Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter Solstice

Happy Winter Solstice! 

The sun rose at 8:01 a.m this morning and will set at 4:19 p.m (four minutes from now).

I think of a time before electricity and central heat
Before colored LED Christmas lights and iPod carols
Those who celebrated by gathering in the darkness around a fire.

In recent years I've come to appreciate the significance of solstice.

The point where the pendulum pauses before swinging back the other way.

While in Eastsound today, I paused noticing a primrose blooming in front of Enzo's Cafe. Yes, it's too early to think of spring,
yet the life force continues.

Friday, December 10, 2010

I Dwell in Possibility

One hundred eighty years ago 

A poet was born . . .

I'm naturally drawn to the poetry of Emily Dickinson this time of year.

"There's a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons -"

I dig through my E. D. poetry book hungry for more moments of pure excellence (for lack of a better term).

This particular poem stands out, for I feel it is an ode to my calling as a writer:

"I dwell in Possibility -"

What a great line. Isn't this what a writer does? I think of it as What if?  What if this person in this place had this happen to him or her? What would happen? And the story begins.

The second line of Dickinson's poem:

"A fairer House than Prose -"

Many say this is her declaration as a poet rather than a writer of essays or fiction, but I see it as an explanation of the imagination. This place of possibility is enormous and endless. Possibility always exists.

The Final lines declare:

"The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise -"

The paradise? What can be created!

All of the possibility and what if moments flood with characters and situations, places and imagery. The writing comes from this place, and the possibility is what I hold most important to my own process.

Thank you for putting  up with my subjective literary analysis of E. D.

I hope your day is filled with possibility.

Happy Birthday Emily.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Winter Arrives

Okay, so it's that time of year again.

I adore spring, enjoy fall, tolerate summer, but winter?  

The dim daylight, the incessant rain, and snow. Yes, snow.

This past week we jumped into winter with plunging below average temperatures.

After lamenting the sudden, severe frost death of my garden (I still had roses ready to bloom), I prepared myself for the inevitable falling of snow.

I enjoy the snow--truly. I like the transformation of the landscape, the white blanket of newness. I love the silence and the sound of crunching the white layers underfoot.

Driving in snow? I can think of many things I would rather endure than trying to negotiate a car on icy, snow packed roads without guardrails.

At our house, we all decided the ideal snow day happens when we have nowhere to go and have ample provisions.

On Thanksgiving this year, we had such a day. 

I hope you find moments of beauty in your winter landscape.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Another Reason to Love Jane

This past week I read a story about some recent literary analysis done on the work of Jane Austen. Specifically, Kathryn Sutherland, a professor at Oxford University revealed that Austen's original manuscripts contained many misspellings and creative grammar. In other words, Austen's editors cleaned up her work before publication.

Some people are upset about this. Austen is no longer a perfect grammar goddess. She has tumbled from her throne of literary genius to a mere writer of tales.

Some people were even mad at Kathryn Sutherland for exposing this scandalous information.

Personally, this bit of news makes me love Jane even more.

You see, spelling has never been a strength of mine. I think I might even have some sort of undiagnosed learning disorder. I learned grammar intuitively. I only learned the rules after I started teaching grammar to others. Perhaps a writer should not disclose these kinds of deficiencies, but I like to think it makes me more like Jane.

Jane lived in the era before spell check and grammar guides. Editors could take the time to fix the errors. Of course now, we know we could never submit an unedited manuscript to an editor or agent. They simply do not have the time.

But why hate Jane for not being perfect?

When I delight in the pages of a good Austen story, I am not thinking of period placement or spelling.

I love her wonderful humor. I love her biting critique of the class system and marriage.  I love knowing Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy will end up together in the end, but it's how they reach the much anticipated proposal scene that makes the story worthwhile.

Jane rocks!

Sunday, October 24, 2010


The whistling wind  funnels through cracks between the windows and walls. Outside, all is green, yellow, orange, and brown. The firs lean, branches like underwater plants dancing in tidal flow.

This is our first real storm of the season.

Autumn is one of my favorite seasons rivaling only with spring and all the blossoms of new life. I like transitional seasons because they involve change. I can watch the change in the plants coming to live and going to sleep. Summer and winter are stagnant seasons and make me feel on edge. I want to see the changes, the transformation . . .

