Sunday, December 27, 2009

Play Pictures (Finally)

Scenes from Still Life, April 2009. Ron Herman and Nichole Proffitt. Pictures by Chris Thomerson.

I'm thinking about the Ten Minute Playfest, which will most likely take place in April 2010. Last year's work was magical. The actors brought so much to the parts.

For next year (this year...whatever...) I'm contemplating whether or not I want to do comedy or tragedy. I have a play in mind for both. The comedy is harder, but the tragedy is closer to my heart.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Starting with an image that comes together to words is how I begin. The beginning is always the hardest part. How do I start? Where do I start? Then, the pieces start coming together, and the images come into focus. The sharpness, the narrowing down is like looking through a telescope. Then, I find my way through the colors, shapes, and sizes of possibility.

This is how it begins.

There once was a time when I would need to know exactly how each word was going to fit in. I had to know the whole story first. Then, I found that I didn't need to know everything. Instead, I needed to have an outline of sorts, an image. It's kind of like a ghost shifting, but still there is a form somehow, not solid but existing.

I can move forward with this ghost before me.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sense of Space

I've been thinking about setting this week. It's kind of like deciding where to live. Can you handle the weather? Are the schools good? Is it affordable? (Because, alas, the beach house in Carmel is a tad out of my budget at the moment).

Making a decision about setting forces the characters to interact and react to the surroundings. Gretta responds to the seasons on Orcas Island like I do. The winter scares her inside. The violence of the windstorms and the hidden dangers of the snow storms play into plot. The lilacs in the spring are not to missed... All true.

Yet, the place could be the beach in Malibu with a Santa Ana wind whipping the sand up in stinging sprays, or watching the easy flow of the River Arno in Firenze under an overcast sky. Or it could be in another made up realm--a dreamlike place or another planet.

Each place has seasons and moods, safety or fear, happiness or oppression.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Blog is a Lonely Hunter

This is an experiment to see if anyone is even reading my blog. Well?

It's a lonely landscape here and so many blogs to read.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Getting Better

I am the worst person to know what done means. I keep wanting to fix things. A metaphor for my life it seems.

So, I finished my work in progress, which happens to be a rather silly young adult novel. I mean silly in a good way. Funny. Quirky.... This is difficult to write!

Here's what I know about myself so far with my writing:

I'm a hopeless romantic. A love interest is crucial.
My main character has some very intrinsic part of myself expressed in her thoughts or actions. I don't mean to do this, but it just happens.
Strong plots make me happy. This is significant; at one time, the thought of creating a plot terrified me.
I still make a few embarrassing grammar errors. Yes, I do my best to catch these, but a few get past my proofreading. This probably happens because I start thinking about something else like using a better word or having my character say something else.
I'm getting better.

I'm getting better. And, truly, that's the most important element of writing, getting better.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Coho Watching

My sons and I discovered Coho Salmon in a stream at Moran State Park. My youngest son in particular was mesmerized by the fish positioned against the current pushing their way upstream to spawn.

As we stood along the side of the creek watching the fish wriggle and sometimes leap, I knew I was witness to something bigger than the obvious. Something I could not fully understand. The strange, unknown inside of all living creatures to recreate over and over again. The salmon struggling upstream will die soon, yet they fight for a chance to leave behind viable eggs that hold their DNA for the next generation.

We struggle ourselves in that seemingly impossible task of swimming against a strong current hoping we can find a way to leave behind something significant, something stronger than our own fragile bodies.

After we watched the fish, I wanted to hold my boys safe, protect them, so they to could be strong for their journey ahead.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Pumpkin Pie and Pizza

Thanksgiving passed with much driving and eating.

The pumpkin pie did turn out well. There's something about roasted pumpkins or any kind of winter squash with maple syrup, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

But today I made pizza. I love the feel of the stretchy dough under my hands and the right combination of mushrooms, onions, and tomato sauce. Bliss.

Combining and recreating. Tasting and testing. A good dinner and a good book.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Wind, Fear, and Beauty

More wind storms than I can count this week. Fortunately, no trees fell on my house, which is a fear of mine. We have another storm tonight, and I hope the trees stay strong. I do like watching the forms of tall fir sway in the wind, and the sound of so much air forced through the branches. The whistles of the pipes and gutters in the house catch as the air crashes against the windows and the cracks beneath the doors.

