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Reading between the lines

 

One day I was speeding along at the typewriter, and my daughter—who was a child at the time—asked me, “Daddy, why are you writing so fast?” And I replied, “Because I want to see how the story turns out!” (Louis L’Amour, novelist)

My grandson and I were riding in the backseat of the car as my husband drove to kindergarten.

As we talked, Dakota picked up my second book in the Star League Chronicles. “What is your picture doing on the back?”

“Uh, I wrote the book.”

“Really?” he said. “It must have taken you at least a half-hour to write.”

“At least,” I responded. “Two years.”

My little buddy was amazed by my slow progress. I didn’t take umbrage. When my middle granddaughter saw my first book, The Curse Under the Freckles, she wanted to know where the pictures were. Grandparents, by my grandchildren’s measure, were invented as playmates, not boring adults who put together words on paper. And take years to write a single story.

Dakota and I enjoy becoming pretend pilots where the newbie Grandma-pilot does practice flights with a hundred passengers aboard. He decides how much gas a plane needs to fly cross-country. Five-dollars’ worth. Or we invent a game played in the gym with a mini football instead of a basketball.

In both plot and play, reality is suspended. Grandson and I open jet windows to shoo birds while Dakota snacks on cheese dipped in hot sauce. Literary subjects never come up.

Of course, the best fictional stories appear real as they unfold. Each life’s story has a beginning, middle, and end, often unplanned.

Sure, I wonder how my life will turn out. Change can happen in the last scene. However, savoring each day seems more satisfying than typing at deadline speed. Life’s end will come soon enough. In the meantime, I have a lot of seeds soaked in love to plant.

 

 

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alienI believe in an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out. (Arthur Hays Sulzberger)

When rain turns ground into mud, and mud spreads through everyday life, maybe I need a cleansing breath or two before getting out the spiritual mop.

A good imagination helps.

A creature like one of my grandchildren’s toys becomes an alien—the outer space variety. He has a name, but it isn’t pronounceable with a human tongue. I call him A-Z, because it is as close as earth interpretation can get. He lands close to a town and enters in the darkest hour of night.

A-Z sees only one person on the sidewalk. The alien’s intuition is strong enough to catch not only the individual’s language, but feelings. This character could be fictional—or it could be me. The alien sends messages of love. Does the earth resident receive them or see only differences?

Oh, I have ideas about how the person on the street could respond with fear and begin an intergalactic war. I also imagine a blind woman who isn’t limited by visual first impressions.

I believe in an open mind. But, exposed to the elements of reality, it gets muddy now and then. Time to return to real life…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When all’s said and done, all roads lead to the same end. So it’s not so much which road you take, as how you take it. (Charles de Lint, writer)

If there are spills on the kitchen floor and crumbs on the carpet during the next few days, I know who did it. Moi. Jay is spending some quality time with his siblings. I chose a quiet retreat pace—if three magazines and two books in bed qualify as embracing-the-simple.

Since I’m not a speed reader, chances are I haven’t exactly created a quiet one-thing-at-a-time retreat pace. My expectations usually include a ridiculous amount of multitasking, using unfocused brain synapses.

I am a writer, one who takes two steps backward and one forward. Today, reverse seems to be the primary gear. I have managed half a paragraph in two hours. The backspace key is getting most of the action.

The phone rings. My youngest granddaughter, Ella, is on the line. “Want to go to the library with me today?” The answer is a no-brainer. Grandma mode is simpler. It requires love. Word order doesn’t take a lot of thought on the grandparent path. I love you is adequate communication. No editing necessary.

Time to drive—through the rain and into the arms of a child.

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Peace isInspiration does exist, but it must find you working. (Pablo Picasso.)

Editing a manuscript can be like searching through garbage for lost tarnished silverware. Before the utensils pass inspection, they need to lose some crud. A shine may or may not happen after vigorous polishing.

Living real life is far more difficult. Its garbage never goes away. Peaceful existence demands a less judgmental approach. And—the work is never completed.

Sometimes persons who seemed to be so perfect, flub, big time. A friend disappears when needed. Or worse, dies. The evening news brings more continued discord than it brings news.

And yet, mother nature, world history, and current politics never promised to be fair.

I’m glad I can find inspiration in the love real life allows. Sometimes in the simplest ways. A day with a six-year-old grandchild. An unexpected phone call or thank-you card. A well-timed compliment. A new friend.

Inspiration exists, but it needs more than published-word acknowledgment. Thanks to all for your smiles, in person or via cyberspace. Sent to me, sure. However, any gift offered without expectation, is richer than any polished silver or word. Pass it on…

Peace.

