Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Faith and Magic

A Place of Faith and Magic
I took this photo a year and a half ago just outside the town of Kenmare in Ireland. I decided to post it for two reason: someone who reads this blog asked for photos (it's so fun when people comment--please do more), and I could seriously use an escape to Kenmare about now. It's only November 2 and I'm feeling some definite cabin fever.

I love writing most days, but every once in a while (like now), I get burnt out. If I try to force it, the results are drivel. The muse does not like to be chased.

So I think it's time for a little break. It would be nice to catch up with friends again, go out for lunch, see a movie. I suppose I could even clean house a bit. (Maybe.)

And I will read. Among the many books on my short list is a new one by Frank Delaney, called The Matchmaker of Kenmare. On page 4 of the book, a character declares that the only two words in which she puts her trust are Faith and Magic. Now those are words for a writer to live by.  Perhaps I'll be going back to Ireland after all....

Monday, September 26, 2011

Goodbye, AMC or The True Confessions of a Soap Junky

Today when the noon whistle blew in town (and that's another story--I love it, but why does this town  have a noon whistle? It's not like the factory workers are breaking for lunch), it was the first Monday in 42 years that a certain soap was not on the air. (If you don't know which one, you really shouldn't be reading this; it will only embarrass us both.)
I could bemoan this fact, since I have watched the program off and on for the better part of 30 years (no, not every day....), but as it is, I have privileged information that there is a new soap format in town.
Last week, I met a writer named C.C. Crescent who is starting a new blog. She describes it as a "blogopera," a sort of hybrid between a normal blog & total fiction. The stories will unfold on a weekly basis, and track the drama of fictional characters going about their way-not-realistic business in the equally fictional town of Pine Lake. 
The new blog is set to launch this coming Wednesday, September 28th, and a new episode will be published each Wednesday. I have to admit, I'm excited. Since I'm programmed like Pavlov's dogs to check out juicy story lines when that noon whistle goes off, I now have something to look forward to each Wednesday, rather than spending my lunch hour crying in my soup as I mourn the loss of Erica, Tad, Kendall, Zack, Greenly, Ryan, Jessie & Angie, and yes, even bad boy David.
Here's hoping C.C. is up to the task, and that she has a few bad boys (and girls) causing trouble for Pine Lake. Wednesday at noon will find me tuning in to
See you there!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

One Writer's Bad Summer Vacation

Okay, this was right up there with the worst summers ever. The June weather was cold and dreary, then there were tornadoes in July. Our power was out for multiple days, multiple times. We tossed everything in the fridge and freezer twice. Then it got beastly hot.
On July 16th, my daughter's wedding was the brief, bright highlight of the summer. She absolutely glowed with happiness in her pouffy white cloud of a wedding gown, and even though the night before, half the cars at the rehearsal dinner were towed away by the "Lincoln Park Pirates," the wedding went without a mishap. Well, almost.
Around 10:30, I was happily boogeying my way around the dance floor when suddenly my feet were entangled by the legs of a young man doing "The Worm." My shoeless feet rolled on the concrete floor, but I stayed upright, more or less. Trouble was, I was in severe pain. I limped off to a corner where I was brought ice and enough booze to numb a gorilla. Back to the dancing for another half hour, then the evening wound down.
The next morning, I was in ER with a broken right ankle, broken right metatarsal, and bad bruising on my left foot. Crutches, RICE, and a very tolerant husband got me back on my feet by mid-August.
Last week, I was out walking Woki, relishing my freedom, when--CRACK--I misstepped and rolled on the left foot. I hobbled home, half a mile, swearing like a drunken gorilla all the way. Sure enough, I broke the other frickin' ankle, so I'm now housebound, on crutches, with not much of a leg to stand on.
I'm going to be spending a lot of time with Dr. J. and the PT boys at Sports & Spinal Rehab, and it will be late autumn before I can even think about running again, which makes me crazy.
So in true writerly fashion, I'm looking for a way to spin all this into a good story. Let's see: first there were tornadoes. Then I was falling through space and all I could see were a pair of legs with red Converse sneakers. The beautiful blond girl in the pouffy white dress couldn't help me, so I'm off to see the Wizard of Os.
Oh, crap.
Three flying monkeys named Agent, Editor, and Publisher just popped in to say that story has already been done.