Long ago, I learned some things scary can also inspire something else. I have a perfect image of a cascade of sparks spilling over a cliff in Malibu looking like a glowing red waterfall. The brush fires I feared more than anything growing up.

Before the fires were the thunderstorms and tornadoes in Indiana. At the age of five, I knew green churning sky meant something strong and fearful. To this day, I still think it was beautiful.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Winter Settles In

Okay, I confess. The one season of the year I find a tad difficult is winter. I suppose it has something to do with growing up in a Southern California beach town. 60 to 70 degrees most of the year was typical (and, truthfully, kind of boring sometimes). Here on Orcas I face dim daylight hours, early sunsets, late sunrises, and cold, damp weather. Usually, it's not quite cold enough to snow, but chilly enough to feel miserable. I know spring will come soon enough--the first signs in February, but now I have to hunker down and face the months to come.

At least the outdoors doesn't pull me away from my work. A sweater, a cup of tea, and my laptop.
And, of course, a story to finish.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Hit over the head

Twice I have had my scalp split open. I still have a scar on the back of my head from one. This is one of the reasons why I wear my hair long. The other is to disguise the size and shape of my enormous square head.
So now you know.

After the accidents, I tried to write poems searching for a metaphor for my life. Why did I want to get inside my head? I'm not sure my poems ever revealed anything more than the vast disarray of my daily thoughts.

I think of this poem by the brilliant Stevie Smith:

A Debutante

I cannot imagine anything nicer
Than to be struck by lightening and killed suddenly crossing a field
As if somebody cared.
Nobody cares whether I am alive or dead.

Beyond the petulant voice of a isolated teen (at least that's what I think), there's the line "Than to be struck by lightening and killed suddenly crossing a field."
Struck by inspiration, like lightening; the force that kills everything ordinary. The focus becomes the inspiration, the extraordinary.

The car accidents--unfortunate events that happened over twenty years ago. I am fortunate to be alive. From time to time I am struck, as if by lightening, and the ordinary world dissolves away.

Perhaps that is why I wanted to get inside my brain; I wanted to know inspiration works. I wanted to find a way to control it. Or, perhaps, my injuries were simply the results of two car accidents, and, as a writer, I'm looking for meaning where it cannot be found.

I can't help it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Manuscripts, Tigers, and Plays. Oh my!

...Well, not the tigers. Unless you count my little tiger-like Scruff, and her ability to interrupt any moment (work, sleep, phone calls...) for attention.

I'm almost done with my wip, and my brain is most anxious. "Hurry, Hurry," I say. And then, "slow down." The tug-o-war between product and quality will work itself out, and I will have a completed manuscript soon.

Meanwhile, I have another presentation to do at Doe Bay Resort next Monday. This time I will speak/perform with my most excellent playwright group. I unearthed my ten-minute play from a couple of years ago, The Magicians Library. I look forward to the silly.

I find it interesting how I keep coming back to humor and comedy. I seek serious and find my way back to silly. My play and my wip make me laugh.

And, there's nothing wrong with that.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


What a week!

I came back from a super cool surprise birthday trip to Dillon Beach for my Dad, and I returned to a massive grading fest. All week I have been evaluating students' work and dreaming of evaluating my own.

My dreams have been nice though. I thought of a new story that ties nicely into a story I thought up years ago. I love the pairing I find between story ideas. Now, back to work on my wip; I need to get this done soon.

I love California with crashing waves below windswept bluffs. Perfect.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Chase them away or invite them in for tea?

I'm speaking of demons. The kind that have been tormenting me since as long as I can remember.

Fear Demons that lurk in the recesses of my mind. The ones that come forward to tap into my almost pleasant day with a reminder that something more sinister exists in the world.

Or, perhaps, it is my reality.

When I was little, I felt I had no choice. I would scream and run. I would curl up in a ball in my bed. I would read book after book to escape.

