07/1/17
A stack of my published novels and several medals from races I've finished

Running and Writing

A stack of my published novels and several medals from races I've finished

Published books and Finisher’s Medals, you can’t get either one without perseverance and hard work.

Sometimes the similarities between my two favorite things frighten me. There’s my writing, which I love dearly and could never live without, and there’s running, which has become so entrenched in who I am I wouldn’t know who I was without it. Actually, I could flip those two descriptions around and not be lying. In honor of that, the ways writing is like running (or maybe running is like writing?).

Time off hurts, and you don’t know why
I’ve taken time off from both my writing and my running. Those periods were filled with a quiet discomfort; a pang of longing struck me when I saw someone running or walked by a bookstore knowing my books weren’t inside. I wasn’t ready to run, I didn’t want to write, but I wanted the feeling of having run, the satisfaction I felt when I had written. If I was consciously choosing not to run or write, why did it bother me so much? I still don’t know.

Breaks sneak up on you
Even when you’re feeling restless and unhappy for no good reason, it’s easy to miss that you’ve taken a break from writing or running. Running logs and writing journals, no matter how devoutly kept, don’t open themselves up on the counter. There is no blinking light proclaiming how long it’s been since your last run or writing session. It isn’t until you sit and think about it that you realize the general malaise comes from not doing the thing you love.

Junk miles and Junk words
Runners will tell you either there are no junk miles – every step improves you as a runner –or that you should never run junk miles – if you’re hurting or your equipment is wrong, don’t run. Writers feel the same way about junk words – either you need to warm up by writing whatever comes to mind (you can always delete it later) or you’re better off not forcing yourself to write when the words aren’t coming. Runners will tell you how they forced themselves out the door and ran better than all their dreams. Writers will remind you Diana Gabaldon began the bestselling Outlander series as a way to warm up for her “real” writing.

The not fun parts make the fun parts better
Most writers don’t enjoy editing. Promoting a book, writing a synopsis, and even querying an agent don’t come up on their list of fun things. But they all make your writing better. The same way lifting weights and doing yoga isn’t running, but they improve your running. So while I’d rather be creating a whole new story, I put in my time editing and handling the business side things. Just like while I’d rather be running, I take the time to stretch, practice my yoga, and lift to ensure my muscles are ready for my next run.

When you’ve had a great session, you’re the only one who knows
Let’s face it, no one likes the runner who struts about the office bragging about their morning run. I’ve gone years without mentioning my races or runs because of the jabs I heard directed at other runners when they left the room. Writing comes in even lower on the acceptable office chatter list. I’ve never been able to talk about crafting a sex scene or how a werewolf really would kill someone without catching some discreet eye rolling. I loved the cover for Fire in Her Blood so much I dashed down the hall to share it with a coworker, who (bless her!) indulged my enthusiasm even though she didn’t share even a drop of it.

The controversy around statistics
Get a group of runners together and the talk will turn to miles per hour, or the miles they run each week, just as surely as authors will talk about their word count – how hard it was to make or how they flew past it. But both groups struggle with how you should talk about these things. Writers debate if it’s fair to post a daily word count – doesn’t that make slower writers feel bad? Runners chant “run your own race”, even while they casually drop their own results.

So yes, my two loves, the two ways I define myself, have more than a few things in common. I’m not sure what that says about me, but since I’ve run today (a little more than 5k) and I’ve gotten my writing in (1200+ words), I’m not going to worry too much.

 

 

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06/15/17

Time to Take First Things First

In my last blog, I talked about time-tithing. I was gripped with a fever to give back to the writing community and impressed with the way giving back helped me as a person and a writer. I followed through with what I posted, and volunteered as a last-minute judge for the annual writing contest.

It’s important for me to judge books the way I would want my own to be judged. I’ll never forget the seasoned, privileged romance novelist who, upon hearing a summary of Under a Blood Moon, immediately said “you could never pay me enough to read that sort of trash”. Now serial killer werewolves aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but that doesn’t make them trash.  While I might not like your topic or the way your heroine thinks, that doesn’t make a book trash. I spent about half a day on each book, looking at the mechanics of the story and not how my own values applied to the characters.

I also volunteered my time to a local quilt guild, and inspired a great story idea. My work judging novels helped my writing and motivated me to join RWA (Romance Writers of America). So time-tithing was a success! But that great story idea demanded my immediate attention, with the words running like quicksilver through my fingers, teaching me another important lesson:

You need time to do the things that matter most.

