Writing Process

Write After Reading: Coming to a Close

Write After Reading: Writing the Life Poetic has been a weekly online book club with poetry participation. It has alternated between my blog and Laura Salas’s blog.

For a couple of months now Laura and I have worked our way through reading and writing poetry together. The exercises have been both fun and enlightening. It seems the more I struggled against the exercises the more I got out of it once I actually did the work. Having a buddy to read and discuss the book with made it more fun and, of course, made me accountable to actually doing what I said I was going to do.

We’ve reached the end of our journey with this particular book. It feels like the right time. And now that we’re in the midst of summer, many readers have summer activities on their plate. I want to thank those of you who read along with us, whether or not you posted, and those who joined us in sharing our exercise here on the blogs. Poetry really can be a universal conversation.

The book we used, Writing the Life Poetic, by Sage Cohen, is so accessible. The chapters are short and the exercises are full of variety. Even if you didn’t get the chance to read along with us this time, I highly recommend the book.

Thank you again, to all who participated and cheered us on. Stay tuned for further adventures in Write After Reading. If you have a book you’d like us to consider for the club, please let us know.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: |2 Comments

A plan for the plan

It’s a good day for reflecting so I’m looking back at the goals I’ve set for myself for the year, the habits I hope to cultivate and the planning I’m doing in order to make it all happen.

I tend to think big. I’m a great idea person and brainstorming is like crack to me, I get so excited by the many possibilities and think I can and should be able to do it all. And maybe I can, just not all at the same time. So this year I’m writing down all those great ideas and then picking a few for the year and then, breaking it down even further, picking a few for the first quarter and then for the first month. From there it goes to daily and then hourly.

When I worked in the corporate world we called this making a plan for the plan. I used to laugh at it. We’d fly people in from all over the world and then we’d spend a week or two in one of the giant conference rooms making plans for the plans. We had giant pads of paper on easels around the room, maybe 20 of them, and each group would brainstorm around various topics then tear off the paper and tape it to the wall. Then they’d rotate to the next topic and another group would come in and brainstorm around the same topic the first group just did. Then we’d do it again, combining ideas, filtering them, moving them from group to group. We’d fine comb this several times until finally, at the end of a week or two we had a plan for the plan. A nice overview that the managers could take back to their team, plug into Microsoft Project, and begin to plan in more detail.

There’s a power in planning that I have rarely achieved in my creative life.

But this time, some lessons I’ve always known but rarely applied seem to be sticking. I made a huge dream list. I culled it for must-dos. I organized the list. I picked one project for the first quarter and then broke that project down into daily goals. Finish a rough draft in three months when my writing has been sporadic this last year sounded intimidating. Writing two poems a day for three months makes it sound doable.

So planning is working for me but I think it is working for me because I am making time for it.

Planning to plan. Planning to succeed. I like the sound of that.

Monday, January 17, 2011|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: |5 Comments

Planning My Writing Time

Usually by this time of the year I am going crazy with preparations for a teacher assignment at an at-risk detention facility. For whatever reason, I didn’t get an assignment this year. I’ll admit to feeling a little bit down for a day when I realized the time for assignments had gone but now I realize that it was likely the Universe telling me it was time to just knuckle down and finish some writing projects of my own. When I teach, I find it hard to write much of anything except my daily teaching reports. Teaching is exhausting. Teaching poetry to incarcerated young men is VERY exhausting.

So I’m listening to the Universe and trying to focus, instead, on SS which is a YA verse novel inspired by last year’s Poetry Month poems about my father. I’ve never been one of those people who thought much about how many words I got down each day. NaNoWrimo never worked worked for me. And except for deadlines that come when I am writing on assignment, I’ve never tried to get a certain project done by a certain day. Which probably explains why a lot of my novels are waiting to be finished.

But the last two years for National Poetry Month I committed to writing a poem a day, every day, on a certain topic. And I did it, without fail.

So I’m setting myself a new goal – I want to have a ROUGH draft of SS done by the end of March, before National Poetry Month begins. I’m rounding out the time left between then and now to 75 days. (actual number is 78) I’m not counting what I already have done but if I did 2 pages a day, that would give 150, 3 pages a day would be 225. Since this is in verse, I’m setting it at 2 poems a day. Some fit one one page, some will run longer. Now no one knows how long a book is going to be and I’m not going to worry about the specifics. I’m just going to try for 2 poems a day.

Now I don’t think that means the book will be done by the of March but I can’t revise until I have something to work with so that’s the goal. One rough draft of SS by March 31st.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , |7 Comments

The distance between real life and story

There have been some things going on in my life lately. Some things that have me thinking those deep, dark thoughts that keep you up at night. I found this old post from a few years ago that touches on it somewhat and I thought I’d share it again, (with some editing) because it explains a lot of where my mind is at of late . . . though it helps if you can read between the lines.

* * *
Hemingway said, and I can’t remember the exact quote so I’ll try to paraphrase it, he said that he couldn’t write about Paris when he lived there. He had to leave Paris before he could put the words on the page that would describe his experiences. While living there it was too much, too intense, too something and it skewed his vision. He needed distance and the passage of time before he could tell his story.

Some stories, while not easy, can still be written while you are in the midst of living them. When my kids were little I wrote about events within weeks or months of them happening. It was fun, like putting things in their baby scrapbooks. I recorded their awkward moments, their growth, and many of our special family memories. I told stories about our family and I got paid for it. Now I can go back and reread those old articles and it’s like picking up an old teddy bear and paging through a scrapbook of their childhood.

But other stories, perhaps those that touch the most painful parts of us, lay fallow for many years before the words begin to venture forth. I believe our emotions go into self-preservation mode and give us time to heal before we’re strong enough to attempt share a piece of ourselves through the telling of a story. My first picture book, Can I Pray With My Eyes Open? rested deep beneath the surface for over 25 years before it burst forth, near fully formed in one sitting. I can tie that story to an exact moment in time, when I was 10 years old, and I know that the book was an answer to a question asked long ago. Another picture book, Oliver’s Must-do List , seems, at first, to be a simple story about a mother and a child have a playday together but I can tell you now that it was born of guilt – immense guilt that my children were grown and I couldn’t go back and spend more time with them. Hugging the Rock is a novel about fathers and daughters, but more than that, it is about making peace with things you cannot change. I never knew my father and I wondered about him for many years. I can’t remember when I finally stopped searching but when I did, I realized that my own story was inching closer to the surface, closer to being ready to be heard.

Hugging the Rock is also about picking up the pieces after a divorce. Though many friends advised me to, I couldn’t write about my own divorce in the years immediately after it happened. The pain was too immense, the emotions too raw. But time was a helpful balm. Eventually my emotions bubbled to the surface telling me when it was time to write the story. In the process of the writing there were still some deep and painful moments but because I had waited, I was strong enough to go to the dark places and still come out alive. Enough time had passed that I could accept the blame for what was mine and let go of the blame for anything else. I could see the details through the tears.

