I live in northern California. We’re ten days away from the Summer Solstice. Temperatures are going up. Today the sun blazed down on us and the mercury rose into the ’90s. As human beings we can drink and drink and cope with the risk of dehydration. Animals and birds may not be so lucky. This is all the more true for those poor creatures displaced by wildfires. This is true for all creatures great and small who have to cope with the consequences of climate change.
What to do? The problem is huge, but the solution is simple. In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “Do what you can with what you have where you are.” Here’s what I did.
These are water bowls for pets, available at Dollar Tree. I put two out by the driveway for the birds and squirrels I see out there.
I get wild turkeys coming through the yard now and then. Seeing one turkey on its own is a bit unusual. Finding food and water the turkey could eat without a lot of effort on a really hot day was a mercy the poor creature needed.
This is my favorite squirrel. We spend some quality time together every day in the late afternoon when I sit on my back step and toss unshelled peanuts to this delightful critter and three or four friends. The squirrel will come down the tree and sit about six feet from the step where I sit. I count “One, two, three!” and toss a peanut. The squirrel snatches it up, nibbles it to bits, and then sits up with its paws ready for the next one. By that time of day the sun has gone behind the ridge, the cool breeze has come, and all is right in my world.
Please, consider putting out water for the animals and birds in your area. If we all do something, no matter how small, to help take care of each other, we can make a difference and help our world heal.
When I was fourteen years old, my father got married for the third time. My mother had been wife number two. My parents divorced when I was eleven, so I guess you could say Daddy had observed an appropriate period of mourning for that failed marriage before he decided to take the plunge once again.
One of the many strange things about my father’s third marriage was the fact that I and my soon-to-be stepsister already knew each other. We were on the same volleyball team in high school. My stepsister had the unlikely name of America. People mostly called her Amy. She had long dark hair, big blue eyes, full lips, and a perfect figure. Amy reminded me of how Snow White might have turned out if she’d ended up on the beach in Santa Monica. She was gorgeous and she knew it. The third member of the package deal was my stepbrother Joseph, twenty-one and the black sheep of his family. Daddy put up with Joseph until the day he discovered Joseph had been growing marijuana in a garden shed out back. In 1979 people were a lot less tolerant of marijuana than they are now. Daddy kicked Joseph out. I was fine with that.
Preparations for the wedding included fittings for bridesmaid dresses made of yellow polyester. Sleeveless yellow polyester. In the heat of summer. Over the upper half of these sunny creations draped chiffon circles with a pattern of daisies and greenery. We also had to wear yellow garden hats with bands of similar chiffon. Somebody tall and willowy might have made that outfit look good. All I know is, I wasn’t tall enough and nowhere near willowy. These were the colors my stepmother-elect had chosen, so I did my best. Amy made the outfit look great.
Being a teenager who’d grown up in one dysfunctional family and knew she was about to join another, I had mixed feelings about this whole process. For one thing, my stepmother’s name was Amber. I had a thing for geology at the time. All I could think of was tree sap with bugs caught in it. Ancient bugs at that. Not the most maternal image. Also, Amber was short. That in itself wouldn’t have been a problem, but next to my father, she looked more like his daughter than his wife. Amber and I got along well enough, but then, I only saw her when I stayed at my father’s house on visitation weekends. I recall one day close to the wedding when I was sulking at my father’s house, having a serious internal hissy about refusing to call Amber “Mom.” I don’t know what I was so upset about. It’s not like anybody ever expected me to do that. I suppose we can chalk that one up to adolescence.
The wedding day itself was memorable for moments that have stayed with me like snapshots on my mental coffee table. All of us bridesmaids suiting up and trying to get those chiffon drape things to hang right. All the other women offering to do my makeup. They were all nice people, but in honor of the occasion they went a bit overboard. Makeup and I have never had a close relationship. I’ve worn it for the Prom, for my own wedding, and for a few other important occasions. Watching Amy go at it with enough palettes and brushes to fill a museum made me decline all offers. At that point in my life my father had never seen me wear makeup. Having overheard a few of Daddy’s comments about how trashy Amy looked when she went out on dates, I figured it would be a good idea to cause him one less shock on his wedding day.