When I got older, I learned how to cope: Exercise, a healthy diet, baths, meditation, and an occasional piece of chocolate. Write something funny! Escape!

Now I'm thinking I shouldn't run anymore. I'll invite the demons in and offer them tea.

I wonder what they'll say?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Squeezing Words

My current wip was a screenplay in its last incarnation. The basic storyline was there, and I added the details. Now, I'm facing a challenge. I seem to be slowing down at 34,000 words. This appears to be a little short. A strange problem indeed since my last novel went well over the 64,000 words I ended with.

The whole issue of word count requires balance. Obviously, I want to work within the guidelines for the genre, but on the other hand, I don't want to add a bunch of stuff that doesn't add to the story. I want to create a world and believable characters. I want to have a rich landscape for my readers, but I don't want them wading through a muck of excess words not relevant to the story.

Perhaps this week thousands of words will fly from my fingertips.
Or, perhaps not.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Taking Time

There's a huge part of me that is URGENTLY working to get my draft done. Hurry, hurry, hurry....My mind and fingers race. My undergraduate work was in journalism, so I don't think I've ever gotten DEADLINE out of my system.

However, this isn't always the best way to get through revisions. I'm learning that some things take time.

Recently, I decided to add a new development in my draft. I worked it in, and then I realized I didn't know how I was going to resolve it. I thought about it and thought about it. I went on to work on other things, but I kept this particular development dancing around the back of my mind. Suddenly, it came to me. I figured out the perfect way to work out the situation.

I remember the excellent movie, Stranger than Fiction. The novelist wrestles with her ending, but she cannot sit down to write it until she can get it right. Finally, it hits her one morning, a sudden inspiration and the perfect ending for her novel.

It's okay to think, to ponder, and to dream. Let situations arrange and rearrange themselves into possibilities. Sooner or later, the words hit the page.

I still prefer sooner.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bigger Than Life

There's a big story on Orcas this week about a teen, Colton Harris-Moore, who is believed to be responsible for a huge crime spree here and in other parts of Washington. What amazes me is details. He managed to get past all sorts of surveillance and people looking for him. He has broken into many businesses and even stole an airplane and a boat.

I am by no means praising him for his deeds. Stealing from others isn't right, and I do feel sorry for those who have lost their possessions.

What fascinates me is the motivation and his skills, which could be put to much better use in lawful activities. As a writer, I think of creating characters that are bigger than life. I can think of many examples, especially in middle grade and young adult novels, where the characters have these traits. This real teen seems bigger than life as well. Interesting.

My happy ending: Colton is found and arrested. Then, he uses his skills and ingenuity to do something good for society.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


I think it's helpful from time to time to meet with other writers and get feedback. This weekend I met up with other writers and excellent instructors at the Orcas Island Writers Festival for some workshops.

First, Deb Lund covered picture book writing and provided perfect feedback for everyone who submitted work. I was surprised to find out my manuscript wasn't as horrible as I originally thought. I find picture book writing exceptionally challenging and am in awe of anyone who can write an compelling story in 32 pages. Deb certainly can! What was even more amazing is to see how well she could keep an audience of three to five-year-olds transfixed with her books. Great stuff!

For the rest of the weekend I joined Diane Lefer, a playwright, and other writers. We did improv and moving about on stage. We worked through ideas and concepts. We tried out new directions. It's an amazing process and very insightful. I think will and always have been in awe of the theater. It always finds a way back into my own work.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Ship Peak

Bella dog and I went up the steep switchback trail to Ship Peak at Turtleback Mountain today. As I climbed out into the sun, I could smell warm blackberries. A scent I associate with early autumn on Orcas.

From the peak, we could see out past the island to other islands beyond. The water aquamarine and shimmering from a surface breeze and a little snow on top of the Olympics sat as a backdrop. What a setting!

I pulled out my notebook (the Luddite kind) and wrote down some plot points for my wip. A climb and a view provided excellent perspective for my story.

Time alone to think.

Sometimes I forget how important this is in the writing process. I'm too caught up in hurrying along.

Now to get the inspiration down on my non-Luddite notebook (my Mac) and make sure it all makes sense.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Fitting In

This past week I realized I need a new part to my wip novel. Call it a sub-plot or complication...whatever. I think it's pretty cool, but where do I put it?

