Sunday, October 20, 2013

Forging Ahead

If you read this blog, you know I do a lot of thinking while I'm walking Woki. Two weeks ago, our regular walk route found us near the finish line of a bicycle race. Not so unusual along this beautiful stretch of the North Shore. We didn't pay much attention to the colorfully suited hordes streaming past us at ridiculously fast speeds. On a walk, Woki doesn't care about anything but squirrels, and this day, I was completely preoccupied feeling sorry for myself over typical writer-angst stuff. A story I'd worked hard on had been rejected, another one had gotten filleted in a critique group, and the novel-in-progress wasn't progressing. Poor, poor, pitiful me.
A mile or so down the road, we came across one of the bikers, sidelined with mechanical problems. She had almost made it to the finish line, only to have a flat tire ruin her day. I got to thinking about the hours and hours she put in training for this event, and how sad it was to have it spoiled at the last minute. Sounds a lot like writing. Spend hours and hours working on a story only to have it ripped to shreds in a fifteen-minute critique, or summarily discarded by an editor after a five-minute read-through. Woki and I stopped for a moment to talk to her and offer our sympathies. As so often happens, I got more solace and inspiration from the encounter than I could offer.  The biker, whose name is Antoinetta, smiled and shrugged as she said, yes, she'd spent months preparing for the race, but what can you do? Next time would be better.
The older I get, the more I realize that there really does seem to be some sort of ying yang, and for every crappy thing that happens, something good comes along to balance it out.
Did I mention that last week THE WORLD UNDONE was chosen as a finalist for Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year?

Monday, September 30, 2013


One cold morning a couple of weeks ago, Woki and I found ourselves surrounded by the college football team on their way to the Lake for an early swim. The air temperature was in the low 60s; the Lake not much above 45 degrees. More than one of the burly young guys muttered about the insanely early hour (which 7 am is to college kids) and the ridiculous chill of the Lake (they have something to complain about there, for sure).
As a little experiment, I decided to watch them from the bluff top. Call it schadenfreude or simply curiosity, I was intrigued by the various approaches the boy-men had in tackling (no pun intended) this sadistic requirement for team toughening. Some of the guys tippy-toed to the waters edge, testing carefully before forcing themselves in, inch by inch. Others ran full-tilt boogie like madmen, screaming all the way. In just a few minutes, it became apparent by the way they divested themselves of their shoes and tee-shirts how they would approach the water. The shirt-folders tippy-toed, the shoe flingers ran and screamed.
My eyes caught one young man pulling off his tee, dropping it casually on top of his shoes. He walked across the sand with a smooth, fluid pace, never wavering or changing his stride even as he reached the water's edge. Maintaining the same rhythm, he kept walking as if the water wasn't even there, until he was chest-deep in it, when he switched from walking to a smooth-stroke crawl. My first thought was that if I were hiring someone, this kid would be my choice. There was something not only deliberate in his movements, but confident. The kind of guy who would get the job done, no matter what the obstacles.
A good lesson for writers, too. Send out the manuscripts. Take the criticism and the rejection. Shrug it off and keep moving, even in the icy waters. Someone who thinks you're a cut above the rest might be watching.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

It's All About Connections

My 16 new best friends.

One of the highlights of my summer was attending a Story Studio Workshop at Ragdale with moderator Anne LeClaire. Unlike other summer events that fade into the autumn light, I'm still reaping the benefits of that experience. Ragdale is famous for its beauty and creative magic, and both of those attributes were enhanced by Story Studio's ability to pull people together, along with Anne LeClaire's masterful way of teaching us the importance of embracing silence, then truly listening to one another.
There's something about sharing stories, both the fictional yarns spun from the influences and energy of a well-run workshop and the non-fictional tales of our "real" lives, which bonds a group of people quite firmly.
The sixteen people pictured with me in the above photo are the coolest of the cool. I'm so grateful to have met all of them and to have opportunities to further the connections we forged last summer.
It's now been over a month since our workshop, but we've stayed in touch. Four of them--Noreen, Sophie, Paul, and Nancy--came to an author talk I gave at Lake Forest Book Store. Two of them--Noreen and Sophie--will be joining my critique group, and three of us--Julie, Paul, and I--will get together to display our books at the Independent Authors Book Fair on November 2, 2013.
I'm really excited about this Book Fair--a dozen indie authors will have their books available at Re-Invent Gallery in Lake Forest. Oh, and did I mention that the Gallery is owned by Julie's daughter?
Re-Invent Gallery, Lake Forest, IL

It's all about connections. And having great organizations like Story Studio, Ragdale, and Re-Invent to make those connections come to life.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Fountain of Youth

You see that picture above? That is the fountain of youth. Yes, this summer I traveled back in time, back to the summer days of my childhood when the best activity for the day (often the only activity) was to ride my bike to the library and check out as many books as I could cram into the basket strapped to my handlebars. The next stop was Mr. White's Variety Shop where every kid in town learned to add and subtract by purchasing brown bags of candy. Mary Janes, Lemon Heads, So-Pokes, Boston Baked Beans, Milk Duds, Pixie Stiks, the list goes on and on in my memory. I would race home with my haul and spend day after day on the screened porch, lost in stories long after the candy supply ran out.