The wedding took place in the Methodist chapel on a nearby military base. The guests were mostly people from my father’s workplace, where he’d met Amber. No family was present other than us kids due to Daddy’s people all being in Ohio. (As for Amber’s people, God only knows. I never have heard the definitive truth about her origins.) My father looked quite distinguished in his gray three-piece suit, yellow shirt, and yellow-striped tie. Amber wore a white wedding gown. I was still young enough to find that funny, but I was smart enough to keep my amusement to myself. I don’t know how they managed to find a wedding gown short enough for her. She had almost no waist. High heels and a long skirt that included a train can be a precarious combination. She did make it to the altar without tripping or falling. Amber’s bouquet was impressive, all red roses with babies’-breath and ferns. It made a rather dramatic contrast against her white gown. I had to wonder what possessed her to make us bridesmaids wear yellow and green. We looked like we’d wandered in from somebody else’s wedding.
I don’t remember a whole lot about the service itself, but I do recall wondering if my father was going to keel over. I’d never seen him look so nervous or emotional. At one point I thought Daddy might be in tears. This was really weird. My father had a temper, but he also had a sense of humor. To see this side of him came close to freaking me out. If this was the effect Amber had on him, was this marriage such a good idea after all? We all got through the service more or less intact. There were one or two people among the attendees who couldn’t help crying at weddings.
The reception gave me a perfect opportunity to observe all these people I’d never met before and would probably never see again. My father had been in AA for a good three years by then, but there was a no-host bar for the guests. The punch was that frequent concoction of ice cubes, tonic water and rainbow sherbet. Who came up with that? Why do people think it’s a good idea? It makes you burp and you end up with a frothy mustache. Not exactly the most chic way to party at an event as formal as a wedding.
After the speeches and cutting the cake, people settled down to socializing. I didn’t know what else to do with myself, so I kept busy getting people more coffee or cake and tidying up here and there. I noticed my newly official stepsister Amy didn’t care for the rainbow punch either. She was only eighteen, so she got my new stepbrother Joseph to buy her drinks. It soon became obvious Amy couldn’t hold her liquor. That she was holding any came as an unpleasant surprise to my father. Joseph had enough sense to stop buying her drinks, but by then she’d already been laughing too loudly and sitting slumped against him like some tart from a Victorian gin joint.
What really put the icing on this particular cake was the fact that other people in the wedding party started to notice Amy’s behavior. One of the older bridesmaids, a co-worker of Amber’s, called me over to where she sat at the head table. This lady announced in ringing tones that I was a real lady, behaving myself and helping out like a good hostess should. I suppose I ought to have been embarrassed, but I understood perfectly that she meant to point out Amy’s behavior by complimenting mine. Amy must have caught hell later for getting smashed at the wedding. One would think she’d have had a little more class given that her new stepfather was a recovering alcoholic.
At the end of the day, Daddy seemed to be happy, so that was what really mattered to me. That, and knowing that never again would I be forced to wear yellow polyester.
“When you nitpick, you focus on small, specific mistakes.” — Vocabulary.com
Writing about history gives me an opportunity to get the big picture on how different countries have tried to make different strategies work. Economic strategies, military strategies, and the more cultural and artistic strategies that come under the heading of fashion. There is one particular occupational hazard to becoming an historical writer. One can develop an obsession with historical accuracy that appears to people outside one’s own head as relentless nitpicking.
A good example is Scotland. Not the wealthiest of countries, Scotland has a long history of internal clan conflicts and the border wars with England. The weather in Scotland tends toward clouds and rain. Sheep do well on the landscape of Scotland, so you see a lot of wool in their clothing styles, especially the kilt. I know a lot of people who have spent a great deal of time looking up their family tartans. When in the company of such people, I’ve learned to keep my knowledge of history to myself. The truth is, clan tartans are an invention of the Victorian period. This is one of those nasty facts that bursts the romantic bubble of many an amateur historian.