I'm finishing up a long revision. As I work, a part of myself seems to be standing just outside observing what I am doing. Yes, sometimes it's a critical voice, but, most often, I work to stay objective and watch what happens. Some parts of the process have been downright painful. I write pages of material only to discard most in favor of a single word or paragraph change. Other journeys have been absolute joy. Finding a new plot twist comes to mind. Digging in to reveal the real emotion of my characters, and playing with words. I will never grow tired of playing with language and sentences, playing with phrases  . . .

All of these changes will have to finish up soon. The whole of the project will be complete (or as close as complete as I feel I can get). I'm afraid I am one of those writers who consistently wants to revise and edit forever and forever.

What about you? What's your favorite part of the revising process? What do you love? What do find frustrating?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Another Bite

There's a business saying for accomplishing big goals that goes like this: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

As a vegetarian who happens to think elephants are very cool, the literal image isn't very pleasant for me. Yet, we are, of course, talking about elephants in the figurative sense.

My elephant is my book I am currently revising. It's messy right now, and everything is torn apart and unpleasant. Yes, guts are everywhere!  I am well on my way to finishing, however. This is what sustains me.

I will keep going or taking bites (or whatever it is I'm doing).

Oh, and no elephants will be harmed.

Keep writing!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Banned Books Week--September 25 to October 2

I'm not one to get overly political or controversial with my posts, but you've probably figured out banned books is a hot button topic for me.

This is what happened last week: Wesley Scroggins (yes, a perfect name) challenged a school district in Missouri for allowing teens access to "filthy books" including the wonderful Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, a novel about finding courage and a voice.  The most maddening part is the response by the school superintendent. It appears they are taking this guy seriously. http://www.news-leader.com/article/20100918/OPINIONS02/9180307/Scroggins-Filthy-books-demeaning-to-Republic-education

Unfortunate, but true.

So, what can we do? 

This week is Banned Books Week! You can learn all about it here: 

Here's a list of the most frequently banned books of 2009: http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/frequentlychallenged/21stcenturychallenged/2009/index.cfm

By the way, I am particularly alarmed that And Tango Makes Three is number two on the list. Are we really that homophobic as a society? Really?
That's sad.

Be rebellious and read a banned book (or two) this week.
Speak out.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Finding Voice

Both of my sons started blogging recently, and, like any proud mother, I read their work eagerly. I love the intrinsic Liam and Holden-ness.

Liam describes his dreams like a poet:

I am a ten year old boy who dreams of exploring the vast water of our planet to do marine biology all over the our planet. I love fish them self not the taste I hate all meat by the way. I like the color GREEN A LOT! The color of sea grass.

Holden postulates communication in the universe:

One high frequency photon can be split into to low frequency photons. These photons are now entangled which means no matter where you are in the universe whatever you do to one photon happens immediately to the other one.

I wish I could write as beautifully as my children. I want to unlearn everything and find my way back to the essence of dreams and imagination . . .
into honesty.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Writing and the Day Job


Back to school

A hectic work week. Ah, my day job  . . .

Which brings me to something I've been thinking about--writing and the day job.

Many writers I know have some lovely writing routines and manage to work through some extraordinary distractions, but I haven't heard from writers who have jobs (you know, those things you do to make money that isn't writing).

I'm fortunate enough to have a day job where I work from home, so I manage, on most days, to put in some writing time before and after work. My work can take a lot of energy out of me, but I am determined to get my writing done!

I would love to hear from some other writers out in the universe with jobs. What do you do? How do you stay motivated?  How do you keep your job from sucking up all your creative energy? What's your schedule like? How do you make time for your writing?

I know the biggest motivation for me is this: The more I write, the more likely I'll be able to leave my day job behind.

Someday . . .

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Reading and Fear: Part One

Much has been written about Ellen Hopkins and her recent experience with censorship in the hands of a school superintendent in Texas. I will not rehash the event here, but I'm sad to see this happened. It made me think of why some people are afraid of books.

When I was a teen, another popular writer was under fire. Her name is Judy Blume. The school librarian even had a special parent meeting about how to handle Blume's books. She recommended parents read the books with their children and discuss the topics, but the one book we couldn't read (according to the librarian), the one book not in the library, was the book Forever.

This is what the book looked like when I read it.

Because the librarian made such a big deal about the book, Forever became very popular. We passed it on from reader to reader. For those of you who haven't read Forever, or it has been a few years, the story centers around two high school students who have an intimate relationship. Yes, they have sex. This might seem almost quaint by today's YA standards.