There are other childhood events I want to write about someday but they’re still simmering and I’m still healing. Those stories will have to wait a bit longer. It’s been almost a dozen years but I know I am not yet ready to write about my time in New Orleans. I don’t know how long it will take before I am brave enough to face those demons head on. Not all my writing is tied to a piece of my past but I am making an effort to mine the treasures I have within because I do believe that’s where the juiciest stories wait to be told.

As many of you know, I’m working on Flyboy’s story right now. This project began over 25 years ago when my then-husband and I spent weekends out on the tarmac, our necks straining as we watched the sky at the air shows the way film buffs watch the movies.

What part of my life is like Flyboy’s? Where’s the connection? What makes it so hard to write? I don’t fly planes. I’m not adopted. My dad wasn’t famous. But I know what it’s like for the main character to obsess about planes the way I obsess about writing. I know what it’s like to wonder where you came from and how that might affect where you’re going. I know what it’s like to feel lonely even in the midst of a family.

When you’ve been working on a book for over 25 years, like I have with this one, the story becomes so wrapped up in your own life that sometimes it’s hard to remember what happened to me and what happened to Flyboy. Was it Flyboy or was it me that found the box that held so many secrets? Was it Flyboy or was it me that met someone who knew their father and answered questions held silent for so long? Was it Flyboy or was it me that finally realized the true meaning of family?

I hope it is both. I hope I can tell that kind of a story, one that feels like it happened to you.

I hope that helping Flyboy find his answers will help me decide what to do with some questions of my own.

Thursday, November 5, 2009|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , |11 Comments

Need help with your synopsis?

Need help with your synopsis? Head over to where she’s got it all explained for you, including an easy, peasy, fill-in-the-blanks thing to help you get started.

Monday, September 7, 2009|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: |8 Comments

Saturday Six – A Flyboy Edition (with a whisper from Plant Kid)

This week got away from me. I thought about blogging on Thursday and Friday but I missed it. I have a good excuse though. I’ve been working on Flyboy. In my actual office even.

1. I started this week with seven chapters of a sloppy draft of Flyboy. The goal being to get all the main characters introduced and show a couple of flying scenes. Goal met.

2. It was a really, really sloppy draft. So much so that a couple of times I wanted to cry because I thought I had forgotten how to write. I recovered enough to realize I do know how to write but am still not sure I know how to write this story.

3. Began revising. Why now? Because I wanted to get this partial into shape enough to send to my agent.

4. This week I printed out what I had written. Made changes in hard copy. Input changes. Went through and let Word highlight all my typically overused words. I am now on Chapter Four excessive word use clean-up.

5. After I finish #4, hopefully in a few hours, I will print it all out and go through it one more time. Then I will have no excuses left and have to face the, (cue the music) dreaded synopsis.

6. Plant Kid is still whispering in my ear though. He told me he wants his own blog and I about had a heart attack.

Saturday, August 22, 2009|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , , |12 Comments

word help – how to swear without swearing

I’m looking for some colorful, possibly dumb and dorky, words and phrases that would substitute for swearing for a character.


Decided to update this post with the list so far from here and Facebook.. These are GREAT! Thank you everyone. Keep them coming.

schucks, fudge, fiddlesticks, sonofagun

Granny used to say Hoover Dam! Horse poop, fish hooks and geewillikers are others that come to

horse hockey, darn, darn-it-all, giminy/jeeminy

Sugar the cat! Sweet biscuits!

Judas Priest, Sun of a Pup


Cripes! Jiminy Cricket! Shut the front door! Freakin’! Zoinks! Jinkies! (those are from the Scooby-Doo oeuvre.) Crikey! Crappity doo-dah! Heckuva, sweet jeehosefat, darned, bull-shucks. Holy shoot!

Fewmets (Basically, they’re dragon droppings. Can’t get much dorkier than that. 😉

My personal favorite (also in the dorky category, but in more of a Clark Kent way) is "Heavens to Betsy!"

Jeepers Christmas

"Dang it" is a popular one. "Shoot". "Darn it"
"Jumpin’ Jiminy Christmas!" – this is one that I’ve only heard south of the Ohio River. Not sure how wide spread it is.

Hol(e)y Buckets!

My grandma used to say "Shoot far fuzzy" or "dadgummit" or "well….foot"!


Fadoodle. (Usually "I don’t give a flying fadoodle.")

Shut the front door! – instead of Shut the f*** up!

"Cahn-sarn-it" and to steal one from Daffy Duck – "Razza-frazza".

Oh, applesauce has been a fav lately. But for the BEST ever swearing without swearing, watch Ned Flanders on The Simpsons.

I’ve taken to saying "Mother biscuit!" lately. No, I have no idea where that came from.
"Rassumfrassum" is another popular one with me.

Colonel Potter (M*A*S*H) always used to say "horse hockey" with great conviction. He also used buffalo bagels and cow cookies.

A friend of mine is quite fond of holy guacamole.

My grandmother always said, "BS" followed by, "That means Brown Sugar."

Ratzafrazz is another one. This one I used to avoid being grounded.

Saturday, August 15, 2009|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: |60 Comments

Friday Five – A Flyboy Edition

1. I am on page 47 of Flyboy’s story.

2. I have written all week.

3. I made it over a mini hump in the story.

4. I did some clean-up, some deleting.

5. I am still on page 47 of Flyboy’s story.

Friday, August 7, 2009|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , |13 Comments

You can't think your way to the end of the book

I’m reading the book Ron Carlson Writes a Story right now. He talks about a lot of things that really speak to me, things I need to remember when I am writing or maybe more importantly, when I am not writing. One of them I want to share.

You can’t think your way through a story.

You start off thinking about what you want to write and you get a general idea and then you start to write.

It’s that simple.

It’s that hard.

You can outline and pre-plot and do your index cards of scenes and chart high points and mid points and black moments. But then you need to put it all aside and just write. Through-out the book you start and stop to think and then start again but you can’t think it all the way through all at once. You shouldn’t try. Because it is the process of writing the story that brings the story to you, to life. There are things you can’t think about until you see the story unfold as you write.

But it’s one of those things you have to take on faith. I need to remember that.

Example. The other day on Twitter I threw out one of my favorite writing exercise questions – what does your main character have in his pocket? And I thought about my main character and the scene I was working on. I knew he had a wallet that wasn’t his but one thing wasn’t enough. Because I had been reading Carlson’s book I just threw in a couple of things, the first things that came to mind, a pack of gum and a parking ticket. Now I have never had a parking ticket in my life and I have no idea where that parking ticket came from but I just plugged it into my Twitter update, hit send and went out into the yard to work in the garden and think for a little while about those things in his pocket. Then I got busy cutting back the dogwoods and collecting seeds and pretty soon I wasn’t thinking about the character anymore at all.