The structure of the novel is done, and I am revising--filling in the colors and expanding on the starts. Adding an other part to the story wasn't planned. So now I am at work weaving it into what I already have. I finally found the page and section where to start, but I have more parts to expand upon. I love this part of revision, but it also makes me hesitate. What if I mess everything up? Thank goodness for the delete button.

If only the rest of my life worked that way.

My desk is clean, and there's chocolate cookies in the oven. Outside, a balmy fall stormy day.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Julie and Julia & Me

I saw the film, Julie and Julia this past weekend and cried all the way through it. Funny really.

Why would I cry through a film that is most certainly not a tragedy?

Yes, I do like to cook though most of the raw ducks and things (the poor lobsters!) didn't appeal to my vegetarian sensibilities.

Both women sought significance in their lives. Both women sought publication and ran into adversity. They faced doubts, frustrations, and setbacks. The struggle to get acknowledged. This long journey of writing and experimenting and (in their case) cooking will pay off. They doubted this at many points in their journey.

I'm not sure writers talk enough about the despair. Those moments when we wonder what the *#&% we're doing when we sit down and create a world and characters hoping that someday an editor will care.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Not Perfect

This past week I was working on a rough draft of a one act play for a workshop submission. I had to submit the draft by a certain date, and I wasn't happy with the second part of the play at all.

Now, this is for a workshop. It is meant to be a work in progress and all of that, but why is it still so painful to share rough work with others?

My perspective has always been to work at a piece until it cannot be worked anymore. It's almost easy to submit something polished to a group of peers. Praise follows and egos bloom. It feels like an act of supreme courage to submit something that doesn't work. I feel vulnerable.

I suspect I'm not alone with these feelings.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Rose that Never Dies

Sounds like a title of a James Bond movie.

I ordered a bourbon rose, "Madame Isaac Pereire" in 1997. It came with me when I moved the following year. Twice it was mowed to the ground by unsuspecting men riding on mowers. It returned both times. It was finally relocated to my current house in 2005 where it has done spectacularly by providing deep pink, fragrant blossoms each year.

Until this year. Alas, the vicious December winds and snow left my rose lifeless and brown. I waited and waited, coaxing the roots with organic fertilizer and mulch, but the plant remained lifeless, brittle, and brown. My oldest, most beloved rose was dead.

Despite the less than attractive appearance Madame left in my garden, I couldn't quite pull her up to plant something else. So the dead plant remained all summer long. Today, I was distributing hollyhock seeds around the garden (never mind that I have too many hollyhocks), when I saw from the base of my dead, dry rose plant, a green shoot of life!

So, for now, the rose lives. Perhaps in a year or two, my favorite blossoms will return to the garden.

[Insert writing metaphor of choice here...or not.]

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Latest Project

I'm working on a draft of a one act play that depicts a scene, well two scenes, from the next YA novel I will write.

It's very much a departure from previous projects, and I stumbled upon a unique setting.

This week my draft will go to my playwright group for review. The end result will be another ten pages and lots of revision.

In between the writing, I took a blackberry picking walk with my children and made pie. This has become a ritual of sorts here on Orcas. A most excellent and delicious way to enjoy a Sunday.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Holding a Mirror

I'm attending the wonderful SCBWI conference this weekend. It's interesting to see my own ideas about what I am doing mirrored by writers, editors, and agents.

It's a sign of good things to come...

At least, that is what I choose to believe.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


I read an article in The New York Times about a group of homeless (or perhaps formally homeless) men in Poland who are building a boat to sail the seas. The ship building is part of the learning, and they have professionals to help teach them along the way.

I love this story because it reminds me how important it is to have dreams. For these men, their existence has been transformed by the prospect of a journey. Hopelessness turns to hope. Along the way, they learn new skills.

What is the ship that I build? What journey will I take? What journey will you take?
Pull out the maps and start the dream.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Finding Hours

I just signed more contracts for more classes. More classes result in more paychecks. Paychecks cover expenses....

