditions!

Chrissy showed up first, and she was African American. I'm white. What? It's true. She had some pretty sassy stuff to say. I loved it! But my writing friends were not loving it, they saw this as a loss of focus. I was wondering about my sanity too. So I set it all aside and got back to the four sisters. But now? Eggshells is finished, and I'm doing what Patricia Reilly Giff tells me to do...move on and keep writing. I've found a white friend for Chrissy, and I think I now understand why Chrissy showed up in the first place. I'm a writer. I hear voices and put them down on page. I believe in the full palette of color that comes through in character...these characters need to bump up against one another. So now? I'm just going along for the ride!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Blue Skies and Letting Go

Finished. Well, for now at least. I'm learning the practical art of letting go. Eggshells, my baby girl manuscript is in its best possible shape for now. It's a story of four sisters, each one unique in their age and stage, but also in the special hopes and the desires...the dreams that fuel them.

Gypsy is the fourteen year old sister, kind of the soothsayer/poet in the family. She has a knowing sense that danger lingers on the doorstep. Caroline is the wild child. She thrives on drama and takes risks the others wouldn't even dream of. Dee is the straight arrow...she's stuck her finger in the flame and learned from it. But Dee is also the family secret-keeper. She fends off the vicious attacks of the gossipy neighbors. There is plenty to talk about, that's for sure. And Kristen is the beautiful, blonde haired older sister. Married with a baby of her own, she still looks back. Understandably, Peter has had enough. But on one hot summer night at the end of June, Gypsy's sheers kick up alongside her window. Mom will take a fall and Caroline's risky flirtation will have a disastrous consequence. One that will topple them all. Eggshells is the story of four sisters faced with an unimaginable public disaster and how they pick up the pieces and put it all back together again.

This is my baby. My fledgling novel waiting to find its place on the stage of the publishing world. Letting go, for me, is the hardest part of all. I have many projects rumbling around, penciled in on the pages of my journal. But these four girls and their struggles have captured my every waking hour for the past year and a half or so. Today, it's official. I'm moving on, opening a new file, and letting my mind race off in another direction toward that new story that is waiting out there in the wings! I'm sure there'll be a sister or two...because that is, in the end, the stuff that I am made of!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Angel Birthday

No wrinkles,
no lines,
or grays.
Just that smirky
smile,
and her
little leftover wink
remain.


We celebrated our
days together,
hers just a day before
mine.
Always...
a big splurge!
A creamy bakery cake...
lemon-filled
of course,
and in good times...
Dinner out
at a real restaurant...
with waiters,
and tablecloths,
and red leather
booths!

So today,
that day before
mine...
I'm remembering,
and sending
a little wink
her way.

I'm sure wherever
she is...
there's whipped cream,
and lemon...
and lots
of licorice,
and laughter
too!


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Why We Query...and other dull points of Writing Interest

For purposes of pure torture, that's why. How does one cram the whole body of a novel into two or three very tight, very succinct paragraphs? For the past three weeks, I've been working, thinking, dreaming and living with this one paged nightmare crammed inside my head. And I've finally come to a conclusion.

Well...duh. Everybody in the publishing biz is looking for a pitch. They're sick of the dog-drooling, self-serving authors out there. Well, I don't know about you, but I have been caught with my mouth hanging open at a conference or two before. "Tell me about it..."

Ummmmmm. Well, it all begins when...blah-blah-blah. And then that's it. I'm tongue-tied, my eyes are bulging, and I'm looking for my first means of escape. But what I've come to find out is that I'm not practiced and polished, I don't have the plot nailed down in my head. For me, that is a danger. Back to the drawing board, you'd say. I get it. If I don't know it well enough to talk about it, it's not all there to begin with.

So...after a year of returning to the drawing board, revising and rethinking. I finally think I've written the book I set out to write. The characters are clear. There are four of them, well...four sisters telling the story, which means four voices whispering their parts. There are many characters in all. In the past, taking those four story lines and condensing all of them has been a problem. But the art of reduction, boiling it down, looking at it, practicing and polishing has finally helped me to get to where I thought I was before. And now? Voila! The query begins to take shape...and it is not so bad after all.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Chance Encounters of an Occasional Shopper

Well, anyone who knows me knows that that's a big fat lie. Occasional? Okay, no. I love to shop. But. Legal shopping season is finally over. And now? I'm broke. So, I find myself in places like Target and Homegoods...not Walmart. (I'm boycotting them...but that's a whole 'nother story.) I really think if we had more art galleries around here, I'd probably be less dangerous in the wallet department, or so I tell my husband. He smirks.

I was checking out a few odd items at Target last week, laying them on the belt when I heard an unusual exchange between a customer and the cashier. "I don't know which works with my food stamps, and which doesn't, I'm really embarrassed." He had a nasally lisp and pretty much spoke at the top of his lungs, so there really was no eavesdropping going on here. Pinky swear.

"That's okay, you don't have to know...the machine just figures it out." She stood there, focused entirely on him. "And as far as the foodstamps, I just got off them. Don't be embarrassed. Everyone needs a little help sometimes." Okay, well...I wanted to reach right into my wallet, but I kept my mouth shut and gave the man the dignity and space he deserved. And really, the cashier was doing just fine without me.

But then he had to enter his pin number, and he couldn't remember it. He was in a bit of panic. The cashier was calm as a cucumber. She just reached over and the next thing I knew, she was punching in some numbers. How'd she know? Could there be some kind of emergency pin?

Now it's my turn. While he's gathering his things that are kinda sprawled out all over the place, and the cashier starts ringing mine up, he suddenly discovers something she forgot to ring on his order. She zaps my receipt, suspends my order, and he looks at me and says, "I'm really sorry." I tell him I really don't care; I'm in no hurry at all.

The cashier finishes me up then...and as I'm collecting my bags, I see him getting ready to brave the freezing cold temperatures outside. But...he's lost his gloves, so I help him out a little bit with that.
"Stay here and get bundled before you go out there," I say. I don't mean to be demeaning, it's just the mother monster inside me. He's a grown man, I tell myself.
"I know, you're right," he says. But then he stops and smiles, and he's captivated by my new boots. "Those are really cool boots."
"You like them?" I say. "Santa gave them to me."
He winks at me then. He has that little twinkle in his eye. Like...he knows who the real Santa is. "That Santa's a pretty cool dude." They're my brand new gray suedes with the buckles along the sides, and I absolutely love them too.
"Or dudette," I say. My friend is now adjusting his wool hat. He starts to crack up. I wave then and he waves back, and I head out toward my car laughing. My friend had a pretty good sense of style, that's for sure. And I had a chance encounter at Target...priceless!
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