I’ve written often about my fondness for Japan. Feudal Japan was an era of strict social classes, laws about fashion, and precise rules about social etiquette. While the tyranny of the Tokugawa Shogunate was eventually its own undoing, I must confess I find a certain comfort in having so many matters of culture spelled out for me. Modern Japanese also enjoy the two-edged sword of knowing exactly who they are and where they stand in whatever social context they find themselves. In the time of the Tokugawa, clothing, hairstyles, personal ornamentation, and weaponry were the indicators of social position. I find it one of history’s most humorous moments to see all that grandeur reduced to the business card. That has become the crucial indicator of status and context for the Japanese. Westerners are advised to bring plenty of their own. Otherwise there are business available to produce cards very quickly with one side in English and the other in Japanese. Context is everything, and Japan is a high-context society.
I write romance novels, so I get to take a close look at the techniques of wooing in various times and places. Medieval Europe had the concept of the Court of Chivalry. Eleanor of Aquitaine was largely responsible for this idea. Knights were measured against the Code of Chivalry to see if they met the beau ideal of those times. The real purpose of the Courts of Chilvary was to keep the women occupied while the men were off on Crusade or fighting battles closer to home. Bored noblewomen can be dangerous noblewomen, as Eleanor of Aquitaine herself proved more than once.
Novels from the Regency and Victorian periods entertain me because they’re all about clothes and money. Social position is the bottom line, and so many of the characters are looking to trade up. Finding someone you can love for the rest of your life is nowhere near as important as finding someone with a respectable income of so many hundreds or thousands of pounds per year. Love might be a nice side effect of marriage. Nobody expected it to be the whole point.
Oddly enough, ancient history holds little appeal for me. The mysteries of ancient Egypt focus so much on the afterlife. I know more than I ever wanted to about the process of mummification. I find it interesting that the Egyptian gods have animal heads, also found in the Hindu pantheon. What does this similarity mean? What exchange of culture might have gone on that modern archaeologists have yet to discover? As with so many cultures, the most noteworthy people are the upper classes, especially the royalty. The lower classes, especially the slaves, had a hard life. Not a lot of romance there for me. I’m not fond of desert climates.
One of the most fascinating aspects of history is food. For the first romance novel I ever wrote, I had to go looking for Basque cookbooks because that novel is set in Navarre. I finally discovered what my heroine would have for breakfast: chestnuts boiled in milk and sprinkled with nutmeg. In Egypt the custom of having many festal days where the upper classes distributed beer and bread to the lower classes was based as much on pragmatism as piety. If not for that custom, many members of the lower classes in Egypt would have starved to death. The key difference in culinary art between the Middles Ages and the Renaissance came down to the use of spices. The Middle Ages saw lots of spices thrown in for rich flavors. Renaissance cooking became more selective, creating unique dishes centered around particular flavor combinations. My research in this area taught me the delights of chicken prepared with cinnamon.
Then there’s jewelry. I could go on and on about dressing up my heroes and heroines in the bijouterie of their particular time periods. From the hair ornaments of the geisha to the mourning rings of the Victorian period, from the carnelian combs of early Russia to the prayer ropes of the Middles Ages called paternosters made from ivory beads or garnets or even pearls, the treasure chests of history are overflowing with splendor and detail. I once had the pleasure of visiting the Smithsonian Institution and seeing the earrings of Marie Antoinette. I had to wonder how she avoided ending up with earlobes stretched like King Tut’s.
History is full of little questions like this, alongside the larger mysteries. And so with every novel I go exploring!
The older I get, the more I realize how much I don’t know. Take love, for example. I don’t know much more about what love really is than I did when I was in elementary school. For me, love started out being this big exalted dream of perfect happiness, perfect harmony, and total devotion to each other. I think I got that from reading fairy tales. (Disney movies also have a lot to answer for.) Then I listened to what older girls said about their boyfriends. I got the impression that having a boyfriend was one of those Rules for Living that showed everybody else you knew what you were doing.