This summer, those memories were pleasantly jogged when a new shop opened in town. Jolly Good Fellows is by now pretty famous for its ice cream (and justifiably so), but they also have a fab selection of old-time candy favorites. I went a bit wild, purchasing a sack full of the penny treats (okay, in today's economy 25-cent treats). Next stop: the library for a load of books. My tastes in literature can run to the juvenile just as easily as my tastes in sweets, so many of the books I chose were because they are big hits with younger readers. (As a teacher, it's perfectly acceptable for me to read "chapter books," right?)
Whatever my motivations, the outcome was a return to my ten-year-old self. Lolling away a summer afternoon with a grand story and a sticky fistful of Twizzlers and Sixlets was the best vacation I've had in years.

P.S. Favorite books I read this summer: Wonder, R. J. Palacio; Callie Be Gold, Michelle Hurwitz; Divergent, Veronica Roth; Red Kayak, Pricilla Cummings; Gulp, Mary Roach; Wild, Cheryl Strayed; The Law of Bound Hearts, Anne LeClaire

Sunday, June 30, 2013


I saw this sign when I was out walking the other day, and it set my imagination to work. Playground Church?? What's that about? In my mind, this ranks right up there with other odd combinations like bacon chili chocolate and toe nail polish for dogs. Maybe it works, but . . . who thinks of such things? And what do they think we think when we read about "playground church"?
I've participated in writing exercises where the author takes a couple of totally random things and ties them together in a story. Great for fiction. The marketing people for "playground church" might be surprised to know what came to mind when I gave "playground church" some thought. How about a sort of Bradbury-esque story about a lot of happy, no-thinking-required-type folks engaged in simplistic obeisance to playground rules? "Religion is fun" is their motto, even when people are bullying each other in the name of it. Or perhaps we can go a little darker: playground church is about clergy cavorting in a sandbox with innocent youngsters. Wait, that story has been done. Non-fiction.
It seems one needs to be very careful when putting words together. Even when it is only two words, the meaning can be interpreted in unforeseen ways.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Old Houses

In the sequel to The World Undone, someone is going to buy an old house and renovate it, and that's all I will say about why I have a sudden interest in old houses.

My interest was sparked by the house you see above. In real life, this place is in Port Austin, MI. The property was bought by Charles Learned in the mid-1800s with money he made as a contractor involved with the Erie Canal. After making more money as a lumber baron and dairy farmer, he and his wife bought the house, enlarging and updating it in the 2nd Empire style. In recent times, it was a lovely restaurant/bed & breakfast, and on my first visit to the Thumb, Jerry and I had dinner there.

Sadly, something went wrong. Last summer I was dismayed to see the place had been deserted. The woodwork is deteriorating, the awing is torn, the garden is overrun with weeds. I wish I could buy the place and fix it up, but reasonably priced as it is, that's not going to happen. So I'm doing the next best thing: I'll have one of my characters do it.

Now comes the fun part. I've spent an inordinate amount of time in the past few weeks learning about 2nd Empire construction, the order of events for renovating a house, how to refinish a bathtub, and what sort of treasures might lie beneath someone's unfortunate ideas for modernizing an old home. Many thanks to my friends, Noni & Bill, for their advice and generosity in sharing the stories of their own experiences.

All I can say is if I'm this invested in the fantasy of renovating a house I will never actually own, I can only imagine how obsessed I would be if I were actually putting money into it and planning to live in it. Then again, given the intensity of writing a novel, I guess I will be living in it for the next year or two.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Kirkus Review

My Kirkus Review came through last week. It's a wonderful review, not only because I received some nice praise, but also because I learned a few things.
It's nice to read, "Driver-Thiel's well-crafted sentences unfold like a tight mystery..."
And I wish I'd thought of, "An inviting page-turner about turning the page on the past." Wow. Great line!
Because the review was so well-crafted, I also picked up on some subtler comments. There was a reference made to "empathizing with such a heartless character." Shades of my last blog post. I'd better start making my characters more likable. A few phrases quoted from the book now sound really clunky to me. I'm hoping that's a case of familiarity breeding contempt, but I worry.
Finally, one of the biggest frustrations for me as an author was coming up with a one-paragraph synopsis after I'd finished writing a 76,000-word story. My reviewer summed up the story, without giving anything vital away, in graceful prose that reads so effortlessly one assumes (probably falsely) that he/she dashed it off in a spare half-hour between a morning meeting and power lunch. While it's humbling to consider the reviewer's writing skills a good deal stronger than mine, it makes me appreciate the compliments all the more and look carefully between the lines for things I need to improve.
To read the complete review, visit:

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Danny the Loser

Some time ago, I wrote a short story about a guy named Danny, a guy who goes to his 40th high school reunion mostly to see who else made as big a mess of life as he has. Danny's divorced, out of a job, caught in a quagmire of his own misfortunes. He's at the end of his rope, figuring he might as well off himself. (Just in case I ever publish this story, I'm not telling what happens.)