 

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both books (2)_LI

I’m growing older, but not up. (Jimmy Buffett)

The tension in my neck tells me I am not in synch with the world as it is. Mass natural disasters are difficult enough to understand; mass hatred is another. I don’t need to delineate any of it. The blind can hear about it, and the deaf can read closed-caption. The unaffected remain in a narrow, wire-thin margin.

Pain begins before the first commercial on any news channel. Gentle heat helps my muscles. Distraction, blended with love, helps my spirit.

My husband and I take Dakota to afternoon kindergarten on Thursdays. Dakota asks me to sit in the back seat with him. We discuss the six-year-old boy world and his unique observations along the familiar route.

This young man notices details: The recycling truck has two steering wheels and two sets of brakes… He discerns how a toy train track fits together. His mechanical expertise will probably surpass mine before he reaches third grade!

During a rare pause Dakota notices the back cover of my second book, Stinky Rotten Threats. It is on the back seat between us.

“Isn’t that your picture? Why is it there?”

I smile. When I am with this young man, my intention is to focus on him. My successes, failures, and mundane trips to the doctor or post office don’t come up. He probably assumes I don’t pretend to pilot a plane without knowing what an instrument panel is. However, other than stocking the refrigerator with his favorite cheese and hot sauce, he wouldn’t know what else fills my day.

“This is what I do, buddy. I write. This is my second book.” (The first was The Curse Under the Freckles.)

“Wow,” he says flipping through the pages without looking at them. “It must have taken you more than an hour and a half.”

Dakota’s notion of numbers and time hasn’t developed yet. I realize I want world change overnight, in my spirit, even if my head knows a sudden transformation is as impossible as writing a middle-grade fantasy adventure in an hour and a half. The Star League Chronicles fights evil—not with fists and swords, but with truth. Even in make-believe, a story takes more than one page for goodness to win.

“Two years,” I answer. “It took me two years.”

He doesn’t say anything, but I suspect he thinks I must be mighty slow.

I don’t mind. Slow is the general idea. My neck thanks me. Growing up all the way isn’t recommended anyway.

 

 

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Making a living is nothing; the great difficulty is making a point, making a difference—with words.  (Elizabeth Hardwick )

A Monday morning toward the end of August. Rebe has said goodbye to braces. Her smile is free from metal. She is at the orthodontist now for the final X-rays. And big-sister Katie and I shop to prepare a special meal for her. Ravioli, her favorite. A dessert Rebe will help make since she will want to be in on the fun. And a carbonated beverage. Cola, a no-no for younger sister for the past two years. Katie and I find small fancy bottles. We choose to savor, not guzzle, since sweet colas and nutrition don’t have much in common.

I tell Katie about the wind and rain at the Hamilton County Fair last weekend. Mother Nature overdid the crowd control. Sure, I had fun and met a few new people. The day was wild. But wildly successful? Not exactly. I expect my granddaughter to go on to other topics: sports, friends, crafts.

Instead she asks, “So, what are you doing to let people know about your book?”

I hesitate. Katie is twelve-years old. My next event could come in a few months.

“What theme comes throughout the book frequently? Use that. In different ways… Make it stand out.”

We are outside a store as she asks. She grabs my heavy backpack and I carry the empty reusable bags for our purchases. I am aware of the disproportion. Not only in weight carried, but in information exchanged. I look at her and laugh.

“What is so funny?” she asks.

“You are. Because you are amazing. Tell me. How do you know all of this?”

“I go to book signings.”

She does. With her father. Gregory Petersen wrote Open Mike. He is working on other novels and has done standup comedy. Katie has made friends with writers. She has a superb imagination. In fact, she gave me an idea I used in my next book. I will give her an acknowledgment.

Not everyone has a twelve-year-old consultant. But then, she fits my audience. And I think about the typical preteen. The typical preteen who lives inside the average adult. In The Curse Under the Freckles Chase doesn’t have much self-confidence. He is surprised to get help from an inanimate thing, a tree, a Rainbow tree that offers magical gifts he could never expect.

The tree helps its Star League member with its multi-hued magic. It draws out the color inside the Star League student.

Since Katie has been helpful I tell her to get something for herself—she buys a present for her sister’s birthday instead. I don’t need to savor sweet cola. I have this precious time with my granddaughter before she starts seventh grade. My Rainbow-tree granddaughter. She brings out color inside me.

following dreams

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There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story. (Frank Herbert)

From my grandchildren’s point of view my published book is something like an honorary mention trophy. Nice on a shelf. When I gave my eight-year-old a copy of “The Curse Under the Freckles,” she wanted to know where the pictures were. The girls are more impressed by ice cream—chocolate chips blended in sweet raspberry flavoring. Or a day of pretend with Grandma. Touch a child’s life directly; that is what matters. The words will hit later.