Monday, June 20, 2011


This is the first post I've ever written that I hope no one will actually read. (Spoiler alert: it's going to be a whine session.)
Last month, I promised myself that I would do a new post once a month, on the 20th, with the idea of possibly changing the name of the blog to "The 20th." I'm still toying with that idea since everyone but me seems to think "Liminalesque" is too weird/erudite/hard to remember. Which brings me right back to the subject of my last post, plus the added question, do I stick to my own convictions, or do I demonstrate flexibility? TBA, but any feedback from my fan base would be appreciated.

So onward to the subject of this post: discipline. Because I said I would, I am writing this on the 20th. I've waited to the last possible minutes of my available free time mind is a blank. I keep a list of things I want to write about, but obviously my muse is on vacation, no doubt enjoying a bottle of crisp Pinot Grigio on the terrace of some Italian villa. I'm on my own without a thought in my head, weighed down by 74,000 words of my newest novel (which absolutely sucks), a pile of short stories that need revision (which only sort of suck), and a notebook bristling with half a dozen more half-written stories (which will be brilliant when finished).

With or without muse, I am here writing because from everything I've ever heard about being successful, the #1 tip is always JUST WRITE. Talk about a leap of faith. Saints and miracle workers can't hold a candle to writers when it comes to religion.
Okay, now that I've finished this, it's time to see what I can do about that rotten novel.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Of Juggernauts and Semaphores

I've always considered writing to be like a jigsaw puzzle. The correct word fits exactly, tessellating perfectly within a sentence to create a precise image or idea. A wide vocabulary makes the task easier and the final product both clear and concise. But "therein lies the rub" (to quote someone who invented words if nothing else fit well enough). Language is a strange beast. Using a common word that isn't quite precise can alter meaning, but using unfamiliar vocabulary invites even greater risk.
When I started this blog, my husband (the English teacher) denigrated the title. "Liminalesque?" he said, "No one will remember that. No one can spell that."
He's probably right; sometimes I have trouble spelling it, but it says exactly what I need it to say.
Not long ago, an editor/friend critiqued one of my short stories, criticizing my use of the word "coruscating."
"You can't do that," she said. "People won't understand you."
I beg to differ. People won't understand me if I don't use the right word.
Coming across new (to me) vocabulary is one of the joys of reading, but in the cutthroat world of trying to get an agent, let alone get published, could vocabulary be a deal-breaker?
My most recent comeuppance was in my writing critique group. I will admit that for a YA short story, the words "juggernaut" and "semaphore" might have been pushing the envelope a tad, but they are such glorious words. Still, I've been told that if I'm writing a bildungsroman (oops--make that a coming-of-age story), I should have the protagonist (sorry--main character), use age-appropriate language. Does this limit me to "awesome," "shit," and "OMG"?
I think not.
Last week, I was sent to the dictionary by a high school student who used the word "irenic" in a long, complex poem imbued with gorgeous language. It was not a misspelling of "ironic"; she meant what she said, and it is a word with which we should all make ourselves familiar.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Out of the Ashes

I spent a lot of time in church last week. As a chorister, I had hours and hours of rehearsal time perfecting music for services on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. Mostly, I go to church for the music. Every once in a while, however, other facets of the liturgy capture my attention. On Sunday, the Rector's sermon included a challenge: as we gathered at our celebratory meal, each of us was to consider where in our lives we had experienced some sort of resurrection.
I'm a sucker for challenges, but this assignment was almost scary in its relevance to my Easter. Later that day, my husband and I were among the guests at a long table--fourteen of us in all. The host and hostess were my ex-husband and his wife. Also present were our cadre of children, their spouses/fiances, and my ex's twin step-grandchildren.
It was a warm, wonderful event with great food, gifts, much laughter, and no tears. A highlight for me was having the two-year-old twins embrace me--at their parents' bidding--and call me "Aunt Mary." That moment crystallized for me how truly grateful I am that out of the pain and ashes of divorce, a group of interesting, vibrant people who might not otherwise have shared a meal now share their lives. I believe that each of us recognizes that in spite of our differences, mistakes, egos and agendas, we are inextricably woven together.
The fabric of a family is not always neat and tidy. The dynamics will be difficult to explain to the next generation. It's difficult to explain to anyone, ourselves included. There is, however, a story here with an excellent message, and I'd like to tell it, even if I have to set it in fiction to make it believable.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Valentine's Day