After a few hours in the garden I came inside and went back to my WIP. My character had to go someplace but I didn’t know where he was going to go first. I didn’t know how to figure out where to start. So I looked at that parking ticket and there was a city and a state on it. And that’s where I went. I don’t know what’s going to happen when I get there and that’s okay.

I’m going to trust the process will get me where I need to go.

Monday, May 25, 2009|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: |14 Comments

7 characters from my WIP and why I love them

Several people in the past have given me and my blog various awards and I need to apologize if I have not jumped in with an immediate reply. I am trying to do better in the future. Thanks to  Jama for awarding me the Kreativ Blogger award.

The idea is to share 7 things that you love. I really liked Jama’s suggestion of 7 songs that she would stay in the car for so she could hear the ending.

My first thought was to post the 7 writing books I reread every year but then I realized I had more than 7 so I will save that for another post. I briefly considered the 7 blogs I have to read every day but again, that number was more than 7. I would love to be creative and share the 7 characters I love best from children’s books but alas, I read sooo many books that my memory holds the story but not the character, not always, until something triggers it. 7 television shows? Hmmm, perhaps.

But I think I am going to tell you about the 7 characters I love from current WIP projects that I hope to finish in the near future. I have to love them in order to work on them, right? And note that “near future” does not correspond to a calendar. Not setting myself up for failure on that one. No way. But here are 7 characters from various WIP and why I love them.

#1 Flyboy.
Flyboy is the MC in the YA prose novel I am working on now. I love Flyboy because he is me. Substitute his love of flying for my love of writing and we are the same person, well except for the fact that he’s a guy and I’m a girl. And he’s going to get the answers to questions I’ll never get the answers to. And he has a pilot’s license. And a dad. But except for that we’re practically the same person. He is insecure when he shouldn’t be. He worries about the past and what it says about his future. He speaks first and deals with the consequences later. He is horribly flawed in search of family connections and when I finish his story I am going to have a meltdown akin to the one I had when I finished Hugging the Rock.

#2 Plant Kid.
Plant Kid is the MC in a MG prose novel that is hovering on the sidelines at the moment. I love Plant Kid because he is an awkward pre-teen who is trying to find his way in the world and can’t seem to figure out where he fits in. His best efforts often backfire but darned if he doesn’t keep coming back for more. When he discovers the beauty in nature and makes the connections to his own life, I can see him blossom like a garden in spring. Come to think of it, he’s me too.

#3 Max & Frankie
Max & Frankie star in a MG prose novel that is still very new though the characters have been with me for about 5 years. I love Max & Frankie because well, Max is a dog and I love dogs – all dogs, all shapes and sizes and breeds and dispositions. I love Frankie because he is a tireless crusader for Max despite his own unenviable circumstances. He really and truly believes that loving someone, something, is enough in this world. Hmmm…I’m started to see another connection to, you guessed it, me.

#4 Cooper.
Cooper is the hero, flawed as he is, in a MG verse novel where an impulsive act has far reaching consequences. On one hand I understand why Cooper did what he did. On the other hand, I can’t believe Cooper did what he did. Some of Cooper’s story is inspired by previous workshops I have taught at alternative schools. Some of it will no doubt be inspired by the current workshop I am doing with incarcerated teens. And a part of it is inspired by events in my own life, so yes, part of Cooper is me too.

#5 Paolo
Paolo first showed up in a picture book that got many wonderful comments from editors (in rejection letters) about the beautiful language. Alas, there was also a distinctive lack of plot. What I have finally realized is that Paolo’s story is much bigger than a picture book. It is an entire novel. A MG historical novel which will involve a tremendous amount of research. Paolo’s wants in life are simple; a warm bed at night, enough food to eat, someone who loves him. But the simplest things in life often elude us when we need to focus all our energies on just staying alive. There is a part of me, the part of me that lived and died and in New Orleans, that breathes in Paolo. If I can bring that emotional energy to his story I may be able to let go of some of my own pain.

#6 Hannah
Hannah is my grandfather’s best friend. She follows him everywhere and relives the parts of my childhood that I cherish the most. Hannah also came to me in a picture book first. And her story was also rejected, many times. Though the rejection letters were filled with praise the fear of it being too nostalgic was very real. I know now that I need a whole MG novel in order to tell Hannah’s story. But first I need to find a way to make it more her story and less mine. I think they may be a mystery involved. I’m not sure.

#7 Missy
Poor Missy. Ever since her mother died her life has never been the same. Especially after the guy moved in across the street with nothing more than a duffle bag and one other very important item. Her obsession may be her downfall or her salvation, I’m not sure which. I have rewritten the first chapter of Missy’s story, a MG prose novel, more times than I can count. Every word, every sentence, is exactly as I want it to be. But therein lies the problem. I devoted so much time to that first chapter that it has sat in the drawer for a dozen years waiting for me to find the creative energy to unlock the rest of the story. In this way it is much like me, waiting for years for the opportunity to follow my heart, never realizing that baby steps in that direction really would be enough to get me started.

The common thread in all these characters is my love for them but also it is that a part of me is in each of them. I think it is the only way I know how to bring a character to life.

Sunday, January 25, 2009|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: |10 Comments

Out of order – a question of scenes

The first two books I ever wrote were novels, sweet young adult romances with a very predictable plot line. Girl falls for wrong boy. Complications ensue. All is made right with the world and the good guy gets the girl. 12 chapters each and each chapter ran about 12 pages. I wrote them sitting on the stoop in the garage watching my first husband work on cars. And I wrote them straight through, from beginning to end. I figured that was just the way you were supposed to write a book, the same way you would read it, chapter by chapter. Plus I was taking a creative writing class and it just made sense to have the next chapter ready to turn in each week. (Egads, did I really write that much, that fast, back then? I think I did.)

Along the way I have written a lot of other things, picture books and articles and basically anything I could get paid for. Because my life was crazy busy with two young children I learned to write all over the place, in the car, the waiting room, watching karate lessons. When I went back to working on a novel again I pretty much assumed that I would do it the way I had before, scene by scene, chapter by chapter, in order. Of course I also assumed I would be writing it in straight prose, not free verse, which is what happened with my middle grade novel, Hugging the Rock.

When I was stumped, I mean totally blocked on the straight prose version, a friend suggested that I just try poems to see if I could connect with the character. No one was more surprised than I was when the entire novel begged to be written in free verse. The advantage for me was that poems were small and fit perfectly into the pockets of time I had to give to my writing at the time. I had been working on the novel for a couple of years already so I knew a lot of what I wanted to say, I just didn’t know where anything went. Because my life was crazymaking at the time I just threw caution to the wind, picked a scene I knew I wanted in the book, and wrote the poem. The went on for a month or so and pretty soon I realized I needed to put them into some sort of order. By then I felt I had enough of a hold on the story that I could think in a more standard format, beginning to middle to end. But when the book sold and my editor asked me for some new poems, I didn’t think about where they were going, I thought about what they were going to do for the story.