The story idea came to me at 3am on a Saturday morning. I gave up about six hours of sleep planning and plotting. I started my writing time an hour earlier and kept going an hour longer than usual. I shorted myself on sleep, whittled my morning beauty routine down to a quick five minutes, and barely made it to my day job on time. I spent all of my time writing and editing. I didn’t cook meals (sorry, Tiger!), clean house, or go out with friends. A story grabbed me and I held on tight.

In a week I wrote nearly 7,500 words.

I have a clean plot. I have a character reference sheet. I know how the story will go and how I can promote it. And I hope to all the Gods above the words keep coming. Because there’s really nothing better than writing. While the idea would never have come without the volunteer work, the words wouldn’t have come if I didn’t shut everything out.

I’m very lucky to have a partner who will support me and a day job that isn’t jeopardized when I go on a writing spree. But I also need to make good choices and set clear boundaries. It’s easy to lose time on meaningless things: TV shows, facebook, internet “research”. There a million metaphors about managing your time. YouTube videos show people putting large rocks into glass jars, then smaller rocks, then pebbles, then sand, until finally the jar must be full. But no! There’s room for water. Search a little longer and you’ll find the advice that a woman should have four things in her life – her work, her family, her health, and one other thing. (Not two! You can’t ever have two jobs or two hobbies, nope not enough time.)

I don’t agree with all the advice that’s out there, but this last week has made it clear: I need to do what matters most first. For me that’s writing. My commitment to my writing – whether it’s this blog, a guest blog, a short story, or a novel – comes first. Any other commitments need to wait. If they can’t wait, I don’t have time for them in my life.

03/15/17

Irish myths, legends, and more

It’s almost St. Patrick’s day and as an Irish Girl I’m obligated to talk about Irish things. Thankfully, I love a lot of Irish things like my grandmother and my mother, strong Irish tea, and crusty soda bread. Some of those Irish things even influence my writing, here’s a list of the big ones:

Darby O’Gill and the Little People
When this movie came out in 1959 it was meant to be wholesome family entertainment. It’s terrifying. I saw it as a child one stormy day and have lived in fear of fairies every since. Darby is a good man who’s a bit of a slacker. He and his daughter are about to be kicked out of their home because of his habit of drinking instead of working. Thankfully his replacement, a very dapper, singing Sean Connery, adds some levity. Darby ends up extorting three wishes from the fairy king. They go rather badly; like death’s carriage in the sky and a banshee that still appears in my nightmares. While it has a happy ending, it’s spooky enough to be a scary movie for eight-year olds and people like me.

The Secret of Roan Inish
This Irish/American independent film tells the story of Fiona, a little girl who is sent to live with her grandparents. While there she discovers her family tree may include a selkie – an Irish seal shapeshifter.  Fiona has a baby brother, Jamie, who has been lost at sea. She comes to believe her selkie ancestor is keeping him. Convinced  the selkie will only return Jamie when their family lives on the island where the seals live, Fiona sets out to make that happen. This movie is filled with magic and I rewatch it every year. It’s responsible for at least three of the characters in the Death Witch series.

Tropical Brainstorm by Kirsty MacColl
NPR’s Celtic music show, Thistle and Shamrock, is a weekly listen in my life. Unfortunately, there are weeks when I have to switch it off, Irish music can get a bit depressing. That’s why I love Kirsty MacColl’s final album so much – the hit singer took inspiration from a trip to Cuba and blended the upbeat Latin rhythm into her Celtic songs. Yes there are some sad songs (AutumnGirlSoup), but the story telling (like ‘England 2 Colombia 0’, a catchy song about adultery and lies) is perfect. This album is perfect for dancing around the kitchen on gray gloomy days.

And then there are the books. My two favorites are Classic Celtic Fairy Tales by John Matthews and Irish Folktales by Henry Glassie (Editor)  Classic Celtic Fairy Tales is beautifully illustrated, with each story followed by a notes section filled with references. Irish folktales contains well documented stories arranged by topic (faith, war, ghosts). Each story is preceded by the first name of the teller and the county they lived in. This anthology with stories from 1825 to the ‘present day’ is perfect when I want to pull a piece of folklore from a specific time or place. These two are the books I go to when I’m looking for a new monster or need inspiration for a character. Movies and TV shows are great, but these more scholarly treatments feel closer to the source. Someday, if I’m lucky, I’ll get to visit my grandmother’s home town in Ireland. I imagine the stories I hear there will be the ones in these books, with dangerous, beautiful fairies, brave men, cunning women, and a lot of magic.