I know many amazing writers worked after hours or before hours to produce their work. I do. Others do. We do what needs to be done. What other choice do I have.

I must confess, however, a tiny part of me dreams of that lovely windfall (a relative who had a long and wonderful life) leaves me with an inheritance and a room of my own. Oh yes, I know, that was Woolf's advice for how a woman could become a writer.

I have a corner of my own. And a few hours here and there put to good use.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

House Building

I scrubbed down and sealed 1/2 the deck this weekend. As I worked, I noticed the nice symmetry of the pieces of wood, and how the parts fit together. When my house was being built, just over five years ago, I was struck how much carpentry was like sewing. How the pieces go together, and the trim covers up the rough edges. I have little in way of house building or repairing skills myself but admire anyone who can work with his or her hands. The deck is a perfect expression of those exacting skills.

Yesterday while I was at the hardware store buying some supplies needed for the deck, I saw a notice up with plea for help. A local man had a stroke on the golf course, and though he has insurance, the care he needs will not be covered. Unfortunately, this isn't the first or, I doubt, the last fundraiser for a person in need of medical cost help. This speaks volumes about true quality of healthcare and support we all receive. I will contribute what I can, which will not be a lot or enough....

What kept me riveted by the counter was the man's name: Roger. The man stricken with the stroke is the man who built my house.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


I'm not sure if I will ever get used to seasons. I grew up in a land where seasonal changes were far more subtle (Southern California).

To think it will be dark and cold just a few months from now. No, I will not think about winter...not yet!

This has been an amazing summer.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Let the revising begin...

My screenplay is now a novel draft; the revising process begins. Where to start? The beginning (of course). I will read through everything, take notes, and start fleshing out sections that need more details and, of course, cutting out the parts that don't fit.

Sometimes I cannot stand to part with a particular passage I love, but I know it doesn't fit in my story. I keep a "Cuts" file in MS Word, where I put all those parts. Someday, I'll go through this file and create a postmodern novel (or something). :)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hollyhocks and Roses

My two favorite flowers are hollyhocks and roses. An added treat is when they bloom together. Over the past few years I've harvested quite a few hollyhock seeds from various places (including Victoria, B.C.).

I'm almost done with my first novel draft of my work in progress. As I get toward the end I find I have notes to add for places I want to develop and expand. The list grows longer! I will have a lot of revising ahead...

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Yesterday I got stuck in one part of my draft. After staring at the screen and then finding other things to do, I finally realized the problem is I have three directions to take my plot. All three directions work well and lead to the next part of the story.

Which one will I choose?

I haven't yet decided, but I had to put a note in my draft and continued with my story. For now, the draft continues. Later, I will have to return and make the choice: Door #1, #2, or #3. I think I will generate some questions to apply to each possible scene first.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Change the Order

I'm a great believer in cross training. Though I am hardly an athlete, I do know that changing my workout from time to time is a good idea, and I get better results.

The past couple of days I have changed the time I work on my manuscript. Instead of waiting until I am done with work, I write now before work. Like a change in a workout, I'm finding the change creates good results.

Now, I'm going to go write some more (even though it's after work). Twice a day is even better!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Old Brick and Stone

I love brick and stone work. I wish I had some skill to build something useful around my house. I have enough stone around here to build a fortress.

This is a picture of an old foundation and fireplace at the base of Turtleback Mountain. I love the simplicity and strength. Oh yes, and of course, it's time for a metaphor. ...something about building a strong foundation in writing...but, that's kind of cliche. So I will NOT use this particular metaphor.

Instead, I will think about it and learn to be a stone mason.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Playing with Characters

I saw an awesome play last night at the Grange. Waiting for MacArthur by Paullette MacDougal. Some of my favorite actor friends from Orcas performed, so the acting was, of course, the best. The play itself stunned me; MacDougal's ability to take four characters and have them develop in believable and amazing ways was wonderful to watch.

As a writer, I get caught up in my characters' lives, and in the back of my mind I have to ask myself, "does this character show change?" and "is it believable?" These are important questions. Sometimes, the writing flows and the character change just happens. My own experiences must help here. Other times, I have to push them along and encourage them to change.