One night when I was nineteen years old, it was so bitterly cold my body heat wasn’t enough to warm up the sheets and blankets. I lay there alone, shivering and miserable, thinking if only I had boyfriend. If only I could find a boyfriend to keep me warm, inside and out. The intense desire to avoid another night like that one prompted me to do some pretty stupid things. As I look back at that cold night from the perspective of fifty-plus years, I can see that I could have saved myself all kinds of trouble if I’d just bought an electric blanket.
Ever since I met my first crush when I was in the grade, I thought the right guy was the solution to all my needs and problems. I don’t know how I got this idea. It must have been all those fairy tales, because I certainly didn’t learn it from my family. My grandparents got divorced twice and married three times. (It’s true. I have photos of two of the weddings.) My parents divorced when I was eleven. My older sister never has married. My brother had to divorce his first wife. Why on earth did I think attaching myself to some boy who probably had even less of a clue than I did would somehow result in that magical state called “true love”?
When I was on the debate team in college, the first rule was “Define your terms.” That way both the Affirmative and the Negative teams knew exactly what the Affirmative team meant by the resolution being debated. When it comes to the search for love, I think the same rule should apply. After all, the statement “I love you” can have several different meanings and those meanings often depend on context. Matchmakers, dating services, and our best friends all ask the same question, “What are you looking for in a partner?” This is where it starts to get really complicated. Does the resulting list of characteristics represent the idealized image of the person whom you want to fall in love with? Or does it represent the person whom you want to fall in love with you? Are you really looking for a healthy relationship based on mutual give and take, or are you looking for a human transitional object that will soothe your insecurities and pay for your evening entertainment?
At this point in my life, I can see that wanting this perfect person to fall in love with me meant more than just having a boyfriend so I could go out on dates. It meant proving to the world that I had achieved the ultimate validation, the concrete emotional evidence that I wasn’t a loser, I wasn’t the last person chosen during schoolyard games. I wasn’t cold, alone, and miserable anymore. That’s what I hoped. Life hasn’t worked out that way.
Right now there’s all that Easter candy out there on the shelves. Most of it is chocolate. As adults, we know which brands are better than others. We know how to compare them and get the most value for our money. This skill comes from time, maturity, and a lot of taste-testing. Kids are different. When it comes to chocolate, kids don’t care. In the Dollar Tree you can find the phrase “chocolate-flavored” on many of the Easter items. There’s no actual cacao, just a lot of artificial colors and flavors. Unfortunately, the same can be said of some people. In the quest for love, some of us who crave True Love, the Real Thing, can become so desperate they will settle for the off-brands that are cheap, flashy, and artificial. It’s so hard to resist the temptation for a quick fix that will silence those nagging cravings and insecurities. It took me a while to learn the importance of patience, of saving up for the quality chocolate and the quality people.
My mother had her opinions about my boyfriends. When I was in middle school and awash in all kinds of hormonal angst over whether or not I’d ever get a boyfriend, Mom said I was “boy crazy.” Accurate, if not all that flattering or sympathetic. Years later, after I’d graduated high school and had spent some adventurous years working the Renaissance Faires, Mom managed to sum up both the quality and the quantity of my efforts to find love: “Well, at least you won’t wonder what you might have missed out on.” Once again, neither flattering nor all that sympathetic. Thanks, Mom.
So now that I’m a woman of a certain age, do I really know any more about love than when I first started dating boys? I’ve been married for thirty-four years come July, but that’s less of a testament to romantic love than to maintaining a stable home life for my sons. In a world of uncertainties, I know three things for sure: I love my sons, I love my cats, and I love really good dark chocolate.
“To be one woman, truly, wholly, is to be all women. Tend one garden and you will birth worlds.”
Springtime with its new growth of plants and flowers always makes me think of my maternal grandmother’s flower garden. They say inherited traits skip a generation. That means we’re more like our grandparents than our parents. This is certainly true of me and both of my grandmothers.