I plan to capture them all in stories of my own.

 

 

 

01/15/17

Better Used and Destroyed than Unused and Perfect

I don’t talk much about my halcyon days at Flagler College. I cherish them, but keep them close. My best friend from school, Donalyn Frank, died in 2010. The Mermaid and the Murders is actually all about Donalyn, but I keep that close too. When hurricane Matthew ripped through Saint Augustine, I searched out news of the place where I finally fit in, the school where I learned so much, and the hometown I’ll always miss. Pictures of sharks swimming over the sidewalk where I used to walk and my precious college drowning left me filled with a sense of fealty, even as I knew my ties to that idyllic place were slipping. After all, my Flagler College mug is fading.FullSizeRender

About twenty years ago, every Flagler College graduate got a mug with their graduation date written in gold script, beneath our lion mascot. I kept it safe through my many moves, wrapping it in a dishtowel, then putting it in the plastic box – not trusting bubble wrap and cardboard. When it got unwrapped it went on a shelf to be admired, or in one very small apartment, on my writing desk to hold pencils. In nineteen years and nine moves I never drank from it. It was too special.

After a trying day I found myself wishing for a drink. Unfortunately, I wished out loud and an amazing waitress offered to get me one. When I explained that I can’t have alcohol and shouldn’t have caffeine, she summoned the bartender, Patrick, who took my problem as a challenge. He customized not one, but two ‘mock-tails’, cocktails without a drop of alcohol, and sent them to the table. One of them turned out to be bliss in a glass, a nirvana of sweet but not too sweet, garnished with a Luxardo cherry.

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As rare as they are wonderful Luxardo cherries come from one place in the world, a lucky town in Italy. Dark, sweet, and tart without a hint of bitter, there’s no good way to explain the bliss of savoring a Luxardo cherry. The juice is just as impeccable. Before I left the restaurant that night, I’d written Patrick into a novel (he’s on page 68 of Fire in Her Blood), christened the drink a Rachel, and bought my first jar of Luxardo cherries from Amazon. They aren’t cheap – twenty-five dollars gets you about thirty-five cherries – but mixing the sweet cherry syrup-juice they come packed in with club soda is my favorite way to turn a bad day around.

Which brings me back to my Flagler College mug. I reverently wrapped it again for our third move in nine months (2016 had a lot of moves even for me) put it in a box and promptly forgot it existed. I didn’t have as much counter space for knickknacks in the new place. I expected it to stay in the box until the next move. But my cherry cocktail needed exact measurements, a ratio of cherry syrup to club soda that produced the perfect blood red drink sensation, and all my glasses were opaque. The Flagler College mug was unwrapped at Halloween, and ruined by Christmas.

It seems the oh-so-carefully preserved mug was better as a pencil jar than an actual mug. Washing it chipped the gold enamel finish, and after one particularly hot bath of suds, the proud Flagler loin was wiped away by my dishcloth. Gone. The lettering has made it a bit longer, you can still my graduation date but the year is fading. I suspect it will be a nothing but a glass mug in another few months of service.

And I’m glad.

I’ve had more joy using that mug in the last three months than I did carrying it for nineteen years. In all that time it could have been lost or shattered, but instead it remained pristine but spiritless. When I unknowingly began its destruction, I made it part of a ritual to bring comfort on bad days. Happiness has a price, I guess, and I’ll only get to use the magic of my Flagler College memories a little longer. Not using the mug might have preserved it, but I realize now, preservation isn’t the always the best way to honor a thing you love. Sometimes using something up, hugging the stuffing out of the teddy bear, staining the quilt with picnic dirt, and loving something so hard there’s nothing left to love, is the best thing you can do.

12/15/16

December, again? Really? Must we? Fine.

I was struggling to come up with a blog post this evening, so I checked back on what I posted last December. December 2015 found me apologizing for a late blog post with precious few words, and summing up what was going on in my personal life. December 2014 produced a review of what I was reading and a sentimental post about what was going on in my personal life. December 2013 had only one post and it was about my personal life.