 Let me give you a picture of what I was like when read Forever. I think I was fourteen, but you wouldn't know it by looking at me or hanging out with me, for I was very physically and emotionally immature. The fourteen year old Michèle still played with her dollhouse and read The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, and all the Shoes books by Noel Streatfeild. The fourteen year old Michele wanted nothing to do with drama of social life or boyfriends at Malibu Park Jr. High. In fact, I made a case to leave school and educate myself. I told my parents I could write a novel, paint with watercolors, and get a tutor for tiresome subjects like math and science.

My parents didn't buy it.

I had to stay in school, but I did get to read Forever.

So why did the school librarian ban this particular book? Since I cannot ask her, I will guess: She was afraid we would read about sex and think it was cool to have sex and go out and have sex.

Why did I read Forever?  I was curious.

I don't even entirely remember all the details about the book, but I do know it upset me. I cried when I got to the end and realized Forever didn't mean forever. What did I get out of this experience? I decided relationships required an emotional investment I wasn't ready to deal with. Forever may have helped me wait until eighteen to date guys. Well, okay, mostly this was because I was a total nerd and most guys found me scary, but Judy Blume's book did make an impact on my life, just not in the way the school librarian feared.

At the 2009 SCBWI Conference, I attended a workshop by Ellen Hopkins. She shared some letters and pictures of teens who read her books and the ways her work has impacted their lives. I was so struck with the connection these readers felt. They had found someone who could write about things they knew or feared and a sense of community blossomed.

Books continue to be challenged. The core of censorship is fear.

Fear of knowledge.

Yet, books are a way we can gain understanding. Even if we ourselves don't personally know a particular world or desire to go there, we can learn about what it is like. The more we know, the better we understand the world around us. This happened when I read Forever. 

 Okay, so my message has to be read in a mirror, but I think you get it!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Off the High Dive and into the Deep End

I'm back home after a three week trip. I would love to say vacation, but my day job came with me. I did manage to squeeze some time out for fun and the wonderful SCBWI International Conference in LA where I gained new knowledge and feasted on inspiration.

I found a new favorite place, Point Lobos State Reserve near Carmel.

I renewed my wish to have a winter cottage in Marin or Monterey County where I can watch the ocean and write.
Someday . . .

My sons had a great time swimming in the same pool I played in when I was a child. The pool now has a very cool high dive.

Here's Holden:

I also received a thorough and insightful editorial letter on my YA novel from my most excellent agent. I read my manuscript, took notes, and had a lot of time to think while rumbling up the I-5 back home.
I'm so excited about the journey ahead.

Time to revise!

Time to take the leap into the water and surround myself in the other world of my story.

Fortunately, I've always loved the deep end. :)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


I've been traveling since last Friday.

First, we stopped in lovely Dillon Beach.

 Where I played with my favorite guys.

Then, we drove to Malibu. I took a walk with Shane today and enjoyed the view.

On Friday, I look forward to seeing my SCBWI friends at the annual conference in LA.

I hope to see some of you there. :)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Writing Naked

Before Jamie Oliver became a food crusader, he had a show called The Naked Chef. And, no, it didn't feature Jaimie braising in the buff. Instead he would use a "glug" of olive oil while stir frying and mix things up with his hands in his cluttered kitchen in his London flat. In other words, it was real. This intimate relationship with food resonated with my own creative forces.

I live in a community where many people write memoirs. I applaud their efforts even if I'm not drawn to memoir writing myself. First of all, I wouldn't want to bore my readers to sleep; my life isn't that exciting. The real reason, however, is I'm not keen on digging up the old bones of my past for the world to see. All of those experiences are personal.

I think this is why I enjoy writing fiction. A made up story with pretend people provides the perfect diversion from the truth.

Well, I convince myself of this fantasy.

In truth, writing gets messy and complicated. Under the protection of the imaginary world, the real shows up--completely naked, and those things I never felt comfortable sharing show up (whether I want them to or not).

I've had writing sessions when I realized my hands are shaking with fear, even anger, or I wipe tears from my face. Since my mind is usually focused on the story (what will the character will do next?), I'm not expecting the emotion.

The authenticity both fascinates and frightens me. Often I have to go back and build on these scenes to make them even stronger, for I know at some point I backed off afraid of what I churned up from within.

Sharing my life--my fears, frustrations, and longings scare me, yet this is what makes the story and the characters come to life.

Time to take off my clothes and make it real!

Monday, June 28, 2010


What are your feelings about music and the creative process?