It was a slightly fragmented way to approach storytelling and yet it worked for me.

Last year when I was struggling to decide which story to tell, Plant Kid, Max or Flyboy, I started writing letters to the characters and having them answer me. And in case they led me to scenes in the book, scenes I had no idea where they would go when all was said and done. I’m not sure why this is easier for me, perhaps it breaks the book down into more manageable pieces? And even though I have written the first three consecutive chapters on my current WIP, Flyboy’s story, I don’t expect that it will continue in chronological order. How do I know? Today I wrote a new ending to chapter 3 which immediately made me think of a scene toward the end of the book. That scene is on my mind now and will probably be what I write tomorrow.

It may or may not end up in the final book but that’s not what matters, at least not to me. I am a character person and have to watch myself for getting so deep inside my character’s head that I forget to make him, ala[info]writerjenn  DO SOMETHING  especially DO SOMETHING IMPORTANT.

When I think in scenes I remember that the action in scenes is the building block that carries the story forward, page after page.

And that is what matters most to me.

Today Becky Levine has a post weighing the pros and cons of  writing out of sequence at her new writing blog.

For some of my older posts about writing scenes out of sequence check out my conversion to index cards, avoiding a scene a don’t want to write, and a couple of more here and here


Tuesday, January 6, 2009|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , |4 Comments

plot devices – looking for a book

I’m looking for examples of a specific plot device.

Can anyone think of a book where, at the beginning, there is the revelation of a HUGE secret that the main character must come to terms with for the rest of the novel?


Saturday, November 29, 2008|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , |14 Comments

day 2

Day 2
337 words.

1 new log book entry.

An obsession with the Master Switch.

And 7 possible ways to begin the story.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , |0 Comments

Friday Five – The thinking about writing edition

I know I am starting to wake up my writer self when I miss my turnoff on the way home because a character popped into my head. Okay, it was prompted by Janni (yes, it was Max and Frankie), but still it took me 10 minutes longer to get home because I was spaced out and kept forgetting to turn.

So here are my thoughts (in no particular order) about what I should think about working on next:

1. The middle grade one about California native plants and a boy and an old man. Plant kid’s story. I’m working on the native plant garden so of course Plant Kid is right there with me. But I still have no plot and more importantly, I have no big want for plant kid. If he doesn’t want anything it’s kinda hard to write his story.

2. The middle grade one about a dog. Max’s story. I’ve got a new dog so I’m doing a lot of work with dogs and reading about dogs and training dogs so this seems like a possibility. I kinda have a plot. I kinda have a big want. But it is a gritty, hard to read therefore hard to write kind of story and I don’t know if I am ready to go to that place.

3. The YA about a boy and his dead dad and his live dad and a plane. Flyboy’s story. I either have to finish this or give it up. I have a plot. I have characters. What I don’t seem to be able to do easily is throw off the gazillion other versions I have written. In all those other versions the MC is too nice, too perfect and WAY too introspective. But 25 years of working on a book? Come on already!

4. The middle grade verse novel about a kid at an alternative school. I just got accepted to do a poetry workshop at an alternative school. I’ve done this before and been very inspired. I’ve also been terrified and exhausted. And I’m worried about writing in verse again for a variety of reasons. So I dunno. I might just try recording poetic thoughts about it and see what happens next.

5. The middle grade one about the girl and the piano and the dead mom.

There’s also the MG about the walnut trees and grandparents. The YA dealing with perfection. The NF adult photo essay book. The NF adult collection of essays. The Civil War stories, both PB and MG. Oh, and the MG Italian history one.

Today I will be grateful that I have so many potential projects and hope that now that I have named them, one will burble to the surface and demand to be heard.

Friday, November 14, 2008|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , |11 Comments

Of Titiles and Dentists

So if you go to the dentist and they give you nitrous oxide and you try to think about anything else except for the fact that you’re at the dentist and you tell yourself to come up with a really good title for your WIP to keep yourself from thinking about the fact that you’re at the dentist, and then you do. 

Well it’s probably no good, right?

So then if you drive home with the windows down inhaling lots of fresh air and listening to the silence and you keep saying the title over and over again and try on all the different meanings people might come up with behind the title but then you realize that you really hadn’t much to eat all day and you probably still have some nitrous floating around in your brain you could probably convince yourself that it wasn’t the right title after all.


And then later, like HOURS and HOURS later, after lots of water and a nice dinner, if you tentatively say to your husband, “I think I have a title for Plant Kid’s book,” and then you tell him and he doesn’t run screaming from the room but instead says, “Hey I really like it!”

Well then maybe it might be safe to think you came up with a really good title after all.


That’s what I’m hoping.

Thursday, May 29, 2008|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , |18 Comments

300 Words

That doesn’t sound like much and yet.

300 words. Words I didn’t have the day before. Words that captivated me so much when I was thinking about them that I drove right past my turn-off and had to backtrack about 5 miles when I was going home.

300 words. Mostly dialog which is unusual for me and yet it felt easy and right as I wrote it. There is still a voice that uniquely belongs to the main character and yet falls naturally from my fingertips.

300 words about a boy with a secret and his sister who has a secret of her own.

300 words. That I had no idea where they were going when I started and yet, when I ended, hooked right back to the beginning of the book.

I have never written like this before, in fits and spurts of scenes that are mostly complete in their rise and fall and conflict. With no idea of the road ahead and yet, like stepping stones in an overgrown garden a path is built to somewhere special.

300 words.

Oh happy day.

Thursday, May 29, 2008|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , |18 Comments

Writing thought of the day – Pockets

Most characters (and people) carry certain things around with them most of the time. A purse, a backpack, or just a pocket. What they carry around with them (or what they DON’T carry) can tell a lot about them.

I have one character who carries two pictures with him, one of a person and one of a place. They’re getting a little tattered around the edges.

Another character carries a wallet that doesn’t belong to him. 

And the last has a key tied to a shoe lace and an old pill bottle that doesn’t have any pills in it.

What do your characters carry along with them? 

Wednesday, May 28, 2008|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , |4 Comments

Writing thought for the day – 2 Universal Themes

Chatting with Linda Sue Park about writing yesterday was just what I needed. I don’t know about you but I do love hearing how successful authors struggle with insecurities. I don’t wish pain and suffering on anyone but it does make me feel a bit better to hear well-known authors talk about floundering at different stages of creation. Linda Sue shared some of her thoughts on the importance of structure (which she feels is the must-have first thing for her which got me rethinking an original idea for structure I had for my project a long time ago) which led to her making the comment that there were two universal themes for stories: hero goes on a journey  and stranger comes to town. 

I admit to hearing that before but I hadn’t stopped to think about that in regard to Plant Kid’s book. So last night when I was in that in-between falling asleep time I gave it some more thought.

First thought: “That SO totally doesn’t work for me.” 

Second thought: “You must not be a real writer then because, come on, Linda Sue Park, HELLO?”