It seems December steals my words and leaves me with nothing creative to say every year. I’d love to tell you “Not this year!” and reveal some great truth about writing, but I’m afraid I’m fresh out. Well, unless you count a few hard learned lessons:

  • Being published does not magically solve all of your life problems.
  • It’s hard to separate yourself from your writing when you get a bad review.
  • It’s hard to decide what the right choice is when you’re writing.

I suspect those are not shocking truths to anyone. Just like I suspect those who know me well can understand why this time of year hits me hard.

(This is the part where I tell you about my personal life – because hey, by now it’s a tradition.)

My father fell into a diabetic coma on Thanksgiving. I will never know what ended his life, rolls? Stuffing? One more slice of pie? Maybe if he hadn’t fallen asleep in front of the TV after his meal. Maybe if someone had thought to check on him sooner. A thousand maybes and unanswered questions and then his ashes were delivered to my house on Christmas Eve.

I’m afraid December has never recovered.

But I’m lucky to have my blog to look back on. It tells me that by January (just a few weeks away) I’ll feel more like myself again. And, of course, February is time to start planning for Halloween (only 7 months!). Then you’re into the good weather months, April and May. The summer is Con season, crowned by DragonCon on Labor Day, which starts of the best time of year – Halloween time! From Labor Day until November 1st, it’s pretty much all skeletons and smiles around here.

I can accept bad reviews, because I know that not everyone will like my books. They still hurt, but they’re part of writing. And I can accept December, it still hurts, but sad times are a part of life.

Sadness and December, like fear, will pass:

    I must not fear.

    Fear is the mind-killer.

    Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

    I will face my fear.

    I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

    And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.

    Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

– from Dune by Frank Herbert (One of my Dad’s favorite quotes)

 

So, see you next December to talk about my personal life. Maybe we’ll chat about how I don’t have kids. Or how I can’t decide if it’s more offensive to write characters from other races/genders/cultures (which is basically saying I think I know what they experience) than to only write white cisgendered heterosexual characters (which isn’t diverse, erases other people, and gets boring).

11/1/16

Skagway’s Sex-Workers and Specters

I recently found myself in the very tiny town of Skagway, Alaska. While there are only about a thousand full time residents, the summer months bring nearly a million tourists (the local paper estimated 900,000 in 2014). To support the tourists a temporary work force comes in each season.

Any quilters or knitters want to run away to Alaska for the summer?

Any quilters or knitters want to run away to Alaska for the summer?

All those people only staying for a few hours, plus nearly a thousand people coming for a few months, in a town that’s only a handful of blocks seems like the perfect recipe for mystery. Within a few hours of touching its gray weathered shores, I knew I wanted to set a novel there. Thick ropy clouds loomed above me while halfway-to-hurricane-force winds tried to knock me over. It was perfect. Thankfully, the town is also filled with ghosts, I learned about them on a “Ghosts and Goodtime Girls” Tour put on by the Red Onion Saloon.

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The Red Onion Saloon built in 1897 when Skagway a lawless town described by police as “little better than a hell on earth”.

Skagway boomed during the Gold Rush in 1896. At the time there were two ways to get it rich: you could mine for gold or work the miners. The town offered all of the illegal indulgences someone could want. Drinking establishments, dance halls, and brothels made up most of the businesses. Skagway never developed a condescending attitude to its sex workers. Most women worked for about two weeks, using an assumed name to allow them to return to their normal lives untainted. It wasn’t unheard of for a brother or a husband to set his wife up in a ‘crib’ and allow her to work in safety.

That’s a pretty surprising idea but my tour guide, a lovely lady named Rosy Peaks, insisted that in the bleak frontier town people were too busy surviving to worry about morals. The town did have a few shocked folks who attempted to curve the sinful ways, but efforts were often meant with sly derision. Sex workers would often advertise themselves by sitting near the windows of their rooms only partially dressed. To stop the practice morality laws decreed all windows had to have curtains. Lace and sheer curtains became all the rage almost immediately.

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My tour guide stands in front of a stored historic “crib” where women would have posed in the large window.