I grew up loving the austere writing environment--a quiet room of my own. Obviously, this is more of a dream, and I find myself writing everywhere with all sorts of background noise.

When I was in college, I spent a year abroad in Florence, Italy. My apartment mates liked to get a bottle of wine and talk into the night. I would try to work on papers but found myself focusing on the conversation going on outside my room. So, and this will date me, I would put on my trusty Walkman and drown out my world with cassette tapes. I often wonder what the influence of U2, Tom Waits, and The Cure had on my essay assignments that year.

I don't often listen to music. I'm usually driving when I do, but I find certain songs inspire me to find certain scenes or remind me of characters. Specific songs evoke a feeling or set a mood for a scene.

I decided this past week to start working on a playlist--a collection of songs I use for inspiration for my novel. I'm still experimenting on whether I want to listen to the songs while I write, or I may use them as a way to get me in the right mood to start the creative process.

What do you do?

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Pizza with caramelized onions, goat cheese, and fresh thyme.

Beet tops sautéed with garlic scrapes.

Honey ice cream with tart rhubarb compote.

The veggies and herbs were from my garden and the farmer’s market. I used as many organic ingredients as I could find.

I’m not a rich woman with money or time, but I love good food and will pay extra and make the time to make a meal.

It’s easy to fall in love with real food, slow food, sustainable food . . . Whatever you want to call eating well.

I started to love cooking as a child. I focused on sweets—cookies of every imaginable combination, pies, cakes (anything involving frosting). When I became a vegetarian in my early twenties, I started cooking more and more of my own meals.

My passion continues.

This may sound lovely or possibly preachy, which is not my intent.

My cooking frenzy has a downside. I can’t go out anymore and eat fast food, and my concept of fast food expands. Though my arteries may thank me, my high expectations leave me disappointed and wanting more.

As good eating advocates deal with our unhealthy food industry, I applaud them with enthusiasm. I’m glad to see there’s finally a movement toward healthier eating.

I have high expectations with food. Is it too much to ask for real food to eat?

Of course not!

Naturally, these expectations spill over into everything else.

Writing, of course.

Yet, like food, good writing comes down to being honest and using the best words in the right combination to make the finished product simply delicious.

Yes, I know, easier said than done.

Time to cook!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Writing Evil

My current wip has a true antagonist. When this villain arrived in my story, I was thrilled. I've never had a real bad guy character before. I thought it was going to be fun. I planned and anticipated his dastardly acts and despicable deeds. He would make life impossible for my protagonists.

True confession time: Writing a believable bad guy is HARD.

What is evil? I would like to think that I am not a bad person, so am I capable of getting into the mindset of someone truly bad?

When I was a child, a horrible man lived in my neighborhood. He had a wife who died in a hot tub accident, and later, after he remarried, his new wife and stepson were killed in a boating accident. The second accident turned out not to be an accident (and perhaps the first as well). He killed his wife and stepson to collect insurance money.

I spent many hours thinking about how someone could be so horrible and detached to kill for money. No one had a clue. He was a very polite and gentle man. One day, in a time period between the two incidents, my dog bit him. I suspect she knew he was evil. The rest of us did not.

So, the challenge, how do I reveal evil below the surface? How can I make my villain truly scary?
I may not be a perfect person, but I don't understand evil.

I'm just glad my evil character is a creation, not a real man.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Old School

I'm eighty pages into my new wip, and it hits me . . .

I'm out of control.
I've lost grasp of my original vision.

I think of it like the panicky moment I feel when I take a walk and get lost in the woods (happens often, I'm sorry to say). I have no choice but to walk forward, confidently, until I find a familiar landmark.

Perhaps you can relate.

I had to do something, so I pulled out the paper products and went old school.

First, I knew I wanted to work more on character development, but I didn't want to lose the plot points and quick pacing required for this particular story. Also, this story is told from more than one point of view, so I wanted to make sure each character has a say in what happens.

I pulled out my notebook and made a list of plot points and the characters involved in each.

Next, I purchased a box of index cards in different colors.

I wrote out scenes on the cards and color coded them according to the character doing the action. (Not sure why I made a cross . . .)

I placed all of the cards out on a table and put them in chronological order. I checked to make sure each of the main characters had equal say in the process. I numbered the cards, and stacked them in order. I now have a path to follow.

I would love to hear about some of the old school techniques you use for planning and drafting your work.

The tried and true lives on . . .