Third thought: “Well it’s not like I have a real plot yet. MAYBE it could work for me.”

Fourth thought: “HELLO?Linda Sue Park, remember.”

Fifth thought: “Well B isn’t going anywhere for real and I don’t think he is going anywhere emotionally so that journey thing is totally out.”

Sixth thought: “You’re not trying. Remember what Linda Sue said, if you want easy, bake a cake.”

Seventh thought: “But no one new comes to town. Everyone already lives there. See, it totally doesn’t work for me.”

Eight thought: “You’re really dense sometimes. Remember what else she said? Remember how she said she wrote three different endings to Kite Fighters? You have to try them all out.”

Ninth thought: “What if M wasn’t someone who already lived there? What if M is the stranger who came to town? What if he came to town because . . .”

The last thought I remember having before falling asleep was about birds which suddenly had the potential to matter in the book which made perfect sense NOW but which I hadn’t even considered before.

Thanks, Linda Sue!

So what about your story? Do you think it fits into one of the two universal themes? 

Did you turn in your best interview question yet for the contest to win an autographed copy of Jim Averbeck’s stunning picture book, In a Blue Room? 

Wednesday, May 21, 2008|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: |10 Comments

Writing thought of the day

If character is what we do when we think no one is watching, what is your character doing if he thinks no one can see him?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: |21 Comments

Making the commitment to a story

Each book writes itself differently. Some books have a plot that falls into place but a character who remains elusive. Sometimes a character walks into my head fully formed and the plot is ever just out of reach.

But some things remain the same.

For me I have to burrow deep into the idea of the story, wrap myself in its threads like a catapiller building a cocoon. Only the catapiller knows for sure that it will become a moth or a butterfly. As I write I am not ever sure what I will have at the end of the writing.

I spent my weekend committing to telling Plant Kid’s story. Now you might think what with all the character letters and Teaser Tuesdays I’ve done that I was already committed to the story but I wasn’t. The commitment doesn’t come because I’ve written a certain number of words. It comes from a promise I make to a character to follow him through thick and thin until we reach a logical and acceptable conclusion to the story.

I started by gathering all the scraps of paper, all the text notes saved on the computer, and all the false starts and random scenes I had created around this idea of Plant Kid. I typed them into the computer, sorted snippets into an “attic” file to save and organized the random scenes in the order I think they go in the story. There is now just one file on the computer, one notebook that will go back and forth to work with me to capture those stray thoughts that pop into my head in the middle of work at the dayjob.

I designated one big red basket as Plant Kid’s basket and put it in the place of honor in my office. It’s a holding place until something gets into the computer or a place to store things that remind me of the book or the character.

I began to read (or in many cases reread) the first of the many books that will help me reacquaint myself with the subject matter that is the backdrop of this story and perhaps even a character in the story. Already there are a multitude of Post-it notes sticking out from the book and a stack of index cards beginning to form as a gather my notes.

I picked a poppy from the yard, the very first poppy that has bloomed here in this new house, and pressed it in a book.

Tonight I printed out for the first time what I have so far. Not because I’m at the point of doing anything different with it but just because I finally had something to print.

Not much. A little over 2,000 words. It felt like so much more. But that’s okay. This story has a long taproot and the roots have already taken hold. There’s a lot of growing going on in places no one can really see. And there’s a boy whispering in my ear, telling me to watch and listen and wait.

I had a dream about him last night. I saw him smile and heard him laugh and when I saw what he was doing, I laughed too.

And so it begins.

Through thick and thin right through to the what I know is going to be a multi-tissue messy end.

I promise.

Sunday, May 11, 2008|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , |9 Comments

Sometimes it just all comes together

Even when you don’t know where you are going with a book, sometimes the universe rewards your persistence with a bit of serendipity. Not in a big way, like having an actual plot, but in a small way where there are connections in a story that you know will mean something else, something big, later on. As soon as you figure it out.

Early today I was working on my character letters. I had one from Flyboy and one from Frankie but Plant Kid was being a little quiet. So then I started wondering about Mr. Mac and if there was some kind plant advice he could give Plant Kid that might help me out.

Like many writers, my brain is working on several levels at once. On some other level I remembered a recent discussion on my California Native Plants listserv about how botanists will sometime reclassify plants for one reason or another. (Can’t remember the details so this is more research for me.) Normally I don’t remember those sorts of notes on the list because heck, I can’t hardly ever remember the latin names, let alone the genus/nomenclature /etc. But this one stuck because it was about one of my favorite shrubs, Sambus Mexicana. (Why is it one of my favorites? Beautiful and huge wildlife value.)

Anyway, in an earlier letter conversation with plant kid he had asked me about his living situation and the response that evolved felt right and true to the path the story was taking. At that time I had illumination #1, what if . . . ? (Sorry, can’t tell you that. It would be a major spoiler.) When it came time to write another letter I had been thinking about him in school and wondering what he would be doing which led to illumination #2 (which I also can’t tell you but which is mentioned somewhat in a recent letter.)

Which leads me to illumination #3 and brings me back to the letter I was working on today and the advice from Mr. Mac. I was trying to figure out how or even if Mr. Mac would explain about reclassifying plants and suddenly my brain did the math: #1 + #2 + #3 = serendipity. They were all connected. In a small way. In a plant way. In an organic way. In a way that I believe will become a major thread in the story.

Personally, I don’t think I would have made these same connections if I weren’t doing the character letters. Yes, I might have made different connections but these are the connections that get me all fired up. I mean, I got those shivers you get when you know, and I mean KNOW, it’s a good idea.

Which leads me back to the title of the post.

Sometimes it just all comes together.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , |17 Comments

I lied

Plant Kid’s book has a title.

I think.


No, I’m not telling yet but I think it is enough for a working title.

I hope.

Friday, May 2, 2008|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , |6 Comments

Writing update – Plant Kid

This weekend I did something I’ve never done before – I wrote the last scene in a book long before the end of the book was in sight.

It wasn’t intentional. I didn’t sit down and say wow, let’s write the last scene in the book because, heck, I don’t really even know what this book is about – yet. But I am continuing on my bit by bit method of writing these three stories at once by just trying to write a single scene every night before bed. Of late they have all been in the plant book and that’s okay. The character is very real to me and, I almost hesitate to say this, but I may have found his voice which goes a long way to bringing a book to life.

Friday night I knew I wanted to write a scene about the MC and a particular plant. So I did. And then I reread it, as is my habit before turning out the light and I realized that it was the very last scene in the book and suddenly I knew where I was headed. I have no idea how I’m going to get there but that’s okay, I have a goal for this kid.

Saturday night’s scene was prompting by watching my husband spend most of his Saturday pulling weeds in the yard. So I set the MC to pulling weeds. And in the process of writing the scene I had that wonderful experience where, before you can even get the words down, you can see the whole scene unfold in front of you. I gave him a simple task to do which set something else in motion which created a conflict that I needed but didn’t know how to orchastrate.