But even an open permissive atmosphere can’t stop ghosts. My tour guide was more than happy to take me to the corridor where phantom footsteps ran away from police more than a hundred years after the brothel was closed down. Local wisdom says the runner is a prostitute named Lydia, who never left her workplace. A block away another girl, who died from tuberculosis, can still be heard coughing through the night. Not all of the town ghosts are former sex-workers though. Mary, who haunts the Golden North Hotel, died of a broken heart when her gold miner fiancée never returned to her. She’s still looking for him today, usually by checking the beds of the hotel guests.

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Coughing still rings through the halls of this building which was been everything from a social house to an orphanage.

I’m sorry that I only got to visit Skagway for a day. After speaking with everyone at the Visitor’s Bureau, the local town historian, and my tour guide, it became obvious that the locals didn’t think there was anything remarkable about their town. I’d love the chance to explore its history more closely, and discover more fantastic stories waiting to be told.

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As a quilter I couldn’t resist a photo of this crazy quilt made up of the girls’ fancy dresses over a hundred years ago. It’s currently on display in the upstairs Brothel Museum at the Red Onion Saloon.

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10/1/16

DIY or Buy – my thoughts on Fairy Wings

Earlier this week I got an email from Eli that said:

“I googled fairy wings and came across your picture. I love what you did and was wondering if you could share how you made them? I’m asking because some friends of mine are shooting a music video and we wanted to have a fairy in the video. 🙂

Best,

Eli”

Unfortunately, the email address Eli gave me bounced back. After feeling sad that I couldn’t help an aspiring fairy make her wings I realized I have a blog. Now it’s a writing blog, and normally I keep pretty close to the topic, but it’s almost Halloween, so…

fairy wingsFairy Wings!

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Eli probably found a picture of my amazing wings from Enchanted Hearth Designs. More than a decade ago, I bought wings from Deanna at Enchanted Heart on eBay. Now she has a great Etsy shop that produces custom and regular wings. She does amazing work, my wings sparkled brilliantly even after a decade of use. They never tore or ripped despite being worn to the Maryland Fairy Festival and on rides at Disney World. I even wore them to run various Halloween 5ks. (Where I won for best costume, because my wingmaker is just plain amazing).

wings-aloneThe wings are sheer organza surged on the edges with a sleeve that goes over a metal piece which slides between my back and my corset. The metal is a single piece, bent into a square-bottomed u shape. They’re comfortable and travel well in a FedEx triangle box as checked baggage or shipped via ground (they weigh less than 5lbs). A word about cost: wings are not cheap. Enchanted Hearth has wings from $95 to $40. The bigger the wings the higher the price. Mine were around $75.

I also made my DIY Fairy wings using old dry-cleaning hangers and cellophane.

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Simple DIY fairy wings steps:

  1. Pull the flat portion of a drycleaning hanger (cheap wire hanger) until it resembles a hoop, with the hook on one side.
  2. Straighten the hook.
  3. Repeat with 3 other hangers.
  4. Twist the hooks together.
  5. Cover the hooks with duct tape or another soft on the skin tape.
  6. Sandwich the wings between cellophane on a safe working surface (so cellophane, the empty wing frame, then another piece of cellophane).
  7. Use a hair dryer set on very high (or a heat gun if you have one) to melt the cellophane. Be careful not to melt the cellophane, or be ready to artfully melt the cellophane so no one thinks it was an accident.

These wings are worn  by tucking the braid hanger hooks between a sports bra and your skin or by tying a ribbon around the braids to make a harness.

Here are some tutorials with roughly the same steps and pictures:

Simple wing tutorial

Complex wing tutorial

The DIY wings cost less than $15 in materials. They took me about three hours to make three pairs. The first two were epic failures. The photo above is my third set of DIY wings.  If you Google “cellophane fairy wings” you can find some really amazing wings out there. Please remember, you’re not seeing anyone’s first attempt.

Also, bear in mind that cellophane wings aren’t as durable as the cloth wings. I wore these for a day at Disney World. By the end of the day they were destroyed. To contrast, my cloth wings made it through multiple Disney days without a scratch.

A word on wing size: I bought my purple wings in size “oh my yes”. I justified it by saying my wings would have to be twice my height to lift me off the ground. This meant that in large gatherings I had to have a ‘wingman’ walking behind me keeping the tips of my wings from gouging someone’s eyes out. As a smaller than average person (61.75 inches/1.6meters tall) I often forgot to adjust for wing height when it came to doors or openings in the crowd.

