Thursday, December 31, 2015
No news that a discarded Christmas tree is one of the saddest of sights ever. The most iconic symbol of holiday cheer and happiness kicked to the curb like an old drunk.
This entire month has passed in the usual blur of work, shopping, cooking, parties, more shopping and, in between all the holiday fuss, writing. Short stories, one with deadline in January (who thought that was a good idea??), a new novel clawing its way to the surface, book promos, etc. And this blog. Even though I don't have a vast following, posting once a month is my own personal touchstone, the place where I prove to myself that I can do this, with or without permission, support, or any other extrinsic reward. Hey, this is the writing life. Extrinsic rewards are in short supply.
But I was utterly "blogged down" trying to think of something interesting enough to me, let alone any poor sucker who happens across this entry.
Finally, today, December 31st, at just past three in the afternoon, I figured out what I'd write about: soldiering on even when it feels like my work is about as appreciated as last year's Christmas tree.
I'd seen a tree across the street, tossed in the snow, the perfect image. Scurrying into my coat, I went out to take the photo.
The tree was gone. Recycled. Turned to dust.
Oh, God--was this a symbol of my writing future? I had the choice to cave in or refuse to take such treatment from the Universe.
Somewhere, surely, there must be another tree lying at the side of the road. I hopped in the car, trying not to consider the sigilistic aspects of my quest. No tree = no blog post = no writing future.
But the Universe smiled, or possibly smirked, and seven or eight blocks from my house, I found the tree pictured above. So perhaps it is a sign after all. Perseverance. Always. Amen.
Monday, November 9, 2015
In honor of Veteran's Day and all the men and women who have served this country, I am posting the contents of a letter I wrote to someone I've never met. A writer friend asked a few fellow writers to pen a note to his father, a WWII vet, so here is what I came up with:
Though I don't know you personally, I'd like to thank you for your service in World War II.
My father, though American, served with the British Royal Engineers in North Africa and Italy, and I grew up hearing some of his stories. As I got older, I realized these stories--funny ones, scary ones, reminiscences of people and places he always hoped to see again--were only the vignettes he was willing to share. There were many more memories he kept to himself.
He instilled in me a fascination for that period in history, and I am currently working on a short story set in England in 1944. In the course of my research, I learned about Operation Tiger, a rehearsal for D-Day conducted on Slapton Sands on the south coast of England. The exercise went terribly wrong when a convoy of LSTs approaching the coast was discovered by German E-boats out of Cherbourg. 946 men were lost. Because of concerns that D-Day plans would be disrupted, this tragedy was kept secret for 40 years.
While this story may not be news now, I relate it here so that you will know such sacrifices will not be lost in the tides of time. Decades after the event, there are still those of us who are learning anew how indebted we are to the service men and women of WWII. The strength and courage of your generation will not be forgotten.
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
October. The time of year when the veil is thin and dark thoughts creep about in the night. On our daily walks, Woki and I often walk past my grandmother's house. There are many stories I could post here about her. She probably had more influence on me than any other adult, which I consider a very good thing. It is from her that I get my insatiable drive to draw, paint, and write. She was the person who read me stories and taught me to appreciate classical music. Of the myriad memories I have of her, there is one that comes to mind at this time of year.
Whether it was a rainy October evening or some sunny summer afternoon, I couldn't say, but I remember my grandmother and my father talking about someone who "wrote with a poison pen". My child's imagination immediately conjured up Disney-esque images of some wicked person writing lethal notes by candle light in a stone-walled cellar riddled with spiders and bats.
It was a terrible disappointment to learn that "poison pen" was just another term for hate mail.
I'm definitely not into writing hate mail, but I'm still intrigued by those childhood images, and a poison pen letter offers a lot of short story possibilities. Especially this time of year, exploring the dark side (in fiction, let's be clear) is a delicious thrill. The cauldron is bubbling; a new story seems to be taking shape . . .
Monday, September 21, 2015
Monday morning, and I have my writing plan for the week. To keep myself on task, I set up assignments for each day, and each day's writing is dependent on finishing the work of the previous day. Revise a story, post a blog, outline a new draft, check over submission possibilities, send work out. In my mind, at least, it's a logical and orderly process.
Furthermore, setting specific goals is my way of combating procrastination, the bane of any writer's existence. It's so easy to procrastinate. Household chores beckon, there's something I need at the store, Woki gives me a "let's go for another walk" stare. Ten thousand distractions. But I won't be tempted because I have my plan.
