Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Virgin writers advocate heavy petting

Check out this fun piece that I submitted with fellow writer Esme Foong over at grubdaily.org, the fantastic writing blog hosted by my beloved grub street!

Monday, May 30, 2011

The purple couch situation

One of the craziest things about writing, and life in general, is what I call the purple couch situation.

You've got this couch, dark velvety purple. Maybe it's tufted or just a big oversized purple couch, but you love it. It's not easy to work with a purple couch, but you congratulate yourself on being willing to take a risk. You buy orange pillows to go with it.

Then one day, something shifts. You turn on a light or your flip the blinds a certain way and it hits you -the couch is actually brown.

You are not a purple couch person. You are a brown couch person. The orange pillows are fine, but still, now everything is different. Had you known you had a brown couch, you might have taken other risks. You might have, for example, picked up some hot pink pillows to go with it.

With the writing, it happens when I look back on a completed draft. For a little while, purple, but then later brown. Brown-brown. And then butt ugly brown. This has been really freaking me out.

But I wonder if the trick in a revision is to keep trying to write the purple back in? To try to get back to the delusional state, but in a new way, until the couch stays purple or the draft feels complete.

I have this thing about honesty, yet with writing a certain level of self-deception must be cultivated. If this were just about life, I'd say face the brown! Embrace it!

But this isn't about life. This is about fiction.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Whoowee. I have been a little in the dumps this week. I'd like to blame the weather, but it has actually been nice for the last few days. Maybe some sort of post trauma thing? The longest winter ever followed by the little spring that could?

Anyhow, looking forward to a three day weekend with the Hubs (poor guy is heading home from NYC with a terrific head cold, and I swear I'll try to feel sorry for him). I've got a few things on my mind.

1. Picking up some freelance work. I need to just outright ask a friend for a favor which I hate to do, but I really don't think I've gotten something for almost nothing since 1999 when we sold our Atlanta condo in less than two years for a tidy little profit. So that was like, more than ten years ago. Time for another spot of undeserved luck, no?

2. Summer vacation plans. Or how to do this on a shoestring. Looks like lots of camping, day trips to the Cape, and my margarita machine to give the ol' New England backyard that whole South of the Border vibe. Wheee!

3. Winter weight. Turns out all that sitting by the fire with a pint does a little damage to the nearly forty year old tush. Love it here in Boston, but I was so much prettier in Phoenix.

So that's about it for me. Started a new short story this week centered around a convenience store in the deep south where the Mama is pissed and the weapon of choice is a flyswatter. Not autobiographical at all. I swear.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Visualizing world peace

My lovelies have been fighting, so I've been reading about how to manage anger when disciplining children. It seems, unjustly in my opinion, that you really can not effectively get the point across while totally losing it yourself. One of the techniques is to picture your older child as a baby. In the heat of the moment, this is supposed to have some calming effect.

Of course, I remember when my beasties were babies. Right after Girlie was born one of my friends said "there is nothing better than just sitting, rocking a baby." But Girlie was one of those crying babies. Exhausted and sleep deprived I thought, yes there is - putting that sleeping baby in the crib and leaving the room. Pronto.

Maybe there is some age window I should be targeting. Not a newborn, but some kind of sleeping through the night baby.

Or someone else's baby.

Monday, May 23, 2011

So slow it might be stopping

Do you hear that puh puh puh sound? It's the last bit of gas in my tank. Losing momentum by the minute and frankly, looking for any excuse NOT to revise a short story that is due in one week.

This morning I woke up and did not get out of bed at 5 AM. I figured what the heck, the little earlywakingsoandso will be up soon enough. Why bother?

So you know what he did?

Slept til 7.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Knowing what you already know

Little Guy is on a terrible jag of waking up before 6 AM. Today it was 5:26. Of course, this shreds into either my writing time or my sleeping time.

Either way, it sucks.

So what I know is that he should probably drop the nap. But getting through the entire day with him and no break? Good lord, I'm not ready. So I am hanging on to the daytime sleep, only to get bitch-slapped by a 5 something wake up call.

It is the same with a revision I am working on. The story is at the point where I should just rewrite the whole thing clean. I know there is something I am not getting to. I keep trying to squeeze in a line, a scene, rearrange paragraphs, but it isn't happening.

What I know is that I need to start over. But again. Not ready.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


We're preparing for the inevitable and while I was home, my mother asked me to go through pictures of my father so that we could make some sort of slide show of his life. Now I have a pile of pics to scan and there are so many that I may have to take them to some sort of place that does that type of thing.

It's funny to me how the pictures never tell the whole story. You need the dialog, the background, to go with them because with the camera in place we'll almost always put a face on to mark the occasion.

Here's my father looking serious while receiving an Army commendation medal.

The medals are given out for heroic acts, but I don't know the details, not from him anyway. His experience in Vietnam is something we aren't allowed to talk about. My mother knows some of it. I'll hold on to these pictures, but the memories are his to keep.

Here's the picture I like best.

It is a snapshot of the doll house that my father built from hand while waiting for my mother and I to join him in Germany. The roof is covered with hundreds of perfectly cut popsicle stick shingles and he made all of the furniture, including a little yellow terry covered easy chair and a fringed lamp fashioned from a plastic medicine cup. I played with it for years, but it wasn't sturdy enough to ship, so we had to leave it behind when we came back to the United States.

I'm glad someone thought to take a picture of it. My Dad, where I can fill in all the details.

Monday, May 16, 2011

When it rains, it rains

Raining here all week.

Raining back in Georgia where I was visiting my folks for the weekend. My father has been on hospice care for quite some time, and yet it rains and then it doesn't, like rest of the world doesn't know he is lingering so long.

Plus, I got pink eye within hours of returning home. Kind of want to cry about the whole thing, but then, there's the pink eye and it actually hurts to cry.


Sunshine in the forecast this weekend and the pink eye will be gone and I'll just have to cry then. Or maybe I won't feel like it anymore.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Third and final musing on The Muse: Yes, at one point , I cried.

First writing conference, not even an overnighter away from home and I shed some tears.

I won't go into the details but something amazing happened that gave me an incredible burst of confidence in my ability to continue. Something with an authority of sorts who read and approved of something I wrote.

I'm not telling the full story, publicly anyway, because I made a promise to myself a while back that I would go forward at this point with no need for external validation. In the past I've been a bit of an attention getter. Recognition has been a large part of my motivation. So often, if I was not the best at something, I would not continue. And even if I was, but no one else would see it, forget it.

You see how this could pose a problem with the writing. So, I've been working on it.

I've told the story about my first college english essay where the instructor put my paper on the overhead as an example of how to write. I used to need things like that.

In one of my current workshops the instructor regularly attributes my insights to the other participants. It isn't intentional, but in the past, this would have made me crazy. I would have felt like I had to make sure he knew it was me, my idea. Because of all of this internal work, I can let go of that. It doesn't really matter how everyone else in the workshop sees me. Ultimately, I am really the only one who has to know.

So when this thing at the conference happened, I wasn't expecting it. I wasn't looking for it at all.

And yes, I cried.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Muse & the Martketplace Part 2: Hi, I love you

So I might have embarrassed myself a bit, once or twice, while meeting all the amazing writers at Muse & the Marketplace.

Years back Hubs and I took a trip to Florence Italy and visited the famous Uffizi museum. At one point I remember coming into a room where Bottecelli's The Birth of Venus hung on the far end of the wall. It was such a familiar image and there it was, stunning and iconic. But what really struck me was that if I had wanted to, I could have reached up and touched it. Don't get me wrong, I would never ever touch it. But I could have.

That's how the writers and instructors were at M & M. I could have touched any of them without sounding some alarm. Of course I didn't touch them. But on a few occasions, I did introduce myself. "Um, hi. Suchafanofyourwork and thatthingyousaidattheplotsession."