My older son, Gregory Petersen, is also a writer. His book, Open Mike, was published through Martin Sisters several years ago. He is working through an agent with his next book. Greg is capable of writing thousands of words a day even though he has a full-time position that includes a leash phone; he takes his job as daddy seriously. I am more proud of him for his excellent relationship with his daughters than I am for his incredible ability with words. And his gift for expression is exquisite.

All life can be presented as a story. I often have difficulty turning that perception off because imagination doesn’t always fit the moment. For example: in the middle of the night. Oh sure, I’m told to write ideas down, whenever they come. But that doesn’t seem to be realistic when the notion isn’t a one-liner. The rolling avalanche of a plot and the inevitability of sleep deprivation are counter-productive in the long run.

Sometimes relaxation comes from reading—letting the thoughts of others feed me, especially when those thoughts lead to the profound. My sister Claire shared a book she had already read, Same Kind of Different as Me. It fits into the grab-the-soul category. Thanks, Sis.

Authors Ron Hall and Denver Moore tell a true story. Ron is an international art dealer. Denver is a modern-day slave, a sharecropper, who runs away into a life as a homeless person and decides it is better than being unofficially owned. The love of Ron’s wife, Deborah, leads toward an unlikely friendship.

Denver Moore says, “I found out everybody’s different—the same kind of different as me.” What and how he discovered that similarity, the human center-core spirit, is where the beauty of the story lives—sometimes clothed in miracles, or incredible pain, or deep sadness.

Stories never really end. The characters in my own tales develop a kind of reality. But in fiction, at least before publication, entire chapters can be erased and rewritten and then changed again. The past, present, and future are as pliable as soft clay.

In Hall and Moore’s story the facts of their lives remain solid because “The Same Kind of Different as Me” is non-fiction. At the end of the narration at almost seventy, Denver admits he has a lot to learn. The last page is not the last page.

In April Paramount plans to release a movie starring Greg Kinnear, Renee Zellweger, and Djimon Hounsou based on Ron and Denver’s New York Times best seller’s impossible journey. I did not know this until I checked the Internet for more information about the original publication.

Impossible, hidden, a forgotten acorn that becomes an oak…who knows? The story continues…Any story can continue…

same kind of different as me

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You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on them. You don’t let them have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space. (Johnny Cash)

Somewhere around two in the morning I waken with a throbbing right hand. Did I roll over onto it? Did my sleeping body drift into the past and forget that arthritis rules my right thumb. Inflammation tells each movement what it can do and what it can’t. And it is a strict taskmaster.

Of course I rebel. I have writing projects to complete, and the cooking, cleaning, and laundry don’t do themselves. Fantasy appears only in story form. Even on the written page reality intervenes. Sure, I can invent a character, a girl who floats into the air at will. However, if she levitates at the local Seven-Eleven havoc will appear, unless, of course that is part of the plot.

A cold compress helps my hand. It tells it to stop complaining for a few minutes anyway. Somewhat. So does calming thought. But sleep does not return. I get up at four and begin to write, trying to embrace the silence as a gift. I add a page to my next novel, then another. This does not mean they won’t be backspaced later. A story has progressed. The missed sleep will demand to be repaid later. For now I take advantage of the moment.

The ache reminds me that I am alive. Fully. In this moment. I’m told this is the most common form of arthritis. Osteoarthritis. As my parents, aunts, and uncles told me: “It won’t kill you. You’ll just die with it.”

Finding someone with more serious problems is easier than I would like. I’ve been praying for a young friend who is expected to be in intensive care for longer than the two weeks originally expected. She, too, is a writer. And a reader. Her security is a book resting on her chest along with the ambiance of IVs, monitors, and an existence where pain owns the building. She has had two surgeries. Complications continue. So far her miracle begins with survival.

A child close to me has a friend who died of a rare inherited disorder; her sister has the same disease. My little friend is reluctant to talk about her grief. So I cannot reveal her identity. Life and joy do not circumvent difficulties. They travel through them.

The sun peeks through the window of my office, also a toy room, the place where my grandchildren and I play. The rays will find family pictures, disorder, my half-empty coffee cup, and possibilities I don’t see yet.

Sure, I would like to take the brace off my hand post-miracle. But I’m not going to count on it. However, I haven’t typed the ending to my story yet. That choice isn’t mine anyway.

 

seeing the inside brightness

hand brace09212015_0000

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Fiction is art and art is the triumph over chaos… to celebrate a world that lies spread out around us like a bewildering and stupendous dream. (John Cheever)

My husband asks me where I would like to go on vacation.