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Writing Life: A Flow Chart

Yes, I did design a flow chart.

A simple chart devoid of emotion or complication depicting the life of a writer.

I sketched out my design and shared it with S.C. Watson. He added certain artistic embellishments.


Please click the image to enlarge.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Listening to Stories

Listening to stories

I recently discovered the joy of listening to audio books. Why hadn’t I made the connection before? I have a 20 minute drive to the main village on the island, so nearly every day I have time to listen.

My apprehension came from the perception that I have to see the words on the page in order to truly appreciate a book. Reading is still my preferred method, but then again, didn’t I spend many years as a child listening to my mom read nursery rhymes and my dad tell his wonderful fantasy stories? Even when I read to my sons, I pause and ponder the way a writer did something on the page I missed while reading silently.

I just finished the audio version of the Inkheart series and lost myself in the beautiful language of the story. I started noticing patterns I would have missed, like patterns of three in exposition. Three represents what we find in nature, in religion, and, oh yes, Schoolhouse Rock (“Three is a Magic Number”). The patterns of three make the fantastic world of Inkheart come alive.

When I see a word on a page, especially if it is a unique or freshly used word, I may pause to notice, but when I hear the word, it resonates on another level entirely. When Funke uses the word supercilious for Orpheus (a character in Inkheart), it has more power when heard. The “s” sound conjures up an image of a snake or the word sly . . . I think “sly as a fox.” A perfect word for this particular character.

More discoveries.

I would love to hear your experiences. I will never give up reading books. I love seeing words, but listing has added another dimension to the experience.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Live Characters

When I was asked to write what inspired me to write Play Noir, I wrote the following:

It was a cold, gray January morning; the kind of day where the wind stabs like merciless steel knives. I hunkered down in my car for a ferry ride to the mainland. I had my laptop computer and a voice activation program. I was wearing a brown fedora. The characters started speaking, and the words appeared on my computer screen. I swear that's exactly what happened.

I was having a little fun. What struck me as interesting is how people responded to the last part. Was I being literal? After all, I was using a voice activation program, so the character’s lines did come out of my mouth and appear on the screen. Was I being figurative? In my mind, the characters appeared and started talking. If you write fiction, you know what I’m talking about, right?

The cool thing about writing plays is the words do appear (even if you use a keyboard), and, if you’re lucky, the characters appear.

Here's what happened to me.

Kaitlyn and Aaimee as Marylou and Jane celebrating the removal of their husband.

Ed and Gary as Jake and Marlowe discussing the cruel, heartless city.

Photos by the talented Anita Holladay.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Opening Night

Last night the fifth annual Orcas Ten Minute Playfest opened. I continue to be amazed at the process.

Idea to words
Words to play
Play to performance

A performance is born.

I know the actors and director have put a tremendous amount of effort into this, and I am very proud of them all. We are like a sports team winning a championship; we are all involved in the creation.

My interest in plays and theater began long ago.

The play is still the thing.


When I write a story, my reader connects with the experience, but it is a private experience. I am not in the room with my readers. I may receive a note or kind words about my writing, but the experience occurs in solitude. On stage, the experience is public. It’s exposed and vulnerable. I get nervous along with the actors. The actors speak, and the audience watches as the story unfolds. They react. I react. We laugh, cry, and cheer. The experience becomes a community. From this common experience, a bond is born.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Blogging Anniversary!

“Don’t intentions count for anything?”

This question came from a grad school professor. We debated the strength of the main character in literary postmodern book (the title escapes me now). Most of the students and I complained we didn’t much like the main character because he didn’t do anything. Yes, we realized the postmodern novel could break the traditional plot and the quest and all those literary devices, but that didn’t mean we had to like it.

This is my first year anniversary of blogging. I’m still not sure what I am doing, but I will continue to do write. In this case, action replaces intention, even if the direction isn’t entirely clear yet.

The journey continues . . .

This summer I will be coming up on my sixth anniversary of living in the house I live in now. When we moved in, we faced a yard full of construction trash and blasted rock. I was determined to create a garden. With little time or finances, it has been a frustrating process, and my garden is still far from what I envision it to be one day. I read The Secret Garden enough times as a child to know what I want. So, over the past six years, I’ve moved and dug up many rocks, created flowerbeds, planted, and composted. Certain plants have been more successful than others, and certain areas have surprised me with gorgeous fecundity.