Yet, isn't change a challenge we all face? We must be willing to change and find the courage to show change in our characters' lives as well.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Perfect Weather

Ah, the sunny and breezy days. I love this weather. I suppose I would get tired of an entire year of this, but I cannot help but think I would love many, many days of balmy perfection.

The garden yields peas, garlic scrapes, cherries, and even a few raspberries.

I wanted to have more done on my draft by now, but I am making progress. Recently I found a voice for my protagonist, and I keep discovering more and more about her. This process of discover is worth the effort.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Playing Tourist

Today I played tourist with my visiting family. The farmer's market for some strawberries, garlic scrapes and other goodies, watching the very "Orcas" Solstice Parade (complete with a hugging sun), and, finally, a picnic at Cascade Lake and a ride in a rowboat--all reminders why I love living here.

Now, back to the draft at hand!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sad Days

My sweet old cat Toe Toe is dying, and the whole house is in a gloom. She has had a long and excellent life, but it's still hard to let her go.

A picture from about a year ago.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


I am getting ready to harvest and enjoy fresh garden peas—something I love every late spring/early summer. Something I love every year like the rhubarb and the strawberries. Later, it will be the raspberries and the potatoes.

I suppose every meal cannot be amazing. Sometimes, dinner is simply a means to satiate hunger. Other times, planning is taken to make a meal extraordinary. Time is well spent and the results are worth every bite.

So what does this have to do with writing?

This evening I had a writing session that moved along with moments of discovery and surprising new directions. It flowed, perhaps not effortlessly, but pretty close to it. I know every time I sit down to write, it will not be perfect spring peas from the garden or some other feast, but, at the very least, it can provide sustenance in another page of my manuscript.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Finding Voice

The project I’m currently working on started out as a screenplay. Over the winter I struggled with the story and the characters. I ended up making many changes. Finally, I found a path and things started to fall into place.

At first I thought the process of converting a screenplay into a novel would be easier than simply starting from scratch. The screenplay emphasizes plot and dialogue. I knew my novel would need a lot more detail. The first person point of view emerged. At this point, I began my search for voice. The writer’s voice, certainly, but I also needed to find the main character’s voice. Today, about 30 pages into the draft, the voice emerged.

It got me to think about the concept of voice. Here’s my thoughts: voice makes writing sing; voice makes a story compelling; voice makes a work unique.
The DNA of story.

I cannot force voice, however. It has to emerge and take on a life of its own.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

SOUPUC Sydrome

We’re having an interesting discussion this week on Holly and Jolie’s blogs about sabotaging writing opportunities and procrastination techniques. It’s good to know that I’m not in this alone. According to my fellow writers, everything from shopping to trying out recipes on cooking shows can distract us. I came up with the following:

I generally sabotage myself by having a Sudden Overwhelming Urge to do Previously Undesirable Chores. I call this the SOUPUC Syndrome.

Fortunately I’m not suffering from SOUPUC Sydrome moment. The unusual heat wave makes me feel like I’m melting, and I don’t want to move.

Back to writing!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Crack The Whip!

I’m starting the Summer Revision Smackdown with Holly Cupala at and Jolie Stekly at

Starting tomorrow, a group of writers will set weekly goals for revision in order to get significant work done during the month of June. Now, technically, I don’t know if I am in the revision stage of my novel, yet, since I already have a screenplay version of the story, I feel as if I am beyond the drafting stage. Perhaps it is a late draft or early revision…
oh bother…

Just write!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Rousseau and Me

In the morning I walked with Bella down to the Spring Point Pond. The sky thick with mist shrouded the valley below, and for most of the walk, we could hear only our footsteps and birdsong. When we arrived at the pond, we watched a duck stream out from the shore followed by seven of her young. First they followed in a V formation but closed together to appear as one large duck instead of many small ones. The camouflage was almost flawless. If hadn’t seen them before they reached their formation, I would have thought I was watching only two ducks. The mist rose of the water and the air smelled sweet from rain. And I forgot time for a moment. Later, I read The New York Times’ column, “Happy Like God,” by Simon Critchley. He included the following quote from Rousseau:

"If there is a state where the soul can find a resting-place secure enough to establish itself and concentrate its entire being there, with no need to remember the past or reach into the future, where time is nothing to it, where the present runs on indefinitely but this duration goes unnoticed, with no sign of the passing of time, and no other feeling of deprivation or enjoyment, pleasure or pain, desire or fear than the simple feeling of existence, a feeling that fills our soul entirely, as long as this state lasts, we can call ourselves happy, not with a poor, incomplete and relative happiness such as we find in the pleasures of life, but with a sufficient, complete and perfect happiness which leaves no emptiness to be filled in the soul."