“I have fond memories of Michigan,” I answer. “We went there when I was in grade school.”

He decides on Ontario, but knows I won’t complain. Vacation decisions are in his corner. Not only can’t I read a map that leads to our local grocery store, world exploration isn’t on my radar. Sure I had a fantastic time in Norway and Bavaria. I have a fantastic time walking in the woods, entertaining friends and family, or singing karaoke, even though I’m a soprano and the crowd is made up of half-drunk folk who would rather hear Willie Nelson. Okay, I’m not crazy about being around the inebriated. Change that scene to a senior center filled with the hearing impaired.

I am peculiar and know it. Capturing the world by visiting each place isn’t as important to me as capturing the words that explain the world. I write regularly for Piker Press. Three of my poems will appear in FOR A BETTER WORLD 2015. I have been involved with their mission for the past five years. My first novel, a middle-grade fantasy, should come out before school starts. It is being published through Post Mortem Press, a small but mighty independent publisher. The press specializes in horror, but has branches that include other works such as cozy mysteries by Patricia Gligor. Her fourth book, “Mistaken Identity,” will be coming out in about two weeks. Pat and I are in the same critique group; she is an excellent resource and a superb writer.

I will be talking more about my chapter book later.

For now I simply want to say that everyone floats a different boat. And that is okay. Sometimes, as I drive I wonder how to describe what I see—from diverse points of view. How would this roadway look to someone with a serious illness? To a man on his way to settle an important deal, or lost? I can wake up at two in the morning and be aware of a story notion before I notice that my bladder is overfull. Peculiar is probably not an adequate description. And yes, if you want to feel sorry for my husband, I understand.

“Sweetheart, I recorded a show you will really like,” he says.” Josh Groban should be on any second.”

“Okay,” I answer. “I just need to write one more line.” Always just one more line.

Who knows? Maybe one of these days I will follow every word when he explains a sports play. Stranger things have happened. He and my sons were my mentors in the first portion of my chapter book. Thanks, guys.

What makes you wake up and feel more alive?

weird writers from screenwriting u

 

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No, no! The adventures first; explanations take such a dreadful time. (Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass)

I’ve been invited to play a game, my favorite kind, a writer’s game. I’m taking part in a blog tour. Sarah Wesson extended the invitation. She writes: Earful of Cider: The Caffeine Gnomes Demand Tribute. Her answers to the seven questions for the tour can be found there. Her writing is worth the click. Sarah is a word chef who serves insight as a main course with side dishes of well-seasoned humor.  She listed the seven questions and answers one at a time. I will reply to all in a single paragraph. I have a self-imposed word limit on my entries. Moreover, my focus is positive thinking, not the art of writing. Anyone who wants to check on the thoroughness of my responses can look up Sarah’s blog—actually I hope you do.

The main character in the fictional short story I bring to the tour comes from the recent past. He lives in an unnamed town, somewhere in the United States where wild rabbits run free from one yard to another, behind bushes and trees, present one moment, disappearing the next. Carson is in third grade. He needs to keep the events of his foster home environment secret because he is afraid he could make his life even more unbearable than it already is. All he wants to do is survive. At least that’s what he thinks he wants, until he meets Robin, the peculiar girl with teeth aligned like the boards in a crooked fence. She has a wobbly walk and an upbeat attitude. “Among the Rabbits” should appear at Piker Press on approximately August 18.

I tagged Greg Petersen and asked him to introduce his character approximately a week from today. If the surname sounds familiar, that’s because he is my son and a writer who happens to have a keen insight into the human situation. Below is his bio:

Gregory Petersen is a writer, editor, comedian, coach, husband, and father of two beautiful daughters.  His novel, Open Mike, was released by Martin Sisters Publishing in June of 2013,  and his next book, Dreaming Out Loud, is close to completion.  He has performed at The Funnybone, Go Bananas, Wiley’s, as well as several charitable and corporate events.  When not writing or performing, he is following The Cincinnati Reds, training to run another very slow marathon, or goofing off on Twitter (@gregjpete).  He was born, raised, and still remains in Cincinnati, Ohio.

I am adding that Greg has also written a blog that demonstrates his ability to see humor in everyday life: Professional Goofball.

Kudos to the two people, before and after me in this tour. It takes time to participate. I am glad to let other folk celebrate you and your writing. Thank you, Sarah Wesson and Gregory Petersen!

I have met many folk who read only nonfiction. I must admit that many fascinating books focus on fact. However, fiction opens up worlds that don’t exist and makes them real within the first few paragraphs. The story that uncovers beauty hidden inside darkness  makes the world a better place, eventually.

May the adventures continue!

books

 

 

 

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