Until I don't.
The photo I took yesterday (on my brand new phone) for the blog post I want to write isn't syncing to my computer. In fact, my entire photo library seems to have a major issue, which stems suspiciously from the acquisition of the new phone. Apple Care can't solve the problem and the earliest available appointment with the Genius Bar isn't until Thursday afternoon. #&%!$!, as they used to say before cussing became basic to contemporary vocabulary.
So my carefully constructed plan is in the crapper. Just trying to set up a time to get the trouble fixed--never mind actually fixing it--has trashed my schedule. My house-of-cards writing plans have fallen like, well, a house of cards, and walking another 6 miles, mowing the lawn, or cleaning out the gutters has taken on unexpected appeal.
Flexibility has never been my strong suit, but I need to focus on writing, not leaf-clogged gutters. Ergo, this entire post is an exercise in working through the issue. Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com, and text akin to moldy, rotting gutter slime, here it is. Old dogs and penmonkeys can learn new tricks.
But now, perhaps, it's time for a walk.
Monday, August 17, 2015
Naturally, my imagination began to spin stories: who owned the glassware? Was it the pride and joy of a farmer's wife, or the everyday pieces used in the grand home of a lumber or auto baron? And what would become of these things now? The fate of these delicate, gentle reminders of a bygone era when families took the time to sit at a table, perhaps enjoying the rare treat of ice cream served in a graceful shell-pink glass dish, troubled me.
I believe it was Chekhov who, when asked where he got ideas for his stories, replied, "Everywhere." Then, he picked up a nearby ashtray and said if he was so inclined, he could write a story about it. He would have had a field day with the glassware in this shop window.
Indeed, there are stories everywhere, but it seems the ideas for them come most often from observing something from physical or emotional distance. It's not always a comfortable place, but it affords a perspective that "insiders" rarely have.
One of my oldest friends recently criticized a description of boarding school life in one of my books. She attended boarding school; I did not. I paraphrase, but she said something like, "You were in our group, but not really of it."
Fair enough, and true enough, but that doesn't mean I don't know what I'm talking about. My perspective, I believe, is broader than her fond and particular memories and, by virtue of the fact that I wasn't of the group, I had a more fluid point of view. Forest for the trees sort of thing.
It's what writers do. We stand on the outside, looking in, and report on the world as we see it.
Wednesday, July 22, 2015
Inside the sun-bleached cover, the pristine pages are thick and oatmeal-y, a quality uncommon in recent publications. The author, Isser Harel, was born in 1912. The events of the non-fiction account of the capture of Adolf Eichmann occurred in the 1940s and 50s. My husband purchased the book--new--in 1975. For forty years, it sat on a shelf in his office, unread. But here's the thing about books: they don't lose their value or relevance over time. Two weeks ago, he picked up The House on Garibaldi Street (Viking Press, 1975) and began reading a chapter or two each evening. The third night, he thrashed in the grip of a nightmare, literally screaming in his sleep.
I haven't read the book, but I get the general context, and there is plenty of nightmare-inducing material. Coincidence or not (and I don't believe in coincidence), I'm also reading about events from World War II, researching a short story I feel compelled to write. The story is based on a railway disaster in England (Soham Railway Disaster June 2, 1944) but is germane to recent railway crashes here and in Canada. This is my first attempt at historical fiction, and immersing myself in the details of that era has fomented my own night terrors of running through the woods, hiding from jack-booted thugs.
There are probably multiple reasons that the Harel book and my WWII story have swirled out of the mists of time to haunt us now. That era has always held fascinations, both nostalgic and terrifying. Everyone knows revisiting the past offers important lessons for the future, but is anyone paying attention? Though I prefer to steer clear of politics, given the current crop of buffoons and jack-a-napes running for the highest office in this land, I'm alarmed. Hitler wasn't taken seriously at first, either.
We need our stories of the past, the present, and the future to remember where we've been and hopefully, to light a safe and sane path to the future. Every day, when I sit in my little office, with my imaginary friends, it's my goal to carve out such a path, even it it's only for myself. Given the power of the written word, if I'm good enough and lucky enough, that might not be a complete waste of time.
Thursday, June 18, 2015
I'm currently working on a short story that that's driving me bat-shit crazy and underscoring the reason so many writers are drawn to large quantities of alcohol. The part of my brain that has turned to bat guano longs to wallow in a vat of good Russian vodka. Fortunately, saner cells still prevail.