A few minutes ago, I was checking out a friend's Facebook page, and lo! there was a old boyfriend. Old would be the word--white haired & kinda creaky looking. Well, it has been a few years. I'd say probably 35. Funnily enough, I remember breaking up with him more than dating him. I guess I'd describe him as cute (back then), but a little too pleased with himself and solidly "disco-lite,"which would not be complimentary even for vintage 1978. I recall the day we parted company better than the year. Valentine's Day. The guy forgot to get me a gift, which was not why we broke up. I could forgive that. He did not get me a card, which I could also forgive. (Or maybe I just didn't care that much.) Promising to atone for his thoughtlessness, he took me to the mall, handed me his wallet and told me to go buy whatever I wanted. Damn. I should have run his credit card to the moon, but as it was, I was speechless. Until I told him where to put the wallet. Until now, when I will write about him because this is good grist for a really sleazy character in one of my stories.
Never piss off a writer, Billy.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Is It Spring Yet?

Every year it seems to get worse. Once the holidays are over, I have to steel myself to maintain mental equilibrium through the remaining weeks of winter. The older I get, the harder it becomes and the less tolerant I am of the Pollyannas among us. 
Pollyanna says, "The freshly fallen snow is so beautiful."
Yeah, but after two hours of shoveling, the white stuff kinda loses its glamor. Then, it turns from white to crusty, malevolent gray like the young beauty in a horror flick morphing into an old hag.
"Don't you just love cozy nights by the fire?"
Sure, except it plays havoc with the thermostat. Frankly, I prefer summer campfires where it doesn't matter if marshmallows fall into the flames because the fire is where it should be--OUTSIDE the house.
"Hot chocolate?" Polly asks.
Yes, please. And bring on the cakes and cookies, too. Lots of carbs to keep us warm. Lots of carbs to build another layer of fat. I need that.
Then there's my favorite Pollyanna line of all time. The thermometer reads 5 degrees above zero (that's 50 below zero with a Lake breeze), there's a three-inch layer of ice on all roads, sidewalks, and cars, I write checks for my gas bill using scientific notation, and someone has the audacity to say, "At least it's sunny outside."
Anyone got an ice pick?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Mothers & Daughters

It's not happenstance that so many of my stories depict the tempestuous relationship between mothers and daughters. (An editor, who ultimately proved herself a complete fool, once told me that the mother/daughter conflict was overplayed. Yeah, duh. So are love stories and murder mysteries.)
My mother was not very good at the mommy thing. From the day I was born, she had no clue what to do, other than put me in the hands of a nanny.
Mom left her childhood home at seventeen. She arrived in Chicago in 1944, and promptly got a job as a free-lance commercial artist. She was quite successful with her career, eventually working for all three of the major advertising agencies. It was at J.Walter Thompson that she met my father. In the early 1950s, most women succumbed to social pressures to marry, move to the suburbs, and produce two children. Mom followed that path, but I guess parenthood was not quite what she imagined. Enter the nanny. A few years later, after my brother was born, she decided to work from home. The loss of Nanny Kelly was something of a disaster for all of us, and I ended up spending a great deal of time at my grandmother's house.
Once I started school, however, the real trouble began. I went to a private school, which meant no bus service, and my mother never learned to drive. That alone put me in the "freak" category. Mom was never a room mother, Brownie leader, tennis player, or even friends with my friends' mothers. Super freak. When I was nine, my beloved grandmother moved away, and I had a particularly vicious 4th grade teacher. The double whammy made my life hell. Mom either didn't understand or didn't care. She'd never gotten along with her mother-in-law, and she refused to come to my defense at school.
Mostly, I remember her sitting at her drawing table for hours on end, oblivious to anything my brother and I did, unless it involved copious amounts of blood. When she did step away from the drawing board, it was to party. Mad Men? She and my dad were the real deal.
The "Greatest Generation" was certainly great when it came to booze, and Mom could knock back beer, wine, and scotch with the best of 'em. Unfortunately, she often didn't know when to quit.
I rarely saw her do housework, laundry was sent out, and while she eventually became a very good cook, my childhood dinners were rife with Velveeta and Chef Boy-Ar-Dee.
Today, I went to visit Mother in the nursing home. She's a pathetic shell of her former self. The woman who could recall entire guest lists and all items of apparel from every party she'd ever attended is no longer able to tell you the color of the nail polish on her gnarled, arthritic hands. In the past four years, I've spent more time caring for her than she ever did for me, but that's okay, because she's given me something she never intended to impart: a lifetime's worth of stories.