For Rousseau, he spent countless hours on a Swiss lake. For me, I spent a few moments by an island pond. If only we could all take time to have moments like this.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

From Screenplay to Novel

Still riding the wave of inspiration from the SCBWI Western Washington Annual Conference last weekend. I’m reading and writing. I’m reading the young adult novel, North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley. I find it easy to steal away on the hammock with this wonderful book.

I working on a rough draft from a screenplay I wrote last winter. The process of going from screenplay to prose is interesting and, at times, challenging. Screenplay writing is so direct and immediate. The best part about this process is the plot and scenes are already worked out. I know how the story moves forward. I’m working on fleshing out the details and getting to know the characters.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Rough Drafts

When I sit down to write a rough draft various thoughts run through my head. My initial response is to get up from my desk and take care of some suddenly very important chore like scrubbing the toilets or organizing boxes of nails in the basement. The act of sitting through a rough draft is painful. It’s like watching a bad movie except worse because I know my words are the cause. Yet, the first draft, the ugly draft, the (Fill in expletive of choice here) is so important. A first draft is the magic for the rest of the work.

I remember I had a very hard time writing a book length manuscript. I would start with energy, but soon into the first ten or twenty pages, I would find myself wanting to jump back and revise the beginning. I would change the first paragraph over and over—obsessing over every word.

One year at the Whidbey Island Writers’ Conference, a presenter recommended that we resist the temptation to revise until a first draft was completed. A light went on! Or, more accurately, I had a “Well, duh!” moment. Hadn’t I been teaching my students to write the first drafts of their essays first before they began revising? Why hadn’t I followed the same rules?
Soon, I was writing longer works.

Looking back over the past eight years or so that I have been working on novels, I can say that writing my first drafts have been some of my best memories. Sitting at my little desk with the midsummer late night sunsets or winter dark outside the window, I made magic. Characters came to life. Stories grew. Of course, it wasn’t always perfect. Sometimes sentences would pass from my fingers and I would cringe at the trite language, the worn imagery. But I pushed through and created drafts. From there, I could move on. The process is like a journey and no journey has been the same.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

I know my sons are a source of writing inspiration for me. If I’m not working on my dream, how can I ask them to work on theirs?

I guess one could make a cheesy analogy between motherhood and writing. I’ll spare the readers here.

I want to finish up on some final words for inspiration and creation.
What happens when you don’t have ideas?
This seldom happens to me. In fact, I generally have too many ideas. Yet, there are times when I am look at the white MS Word document before me and wonder what comes next.

This past week I participated in the NaPiBoWriWee (the National Picture Book Writing Week) and wrote seven (very rough) picture book drafts in one week. Most of these stories will probably not make it past my computer screen; however, it was an interesting process to come up with a brand new story every day. Sometimes the act of writing itself works as discovery. No plans, just process. This was how I wrote many years ago. I realized how much I miss the energy. Planning is great and necessary, but it is also nice, sometimes, to see what spontaneity creates.

Next up…
The rough draft!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What Should They Say?

The other day I posted my inspiration pieces for my novel. Sometimes I see plots as well. Stories develop in my imagination. I look for a beginning, a middle, and an end. If the story doesn’t let go, then I know it will have to be written. Coming up with ideas is fun. Ideas make me ten again. They are play and possibility. As long as possibility exists, there is something to write.

The columnist David Brooks wrote about a new view of genius last week in The New York Times. He argues genius comes from hard work and practice. I agree on some level. I do believe practice produces better writing. And I believe this is true for every writer. Genius? Well, perhaps not for everyone.