Sunday night’s scene was an apology that was not accepted.

I have no title for this book. I don’t even know if I have the main character’s name for sure and I’m not sure I know what his problem is or what he wants.

But I have scenes. And for now, that’s enough.

Monday, March 10, 2008|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , , , |23 Comments

Feast or famine, a writer's life

For months I have been busy not writing. For over a year I have been busy not writing. I have been doing an awful lot of NOT writing. Not even thinking about writing except how, once upon a time I used to be a writer.

Then I decided to wade back into it all. I was ready. I could go slowly. I had nothing pending that needed my immediate attention so I could play with a few ideas and see where they took me. My only writing goal for 2008 was to write three proposals. A hopeful goal would be to turn one into a really rough draft of a complete book. No problem. I had three ideas that interested me: the flying book I’ve been trying to write for over 20 years, the plant book, and Max.

First I worked on the flying book. You may remember my huge index cards project. By the time I was done I was hyped up and ready to go to work. Then came Christmas, family melt-downs and illness. I lost my way.  

Because I didn’t know what to do next, I borrowed an idea from 

 and started writing letters to the main characters in the three books I wanted to work on.  


The way I saw it, even if I wasn’t actually WRITING a book, I was THINKING about writing again. I know that thinking about writing and actually writing aren’t the same things but I was okay with inching my way slowly back to words. I figured a few letters to Flyboy would be all I’d need to take off writing about him. Across the last couple of weeks I’ve written about 20 new pages for Flyboy, in longhand. It’s not a lot, especially if you look at the word meters so many writers post in the blogs, but for me it was progress and that was all that matters.

Now here’s what’s been going through my writer’s brain. When I wrote the new pages on Flyboy I thought they were horrible, stilted, boring and had absolutely nothing to recommend them. They were garbage, the crappy first draft I had to get through before I could find the story. But writing such horrible junk stifled me. How would I ever be able to turn it into a book that someone would want to read? I tossed that notebook aside and went back to the character letters of the Plant kid and the story of Max. One day I saw the plant kid in the yard and I grabbed a notebook and jotted down what he was doing. And then I shivered, those good shivers which tell me there’s something there, maybe even that elusive voice. Yet I tossed that notebook aside too because I was supposed to be working on Flyboy’s book first. It was the one I had promised myself to finally right or admit that I would never write.

But I couldn’t make myself go back to that crummy draft and reread those stilted words. I couldn’t make myself ADD to those stilted words. So last night I looked at the letters I had written about the story of Max and wondered about him a bit more and I wrote the opening scene. And it was all there, his friend, the gypsy lady, the setup, and of course, Max. In one short scene. And I shivered again.

Before bed last night I told my husband that was it, Flyboy was grounded because it was absolute crap and had no magic and it was obvious I was supposed to work on the plant book and Max. So so obvious. Absolutely not interested in working on that flying book at all.

Each night I give myself a dream suggestion to do with my writing. I wasn’t sure what my question was going to be so I picked up the notebook on my nightstand (you can totally see where this is going, right?) and I figured I’d just flip through it, read a few pages, give myself a dream suggestion and call it a night. I saw Flyboy’s pages and thought there was no harm in reading them because I had already decided they were crap and I wasn’t going to work on that book.

And the Universe giggled.

Sure, the words were still rough and there were lots of missing pieces and bits of notes to myself like (describe this and what is that gauge called again and why doesn’t this character have a name) but I got sucked into the scene, the story, and I wanted to know the answers to the questions I had posed in those pages. And most importantly, again, I felt the shiver.

What does this mean? Well besides the fact that it appears I am currently roughing out 3 books at the same time, (which means it’s going to get really crowded in my head and my poor husband will be once again bucking for Sainthood) it means the magic is back. Because I think that’s what those shivers were – the reminder of how wonderfully magical it is to have these stories to tell and the ability to tell them. I woke up excited at the thought of diving deep into fiction.

The Universe has a wicked sense of humor though. Way back in October of 2006 I sold a book called Enrique Esparza, Boy at the Alamo. A true story. A non-fiction book filled with facts and history and things I researched almost 2 years ago. After over a year of complete silence, of not even having an editor assigned to the book, suddenly the edits are coming my way tomorrow.  As in the day after today.

And she would really like them back in a week so we can keep on schedule for the fall 2009 publication. Sigh.

Fiction may have to wait a bit longer but that’s okay. I have the shivers to help me find my way back.

7 pages

I wrote seven pages last night.

Long hand, in a steno notebook, just before turning out the light to go to sleep. Unintentional pages of an intentional book. My gel pen flew across the page in writing that was even more sloppy that usual. Stilted dialog and notes in the margins to fill in details but still, I wrote.

Seven pages, a full scene. A boy with a secret. A man with a past. Power. Fear. A hook, a few questions, hints of what’s to come. A crummy first draft that I look forward to revising.

I wrote seven pages last night.

At last.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: |25 Comments

Letter to and from Max's friend

This year I decided to try something new – writing letters to characters in my current WIP and then allowing the characters to answer me, all via my blog. This has led to some interesting insights into the book and created opportunities in telling the story that may not have otherwise come to me. Sometimes it has been tricky writing and answering the letters without giving away the book but I think that part of the challenge has been fun.

While you can read any of the letters by clicking on my tag “character letters” I thought it would be fun to collect each character’s letters in one permapost in chronological order. Each time I post a new letter in my daily blog I will append it at the bottom of this page.

Here are the letters to and from the kid who is Max’s best friend.

 January 21st, 2008 | 6:26 PM

Dear Max,
They’ll find you. They always do. I’m sorry.


January 24th, 2008 | 6:55 AM

Dear person who is ignoring me,
I refuse to call you the author of my story because you’re not working on it. It’s cold out here. I’m hungry. 

Max doesn’t look too good. There’s a lot of blood from where, well, you know. I’m pretty sure his leg is broke too.But you don’t care about any of that, do you? The gypsy lady would help, I know she would, but I think they scared her off for good this time.

What am I supposed to do now?

Max’s protector


January 30th, 2008 | 7:21 AM

Dear Character Who is Taking Care of Max,

The gypsy’s back. But she moved. Check out the vacation rentals over by the roller coaster. Whatever you do, don’t antagonize “him.” Whatever he says to you, just walk away.

Author who has your back


January 31st, 2008 | 7:43 AM

To anyone who reads this,
They took Max away today. They won’t tell me where. I don’t know if I will ever see him again. 

I will never, ever forgive YOU for letting this happen. NEVER.

The only person who REALLY loved Max

March 4th, 2008 | 7:06 AM

Dear Lost Boy,
I’ve done all I can for the moment to get rid of the BIG BAD THING in your life yet that doesn’t make you feel as safe as it should. Why not? What do you know that I don’t know? And why won’t you visit Max?