I’d recommend starting with wings in a more medium height, one less prone to hurting others or restricting movement. While I love my purple fairy wings with a passion I’ve wished many many times that I got a more neutral color – sparkly white gossamer wings or black veined dragon wings may have been a bit more versatile.

Then again, wings aren’t really about making the sensible choice, are they?

So Eli, and anyone else who decides to become a fairy, I hope that helps. My wings gave me great joy. They became a way to introduce myself and my culture – “I’m the girl who wears 6 ft purple fairy wings on the weekends”). I hope your wings do the same. Good luck!

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09/5/16

DragonCon Report 2016

Labor Day weekend means DragonCon for me, at least most years. Other folks expect to bar-be-que or drink some beers. Me? I’m hoping to ride the dragon, literally:

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I’m riding a half-size model of Toothless from How to Tame Your Dragon, displayed to raise money for the Make a Wish Foundation. Toothless is wearing their band around his leg.

There’s more to the con than costumes, but any Con report would be remiss not to include them. This year some of my favorites included costume designers who envisioned another world. One designer imagined a regency period where British Colonialism didn’t exist and allowed Caribbean and African influences to flourish. Another pair created a gender swapped Avengers set in the Civil War era:

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Civil War Iron Woman and Captain America

There are also costumes with very large props, such as the life-size Luck dragon with the Empress from Never Ending Story.img_1170

But the real beauty of DragonCon for me is the way science becomes fun, and learning difficult new ideas turns into a party game.

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In this panel, three distinguished scientist (geologist, astronomer, and marine biologist) told stories. The audience had to guess which of the three were lying. After six rounds we determine the marine biologist should never play poker and marine mammals do terrible things. Dolphins get high chewing puffer fish; Killer Whales kill sharks and eat their liver for fun; and those adorable cuttlefish are cannibals.

Later in the same room I’d learn about opti-genetics, the emerging science of turning on and off parts of the brain (neurons/nerves) by flashing different types of light. Take a look at what this science can do. Making a mouse run in circles seems a little cruel, but as someone who suffers from seizures I’m very interested in what other things we might be able to control this way.

Across the hall in the Space track room, I learned about the secret town of Oakridge, TN and the young girls who perfected the process to refine uranium there. Hired because they didn’t ask questions, separated from their families, and working under horrible conditions, they made history. The panel discussed the book The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II. Listening made me itch to start writing a historic fiction novel set in the same town.

I adore the Georgia Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra’s presentations on Saturday night. No place else in the world features that many talented musicians playing the familiar songs I love. This year’s set included three Batman themes, the theme song from Firefly (with a live banjo!), songs from Star Wars and Star Trek, and a vocal performance of the Misty Mountains Cold from The Hobbit. I and over 3000 of my new best friends knew the performance was worth the hour and a half wait.

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That wait was indicative of the biggest problem I had at Con this year: crowds. With 77,000 geeks and at least a few thousand locals thrown into the mix on Saturday, the crowds were enormous. Suddenly even simple tasks like drinking water or walking ten feet ahead became a challenge. The dealer’s room, normally a vault of geeky treasures, became an enforced march where you couldn’t stray from the crush of people until it was shut down due to over crowding.

Which at least partially explains why this was the first DragonCon that I didn’t bring home a new corset. I absolutely fell in love with KMK designs. Their corsets were unique, innovative, well made, and surprisingly affordable. My last corset was a generically sized, came wrapped in plastic kind of corset, while KMK is a custom sized with a mock up to ensure perfection. If I’m going to invest in a custom-made couture corset I want to savor every second of its construction, something that isn’t possible in a giant crowd. So while I want one, oh yes I want one, it will have to wait. Thankfully, there were enough great times at Con that I’m not too disappointed about that.

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07/1/16

Let’s go to the movies

Friday night was a sacred time in my childhood: movie time. Every Friday afternoon, usually around 4:30, my folks would pick a film. We tended to rush to the theater with barely a minute to spare. A lucky kid would be sent to the lobby for a large soda and a larger popcorn. We could never afford separate drinks and snacks for everyone, and besides, whispering “pass the popcorn” down the row was half the fun. Sometimes my brother and I would split a candy bar, usually the extra-large Kit Kat.  As the lights went dim I lost myself in the story.