Instead of booze, I often indulge in math problems in an attempt to distract myself from the stalled story line, the underdeveloped characters, and perturbations that have no apparent resolution. Math problems are generally solvable, allowing me some sense of accomplishment. And the pay is comparable to writing short stories for publication.
I ran across the above problem in my files the other day and spent the better part of yesterday solving it in hopes the Universe might get the message. Obviously, each letter stands for a number and the object is to figure out what those letters are so the addition works out. Try it--I double dog dare you.
P.S. It's a lot easier to figure out than the plot of a good short story.
Sunday, May 17, 2015
I took the above photo to illustrate an issue that I grapple with on a regular basis. The way art is perceived is so subjective that I often find myself in a head-scratching, "huh? what?" frame of mind. There are so many artists, writers and performers who never get the break they deserve, but conversely, there are too many who get recognition for stuff that sends my aesthetic dander to the stratosphere.
The sculpture above sits at a public building in my town and undoubtedly cost a packet of money to have commissioned and installed. Yet, gratis, my dog produces nearly identical work every morning on my front lawn. In whose eyes does the bronze version look like anything worthy of commemoration?
The New York Times list of best selling fiction is rife with titles that are the literary equivalent of Mountain Dew. These books might give you a quick rush, but they'll rot your teeth. They are financial angels for author and publisher, but demons for readers. Fifty shades of high-priced marketing will, clearly, put any kind of sleazy, hackneyed crap on the best-seller list.
Where are the emperor's clothes?
Last week, the Art Institute conferred an honorary doctorate upon Kanye West. Really? The Chicago Tribune sang his praises with an op-ed piece titled "The Brilliant Kanye West" and described him as a "creative and wide-ranging thinker." Really? This is a guy who boasts about not reading. And don't even get me started on the ah, attributes of his wife and her family.
Great diversity in culture should be encouraged and celebrated, but the operative word is culture. Culture: "the act of developing the intellectual and moral faculties especially by education"--Merriam Webster Could someone please explain either the intellectual or moral merits possessed by Mr. West?
Oh, wait, it's all about the marketing, isn't it?
I recall that grand old adage, somewhat revised for this post: one person's art is another person's dog shit.
Saturday, April 25, 2015
This may look like an ordinary display of books with my newest, TWELVE THOUSAND MORNINGS, front and center, but this display is at the LONDON BOOK FAIR. Kudos to my wonderful agent, April Eberhardt, for her work with the 2 Seas Literary Agency in getting my book to this mega event. How I would love to be there myself!
BTW, the book just to the left of mine, THE VINTNER'S DAUGHTER, by Kristen Harnisch, is a wonderful, beautifully written story. I highly recommend it, and I'm looking forward to her next book, due around the end of the year.
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
In 2013, when I first began writing TWELVE THOUSAND MORNINGS, I set a goal for myself: have the book published and ready to take to the best writing conference in the Midwest. I'd been to Writers' Institute at UW Madison twice before--the first time, I met my fabulous agent, April Eberhardt, and the second time, she and I were invited to give a presentation on our non-traditional agent/author relationship.
I met my goal, launching TTM on March 12, and left for Madison, books in tow, on March 26th. In the photo above, I am behind the table (gray sweater & pearls) and April is standing to my left. This was the opening ceremony, with all presenters on stage.
The weekend was terrific. I can't say enough about how well-organized this conference is. Laurie Scheer and her team are efficient, thorough, and unfailingly cheerful and polite. The venue (Madison Concourse Hotel) is lovely, and the presentations are interesting, informative, and cater to beginning writers as well as those with a lot of experience. I wish I had been able to go to every presentation offered.
In addition to a talk that April and I gave on our continued work together, I also gave two workshops, one titled "Seven Habits of Highly Effective (Imaginary) Characters" and another on "Editing for the Faint of Heart." In this second presentation, I stressed the need for proofreading and editing, since poorly edited work is bad news for everyone. I'm pleased to say that all my advice was well-received, and I came home feeling quite proud.
In addition to the honor of being an instructor at this excellent conference, I also had the pleasure of seeing one of my short stories published in the literary journal (Midwest Prairie Review) associated with Writers' Institute. The minute I got home, I showed my husband the high-quality print journal, pointing out my story with great delight.
And there is where I learned once again that the old adage "pride goeth before a fall" applies as ever, for smack in the middle of my story sat the ugly toad of a major typo. I cringe thinking of the people who took notes in my editing lecture finding that error and wondering why I don't follow my own advice.
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
March has been a whirlwind, and I'm happy to report a very successful launch for TWELVE THOUSAND MORNINGS. Lake Forest Book Store did a wonderful job advertising, setting up a lovely wine and cheese table, and rushing to bring in extra chairs as the crowd grew. I'm grateful to everyone who came out on a Thursday evening to help me celebrate. TTM was the #1 bestseller for the week of March 12th, and held on in the top ten the following week.
It's a funny thing--when I spend months and months in solitary pursuit of a finished novel, I daydream about the launch and promo. I really do enjoy talking to people about my work. However, I also love that quiet time, just me and my fictional friends discovering a new story. Given our unpleasant spring weather (four inches of snow on March 23!!), being tucked up in my cozy office is quite appealing right now, but it's promo time, so I'm off to UW Madison for their fab Writer's Institute Conference. I know it will be fun, and I'll meet wonderful people and see old friends.
Yet, amidst all the dashing around and congratulations for TTM, a little voice inside my head has already begun nagging me about the next book. I know the inspiration for the story and the basics of the plot line. I've got names for most of the main characters. I've got empty spiral notebooks at the ready. The only hint I will drop at this stage is that this next book will have a lot of historical elements woven in with the story. I've set myself a daunting challenge. I hope I can pull it all together, but it will likely be at least three more long winters before I can celebrate another launch. It's a toss up as to which is more unsettling--the writing demands or the weather.
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
As a child, she loved to draw. When she was seventeen, she left her home in Layfayette, Indiana, and came to Chicago to put her talent to use. She managed to land a job in the art department of J. Walter Thompson, the venerable ad agency. No small task in those days. Kudos, Mom. Her version of bedtime stories were tales of illustrating the big ads of the late 1940s--rushing to meet deadlines, carrying huge storyboards down a windy Michigan Avenue, coping with the harassment from the "boys" that women dealt with in those days and, my favorite, "How I Met Your Father." My dad also worked for J.W.T. (Little did I know that those bedtime stories were watered-down versions of Mad Men episodes. In too many ways, my parents were scarily similar to Don and Betty Draper.)
But I digress from the Valentine theme of this post. I recently learned that there was a component to "How I Met Your Father" that I'd never known. This past December, a few days before Mom's 89th birthday, I got a phone call from a gentleman who identified himself as an old friend of my parents. He'd heard from mutual friends that my mother was still "with us" but that my father had passed away. He remembered that mom's birthday was December 11, and wondered if it would it be all right to send her a birthday card. As we talked, I learned that he had dated my mom for a while, and still thought of her as "the cutest little thing." He was clearly quite smitten. As he told it, one weekend back in 1950, she talked him into throwing a party for a new fellow at the office. Turns out that new fellow would be Mom's next boyfriend, and eventually, her husband and my father.
That is such typical behavior for my mother. (Listen and learn, Betty Draper.)
My parents were married for over fifty years, weathering the trials of life together, partying and fighting in a manner befitting the Greatest Generation. Their battles could be ferocious; I often wondered why they stayed together, but each of them must have had their reasons. The dynamics of love and marriage are known only to the two people involved. My mother, for all her faults, knew how to capture the hearts of two men for more than half a century. Kudos, Mom.
Monday, January 19, 2015
Liminalesque--of or relating to a threshold. What better time to consider the crossing of thresholds than at the beginning of a new year?
Periodically, I feel the need to justify this awkward title. Choosing Liminalesque for a blog title is a bit like choosing the Isle of Elba for a vacation spot: the charms are there, but they are not immediately obvious.
Liminalesque is a name I concocted from the word liminal. My husband was the first, but not the last, to point out that this flies in the face of common blog-sense. Even the root word of Liminalesque isn't in most people's vocabulary, and it is just plain stupid to have a blog title that no one can spell, remember, or pronounce.
Yet I am fixed on it, as attached to it as I am to my short, square hands. In my dreams, I may have long, tapered fingers, elegantly tipped with perfect, oval nails, but the truth is harsher. My ugly mitts and my cumbersome blog moniker are part of who I am.
As we roll into 2015, I want to thank all of you who read my blog, and I encourage you to please leave comments. May the thresholds you cross lead to marvelous and exciting new places.