Tag Archives: writing

‘Twas the Day after Christmas

26 Dec

East Coast Pink DogwoodSpring is on the way!

Now that the frenzy of Christmas shopping, cooking, and eating has died down to eating leftovers, making returns and wondering how I could possibly have eaten so much the last few weeks, the end of the year turns into a “pause and reflect” time for me.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. That seems like an artificial endeavor to me. But I do take time to think about the person I am, and what changes I want to make in the coming year. I think it has more to do with the winter solstice than the the holidays that are celebrated this time of year, and the end of the Gregorian calendar. It isn’t noticeable just yet, but little by little, we will see more sunlight every day. We are on our way toward spring.

My coming year is already filled up with plans. I will travel to Costa Rica the end of January, a commitment I made to myself last year to escape some of the Pennsylvania winter. I can’t see that my character is improved at all by scraping ice off the windshield at 7 a.m. to go substitute teach. Our son is getting married in June, so that will mean a trip to Los Angeles and a big family reunion. And I am hoping to go to Spain on a writing retreat in July. Did you guess that I love to travel?

And oh, yes! I have more writing projects than I can handle! But then, I have also been a multi-tasker. I like to have several projects in various stages of development. No linear thinking for me. I have a rough draft of a historical fantasy novel that needs to be taken to the next level, and I am brainstorming plot ideas for a new “Nara” novel.

It’s beginning to sound like a fun year! I’m sure I will be thrown off track more than once, and there will be surprises of all kinds along the way, but that is what makes life interesting.

One Strip of Lace, Ninety-six Years Old

15 Oct

I consider myself an organized person — make that very organized. I usually plan menus for the week and go to the grocery store with a list. I make daily to-do lists. I keep up on car maintenance (and don’t you dare leave trash in my car), go to the dentist twice a year, and make detailed lists when I am getting ready to travel. But like everyone, I have numerous projects lying around the house, or floating around in my consciousness, that I would like to do. I am much better at checking off things like “pack up Hawaiian shirt and mail to brother” than I am at tackling the giant ongoing projects, although I have a list of them, too. Some of the residents of that list are: organize photographs (most unpleasant task I can think of), scan Dad’s old slides, do something with Mom’s letters from the 1940s, practice piano, clean butcher block counter top, put things in frames that should be in frames. Ouch! Too much! And that doesn’t even include writing.

I have not solved this problem, although part of the problem may be that I try to do everything. I like to bake. I grow herbs on my deck. I knit. I read — a lot. But when I feel overwhelmed, my solution is to to knock off Imagesmall bits of things. I just wrote 100 words. That isn’t much, but I wrote. Even a small bit of an important project will bring me back to it. I will think about it as I go about the rest of my day.

This brings me back to the ninety-six year old strip of lace. This strip was the bottom of my dad’s christening gown in 1917. I have no idea what happened to the rest of the gown, but the strip of lace was in my parents’ house after my mom passed away a few years ago. It is now in my house, hanging over the back of a chair in my office, where I can see it and remember I need to do something with it. My goal is to buy a floating frame for it and hang it on the wall. I just have to get to a store and buy the frame. It’s on my list.

Enjoy Lopsided

12 Jul


Could you live in a lopsided house? We are accustomed to straight lines, parallel sentences, and the value a sense of uniformity. But is this the best way to live, or to write?
Some writers recommend using outlines, and have many valid reasons for doing so. I was always the kind of student who wrote my outline after I finished my research paper or essay. How else would I know what I was going to say until I wrote it down?
As a writer, I am what is know as a “pantser.” I write by the seat of my pants. I have a vague idea where my story is going, but I don’t know for sure until I start writing it. For me, the most fun part of writing is the surprises, when a character jumps into the story when I didn’t know he was going to be there, or when a character encounters a situation that I did not plan, and the writing just seems to flow. That is exciting.
So what would you do with a lopsided house? Straighten it up? Or change your life?
And just so you know, the lopsided house in the photo is a “goblin house” at Tyler Arboretum, outside Philadelphia. It is great fun for the imaginations of children and adults. I play there whenever I have the chance.

Seeing a Project Through to the End

19 May

I am currently working on finishing a writing project that I began at least nine years ago. Yes, nine years. It was the project I was working on before my trip to England and the inspiration for The Gate House, my first published novel. After that I wrote Lydia’s Story, a follow-up to The Gate House. But I have always felt that I needed to go back to the first story, tentatively titled Nara of the Islands. This is the Nara who appears in both of my later books. In The Gate House, Nara has recently arrived in England from a fictional Caribbean island called St. Clare, and her boy friend back on St. Clare has stopped calling her.

I thought it was important to finish telling the first part of Nara’s story because it shows who she is and where she came from. Her background is half British and half islander. She never knew her mother. Her father kept secrets from her. Telling the beginning of her story is important to the development of Nara as a character. When I wrote The Gate House, I took the characters from this earlier piece and simply placed them in a new situation. Now is it time to finish the beginning of the story.

And there is something satisfying about finishing a project. I have a knitting project I began in January and hope to finish in another month. And I will finish both of these projects. Completion is difficult — everyone has unfinished projects of one kind or another lying around — but the satisfaction of completion is worth the work.

It’s Always in the Details

17 Jul

Someone said that “life is in the details.” I take that to mean that we really only see the big picture of life when we look at the past or the future. In the present moment, we only see the details. I see the computer screen, I feel my fingers typing, I see my orange cat sleeping on the desk. I know I am hungry for lunch and need to take a shower and go out and run some errands this afternoon. I live in the details.

It is the same with writing. A novelist wants her readers to appreciate and enjoy the totality of her novel, but she writes it chapter by chapter, paragraph by paragraph, word by word. And an error can trip up the reader and cause her to lose the flow of the story. A reader can be caught by a detail that makes her stop and think –” I’ve noticed a mistake in this writer’s work. What other mistakes has she made that I have not noticed?”

In a novel I read recently, the author described the French press in the kitchen whistling away to tell them the coffee was ready. Anyone familiar with a French press knows that it doesn’t whistle at all — it simply sits there until someone pushes the plunger and pours the coffee. This small error caught me up short. Another error of language that I noticed recently in a novel was simply a mistake in terminology in different parts of the country. I know that in southern California, people use “the” before the number of a highway, as in “the 5.” I drive up and down I-95 between Pennsylvania and North Carolina quite often, and I can assure you it is never referred to as “the 95,” as this author did.

While these are small errors, they always make me pause and wonder if the author just didn’t do his or her research, or was in a hurry, or thought it just didn’t matter. Of course, it also speaks to the importance of an editor.

I also do some freelance editing, and I am always on the lookout for small mistakes that can hurt the credibility of an author.

How important do you think these small errors are, either as a writer or as a reader? As a reader, do they catch you up short and interrupt the flow of the story?

My Boring Neighborhood

11 Jun

My neighborhood is boring. I live in a suburb of a major east coast city. We have an excellent school system, low crime, residential streets with nicely manicured lawns, and it’s boring. Our homeowner’s association requires certain standards to keep the appearances uniform — and it’s boring.

I didn’t know the area when we moved here, didn’t realize I would feel frustrated and out of place, but we are stuck here until my husband finds a job in a state about seven hours south of here, where we want to live.

But I am a writer, and I live for creativity and imagination. I have always been very good at pretending. I make it a priority to look for the unusual when I am out. Today when I was out walking I found tiger lilies in bloom, which reminded me of rural southern Illinois where I grew up. We often found tiger lilies in bloom along the roadside where an old farmhouse had once stood. The house was long gone, but the tiger lilies came up year after year in a riot of orange color. I may write a story about tiger lilies.

Anyone can bring creativity and color into their life with a little effort and awareness. I have a friend who is an artist at baking cookies, and makes them for any occasion with her own special touch. Another friend is a librarian and brings her sense of humor and imagination to her job. A third friend was forced to quit her government job for health reasons, and has just created a web site for the new business she is launching.

One of my favorite quotes is from the movie Dead Poets Society with Robin Williams. He tells he students, “Make your lives extraordinary.” I challenge other writers, readers and myself to do just that. Don’t settle for a boring neighborhood.




Still Pretending

20 May

I became a writer because I love to pretend. 

I was an only child until I was almost five, and we lived on a farm seven miles from a town nobody (almost) has heard of. We had no TV, but we had books and I had an imagination.

I often entertained myself my making up stories, with me as the star, of course. At some point I decided to start writing the stories down.

I am still pretending. That’s where stories come from — the wonderful world of “what if.”

Now I sometimes use my imagination as a tool to learn more about a character in a story I am writing. I spend a couple of hours “being” my character. I try to walk like her, eat what she would eat, even choose my clothes with her tastes in mind. (Of course, it could be a male character as well, but some of the choices would be a bit of a stretch.) 

It’s fun! I still enjoy playing that I am someone else. And it is good preparation for going back to write about the character. I know her better, because I have been inside her skin.

Does anyone have any other tricks for getting inside the mind of a character?Image

How much do writers read?

14 Apr

I was a guest author on a mystery panel at a local library last week, and we were asked the question: How much do you read while you are writing a book,and do you worry that what you are reading will influence your writing?

I read constantly. I read before I go to sleep, while I eat lunch, in doctors’ waiting rooms, while I brush my teeth (yes, I really do), and other odd moments throughout the day. And with the things that happen in my life, I have quite a few really odd moments.

But I don’t worry that what I read will influence what I write in more than the most subtle ways. I learn from my reading, and am constantly motivated to write better because of what I read.

I don’t understand people who say they don’t have time to read. For me, reading is like breathing. Would I not have time to breathe? If I didn’t read, how would I know how to write?

Being an Editor

27 Feb

Besides writing, I do a fair amount of editing and have found that I enjoy it almost as much as I do writing.

There is something about clarifying a piece of writing, while still retaining the writer’s voice and intent, that is enormously satisfying. I know from experience that a writer can read over a piece a hundred times, and still miss small errors. Even though as writers we know what we are saying, it takes a pair of new eyes to bring the piece into the beauty of the language. And a well-constructed sentence or paragraph is a thing of beauty.

I am a former English teacher, and have read through more student papers than I can count! At least now as an editor, the writers I work with are usually eager to see their writing at its best, and are not just looking for a good grade.

I have also taught many students whose first language was not English, and this is a great help with my editing. Two of my current clients are non-native English speakers. The first language of one is Farsi and the other Icelandic. I feel somewhat like a teacher as I read what they have written, and clarify the pieces into standard English.

If anyone is interested in having me edit your work, please contact me. My prices are reasonable!