This week the writer David Marshall Grant had this response to Brooks’ article. This point touches upon the essence of both the frustration and the joy of writing:

“It may be true that Tiger Woods’s greatness comes from a ‘deliberate, strenuous and boring practice routine.’ He is an athlete. A writer’s true greatness comes from something more elusive. Just because someone has figured out how to ‘get characters into a room — dozens and dozens of times,’ it doesn’t mean they have figured out what they should say.”

Monday, May 4, 2009

Playing with Plays

I love writing plays. My first non-teacher-enforced writing was a play I wrote at the age of eleven (or so). I forced my little brother and his friends to play the parts. Many years later I rediscovered the joy of writing for the stage. This past weekend marked the third time seeing one of my short plays performed on stage. I love the magic of transforming words on a page to a performance. I love standing in the back of the theater to watch the audience react.

Playwriting, especially writing a ten minute play, is a great exercise on many levels. The immediacy makes everything count. The writer cannot wade in slowly; instead, a writer must dive in. Characters, setting, and action create the story. Then, the characters have to change, transform. The events of the play, the insights, make the character find something new, something different—a deeper perspective or a new understanding.

The ultimate goal is to transform the audience as well.

Friday, May 1, 2009


The National Picture Book Writing Week starts today. I decided to participate. I think picture books are extremely difficult to write, so creating a picture book a day for seven days is a bit daunting.

I also know, however, one of the best ways to improve writing is to cross train. Like an athlete working to create an edge or get past a limitation, writers also need to push themselves in new ways.

More information on NaPiBoWriWe can be found here:

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


A dilapidated fir fence on my property, a 1926 picture of a girls’ basketball team, and the smell of lilacs in spring—

Now, a dusty pile of books, the movie Charade, and a pair of shiny black shoes haunt the chambers of my brain. What’s next?

Sunday, April 26, 2009


The writing process—invention, research, writing, revising and editing: I teach this to college students. It is the process they use to write their essays. It is also the process I use for my own writing. It can apply to both fiction and non-fiction. In order to become a better writer, I’ve had to consider the different steps of the writing process and attempt to objectively see my strengths and weaknesses for each step. I have a hunch every writer has certain areas he or she is better at than others. I also feel that every writer can find an area for improvement and growth. So, in the coming posts, I’m going to look at each part of the writing process, consider what it means, and how we can all learn to be better writers.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


The art of making difficult tasks easy. The grace of effortless work….Can I apply this to the process of revision? I wonder if revision is truly easy for any writer? (If it is for you, please let me know.) I am bombarded with questions when I revise: Is the plot moving forward? Are these characters whole, believable, likable? Do they come alive on the page? Does this sentence make any sense? When I am sweating over a manuscript, I wonder about my career choice, my sanity. Isn’t it considered unhealthy to obsess over something?

When I was in graduate school, I tended to get anxious over essay assignments. How can someone write a 20 page paper on a post colonial interpretation of The Tempest? Well, I had to write stuff like that. A boyfriend at the time reminded me I should take a sprezzatura approach to school, and I would feel a lot better. Well, at the time I thought, easy for you to say. You don’t have to write these papers! But, I followed his advice anyway. As my classmates sat around and commiserated on the latest academic nightmare, I smiled and said stuff like, “I’m enjoying this!” or “piece of cake” Lies. What they didn’t know is that I sobbed in front of my computer at night. Yet, over time, the writing started to move. My self doubt was no longer like a cacophony of condemnation. The more I convinced myself of the ease of the process, the easier it became. Never perfect, but better.

Now, the real test begins as I apply sprezzatura to the revision of my manuscripts. I’ve just begun the revision process for a contemporary YA novel….ease, beauty, grace….We shall see.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

It's spring! A time of new starts, new life, a new blog. I've been spending too much time in the garden. I feel like I need to be busy, and I find myself growing impatient outside. I envision an amazing English cottage garden with roses climbing everywhere and flowers bursting from every patch of earth. If only my garden matched my vision...I do find solace in the moment--a pause to watch a hummingbird drink the nectar from a wild currant blossom or the bumblebees circling the daffodils.