My maternal grandmother lived large in a time when that just wasn’t done. Her role model was her own mother, my great-grandmother. Back in the ’30s Nana had gotten a divorce then opened her own modeling agency, two actions way beyond the social norm for women of her time. Nana raised my grandmother in that environment of independence and determination. Grandma became a fashion model. The natural companion for a model is a photographer, right? My grandfather was a professional photographer who later earned a Masters in Cinematography from USC and worked for Universal Studios. I have many of the photos he took of Grandma which show her devilish smile and the wicked sparkle in her eye.
Grandma wrote a society column, full of parties and social events and the kind of good-natured gossip that makes for lively reading. Grandma’s column appeared regularly in the paper, but one day she got her photo in a Mexican newspaper as well. On a trip to Enseñada Grandma donned the traditional traje de luces of the bullfighter, complete with hat and cloak, and fought a bull right there in the bullring. And she won! I now have that “suit of lights” as a treasured reminder of the Grandma who went through the world with high spirits and a fearless heart.
When I think of Grandma’s house, I think of the garden out in the backyard. It might have been the Hall of Flowers at the county fair or the sales floor of an upscale nursery. When I was three years old, we lived with Grandma for a short time. At that age I got into everything, and that included the garden. The roses looked good enough to eat, in sugary pinks, deep golden yellows, and reds even darker than Grandma’s lipstick. Their scents mingled with the delicate fragrance of the night-blooming jasmine and the down-home sweetness of the honeysuckle vines. On hot summer days I liked to sit out there and just breathe.
A lot more grew in Grandma’s garden than just flowers. The towering tree with drooping branches blossomed with thousands of pale lavender petals. This was a “jacaranda.” I loved that word. New and strange, it made me think of spicy food in faraway lands. The raspberry bramble was a dangerous place for little hands and little tummies. The best berries were always deep in the bramble where the birds couldn’t eat them. I had to stick my hand way in there past all the thorns and spiderwebs and bugs. One day my cousin Kevin ate a bunch of berries before they were ripe. His stomach ache taught me the importance of patience, and of letting him go first!
The garden remains a symbol for all of Grandma’s quirks and strengths. What my childhood self remembers the woman I am now can interpret and understand. Grandma was beautiful and exotic and livened up her surroundings. Some days Grandma could be thorny. Some places in her house and in her life little kids just didn’t go. Boundaries are reassuring to a child, even when they provoke unbearable curiosity.
My father’s mother had a much different style. She married my grandfather and set up house as a farm wife, giving him three sons and three daughters. She lived through the Depression and both World Wars. She made a great mulligan stew, played Yahtzee like a pro, and never once commented on the length of my husband’s hair (a ponytail halfway down his back). At eighty-four this Grandma was still going strong and objected strongly to the law taking away her driver’s license.
Grandma lived at the same address throughout my entire life, a trailer park in Ohio. When I think of her garden, I think of the little field beside her trailer, a shaggy patch of weeds and blackberry vines, dandelions and wildflowers, lizards and birds and bumblebees as big as my little kid thumb. It’s a great big happy organic mess. Mother Nature is left to her own devices there. If anybody understands the importance of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” that was my Grandma.
As you can see, my grandmothers are two very different types of women. From my mother’s mother come my sense of adventure, my fondness for costumes, and my love of travel. From my father’s mother come my cooking skills, my love of board games, and my contentment with less than perfect housekeeping.
From both my grandmothers I’ve inherited the need to locate and preserve photos of every generation of the family back as far as I can find. I want my two sons to at least see the relatives they won’t have the opportunity to meet. These photos have become a garden of memories, one that will show my boys and their children the rootstock that we come from, the sturdy vines and delicate blossoms, the everyday ferns and the hothouse roses. I hope that all the babies yet to come will one day know they are the latest buds to blossom in a garden tended with love.
Every once in a while some of the peculiar skills I’ve picked up in this life come together in strange and surprising ways. I love Cost Plus World Market, especially during the holidays. I love the smell of the cedar wood and the glitter of the bangles from India and most of all I love the variety of Christmas ornaments for sale every year. I was on a mission to acquire some of the items on my gift list when three noteworthy events happened, in a very useful order.
