Saturday, June 20, 2009

Writing Up a Storm

For those who write novels, you know ideas, although plentiful, are not always zipping up and introducing themselves. We look for original, fresh material, yet knowing everything is old and wrinkled. Once we make peace with this, those worn out ideas can be whipped into something new; a magical concoction infused with our unique personalities and life experience.

Novel writing is brutal work. I’ve recently finished a second one, and for those who believe otherwise, go ahead and write one and then we’ll chat. Heck, I’ll even buy you lunch, although you will have earned a Caribbean cruise and more.

To complete a novel, you’ll need to spend at least a year or two, and sometimes ten, working alone. Characters will need created, as well as setting. You get to boss people around on the page, telling them how to act, what to say, how to dress, where to live, who to see, etc… For the slight control freak this is the ultimate rush.

Hmm… think I just made a confession.

Your imagination will also be on call twenty- four-seven, sometimes jarring you awake in the dead of night, and you, half blinking, fumbling for paper and pencil. Lights off, I write the idea down, although I’ll need a translator next morning to read it.

Even the most passionate writer wonders sometimes why they do this. You are basically entertaining yourself, hoping eventually to entertain others. Every day the white computer screen shows up, waiting for you to fill with black words straight from your red hot muse. This if you’re lucky. Some days words are dry and cracked and you wonder if the monsoon will ever come again.

But when the storm does arrive, and it usually does, we sing, off key, on key, any key as long as words flow. In the funnel of story, a writer could care less if non-writing neighbors and friends whisper under their breath, speculating about what we do all day. They spot us walking dogs, or eating the occasional lunch at Panera’s, or sneaking a Mocha Frap at Starbucks when we can dig up extra change, and think we’re goofing off. They don’t realize we might be doing a little PR, such as leaving book fliers on a bulletin board. Or viewing life in action, the wild material we need for writing up a good thunderstorm. Maybe we’re just getting out so we don’t go nuts. Those of us who are highly social (me) have to strike a balance here.

Have you ever heard these comments from friends or family?

“Oh, you work? Yea, the book thing.” Or “We thought of you for this project because you’re at home and have extra time.”

“Why thank you for your kind thoughts,” I say. “But, yes, I do work, and I’ll have to pass on that.”

Maybe you can relate to the “YES MAN” syndrome. If you can, I hope you’ve passed the torch like I have. Practice saying, “No thank you” in the mirror until your voice cracks. Yes now comes when I find something important and not the other way around. Writers must carve out time to work like everyone else.

These occasions are also opportunities to practice grinning skills. Once the work some forgot you were doing comes to fruition, you’ll be smiling until your face aches; at book signings, even if only one person shows up, workshops, neighbors and friends. Prior to publishing, you might also want to hang out with car salesmen.

Did I hear groaning?

Despite their reputations, they have pesky sales skills which will come in handy when attempting to chit-chat your way into people’s hearts and wallets.

The truth is, novel writing is hard work, and so is selling, but I wouldn’t trade either for the world. You know as well as I do, we writers sometimes, eh, often, work for years on a wing and prayer before anyone notices our writing bloom. We do this because writing has chosen us and not the other way around. And if lucky, we touch many with our words.

In the end, that’s why we show up day after day, and year after year, writing up a storm.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

North Beach Diet

Diets do not appeal to me. My thighs, however, love them. That said, my whole family has climbed aboard the South Beach Diet boat. I still don’t know how I coaxed them, but we’re paddling all the same. Yes, we’re arriving somewhat late, but better late than never. Or is it?

Since Sunday we’ve been swimming in eggs, salads, meat, and ricotta cheese. Waves will be high the first two weeks. The thunderstorm of eggs already has me shaky. If I even imagine an egg now, I cringe. This, and we’re only on day four. Good thing I have my V-8 juice. Great thing I like it. We’ve already consumed more spinach than Popeye, and I half expect to wake one morning and scare my own self to death with bulging muscles. Oh, did I mention we can’t eat fruit for two weeks? I now fantasize about apples and oranges. Sad, I know.