And not just the national writers, the local gods and goddesses too. Like Jane Roper, who is a mother of young twins and has a book out this month. Steve Almond, who I only made eye contact with, but it was significant eye contact nonetheless. Grub instructors James Scott and Cam Terwilliger who got stuck eating with us two days in a row. And the almost famous, like my friend Robert, who seems to be getting some well deserved traction, and Cathy with that flash fiction piece I keep thinking about.

Though I worked with an amazing memoir group in Phoenix, I've been writing fiction almost entirely alone for a few years now. When I joined Grubstreet in Boston last summer, I did it because I wanted to be part of a fiction writing community. It took some time, but I have met some amazing writers in these classes. So I got my inner circle, but I was completely surprised to find that I also have my outer circle. And I have to say, these people, the ones I admire and aspire to be, are my people.

Even if some of them don't know it yet.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Insights from Muse & the Marketplace: Part 1 of 9

Ha! Had you going there.

No, this isn't the first installment in a nine part series on my escapades at the writing conference, though lord knows it could be (and I might at least get to Part 2 where I stalk a few local writers). However, I will give you this little nibble from the keynote on Sunday.

The speaker was Ron Carlson. He has been writing and teaching for ages and stated fairly early in the address that he feels entitled to be a bit cranky about it. To his new students he says (while knocking his hand on a whiteboard) "Put something in your stories." He went on a ten minute riff about all the things he begged his student not to write about, including death. "The body count is high," he said. "And unnecessary."

He was funny. Really funny.

The best part, though, was that I understood what he was getting to. What joy to figure out that I've been writing enough to see what the novice pitfalls are, when drama and tension become confused with explosions and suicides. Not saying I can write past those black holes yet, but I see as soon as they pop up in my writing and certainly in the works of others during my classes.
In other words, knowing when you start to suck is really big progress. Huge.

Most of the conference felt that way, like I was really ready to take in the wisdom that the instructor-writers were doling out. And here's the other thing. I felt proud of myself for working so hard to get there, and "getting there" was only about being practiced enough to learn. Getting there is getting nowhere at this point, and still, I felt damn proud.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Remembering The Town

Tonight I had drinks with a dear friend who is going through some tough times. We dug into some celebrity gossip, the Royal wedding, movies, light stuff to keep her mind off things.

I was trying to tell her about a movie - The Town - and how it somewhat hung in there despite some very wooden acting by Ben Affleck. Thing is, I couldn't remember the damn name of the movie - The Town - even though I could tell her everything else about it, including the fact that it was set in Charlestown. Oy.

I'll chalk it up to the fact that I am deep in revision on a story that is very important to me and that whilst engaged in this very stimulating barside conversation, my subconscious was also pondering exactly how someone might go about stealing copper pipes from beneath a Baltimore rowhouse.

The Town. The Town. The Towwwwn.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


What I am about to tell you might have some deeper meaning, but it could also be just about the laundry.

Laundry, of all of the household drudgery is the bane of my existence. Largely because it never ends. The same could be said of the cycle of meals and dishes, the bed making (yes, I do), and the assorted cleaning tasks, but somehow none of them feel as hard to wrangle and as mind-crushingly endless as the damn laundry.

So, despite my pledge to dedicate the entire day to my writing while Little Guy is at preschool, I found myself at various breaks in the action - cycling laundry. Sort, wash, dry, fold. Despite the fact that I just did laundry - what? yesterday? - the pile of darks was large enough that I could sort just the jeans for one load.

But later, when I was folding the jeans load, it felt suprisingly good. Why? Because everything in the load was the same. One category. Jeans, different sizes, different washes, but the same.

Fold them lengthwise at the legs. Fold them in half. Done.

I actually thought to myself - if only I could only fold jeans for the rest of my life - I would be so happy. I can't even begin to scratch at what this means about me.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


This weekend I attended a two-day writing conference hosted by my beloved Grubstreet and now, even at day two, I am still coming down from it.

In my writing group a few months back, a friend brought in this beautiful bit about a girl trying to step onto a subway car with a bouquet of balloons. She struggles to pull all of the balloons in as the doors are closing and one balloon becomes stranded outside the train.

I've been feeling like that girl. I am holding something bright and precious, but I can't quite subdue it enough to take it along with me.