One holiday season when I was browsing in Cost Plus I saw one of the store managerial people go hustling past, followed by a lady in a very nice suit, good jewelry, and high heels. Regular store staff would never wear heels like that, not on a concrete floor and not for an eight hour shift. Those high heels meant the lady had to be someone important, a director of a given geographical region or maybe even somebody from the corporate office. No wonder the staff were more numerous and much cheerier with an almost frantic edge.
Now for the second event. I spotted a large glass jar full of big old-fashioned skeleton keys in both bronze and pewter finish. Each key was attached to a key ring meant to hold regular everyday keys. Inspiration struck. I happened to be standing near the line where people waited for the next available checker. Another one of the managerial people stood there directing traffic. He was a nice young man, tall and husky with a good head of dark hair. I asked him if I might offer a suggestion. I explained what I do as a volunteer for the my local Post Office, answering the letters written to Santa Claus. Some of the children who live in houses without chimneys worry that Santa Claus won’t be able to deliver their presents on Christmas Eve. I told the young man that these keys would be a perfect solution. All he’d have to do is create a display that advertised special “Keys for Santa Claus” that could be hung up outside the front door.
The young man listened politely at first, then with growing attention. He began nodding along with me, giving me a bright smile. He thought that was an excellent idea. The timing was great too, because one of the people from high up in management was in the store that day. He could talk to her and get her approval, then get something set up later in the afternoon. The dear young man was getting so enthusiastic about the whole project I wanted to hug him.
And now for the third event. When I was looking over the Hanukkah display, I saw a few things that bothered me. Several young women in store aprons were bustling around. I asked one for help. I pointed out to her the area in the candy section where all the various types of chocolate coins were on display side by side. Then I led her around the back of the Hanukkah display and showed her the lower shelf where the Hanukkah gelt sat. I suggested to the young lady that she might put some of the Hanukkah gelt over by the other coins, so people who were looking for Hanukkah gelt would have an easier chance of finding it. The young lady was in full agreement. I mentioned the dreidels were also tucked away on the back side of the Hanukkah display. I persuaded the young lady to take some of the dreidels and put them into the bins up by the registers where you can find all manner of wonderful little trinkets from around the world. You can’t get to the registers in that store without passing by those bins, so the dreidels would be much easier to find.
For me, this was about fairness. The Hanukkah display consisted of just two shelves back to back in the middle of all the Christmas glitz. Celebrating the Miracle of Light deserves just as much respect, both religious and commercial, as other days of religious commemoration. If we can love each other, look out for each other, and do the little things that show respect for each other’s cultures and practices, then we really will achieve peace on earth.
On Valentine’s Day I stopped at Safeway. The eleventh hour romance shopping was in full swing. On the big flower-giving holidays I tend to loiter around the bouquets and potted plants. There’s always somebody standing there looking perplexed. Thanks to writing in the Victorian period, I know a bit about the language of flowers. Now and then I offer a helpful suggestion.
I was about to take a shortcut down the beer aisle. There stood a husky fellow in shorts and a T shirt, contemplating the six-packs. In one hand he held a sad bunch of four red carnations. No fern, no babies-breath. Oh no. I was looking at a train wreck just waiting to happen.
Right about then the guy noticed me standing there. I apologized for staring, then flat out said my fairy godmother alarm was going off. The guy laughed. I told him I didn’t want to be rude or anything. I was just concerned because most people associate carnations with funerals.
The guy’s whole vibe changed. He turned pale. I was afraid I had offended him, so I started to apologize. He made a shushing gesture, thanking me up one side and down the other. His lady had lost her father recently. When he said that, I could see him remembering the flowers at that funeral.
About 20 minutes later I headed out to my car. Oddly enough, I crossed paths with the same guy again. Now he held one of the fancy mixed bouquets. He thanked me again, saying he “really thought this must have been a God thing.” The relief in his voice made me feel the same relief.
Hello again. I come to you from the throes of the pandemic here in California. Our Governor Gavin Newsom now requires all of us (with appropriate exceptions) to wear masks when we’re out in public. Not just when we’re going into stores or other essential activities, but all the time. I’m delighted. As the mother of a medically fragile child, I don’t care how low the odds of infection might be. Any odds are too high when it comes to risking my son’s life.