I’m lucky that the story didn’t end when the lights came on. My family didn’t just watch movies, we dissected them. My father would pose deep questions, “what would have happened if…” and then challenge us to come up with a better ending or a better story all together. The worse the movie the more we would fight it out, who could come up with the best ending, the right twist on events?

Without the aid of Google and Wikipedia, we were forced to get creative, drawing on what we knew. No ideas were condemned, but a lot were rewritten as the drive home became dinner, which turned into time to do the dishes. Usually by Saturday morning I’d rewritten something that took the studio months to make, positive I’d done better.

Occasionally we wouldn’t agree on the subtle meaning of a foreign film or what the underlying metaphors meant in the Oscar contenders.  A little disagreement is natural when you watch 52 movies a year – more in a good year. I think of those early exercises in writing and rewriting, finding motivation, and fixing flaws as the basis of my writing career. I don’t want to ever write a book that couldn’t be made into a good movie. I start writing them all by picturing scenes, then picking actors to play my characters.

We all loathed February, with its deadly combination of no good movies and no good weather.  We all looked forward to summer, when the darkened movie theater would bring respite from the unending heat. I’m cynical enough know to know that some of my movie excitement was brought on by a surefire combination of soda and candy, caffeine and sugar. But some of it was the story, the escape from the world I lived in, and the jewel-box way another world would expand. Walking out of the theater into the Florida sun was a blinding experience, brightness enveloping your vision until everything looked white, like re-entering the world through a hot cloud.

I miss those moments, those seconds of whiteness before I realized I was still in my small town. That shift from the story I’d seen to my own story felt drastic in a way adulthood has ruined.  I’m lucky that my last move simplified my life and brought me close to a wonderful movie house. I have high hopes for this summer, for Ghostbusters, Star Trek, Suicide Squad, and the Secret Life of Pets. For the first time in decades there’s a movie to see each Friday, and sometimes a second movie to watch on Sunday afternoon. I can’t wait to slip into those stories in the dark room and set aside the hot reality of life for the cool dark world of the movies.

02/29/16

My Blue Couch

In 2005, Tiger carried me over the threshold of our first single family home. The rental was small, and at $2450 a month it didn’t leave much for furnishings. We picked up a couch at Ikea, I don’t even remember the name of the style, just that we couldn’t pronounce it.

A little more than a year later I had a stroke on that couch. A few months after that I began writing a novel in the same place. In February of 2007 I wrote “The End” propped up against the couch’s cushions. It became a favorite place of mine. The marshmallow-y blue pillows held my laptop perfectly. Eventually, my rabbit editor learned that treats came more readily when he joined me on the couch. I wrote in the mornings, usually with a warm but unattractive robe over my pjs and the rabbit by my side.

An author and her editor (post breakfast)

We moved. We moved again. We moved again and again. We took the couch with us. When we finally bought a house we splurged on grown-up furniture. It didn’t come from Ikea. It wasn’t nearly as comfortable as my blue couch. I wrote there, but I found myself back on the blue couch, now regulated to a rarely used room.

The cushions tore, but I was superstitious and kept the couch. Our last move came in the middle of my embrace of minimalism. I got rid of antique family photos, heirlooms, and art. I kept the couch. It went back into the most used room, and I went back to writing on it each morning. But one tear made another, and I knew the couch would fall into piece during the next move, one that would take it several states away.

What I saw when I looked past my laptop, most mornings for the last decade or so.

What I saw when I looked past my laptop, most mornings for the last decade or so.

I posted it on craigslist, free to a good home, expecting no one would reply. I steeled myself to face facts, cheap couches don’t really last more than a decade. It needed to go to the dump. Instead last week a family came. They recently made America their home, traveling from the war-torn Middle East. They took a table and two chairs, a TV stand, an arm chair, and the blue couch. The torn cushions didn’t bother them, they were happy to cover it with a sheet. They thanked me for helping their family. I welcomed them to our country and wished them the best.

I miss that couch. Not going to lie, I was up at 5:41 this morning and knowing I didn’t have a blue couch with a rabbit sitting on the end made it harder to pull myself in front of the laptop. But the rabbit was there in the living room, happy to sit next to me on the newer, but still not-quite-comfortable, couch. I wrote, because couches aren’t magic, hard work is. But I’ll always smile when I think about the twelve books that came from ten years of good writing on that couch.