Archive for January, 2010

The Writer’s Life

If you think of yourself as a writer, no time is ever wasted. Seriously. Consider any thing you do, it can all be filed as either research, inspiration, practice, or studying.

If you go for a walk, you clear your head to let the new ideas come in.

If you read any book, you study plotlines, styles, character design, descriptions.

If you read the morning paper, you may easily get an idea for a new story, or some info you can use for your current one.

If you travel, it is always a business trip. You need to research places to set yor stuff in.

If you talk to other people, you file away a variety of voices. So that your characters don’t all sound alike.

If you have a love affair, it can be counted as inspiration and research. Even if it ends badly. You should be thankful, pay the guy some royalties later: heartache often yields great art.

So being a writer is not a job, it’s a way of life. And don’t despair when you should be writing but are doing something else: It’s all part of the profession. No time is ever wasted. And if it is really in you, the time to do nothing else, but write write write, will eventually come. After you had your fill of inspiration, research, study and practice. Or inbetween. Or now. Or later.



Harbingers of Spring

Forget Punxsutawney Phil and his shadow – I’ve got something better to let me know that spring is on its way. My toes.  My pink toenails, to be more precise.

 You see, even though winters here in Houston aren’t nearly as rough as they are in other parts of the world (Buffalo, NY, anyone?), natives like myself don’t handle the cold terribly well.  I was born to withstand the heat and humidity of a subtropical climate, NOT be bundled up for weeks on end with temps in the 30s and 40s and windchills even lower. I know, some of you are wishing for such balmy winter weather, but  my family and I have been going ever so slightly insane with the colder-than-normal winter we’ve had here.

 In late October we’re wishing for some cooler weather because we see the color changes happening in other places, and we’d like to see some changes too. And then in November and December the colder weather is welcome because it helps to make the holiday season that much more special. A little bit of snow helps this as well (got that December 4th, I think).

 But after Christmas? I’m more than ready for the cold and dreary weather to be a distant memory – out with the old and in with the new and all that, right?

 Unfortunately, this year has been different and the colder stuff lingered. It may not have been the coldest winter here ever, but it sure felt that way.

 But the past few days have seen a wonderful trend that I hope sticks around for a while – warmer temperatures and sunny skies. It’s amazing how much happier everyone seems to be around here!

 And that’s where my toes come in – I’m back to wearing flip flops, after what seems like forever of having to stuff my poor feet in socks and boots. My feet are so very happy! And in celebration of that happiness, I painted my toenails pink. Not just pink, but BRIGHT pink. It’s my way of telling myself, “You’ve survived winter again and spring is clearly on its way.”

 So, what are YOUR harbingers of spring? What around you tells you that the dreary days of winter are almost over and hope is just around the corner, full of flowers, sunshine, and hearts?


 PS – My apologies to those of you who may still be mired in the muck of winter and who might be horribly offended by the idea of my pink and exposed toes. Just consider this my way of letting you know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.


I have a confession to make. I am afraid to plot.

Stuffed inside a rolling, manila-colored filing cabinet in the back corner of my room, lies a giant tattered folder, its contents huddled together quietly within their dark quarters. Every great once in awhile, when I want a laugh, or am feeling frisky, I dig the folder out to browse through its contents. My Idea Folder.

From a simple sentence scratched onto a torn napkin to neatly typed pages, the folder contains random thoughts that have popped into my head over the years. I had always meant for them to become actual stories, but, many, as they say, never made it past the drawing board.

That has always been my biggest problem with writing. The ideas come with ease, the discipline and motivation to turn them into a story is the tricky part. A character or scene will pop into my head- sometimes, several scenes, and I will madly type, falling in love with what I have. On a good day, I’ll have several chapters finished before I even know it. Then, I stall. I start to brainstorm possible ideas for the continuation of the story. What will the conflicts be? How will they be resolved? Will she kiss her next-door neighbor? Who dunnit?

Before long, the questions become over-whelming. I start to second-guess myself. “I like what I have written- what if I lead myself down a tangent that turns out to be crap? I don’t want to have to scrap my initial idea!” I think. “I love these characters!” And, just like that, my great idea finds its way into the shadowed confines of the Idea Folder.

I live in fear of plotting. I walk down the sidewalk, hiding my face, afraid of running into a former English teacher. They did their jobs, after all. I need to figure out how to do mine! I must conquer my Plot-a-Phobia!


Writing for the Dinner Table

I can’t remember the exact motivation behind my first story, but I do know that it led to a life-long obsession with writing. The Hole in the Road, my second grader attempt at a New York Times Best-seller, led me into a whole new world. I can still vaguely recall the hours spent in my room with my dictionary, scratching out the story on notebook paper- the piles of wadded up mistakes around the trash can, the bin full of markers for my illustrations, the pink yarn that I used to bind the pages together… I surely grinned with pride when I unveiled my work at the dinner table.

There’s nothing quite like that feeling for me- pouring myself onto paper. As the words come out, I not only explore myself, I explore the world. The galaxies I cannot travel to, the people I will never meet, the history I was not present to witness… nothing is off limits. I can create whatever universe I please and become whoever I wish to be. Writing is the “Welcome” doormat to my creativity.

Whether or not my work ever ends up making it beyond the dinner table, I know that writing will always be something I cherish (even when my characters stubbornly refuse to cooperate with the plot or my computer mysteriously loses the story I spent the entire afternoon working on…) The sense of accomplishment and pride writing brings will long keep me coming back for more!


Inspiration works in mysterious ways

I’ve only half come to terms with the fact that I can start writing a story in my head as a way to fall asleep. Since I’ve written really good stuff – well, I think so, anyway – during the day and get all keyed up about it, I don’t fully understand why it doesn’t work the same way at night.

Somehow, when I’m laying in bed and trying to ignore dog/husband/child snoring or get my mind to stop composing to-do lists for the following day, it’s easy to find characters and dialogue that not only fit for a story (either new or one in progress) but also lull me to Dreamland.

I’m not complaining, mind you. It’s great to have a strategy for those moments when sleep eludes me – they come far too often with a toddler and small baby – and if there’s no other opportunity during the day to let my mind wander to storywriting, at least I’ve got a bit of a creative outlet built in.

Now to solve the mystery of how my brain remembers what I create late at night…



            I was a sophomore in college when Kate and I had an apartment together; it was one of those classic college friendships of opposites.  Newly moved from Dallas, I laughed at Kate’s fear of crossing the street in the “big city”.  She was a stranger in a strange land.  Austin, Texas was a world away from her childhood home in rural Pennsylvania, and we had many long conversations about culture as she tried to take in the big sky, the obsession with pick-up trucks, and the giant glasses of sweet iced tea that seemed to appear at every meal.

            She swore you could read latitude just by the size of the tea glasses in the restaurants.

            We had more fundamental differences, as well.  She was struggling with identity as a child of a parent who had just ended a marriage and come out of the closet, her defenses of this newly discovered sore spot scanning every comment that I, raised by strictly religious protestants not known for their tolerance, made.  In spite of all this, we were great friends.

            One autumn day we were walking across the campus when she asked me, “Why do you always look at the ground when you walk?”

            The question startled me.  To be honest, I’d never noticed that I did this, but I instantly knew the answer.  “Because you never know what you might find on the ground.”

            Unsatisfied, she persisted.  “But you’re missing so much!”  She pointed out the birds in the trees, the group of young men playing frisbee, the world in general that she was obviously afraid was passing me by as I kept my eyes scanning the ground ahead of me.  “What do you think you’re going to find, anyway?”

            I probably would not remember this conversation with such clarity, but the universe has a sense of humor, and it chose that moment to deposit a dollar bill at my feet.  I pounced, held it up triumphantly in lieu of an answer, and we argued over it through the rest of the walk to the bus stop.

            The wonderful thing is that both of us were right.  I probably did miss many things by constantly staring at the ground, and from that day forward I made a point to look up more often.  Kate missed things as well, and not just of a monetary nature… fallen leaves, the scurry of a lizard sliding into a crack in the sidewalk, even the rainbow sheen on a puddle of oil had beauty if you looked closely enough.  

            I tell you this story as an introduction to our blog.  Among many things I learned in college was this life lesson:  We’re all different, we come from different places, we’re headed to different places, and we see the world in different ways.  I won’t pretend this was a new lesson, that no one else has stumbled upon it before or since, or that it was the last time I had to learn it. 

             But it remains important, because sharing our stories and viewpoints is one of the foundations of the human experience.  Read, remember, speak and tell, and see how we are all different and all the same.  I hope you enjoy this peek at the world through our kaleidoscope.

– Janet