March 5th, 2008 | 7:37 AM

Dear Author Ignoring My Story,
I gave you the first line of the book last night. It led you right to the first scene, with me and Max and meeting the gypsy lady for the first time. I know you remember it because I heard you repeating it before you went to sleep last night and in the shower AND on the way to work.

I’ll visit Max as soon as you give ME a name and commit to my story.

Lost boy


March 11th, 2008 | 6:39 AM

Dear Friend of Max,
Tell me about the very first day you met Max, please. There is so much I don’t understand.

Author who knows this story will make some people mad


March 12th, 2008 | 6:51 AM

Dear Author Who is just  a big old Chicken you-know-what,
Yes, some people are going to be mad at you when you write my story but does that mean it shouldn’t be written? Are you one of those people who just walks by the homeless people and wish they didn’t exisit? Do you sit in your fancy house and push the remote control button every time you see a picture of a starving kid come up on the screen.

I’ve got news for you – pretending like something doesn’t exist doesn’t make it go away. Believe me, I’ve tried. Every night before I can fall asleep I pretend there isn’t a monster in the house but every morning I wake up, he’s still there.

My dad is the one who brought me and Max together for the first time. My real dad. Not that loser of a guy who convinced my mom to marry him just so he could get her money. I was scared of Max at first. He was pretty scary looking. Still is, only not to me anymore. That first time I met Max all I could think was how much I didn’t want to tick him off because I knew it would be real messy in a hurry and that most of the mess would be me.

My dad thought me and Max needed each other. That made me laugh so hard that it made my dad laugh hard, hard enough to bring a crowd of people around us (we were sitting on the front porch) and pretty soon the whole neighborhood was laughing right along with us and me and Max, we were on our way to being best friends.

Kid who misses his dad

March 14th, 2008 | 6:55 AM

Dear Friend of Max,
Attacking me is NOT going to get your story written. Do you think you are the only one in the world to go through hard times? If so, you are sadly mistaken. The world is not always a pretty place. Life is not easy and it is never, ever fair. Ever.

I’m sorry about the monster. We all have them in some degree or another. Some people have monsters they can see and other people have monsters who live inside them. Everyone gets broken. It’s how you pick yourself up and put yourself back together again that decides how you will live your life.

You dad sounds like a great guy. I’m sorry he’s not in the book but you can go visit him whenever you want.

You were afraid of Max? Really? That made me laugh too! I just remembered about Max and pickles. There’s another story there, I’m sure. Can you tell more more about it?

Author reading up on the legalities around your situation


March 18th, 2008 | 7:19 AM

Dear Author,
Today was a good day and then a bad day and then a really, really bad day.

I went to see my dad and told him all about Max and everything that’s been going on. Then I went to see the gypsy lady but I got lost and ended up on the east side after dark. This big kid chased me for the longest time, I guess he thought I had some money (ha!) but I finally lost him. When I got home my mom had locked the front door and wouldn’t let me so I spent the night on the front porch. No dinner, of course.

Kid who still has no name

PS – it was raining.


March 19th, 2008 | 8:19 AM

Dear Lost Boy,

I’m sorry. I’m sure it’s all my fault so go ahead and rant at me if you want.  All things considered, when you think about what went on that night on the OTHER side of the door, maybe being wet and cold and hungry was better after all?

What do you think?

Author who hates hurting characters she loves


March 24th, 2008 | 7:24 AM

Dear Person Who Keeps Ignoring Me Even Though Everyone Says You Should Be Writing About Me First,

I am not talking to you anymore.

Not at all.


I am not even going to tell you about what happened when I went to see Max.

Lost boy


March 27th, 2008 | 6:23 AM

Dear Lost boy,
I understand. Really I do. I want to remind that I did share the beginning of YOUR story in my Teaser Tuesday. I haven’t done that for anyone else yet. I think you and Flyboy are neck and neck. I know more about his story than I do yours but I know more about yours than I do Plant kid’s story.

There’s another thing I’ve been thinking about with you. There’s this kid who used to talk to me. His name was Frankie. Frankie grabbed me by the throat when I was driving one day and wanted to tell me about some terrible things. He had a sister. A sister with a secret. I saw Frankie’s house and I saw where his mom worked and I saw a bunch of not-so-pretty things in Frankie’s life. The last time I saw Frankie he was running, fast, away from something or someone. He hasn’t spoken to me for over a year. Maybe longer.< /p>

Now I can’t help but wonder, are you Frankie?

Author who needs to read through her old notebooks


March 31th, 2008 | 6:17 AM

Dear Author Putting 2 + 2 Together,
The answer is yes.

But please don’t ask me to talk about my sister yet. I’m not ready.


April 4th, 2008 | 5:23 AM
Dear Frankie,
At last, you have a NAME! I’m so happy. I’ve been wondering if it might be you but I’ve been a bit afraid of going back to your story. I mean, the stuff that happens to Max is bad enough but the stuff with your sister . . . <gulp> Even as backstory it’s not going to be pretty or fun. I’ve seen books written about the sort of thing that happened to your sister and I’ve seen books written about the sort of thing that happens to Max. How can I make it different?

Of course here is where I start to second guess myself. Maybe it is all going to be too icky and depressing and maybe people don’t want to read about that kind of stuff. Or not anymore. I can psych myself out by reading articles about too many depressing stories for kids today or why can’t there be any happy families in children’s books. The more I read those sorts of things the less I think anyone wants to hear about your story. And I can’t help but wonder if dark, hard hitting books with issues at the core, are they the kind of books that people reread again and again? I’m thinking maybe not.

I know you said you didn’t want to talk about it but you know we have to. Now is as good a time as any. Frankie, tell me about your sister.

Author stocking up on tissues

April 10th, 2008 | 8:17 AM

Dear Nosy Author,
The trouble with little sisters is they’re so darn cute all the time. Or they think they are. Or everyone around you thinks they are.  Do you have any idea how many times someone pushed me out of the way so they could get to her and go gaga over her stupid baby noises? 

Lots of times it’s the same thing with dogs. But different. Or maybe it’s me that’s different now. I won’t make the same mistake with Max that I made with my little sister.

Of course I probably won’t get the chance, either.


May 6th, 2008 | 11:48 AM 

Deat Frankie,
We are at an absolute stop. I mean it. A complete and utter stop until you fess up and tell me what happened to your sister. I mean what REALLY happened. Not what you keep telling everyone else.

Author sitting in the dark

May 8th, 2008 | 6:51 AM 

Dear Author,
When I was a little kid, I mean really little, I used to think that going for a ride in the car was this great big adventure. Even if all my mom or dad was going to do was race down to the quick mart for diapers for my sister, I wanted to go. I was good at pretending we were heading for the moon instead.

I was pretty good at getting my way too. I had the cute face and the pouting face and the please don’t you know I’m the best kid in the entire world face down to a science. It was all in the timing. Ask too soon and the answer would still be no. Ask too early and my mom would tell me to quit being a goofball. But if I asked just right I had a pretty good chance of making one of them say yes.