Danny is more of a loser than he'll ever know, poor sod. He's been shredded in my writers' groups and soundly rejected by half a dozen lit magazines. Even my agent spurned him. For the longest time, I couldn't understand why no one wants anything to do with Danny or the world he rode in on.
Well, here it it: he's a loser. Danny sits around taking all the shit life throws at him and never does anything more than whine about it.

He might be very much like more than a few people in real life, but he's not the material of real fiction. I wanted readers to like Danny, or at least sympathize with his plight. Instead, they hated him. One person even called him a "fucktard."

I still like Danny, in spite of his faults, and someday I'll figure out how to tell his story. For now, however, I've learned that fiction needs to be about people who do things, who face their demons, who suck up their mistakes and move forward. It seems that lesson also applied to writing.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Word Mayhem

Thank you to everyone who has come to my author events and bought The World Undone. One of the most gratifying--and terrifying--factors has been the number of people who have contacted me to say, "Read the book in three days! Loved it! When's the next one?"

Yeah, I'm working on that, as you can see from the state of my desk above. (And I teach organizational skills to kids?!?)

I'd forgotten how totally chaotic a first draft is--wait, amend that--how totally chaotic it is trying to come up with a first draft. My characters are amorphous, my plot threads are a hopelessly tangled web, and there are days (this being one of them) when nothing I write resembles standard English. Diversions abound.

Like blogging about the problem instead of working on it. So I return now to my version of what Chuck Wendig describes as "a steaming shit wagon of inelegant word murder." Wish me luck.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

UW Madison Writers' Institute

I'm just back from a wonderful weekend at the University of Wisconsin Writers' Institute Conference. Laurie Sheer and her crew did a fabulous job putting together a great, well-organized weekend. The workshops and panel discussions were excellent, the hotel was lovely, and Madison is a fun place. I highly recommend this conference for writers at all levels.
Special shout outs to my new BFFs: Sally, Sola, and Connie!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Author Event

How cool is it that my book is in the window of Women & Children First Book Store!

Tomorrow, I will be doing a reading there at 4:30, which should be really fun. W&C is my new favorite book store. They have had my book on display for over a month, they've promoted my signing event on their website and in their calendar, and the staff have all been helpful and enthusiastic. I'm looking forward to meeting them in person.

It's quite interesting to see how various venues react to a new author, particularly a self-published one.
We all know that changes in the industry have happened very rapidly over the past couple of years, and there is still a lot of evolution (and revolution) going on. Some bookstores have embraced the changes, while others continue to cling to the old ways, automatically giving indie published books short shrift. That strikes me as ironic, since the indie book stores should be all about NOT letting the big guys, tradition, and status quo have the upper hand. Would it make sense to say an indie book store has poorer quality books because they aren't run by Barnes and Noble or Amazon?

In any case, Women & Children is obviously a place of vision and dedication to writers and readers. Let's all support this store.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Dog Ate My Homework

Okay, I can't really blame Woki. Maybe it's spring fever. Though given the current weather, that's not likely. Whatever the cause, I've got unfinished writing projects up the wazoo, and I just spent the last hour googling restaurant possibilities for dinner Friday night. My thoughts drift to warm climates--Florida, Jamaica, the Mediterranean. This sluggishness must be the fault of the weather. I'm too damn cold and miserable to write. The Muse is frozen solid. Why didn't I book a vacation to get the hell out of here? Oh, yeah, because I have too many projects that need to get done over Spring Break. Vicious circle.


Here it is!!

Finally, the book is out. We had a fabulous launch party on March 3, and I have several more events coming in the near future. Finalized, as of now, are an author reading on April 7 at Women  &  Children First in Chicago,  (

and a weekend of cool stuff at University of Wisconsin, Madison, April 12 to 14. 


FYI, if you don't have a copy already, it's available through Amazon, Kindle, Nook and any bookseller who is capable of ordering through Ingram or Baker & Taylor.

I was flattered and a little alarmed that several people have already said, "Loved your book. Read it in one day. When's the next one?"

Ahh, I'm working on that. In the meantime, you can find one of my short stories in the new UW literary journal, Midwest Prairie Review. The journal will be published in April, so I can't link you to it yet, but here's a link to the list of contributors: