Wednesday, May 30, 2012

You Might Just Have a George

by Elizabeth

Walking my dog the other day, another trail user--a stranger to me--bent over to pet the animal and greeted him by name. "George is the Mayor of the walking trail," he declared, and I had to laugh. I knew George had friends and fans, but Mayor? Well, maybe. I always say, if my kids enjoyed even half the popularity my dog does, they'd have been voted Homecoming Royalty several times by now--and they aren't even in high school yet.

It's true that George is an uncommonly great dog. Being my dog, it's natural I should think so. But I've been aware since he was a puppy that there is something special about him, something attractive, magnetic, charismatic. People are drawn to him. The cat adores him. Other dogs like him too. And while dog lovers love dogs, I have to say, when I take George out, he gets more reaction than any other animal I've ever had.

It's not his bloodline. He's a mutt, I tell people when they try to classify his breed. Just a good ol' American mutt, and I don't bother with the PC-seeming "rescue dog" appendage people love to tag their pets with (it seems to me a self-serving piece of information, like they are somehow heroic for having a pet. And don't get me started on the folks who explain they "adopted" their dog; I want to slap both my hands on my cheeks and express my surprise that they didn't birth the canine). In fact, he's just a barely-even-here mutt; friends found his mother abandoned in a bag on the side of the road. Figuring they could handle another dog on their country spread, they took her to the vet for shots and learned she was knocked up. George was the last of the seven puppies to go. Which is lucky for us, because he is an excellent dog, a wonderful dog. An unexpected dog. Who knew he would be so smart, so gentle, so appealing?

With dogs, with kids, with manuscripts, you don't necessarily know what you are going to get. You can visit breeders, you can spin sperm, you can fiddle with words and organize chapters for years--and you still might get a vicious dog, a girl when you planned for a boy, 200 pages destined to be tucked under the bed to sleep in obscurity.

But magic happens. You can go out to a parking lot to meet a puppy, and when that nine-week old dog sits down and wags his tail and you are lost, you might find you have stumbled upon the perfect dog. You can plan for a new career, find out you are pregnant, and realize that being a parent is the life you were meant for. You can write a story, offer it up to the world, and discover that your characters resonate with millions of people and your public life is forever part of your identity.

You just don't know. So what can you do? Your best, of course. Choose the dog who feels like he belongs to your family. Have your children, and raise them the best you know. Take a deep breath, write the story you really, really want to, and fling it out there and see what happens. You might just have a George.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Great characters

by Austin Mora, guest blogger

 A little while back I asked my mom which character (among the many in the multitude of books she has read) would she identify as her favorite.  We skimmed over a few of her favorite books in search of someone outstanding, but in the end she could really only describe the stories that had affected her, and that the characters she had encountered merely played into the stories that surrounded them.

And that got me thinking about what separates the story from the character.  I mean, in what sense does the story have an obligation to accept the character and surround the character with a place to breathe and exist.  In what sense must the character be willing to submit to destiny as the plot unfolds?  I wanted to think about some of the greatest characters ever created, perhaps only to attempt to figure out what made them great.  

Hamlet, Odysseus, Don Quixote, Gatsby, Oedipus, all incredibly influential characters in the annals of literature and vivacious people who came through to us because of what happened to them and what they did in response.  In the grand scheme, they were characters defined by the stories that surrounded them and whose actions, when the time came for them to act, made them particularly human.  

Oedipus’s brilliance and strength is undermined by his ill-fated existence; his connection to humanity lies in his futile attempt to right the wrong and the realization that sometimes destiny is too powerful.  Odysseus uses his unparalleled cunning and innate sense of survival for the journey home, but it leaves him broken, alone, but nevertheless persistent in his quest for home.  Hamlet’s inability to act, even against the murder of his father and the unrelenting deceit that follows him in a rotten Denmark.  

In all of these characters, there is nothing supernatural, nor even anything exceptionally implausible (discounting encounters of mythical creatures).  But what makes them great is the reader’s ability to relate to the character, that what they do we might all do, or at least wish to if we had the chance.  The characters only exist to bring us together, to recognize that some part of us is in them and always will be.

Austin Mora is a sophomore in the Marshall School of Business at University of Southern California, minoring in English. He writes short stories and screenplays.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Writing in Color

By Kim

After hearing feedback from several people that The Oak Lovers is reserved, even quiet in tone, I have come to see my manuscript as the sketch before a painting. The lines are all there and I see the finished canvas clearly in my mind, much as my great-grandfather had before he reached for his brush. To borrow his words, “I know what I want and how to get it now.”

The “how” involves stepping away from my computer. I’m working by hand now, scribbling notes, crossing them out, and scribbling more. I have arrows and circles and big black X marks. Tiny and nearly illegible handwriting fills the white spaces in the margins, between paragraphs, sometimes between lines. The prose is imperfect and raw, and I don’t give a damn that I started two sentences in a row with the word ‘she’ or that I used ‘was’ instead of a fancier word.

Writing, like painting, has become a sensual act. Messy and exhilarating.

I have become the woman in this photograph that my mother created for me. Carl and Madonna’s spirits are with me all the time. I don’t want to know just their story anymore. I want to feel Madonna’s jealousy as she watched Carl return home to his wife. I want to write it in a crimson splash across the page. Their reunion is a sunburst of yellow. Carl’s constant physical suffering outlines everything in black, but dabs of cobalt blue joy always shine through.

Photo by Deborah Downes

The words have never flowed so easily.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What have I done?

By Pamela

Starting a new story is a lot like getting a new puppy.

Many times it starts at the end of another one’s life. You loved, nurtured and grew the last one into a respectable, often-admired pet—one that minded and even made you proud. You could show it off when other people acted the least bit interested. Make it ‘speak’ by reading aloud your mesmerizing prose. Have its plot ‘roll over’ with ingenious timing. It could even ‘beg’ and you’d stop whatever else you might be doing—folding laundry, cooking dinner, cleaning house (Ha!)—and give it your full attention.

So as the old one completes its life, you find yourself wondering what will next be worthy of your attention. Should you devote your time and talents to a tale that’s high strung and will demand a lot from you? Or choose a quiet one that seems docile and loving? Perhaps you’ve always been drawn to a devoted pure-bred genre—a golden retriever like women’s fiction or a true-blue hound like historic fiction.

And now you find yourself entertaining the notion of adopting a mutt! A mix of high energy adventure and exotic paranormal—something that might end up looking a lot like this:

But also one that might surprise you and turn out adorable and newsworthy and make you a trend-setter.

So, you dive in and commit yourself to this new adventure. You surround yourself with elements to keep this new puppy entertained—pictures of characters culled from magazines, descriptions of setting scribbled on post-its, bits of dialog you heard while shopping now on the back of your grocery list.

And yet sometimes it refuses to behave. Sometimes it keeps you awake at night with its incessant barking and whining. It won’t even let you shower in peace without begging for your attention. Other times it’s downright annoying as it chews away at your subconscious, working its sharp little puppy teeth into your brain when you’re trying to help a child with homework or listen to your mother on the phone.

Just when you begin to wonder if you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, a day will come when this new pet project you’ve had such high hopes for turns a corner and begins to behave. It comes when you call. Sits eagerly at your feet. Delights you with a cock of its head. Makes you cry or laugh when you least expect it. 

And so you embrace it—knowing that it might, in return, take a chunk out of your ear. Knowing that it’s likely to still get messy and stinky and slobbery, but that you will never abandon it. Because like all good dogs—this new story just needs you to love it.

Photo credits: Ugly dog by Ben Margot, on; puppy images by Pamela and Mia Hammonds

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Majestic John Irving

by Joan

Last Tuesday, I went to the grand Majestic Theater in Dallas with my son, fresh from his first year of college, to see an extraordinary writer. After a short detour (to the Horchow Auditorium as noted on the Dallas Museum of Art's website then redirected to the theater—what’s up with that DMA?), we enjoyed listening with a crowd of several hundred fans while John Irving, as in his books, shared wry observation and ironic humor in his humble style.

I scribbled on notepaper in the dark to an onstage conversation between Irving and Kevin Moriarty, Artistic Director of the Dallas Theater Center, who demonstrated an encyclopedic knowledge of Irving’s novels. Irving shared insights about his creative process, his previous works, and his new novel, In One Person, “a story of unfulfilled love and a passionate celebration of our sexual differences.” DMA billed it as “Irving’s most political novel since The Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany. In One Person is a tender portrait of the solitariness of a bisexual man who is dedicated to making himself worthwhile.”

Irving is aware of “social contentiousness” and “takes a side” and that he’s “sardonic about politics.” It was a bad day to be a social conservative in that audience, but no one seemed to take offense; I didn’t see anyone leave at the politically charged bombs he launched. Perhaps like me, the audience was mesmerized at Irving’s gentle nature, his unfailing honesty and his willingness to share personal background to show he is indeed human.

At one time he wanted to be an actor (his delivery of Owen Meany's high-pitched, warble-y voice was proof he might have done well), but realized he liked and needed to be alone. What better way than to spend days speaking to no one but the characters on your page? A wrestler from age 14 to 34, Irving says wrestlers must also pay “minute attention to details” and run the same drills over and over, as in the process of rewriting. His tales of failed attempts to unite his wrestling and writing friends had the audience chuckling.

He won’t begin a novel until he knows the end, perhaps the exact last sentence, and is committed to hurting a character “as bad as you can.” He learned from Dickens, Hardy, Melville and Shakespeare that a writer can create an unlikeable character, make them sympathetic, then throw them into the grips of tragedy. He’s aware his writing is a bit morbid, but says he has lost several key people in his life and “writes for those who died.”

As Moriarty asked him questions, Irving stared at his folded hands, as though typing the words across his mind to elicit a careful answer. When he was given a stack of audience questions on 3X5 cards, he shuffled through them, choosing ones that brought intense responses, both laughter and shock. Much like his writing. He is indeed a distinguished writer and I feel lucky to have had the chance to hear him. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Summer Lovin'

By Susan

In two weeks, my girls are officially out of school and summer will begin. I've looked forward to this all year--my first summer as a full-time writer, my first summer staying home with my children. No rushing to get them up and ready for summer camps or day care. This year, it will all be different--just us. Time to sleep in, take mini-vacations, and swim, swim, swim under the hot Texas sun.

Me and my girls, summer of 2011
I was also looking forward to summer break for another reason--I was sure that I'd be finished with my revisions on The Angels' Share, and that Brilliant Agent would be submitting my editorial letter to publishing houses, who--with bated breath--would be waiting for my manuscript to cross their desks. Instead, I'm about halfway through a rewrite that is adding a new character, I'm changing the arc of the protagonist, and I'm sweating--a lot--about the speed and quality of my work.

I remind myself to slow down. I tell myself to be thankful. I advise my inner critic to, well, to shut up. I'm not on a deadline. Brilliant Agent loves my work and is determined to push me to be my very best. I've even joked that I'm finally getting that MFA in Creative Writing--just by working with her! I've learned more about writing a novel in the past six months than I ever dreamed I could learn--simply by landing the right agent. So how can I complain?

And so, on this eve of summer, instead of stressing about all that I have to do with The Angels' Share, I'm choosing to simply relax. Take it one day at a time--the writing, editing, revisions, and themes? They will all come. The summer of 2012--with my firstborn on the cusp of being a teenager, and my baby girl now in double digits? Well. That kind of summer only happens once. And I'm determined to not miss a minute of it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The next one

photo credit: woodsboard's Flickr photostream
By Julie

It's been almost eight months since I sold my novel, Calling Me Home, to St. Martin's Press, and it's about nine months until publication. (And in fact, it's only THREE months until publication in Germany!) Some days I find it hard to believe how quickly this time passed, yet I expect the next nine months will really race by.

And still, life goes on.

Things I found to be true before I sold the book, I still find to be true in all the months since. The kids still fight. The house still doesn't clean itself. My husband and I still get cranky with each other. The dogs … well, they're still stinky, ornery dogs.

And I still find myself terrified I'll never write a novel.

Wait, you say. You just sold a novel. You obviously wrote one.

It's true. I wrote well over 100,000 words on Calling Me Home to eventually cull it down to the 103K or so submitted first to agents, then editors. And now, after months of official edits and copy edits, the current incarnation is slowly making its way through the production process toward official publication.

In fact, I wrote another full manuscript before Calling Me Home. And most of one and parts of a few others before that.

But here I am again, back in the driver's seat. You'd think I'd be able to jump right in, take one of the ideas that has been floating around in the brain and pin it down, choose the right point of view character or characters, the perfect setting, the appropriate tense, and get right on it. That I would, to borrow an overused phrase, just do it.

But guess what? It isn't easy yet. If most of the authors I know are correct, it may never be easy. I feel a bit like I'm wandering in the wilderness and I'm trying to embrace it.

I suspect each and every novel I write will take on a life of its own, which is a good thing, but also means the process won't ever look exactly the same. What worked last time may be worthless this time. Or parts of the process may work just fine, but I may look at others and think, How on earth did I ever think it was a good idea to do it like that?

I suspect that the voices of self-doubt always waiting, right below the surface, will pop their silly heads up again and again, to say with smirks that there's no way I can write a whole book, there's no way anyone will be interested in what I have to say, there's no way I can get away with this idea … there's no way … there's no way …

I suspect there will be a few false starts, a few dead ends.

And I suspect that the new novel waiting to be told will reveal itself in new and surprising ways I never expected.

And so I listen and wait and dream and think …

I think I hear it. I think I see it. I think I smell it and taste it and feel it. I think it could work.

And I pray that the idea occupying most of the creative space in my mind today is the one. 


Monday, May 14, 2012

How Writing the Blog is Like...Well, Something

by Elizabeth

So, I just posted the other day, and here I am again. Why, you ask? Like writing a novel, it's complicated, and confusing, and involves a lot more shuffling around than the average reader might expect. And it has multiple characters involved.

The main character is, well, just like for all of us, us. Me, you, that other guy--aren't we all the star of our own lives? That's one really fun part about writing a novel, by the way, in case you haven't undertaken the task--deciding who is going to be the me, whether it's in first person or not. Point of view--I recently said to my daughter, wouldn't it be sad if someone else was the star of the movie of our life?

But I digress. Which would mean hundreds of words struck from a manuscript, and in blog life? Here I am just five days later.

So it started with Julie interviewing Jacqueline Luckett. The interview was so rich and so interesting, she realized it really needed two days to keep it consistent with our usual post length--and also because Julie had such a good time with it, she wanted to give it its due. So she emailed the group to see if someone would be willing to trade up some days (if this were a novel, it would be like shifting chapters around, except in the first draft, you don't consult anyone but yourself).

Since Julie and I are the Wednesday girls--now wait a minute. I'm going to digress yet again. How come Julie and I are "full of woe"? Pamela and Joan get to trade off being "fair of face" on Mondays; Susan and Kim are "loving and giving" (Friday)--but Julie and I get woe? Woe? Who made these assignments, anyway? I'm searching my email archives as soon as I finish this post, I'm tellin' ya...

Oh, yeah. The post. Where was I?

Okay, so Julie and I are Wednesday, and since she wanted to finish up the interview on Monday, the apparently most attractive Women were contacted, and Joan-the-Beautiful jumped in with the offer, but Elizabeth-the-Sad got copied in, and replied in tandem that she could give up her week, and Pamela-the-Gorgeous was probably drinking some herb tea for her fabulous complexion and missed the whole communication until after the fact. (Kim and Susan, in the meantime, were no doubt handing out homemade cookies at a nursing home, then rushing off to rock preemies at the hospital before taking a shift bathing muddy dogs at the animal shelter.) How does this relate to writing? Hello? Did you not just read that I am bereft and everyone else is wonderful? Pretty much every writer I know has moments when they are absolutely certain they are an untalented hack, while everyone else in the world has inherited Shakespeare's gifts.

So I finally ended up posting--I think on Wednesday. My regular Wednesday? I don't even know anymore. (Writers: ever get your characters in a situation and you wonder what the heck it has to do with the plot? What are they doing there? Do they belong there? And is it three in the morning and so you just really don't care?) Anyway, I had a weepy post, Joan had a lovely post, Pamela had a radiant post, and Susan and Kim were busy saving baby seals, natch.

Look, it's Monday. It's a gorgeous day here in Texas. We at What Women Write, whether we are fair of face or full of woe (no one posts on Tuesday, so I guess no one is full of grace. Umm, I will say, I don't think any of us are very balletic), we are all of us Thursday's child, whether we post then or not. Don't remember the old rhyme? Thursday's child has far to go. I read that as in, will go far. Some days, it feels like it means things are a long way off. But today? I'm ditching the woe. We are going places, we Women who write.

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Story in my Blood

By Kim

In my last post a group of writers, including myself, revealed what compelled them to write their novels. I mentioned growing up with Carl Ahrens’ story, admiration for his work, etc. I’ve since realized that my real answer boils down to one word. Love.

Photo by Rick Taylor
Love for the idea of soul-mates. Love for a grandmother taken before I had the chance to know her. Love for the sound of native drums and the smell of sweet grass. Love for a foreign land that has become my soul’s home. Love for the joyful cobalt blue dabs in most of Carl’s work. Love for a story that is in my blood, a story only I can tell.

It was love that led me to attend a writer’s conference in Austin, TX several years ago in order to pitch a biography called Knight of the Brush. The subject was a certain Canadian painter. Agents listened kindly to my clumsily delivered spiel, some even invited me to send my proposal, but I sensed most lost interest as soon as I mentioned Carl was also my great-grandfather. Put Bullock at the bottom of the slush pile, I imagined them saying to themselves.

An editor told me big publishers would never buy an artist's biography unless his name was Van Gogh or Picasso--something recognizable. She suggested I approach a small university press in Canada, preferably from Carl's hometown.

Kim speaking at the KWAG
Bruised but determined, love led me a build a website featuring Carl's best and brightest work – paintings that disprove his reputation as a ‘dark tree painter.’ The president of the Waterloo Historical Society (Ontario) soon found the site and asked if I’d contribute an article about their native son for the Society’s annual volume.

The “little something” morphed into a 6,000 word cover story.

When I mentioned a desire to come to Canada for the launch, the editors asked if I would “say a few words.” I agreed.

Two months later I gave the keynote address for Carl Ahrens Day at the Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery. It was the first time in seventy years that a collection of Ahrens paintings had been exhibited to the public.

Carl and Madonna Ahrens circa 1911
Carl later shared the spotlight with his friend and contemporary Andre Lapine at another gallery. Again, I accepted an invitation to speak. I have two more speaking engagements lined up, tentatively for this fall.

A powerful thing, love.

Powerful enough for me to scrap the biography and tell Carl and Madonna’s story in the way that would bring them to life for everyone else as they always have been for me. The Oak Lovers was born.

Platform may not matter much on a novel’s path to publication, but I will continue to build mine when I can. There’s a story in my blood, and I’m the only one who can tell it.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Let the Wild Rumpus Start

by Elizabeth

The other night, my daughter brought our well-worn copy of Are You My Mother, by P.D. Eastman, to me, begging me to read it aloud. Understand my daughter is eleven, and breezed through The Hunger Games in a single night. But she remembered my reading this to her as a little girl, particularly my interpretation of the "Snort," and she longed to hear it again.

My reading of that book came with some practice, experience I got long before I became a mother. In my first year of college, I joined my school's Speech and Debate Team, and was cast in "All Tied Up," a Reader's Theater themed about the bonds we make. Frankly, a group of newbies, we kind of sucked. (Though three of us were undefeated National champions the next year with a show about Vietnam.) But one highlight of the 25-minute script was a selection from Are You My Mother, featuring yours truly as the baby bird. I had a great face and a better voice, and some fifteen years later, read that book to my kids with the same accent. And judging by the request the other night, it was a memorable hit.

Better still, it introduced me to the realization that I was pretty good with this reading of kids' literature. As my kids went from the Snugli to my lap to squeezed in close to read, I enjoyed the specific cadence of reading aloud various children's books (and hated a few, but we'll leave those unmentioned). Henry and Mudge? an absolute pleasure, every one of them, thank you Cynthia Rylant. We sobbed through the end of the near-perfect Charlotte's Web, giggled with most of Dr. Suess, tickled with Shel Silverstein, held our breaths through the adventures of Harry Potter.

But there was one book that was always extra fun to read, and one I felt I excelled at, so much that hearing others read it to their kids or at the book store or library, I always felt a surge of pride knowing my interpretation was outstanding. "The night Max wore his wolf suit," I'd begin, slowly and with an air of gravity, "and made mischief of one kind and another..." all the way to the final "and it was still hot," the whispered and exultant last line. Where the Wild Things Are, of course, by the incomparable Maurice Sendak. Who died just the other day.

They replayed an interview with him from last fall on The Terri Gross show, and I caught part of it as I ran errands. I learned that while the man had great respect for life, he believed this one was it, and he wanted it to continue even as he saw friends and family pass on. No afterlife, he thought, and relished the life he had. If one defines a successful life as including impact on others, and I do, then with some 19 million copies of just one of his books sold, you'd have to class Mr. Sendak with that group.

But I hope he's wrong, and that there's a special place he's visiting now, maybe chatting it up with Shel and E.B. and perhaps JM Barrie, and legions of others who have elevated children's literature for myself, my kids, and surely well into the following generations. It's always sad to see the great ones go. But we are so lucky they were here. He is still hot.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Stranger than fiction

By Pamela

When you write fiction, you've been granted the privilege of getting to make stuff up. But one caveat remains: It can be weird, wacky, raucous and ridiculous—but it must also be believable.

Take for an example the story about Bernie. The movie Bernie opened this past weekend and was on my to-do list until I realized it was released on a few screens and none in my neighborhood. So, it remains on my list but will require a little less spontaneity on my part for me to see it. (Julie did manage to go, lucky duck.)

But back to Bernie: Jack Black plays the true-life Bernie, a small-town Texas funeral director who befriends a wealthy widow (played by Shirley Maclaine) whom no one likes. Once tired of her demeaning and demanding behavior, he snaps, kills her and then goes to great lengths to convince the town that she’s still alive. Kind of a Weekend at Bernie’s meets Driving Miss Daisy. Except Miss Daisy is a bitch.

It’s an entertaining, outlandish premise for a story—and even more so because it’s true!

It seems every day, whether it’s something I read in the news or a story recounted to me by a friend, I find myself thinking: People don’t really do that, do they? And yet they do.

The trick in writing fiction that is simultaneously entertaining/outlandish and yet believable—one where a lovable funeral director can shoot an old woman and stuff her in the deep freeze—is creating characters who act as you might expect them to when they’re pushed to their limits. As in Bernie’s case, makes you WANT him to do it or, at the very least, believe he is capable and that she, on some level, got what she deserved. 

Friday, May 4, 2012


By Susan

Remember the old vaudeville act? Where the entertainer tosses plates upon sticks and gets them spinning? All of a sudden, he's got five or six plates balancing and whirling at electric speed. His wrists flick and twitch, touching the rim of each platter, keeping plates balanced and in motion as they sit atop delicate sticks. And he moves frantically, never allowing a sphere to slow its spin, and the plates merely whirl away while our actor races from plate to plate, keeping the objects in motion.

Moments before, our entertainer had been standing silently, calmly, simply smiling at the audience. Now he's a frantic hot mess trying to make it look effortless. The plates simply spin.

Yeah. That’s me. I've been standing around smiling for a while, now. Months, actually. Since I stopped working full-time and committed myself to The Novel, sure—I've signed with my agent and endured pain-staking and critical edits. But it's nothing like my life before, when I juggled children and a commute and full-time work and a spouse and everything else that comes with being a working mom. For six months, things have been cool. I've stood on the stage and looked out over the audience benevolently. Mrs.-Peaceful-Stay-At-Home-Writer-Mom.

In a very short period of time, everything has changed. The show has begun, and all of my plates started spinning. Now I'm the one racing back and forth across the stage.

A month ago yesterday, our home was hit by a tornado. Thirteen days after the storm Brilliant Agent suggested a new story line, one to weave through my existing story, one that could change the trajectory of my tome and launch my story to a different level. And then two weeks ago, I received an answered prayer in the form of a magical text from across the sea, followed by a gift of reconciliation for a friendship I thought long gone.

Next, a new seed began to sprout in my brain regarding a dream of mine—one that hinges on the sale of The Novel and involves a trip back to Ghana, and in my agitated super-busy state I decided that now was the time to make that dream a reality. Phone calls, emails and meetings ensued. Realizing my over-worked state, I decided that now was the time to begin a fasting-diet, where I attempt to replace food with walking, quiet time, prayer and meditation (wish me luck!) This week, I completed applications for summer writing workshops—thinking that might make me take myself seriously as a writer. All the while, contractors have come and gone in the name of the tornado, replacing my roof and joists and windows and gutters and siding and fence and gates…. Well, you get the picture.

My plates, once resting in the cupboard, are now spinning furiously, all while I seek a sacred place to do one thing: write.

The new storyline in The Novel keeps tugging at my heart. Brilliant Agent was right in her suggestion. In stolen moments I hunkered down to write, feeling like it wasn't enough. Yet I kicked out almost twenty pages of new words last week in the midst of my plate-spinning. New words on white paper! I've looked around my new-ish home and it is good. I see the new sub plot and I am pleased. Things are falling together, like the Big Bang of creation where order comes from chaos. In one big cruel April, all my plate-spinning actually paid off.

I realized that in these frantic bursts of busy-ness, I got things done—including my writing. The days of the smiling Mrs.-Peaceful-Stay-at-Home-Writer-Mom are over. I do better when I'm at my busiest. I write more, I think faster, and it all comes together. I don't need another plate to introduce itself into my act, but somehow I know those additional plates are coming. What can I say? Bring it on.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Always writing or thinking about writing

by Joan

Last week my husband and I went to see the Rangers beat the Yankees. Most evenings I write, but it was nice to have a planned night out. We met at my office, where during the day I use words like income statement and cash flow instead of character development and plot twist. 

Driving from Addison to Arlington is never pretty, but in rush hour before a big game, it was brutal. The close parking lots were full, so we backtracked to a far lot and rode a shuttle. “One way trip,” said the driver. Which meant I was walking back in the heels I wore to work. Modest height, of course, yet heels nonetheless.

It was a perfect Dallas spring night and my eyes were busy taking it all in, with the occasional glance at the game. I love watching the big screen as the camera pans the crowd, the getups and tattoos I’m thankful never showed up on my son, the mad dash when a guy steals second, and the dreaded onscreen proposal. (She said yes, despite several people yelling, “Turn back!”) 

There’s always at least one moment when I’m staring at nothing and my husband will ask, “What chapter are you working on?” proving his theory that if I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing.

As is our custom at massively crowded events, we slipped out early to avoid nightmarish traffic. Although it was mild, I dreaded the walk back on already aching feet and was thrilled to find a pedi-cab waiting out front, as though we’d reserved it. A nice kid, probably early twenties, welcomed us aboard and began chatting us up. He works full time at the pedi-cab business in Austin and drives up to Dallas for big events to make extra cash. (For non-Texans, that’s about a three-hour plus ride—each way!)

He turned to me and asked what kind of work I do. (I might have complained about having my work shoes on, it is just possible). I have two answers to this question, depending on who’s asking and where I am. He seemed like a nice guy so I gave him the answer I know to be the truth. “I’m a writer,” I said.

“Really?” he said, ears twitching, and proceeded to tell me he writes short stories and flash fiction.

“Oh, you have the Writers’ League of Texas right there,” I said.

“The what?”

I wondered how he could be a writer in Austin and not know about that wonderful resource, the one that offers courses and programs and conferences and contests.  It occurred to me that there are still writers out there who don’t know where to learn about the publishing business. So I mentioned a few resources and of course told him about our blog (are you reading, Andrew?). 

My husband tipped him large and added, “My wife wouldn’t forgive me if I didn’t support a fellow struggling writer.”

I thought I’d share a few resources here as well, for new readers like Andrew. Feel free to leave a comment and tell us your favorite literary site.

For lists of contests, agents, newsy articles, you name it: Poets & Writers 

For craft advice and nifty essays from those who have navigated the publishing world: Writer Unboxed  

For a literary blog offering thought-provoking discussions: Beyond the Margins 

For tips, insider info, and new agent listings: Writers Digest 

For killer query advice - Janet Reid's Query Shark

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