Last night we had a prolonged discussion on cheeseburgers and M&Ms. I finally put a stop to this. Food talk hour is now off limits, punishable by extra eggs. Pretty sure this will work.

Now back to the ricotta. With this diet I’m supposed to whip up dessert every night with this white pasty cheese. You add slivered almonds, almond extract, artificial sweetener, and serve it chilled. Yuma!

Just kidding.

It tasted a bit like gussied up glue. The expressions on family faces ranged from horrified to disgusted. A bit discouraged, the next night I added cocoa powder and baked it. Like a cheesecake, I thought. Oh, I love cheesecake. But I can’t talk about that. Anyway, it was better, but still far from cheesecake. Did someone say cheesecake?

Well, the good news is, weight is dropping. Three pounds down all around. If we can make friends with the egg we’ll have it in the bag. On the third week, we’ll see our precious fruit once again. Be introduced to a potato. If you don’t hear from me in the next ten days it means I’ve slipped into an egg induced coma. Someone please call a chicken. But really, this is a fine diet, as far as diets go.

If I could have it my way, though, I’d create the North Beach Diet. Only those who eat chocolate cake, cheeseburgers and French fries could participate. No bikinis on this beach. Skinny people are not allowed. Thighs flap here and have a grand time. Triple chins are all the rage. Sunsets would swirl with barbecue smoke. Eggs, ricotta cheese and salad would be curse words punishable by law.

But meanwhile I must go toss a salad.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Gooseberry Family

The Gooseberry Family

You might not know this family, but Mrs. Gooseberry can cook. Mr. Gooseberry builds fabulous birdhouses and bonfires. The boy tells grand stories. All three living among flame colored birds and a stream in back, brisk and swollen with fish. In spring mushrooms hide in their woods, shooting from warmed soil like fleshy bullets.

When seized by morning sunlight, the Gooseberry family rises to the tinkle tinkle of creek floating in through screened windows. All are open. Every one. Mrs. Gooseberry eats her eggs, then rolls Swedish meatballs for dinner. She stuffs them in the crock- pot, the smell eventually simmering in every nook and cranny. Nightfall finds the family sitting among stars and fire and tree frogs. A breeze blows. They are like eggs in a nest of land.

To find the Goosberry’s one would twist and turn down dirt roads, past fragrant honeysuckle, draping like spotty lemon-colored quilts above the road. Keep going past trees exploding with tiny orange persimmons, a fat hornets nest buzzing up one. Then cross a wooden bridge that goes click clack, click clack. A stand of cedar next, big, small and medium. Tucked beside green, their tiny cabin, glass panes gleaming like sunlit diamonds.

They do not own a TV, not and never have. Books and music are consumed daily. Woods are walked. Gardens tended. They have watched blossoms transform to apples, and bees disappear into flower cups; life up close and personal.

In summer the boy roams the woods, plucking blackberries and gooseberries. When he returns, bucket brimming, mother will make green gooseberry pie.

She would never tell someone new to gooseberries how tart they are, though. But she will watch you take that first sweet/tart bite and grin when you pucker like crazy. Yet she knows you will finish every last bite, curiously satisfied.

Mrs. Gooseberry likes this.

On sunny days, when work is done, Mr. Gooseberry hits plastic golf balls in back, which sometimes plop in the creek, floating downstream like bloated white fish. Other times he inadvertently aims at Mrs. Gooseberry, sitting quietly reading her book. She’s been popped on the noggin enough with golf balls to automatically flinch when he whacks them, yet still comes outside.

“EXCUSE ME!” she will shout when he accidentally hits her. And if she feels it’s intentional, she pulls out her wide vocabulary and uses it. Mr. Gooseberry then kisses her on the forehead, an easy apology.

Those wacky Gooseberry’s can be found down a country road.