Now, in this glorious time of year, I steal outside and take a few minutes to enjoy. I wish I had a before picture (trust me, it was ugly), but here is the process so far. My work in progress.

Intentions are not enough. Maybe that’s why I forgot the name of that book.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

No Time

This is the list I brainstormed on the things I do (and can do more of) to get my writing done:

I sit down at my desk and open my laptop.

I write before I begin work in the morning.

I write after my sons go to bed at night.

I don't watch television
I don't play computer games.
(The last two are easy because I've never been a fan of either activity).

I read books as a reward for a good writing session. If I didn't do this I would be reading more than writing.

I limit the amount of time I can use the Internet to read my favorite sites and blogs. I give myself five minutes and get back to work.

This one is new: I use my voice activation program in the car while I drive. I hope this is legal! This works best with rough drafts. I can get quite a few pages of text from a single trip to Eastsound. Of course, people see me talking to myself, but this is Orcas Island and crazy is considered normal.

If I don't have my laptop, I have a notebook and a pen to write down ideas (but not when I'm driving).

I write down my dreams if they seem fruitful; I've found several plots in my dreams.

I think about stories, characters, and pacing when I take walks with my dog.

I drink coffee and tea.

I eat chocolate.

I would love to hear what others do to stay focused and working.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Outlining Spring

I'm working on an outline for a new project. The story that came to me in a dream a few months back.

I do have to wonder about my dreams.

This is the first time I've written a detailed outline before the rough draft. It's a challenging experience. I tend to like to see where my writing takes me instead of being led by a guide. Obviously, there's always room for change and revision.

Outside the weather is shifting. Tonight a storm moves in. Tomorrow, we're supposed to have a strong windstorm. I hope my pretty white plum blossoms and delicate tulip stems survive.

In my writing, I like the shifts. I like to create conflict and set the windstorms on my characters when things are looking settled. Sometimes I feel sorry for my characters, but conflict must happen. Conflict creates change, and change creates transformation.

Monday, March 29, 2010


My life as metaphor . . .
My life is a series of dilemmas right now.
How to use my time is a common dilemma. I face significant dilemmas like how to best raise my sons. I also face trivial dilemmas like what to make for dinner.

The dilemma I face now relates to writing. Imagine that! Again, I am faced with those two virtual manuscripts in front of me. One is 30,000 words fleshed out, but an editor/teacher told me that I should set aside because the market is glutted with fantasy right now. Drat. Just when I thought I could conquer a fantasy novel as well.

The other is a dream turned outline. The editor/teacher thinks it is marketable and unique. I agree with her. I should write it then, correct? Oh a whole unfinished draft! A draft not even started yet. I want to run and hide under my desk until it goes away.

Of course, it will not go away. So, back to work. Perhaps I could write both simultaneously. But I would need the time I do not have.

So, I have a dilemma.

Friday, March 19, 2010

So Proud

Here's a link to a story in this week's local paper about my boys and their friend's most excellent discovery: http://www.pnwlocalnews.com/sanjuans/isj/lifestyle/88264192.html

Sunday, March 14, 2010


I'm not a huge fan of outlines or outline tools. Over the years I've learned many techniques for building stories. Some writers swear by the index card/scene method (which can now be done on the computer). Some writers love detailed outlines with every chapter broken down. Some writers use collages out of magazine pictures to build plot.

I've tried all of these and more. I'm glad I tried them, but I didn't get the results I wanted. My method includes lots of thinking, brainstorming, and a list outline (one word for each plot point) before I begin. Incidentally, the outline changes significantly with each draft. I was one of those students who wrote the outline after I wrote the essay. I needed to write the paper to know what direction I wanted to take. Some of this spills over to my fiction writing.

Yet, writing does need direction and structure or a great idea may not become a great story. A great start may not become an entire book.

Recently I stumbled across this great visual outline on C.J. Omolulu's blog: http://cynjay.blogspot.com/2009/02/how-to-write-book.html

I applied it to a something I would like to start soon, and I loved the results. It was short enough, so I didn't feel bogged down with details yet specific enough to cover all the main parts of a good story.

I hope you find it helpful as well.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Voice and Muse

A compelling voice! How many times do we hear this is what a writer must have to succeed?

I talk with my composition students about voice. We all search for adjectives to adequately describe something that cannot be described adequately with adjectives.

Is my voice compelling? What does that mean anyway? To use force or pressure to lure a reader away from his or her other obligations? I can think of many journeys to the library or bookstore where my true quest was lost in the discovery of new words. I was pressured into reading and loved every minute.