The world has changed so much. Four months. Everything is different. If we know nothing else, we know we’re not alone in this world. We can kill each other by being careless. We can save each other by being mindful. We can unite, be strong, say a kind word. We can use that word, make signs, write on walls, spread it across the Internet, wear it on a T shirt, paint it on a car window. We can spread that kind word.
We can make the world better. Life is hard, times are tough, but we can make this pandemic a chance to heal more than just torn up lungs and traumatized minds. We can be the people we needed. We can delay the achievement of our private glories as we come together to build a world where we all can thrive.
I don’t know much, but I do know our hearts are all the same color. We are all the same in our component parts. Blood, breath, bone, spirit. We are all humanity. Bring back the Rainbow Coalition. Bring back the songs that we all sang together.
I believe this. I believe every word of it. I’m just one person. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Let’s start helping each other. We could all use a little more kindness.
Writers spend a lot of their time thinking about their characters’ deepest yearnings.
Sure, the protagonist wants to solve the problem that sets the story in motion. What else is going on down in the deeper layers of the protagonist’s psyche? What unmet need drives that character onward?
There’s a school of thought in psychodynamics that says we marry a person who represents our parent of the opposite gender. Men marry their mothers, women marry their fathers. As we know, the gender spectrum is not binary, so this thinking is clearly behind the times. Still, take a good look at the spouse and children of a close friend, somebody you know well enough to know about their nuclear family and its dynamics.
See any patterns there? Any repetition of childhood scripts?
At this point in my life I read a lot less romance and a lot more murder mystery. What does that say about the kind of escapism I’m yearning for? I’ve lived too long to get caught up in the romance paradigm. These days I’m a lot more interested in knowing that by the end of the book, the mystery will be solved and the killer will meet some kind of justice.
I yearn for solutions. I yearn for the power to stop arrogant maladjusted people from getting away with murder. I yearn for an orderly, well-mannered, peaceful world.
I can sum up the secrets of writing success in two words: Finish it!
Everybody loves the beginning. Even when it’s difficult and you don’t know where it start. That first flush of creativity, the excitement over a new idea, can be addictive. So addictive, in fact, that when the shine of a new idea wears off and the doldrums of rewriting set in, people often abandon a project for something new.
That way lies disaster.
Most writers have several ideas sitting around in various stages of development. It’s what we do. Successful writers figure out which ideas have the most potential and invest time and effort in developing those projects. Agents won’t look at unfinished manuscripts. Editors don’t buy unfinished stories. Readers don’t read either of these because unfinished projects never get published.
When I wrote my first fantasy novel, I hit a rough patch about 3/4 of the way through. For three solid weeks I thought every word I wrote was worthless. Every single day I had to bully myself through my word quota. Eventually I got through it and completed the manuscript. When I got to that “worthless” section later during the editing process, it wasn’t really all that bad.
When I wrote Ship of Dreams, my boys were both quite young. I wasn’t getting much sleep. There were lots of doctor appointments. When John was around 4 or 5 years old, we discovered he’s autistic. That was heartbreaking on top of all of Michael’s difficulties. Once again I hit that stage at the 3/4 mark where I couldn’t stand the story and wanted to give up. I also had a disk crash that cost me a chunk of work. Even with all this going on, and with the help of my agent, I completed the manuscript. That book sold.
Whatever you’re writing, finish it. Only when you get all the way to what you think is the ending, will you have a better idea of where the story should start. This is why they’re called roughdrafts. Just do it. Get it written. Throw everything at the page until you reach the end. Take a break. Step back. Let it cool. Then begin the edit and the rewrite.
I'm a professional writer living in Northern California with my husband and two sons. Fantasy in various forms is my reading and writing pleasure. I'm a history buff, a Japanophile, and I love to learn about language(s). I enjoy making jewelry, using natural materials such as wood, bone, semiprecious stones, and seashells. I collect bookmarks and wind chimes.