I would like to think of other words with other connotations for voice. How about authentic? Authentic in what way? The voice could sound real, yet is this what we want to achieve? Realism?

Voice. Some voices I do love to hear. Usually, these voices are from people I love.

Mix the writing with a powerful love potion and stir; this is how to capture the reader with a compelling and authentic voice.

Now, what is the love potion?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Musing Solitude

A rare evening alone. Time to think and dream.
My work in progress stalls. The first section cannot seem to get past itself. This is a project I have stopped and started more than once. I refuse to abandon it again.

What makes a story worthwhile? What makes one draft more important than another? This is one of those moments where a vision to the future or a handy wormhole would be appreciated. Is this worth the effort?
Perhaps that is a decision...not a reality. :)

All dreams are so powerful in the beginning. Taste, color, light, energy. Sustaining the power of the dream and riding it all the way to completion--this is the challenge. For now, I will stop trying to fight the riptide and swim sideways until I reach the shore.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Queries, Strategies, and Loss

Sending out those query letters! I have so many strategies. I second guess myself. I'm asked questions I cannot answer. What books are most like the one I just wrote? I do a search on Amazon and am even more confused than when I started.

Loss: Many years ago when I would write poems in composition books late at night I wasn't thinking about marketing or positioning myself. I wasn't thinking about success or failure. Of course, not all of my poems were brilliant, but it didn't matter.

It matters now.

My book is
My book is like

My book is a story that started in my head. I started seeing images, characters in situations. I started to laugh. I remembered what it felt like to be desperately in love with someone who couldn't love me back. I found pacing and plot. I wrote.

This is my book.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Enjoy the Journey

I've heard this many, many times from speakers at writers' conferences.

So, what journey am I supposed to be enjoying? The journey to insanity? To poverty? The journey of a potential delusion that one day I will be up on stage telling people, "enjoy the journey."

NOTE: Please realize this is a sad attempt at humor. I apologize for the cynicism.

Oh and enjoy the journey!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

In the Hands of a Writer

Sometimes I have conversations with myself, and sometimes I see scenarios, little scenes play themselves out in my mind. A moment ago I thought of a man talking to a woman. There was some sort of emergency, and he said to her, "are you a nurse?" She laughed and replied, "no, I'm a writer. You're in the hands of a writer."

These characters in my mind may or may not become characters on a page, but the phrase "you're in the hands of a writer" resonated. Sometimes I think of my characters this way. I've, in a sense, created them from the muck of my unconscious and injected life into them. Now what? I'm responsible. Their fate is in my hands. Sometimes, often in fact, I make life very, very difficult for them. Conflict and challenges every step of the way...Is it fair? No, not at all. Perhaps I feel guilty. I created them after all. I do make them conquer and triumph in the end. Well, unless they don't triumph...But, always, always they learn something and walk away with something new. A perception, a piece of knowledge, a shard of hope...

All from my hands.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

For the Fat Lady and J.D. Salinger

My mom started college when I was in junior high. One of her first classes was on the short story. I remember finding Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger on the kitchen table one afternoon and dove in. This was my first “adult” book other than a few classics force fed on me at school. I fell in love with the stories and was hungry for more. So I read them—all four of Salinger’s published books.
Of course I liked Catcher in the Rye. Holden was the kind of character I wish I had known because I understood all too well what it was like to be in a world of people who don’t understand. If he had asked me to run off in the woods with him, I would have done so (even if in the real world the results would probably end in something tedious and unromantic). I named my son after him though my Holden is a lot more level-headed and abstract than Mr. Caulfield.
It was Franny, however, who I connected with. Franny had challenges—a boyfriend who didn’t have a clue and a crisis within her soul. Two brothers could have helped her, but one had committed suicide and the other lived as a recluse. It is her other big brother Zooey who throws her a lifeline by reminding her of something their brother Seymour used to say to them. Seymour reminded them to do kind things—like shine shoes—for the Fat Lady. The Fat Lady didn’t exist, but it was a reminder of kindness, of purpose; Franny needed purpose.
When I was twenty-one and going through my own sort of crisis and wondering what life meant anyway, I remembered Seymour’s fat lady.

This past month my goals seem futile and my meaning comes in question. Salinger’s death today reminded me of Franny, reminded me of myself. We do things for others even if we don’t know the person—even if the person doesn’t exist. We make up our purpose.

I will continue to shine my shoes for the fat lady.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dawn Dreaming

No, I'm not talking about a vampire book. I'm discussing the actual event, which is happening earlier and earlier each morning.

Dawn outside my window at seven.

Since I moved to Washington, I have been more aware of light and darkness. The extreme lighting shifts between summer and winter stun me more than I am willing to admit. This is the time of year every few weeks I feel, not a gentle nudge, but a jerk toward the sun. It's as though the planet earth readjusts itself in its path. Crocuses and daffodils push their green noses out of the soil, poppy seedlings dot the hillside. I keep my fingers crossed for continued mild weather from now until April.

This winter weather has been a blessing in many respects.

Just before dawn, I dreamed a story. I ABSOLUTELY LOVE dreaming plots. It's happened more than once to me, and I consider it a gift of some sort. I used to dream disasters when I was little. Then I dreamed things that would happen. Now I dream stories.

My plot is now in Word document awaiting expansion. It might be a few months, but I dreamed the book already.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hope Stronger than Bleak

Among the headlines almost lost this week in the stories about the devastating earthquake in Haiti was an article in the Wall Street Journal about the almost luckless pursuit of publishing through the slush pile. Of course, my writer friends passed it around through email and blogs. I will not post it here because I found it utterly depressing, yet I knew the truth already: Writing is hard. Very few people become successful. Even if you work hard, write well, and submit your work, you may not make it.

Yes, yes, I know all of this!

I often try to connect writing to something else in life. Writing is like gardening, writing is like raising children...I'm sure you've heard those sweet analogies. Writing is like having OCD, writing is like belonging to a cult, writing is an addiction...The more unpleasant analogies I've found.

Yet, I keep going. Why? Sometimes I'm not sure I know. I do know children need books. Children need places to go outside of their own world, children need to know someone knows what it feels like (even if that someone is a character in a book). Children need a connection.

I keep writing for them--and for me. I need those things too.

Take that slush pile!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Back to the Grind

I'm back with my nose to the computer screen this week earning a living with my day job. Today I graded a batch of narrative essays. Since I've been doing this for a few years now, I can see certain trends with writing. Narrative essays tend to carry weight--personal weight from the writer. Pain, suffering, or anger resurfaces as the writers relive things they probably wish they could forget.

I read these essays for hours. After many paragraphs about loss and despair, I start feeling it as well. I suppose I am giving these students a service. Not only are they building writing skills (I hope), but they also have the opportunity to unload their griefs (a phrase modified from Sylvia Plath poem). I am starting to feel like Sylvia as I experience the pain right along with the authors.

I am not being paid an therapist's wage, yet this seems my job...at least for today.

I think I'll go and read "The Moon and the Yew Tree" now.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Voice Dictate and a New Play

I got to test drive my voice dictation program for real yesterday. On a shopping trip to the mainland, I sat in my car on the ferry and turned on my laptop. Then, with my seat back, as I looked out at the passing islands, I dictated the play. At the end of the trip I had an eight page rough draft for the ten-minute playfest.

It's a strange process to use my voice to create; it's very different from tapping on the keyboard with my fingers. At times I felt a little strange saying things like, "but that's murder explanation point new line"

I also found I wanted to say things in the character's voices, but that was too difficult for the program to figure out.

I do like letting my mind drift and find the stories that swirl around. I'm optimistic this will help the drafting process.

Now, if I can just teach the computer to write "Michèle Griskey" instead of "Michelle Gretsky" when I say my name.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year, New Decade

I spent most of my day cleaning out the basement. Not exactly a relaxing activity for a holiday, but for my task oriented brain, it was the right thing to do. It's always difficult for me to clean and organize things (though I love the results) because things take on meaning and significance.

I'm not a pack rat or a collector, but when I go through a box and find a picture colored by my son when he was five or tiny pair of baby socks, I get sentimental. I don't need to keep everything, but after a while, the items start tugging on my emotions. "Remember when," they call to me.

It hasn't been an easy decade. I tend to be hard on myself, so I probably cannot objectively judge what I did and didn't accomplish in the past ten years. I do know I haven't yet reached specific goals and this weighs on me.

The rain pounds on the skylights. The sky is already black outside though it's just after five. I look forward to spring and possibility, a new year, a new decade, a new book. It most certainly can be better.

I would like to go through boxes ten years from now and have the "remember when" voice remind me of how much better everything has become. I would love to look back and laugh.

Happy New Year.