Now I’ve just got one face. It’s just the here I am what do you want me to do now kind of face. Nothing special.

And I don’t ask anyone for anything anymore.


Tuesday, January 1, 2008|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , |0 Comments

Letters to Flyboy

This year I decided to try something new – writing letters to characters in my current WIP and then allowing the characters to answer me, all via my blog. This has led to some interesting insights into the book and created opportunities in telling the story that may not have otherwise come to me. Sometimes it has been tricky writing and answering the letters without giving away the book but I think that part of the challenge has been fun.

While you can read any of the letters by clicking on my tag "character letters" I thought it would be fun to collect each character’s letters in one permapost in chronological order. Each time I post a new letter in my daily blog I will append it at the bottom of this page.

Here are the letters to and from Flyboy.

January 21st, 2008 | 6:26 PM 
Dear Main Character in my current WIP,

Why in the world would you make that kind of a deal with your dad? It doesn’t make any sense to me that you would agree to stop doing what you love doing more than anything else unless you were forced into it. What happened? Why won’t you tell me? Keeping it a secret from me isn’t going to help you one bit. If you don’t tell me soon I’ll be forced to go back to the plant book and let you stew on your own. Either that or I’ll let the girl fly instead. What do you think about that? Humph!

With the deepest frustration,


January 24th, 2008 | 6:55 AM

Dear Author,
Yes I broke my promise to my dad. So what! I had a chance to do something important to me for a change and I took it. I am sick and tired of trying to be like Mr. Perfect. Gag! Besides, now that we’re moving, he’ll never know about it, will he?

Unless you tell him. And you better not. You know what happens when people snitch. You remember what happened, don’t you? Uh huh. I thought you might.

How about helping me pack up my room now?

Your MC


January 30th, 2008 | 7:21 AM 

Dear Flyboy,
You are too nice. TOO NICE. Do you hear me? No kid is that nice, that good. Not all the time. Not unless they’re hiding something. Are you? I didn’t think you were the one with the secret in this book but I can’t figure out any other reason for your perpetual Eddie Haskell attitude. If I, the author, am breathing life into you with pieces of me there’s no way you can be that nice. No frigging way. Because I am sometimes a nice person but NOT ALL THE TIME.

What are you hiding? What are you afraid people are going to find out? What do you think they are going to do to you, think of you, when they know the truth.

This doesn’t have anything to do with your dad at all, does it? This has to do with you trying to fake what kind of person you are so you can trick people into believing what you want them to be. But why?

Author who is not feeling very nice at all


January 31st, 2008 | 7:43 AM

Dear Person Who THINKS She is in Charge of MY Story,
First I thought it was an accident. Now I’m not so sure. Maybe I meant to do it (which is dumb because I didn’t even know that Mrs. B was going to be there. I didn’t know she was going to have her iPod plugged in and turned up so loud that she wouldn’t hear me coming. I mean, come on, old people don’t use iPods, do they?) so I guess it was really just an accident.

And it’s not like I killed her. If you kill someone it can’t be an accident, can it? Killing someone is permanent. You can’t undo it. You can’t fix like you can fix a broken mailbox and a fence. She didn’t even want to go inside. She just asked me to go into her house and bring  out a couple of cans of soda.

But you can’t trust anyone, don’t you know that by now? And you really shouldn’t trust me because I’ll just let you down.



March 4th, 2008 | 7:06 AM

Dear Flyboy,
Thought I should warn you that Spencer is a girl. Yes, I realize that complicates things and puts the two of  you in direction competition but cripes, you’re almost 17 years-old, there must be hormones in there somewhere and this is the only way I could think of for me to find them. Can you at least pretend, for my sake?

(PS – no, I don’t think your gay.)


March 5th, 2008 | 7:37 AM

Dear Author,
Isn’t it enough that you’re poking around in the thoughts in my head, now you want to know about the thoughts I have in my bedroom (which I might remind you is supposed to be a private place, as is the shower). No. Absolutely not. Girls are trouble. They mess with your head and play games and I don’t have time for that.  And you do remember my mother don’t you? And what she did? With my luck any girl I meet will be just like my mother, ripping anything I love right out of my life and I don’t think I could handle that. 

Back off, will ya?



March 11th, 2008 | 6:39 AM

Dear Flyboy,

Did you really think he wouldn’t find out? Did you really think you wouldn’t be punished? Really?

Author who thought you were smarter than that


March 12th, 2008 | 6:51 AM 

Dear Author Who Thinks She’s So Smart,
What did you think I was going to do when you put the opportunity right in front of me like that?

Flyboy, grounded for the moment


March 14th, 2008 | 6:55 AM 

Dear Flyboy,
Okay, yes, I suppose I knew exactly what you were going to do when I gave you the chance and I can’t blame you for that. I just know you’ll pay for it later and I worry about you. You are much too serious for your own good. You’re a kid, not an old man.

Tell me something new. Tell me about your first time – your very, very first time. And no, not THAT first time. Contrary to what you might think I’m really not that interested in your sex life or lack of one. (Personally I could write the entire book and never once think about your hormones and what they may or may not be doing but I don’t think that would be realistic considering the fact that you’re a teenage boy.) What I mean is, tell me about your first memory of flying and how it made you feel.

Author trying to remember her first time

March 18th, 2008 | 7:19 AM

Dear Author,
If I’m made up of pieces of you (looking for that reader connection you love to talk about so much) is it any wonder that I’m a serious kid? How much time did you spend when you were my age laughing and having fun and how much time did you spend in your room worrying about things you couldn’t change? If you don’t like what you see in me maybe you better quit using me as a mirror.

I can’t remember the first time I went flying. Or the second or the third or many times after that. My dad, my NOW dad, told me that my real dad used to strap my carseat in the seat of the big P and take me just about everywhere with him, except for when he was filming. I think I remember flying somewhere for Christmas. I wanted to go to the North Pole and see Santa Claus and we went somewhere where the snow was piled up high on each side of the runway and there was barely enough room for the big P to touch down without jamming a wing into a snowdrift. We never found Santa but I remember drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows in some old shack while we waited for the weather to clear and listening to my dad play hangar trivia with his friends.

How does flying make me feel? How does writing make YOU feel? Flying makes me feel like I am alive and free and capable of doing almost anything, of being almost anything, even a good kid.



March 19th, 2008 | 8:19 AM

Dear Flyboy,
Remember that grandfather you had that I said was the reason you were moving and then I killed him because
everyone convinced me there were too many people in the book? Remember him?

Well I don’t think he’s dead.

Author returning to her original idea 

March 24th, 2008 | 7:24 AM

Dear Author Who Can’t Make Up Her Mind,
I’m going to tell you some things you already know and if it sounds like it’s coming from you and not from me, remember how much of yourself you have poured into me.

I am you. I am the insecure, can’t make his mind, why doesn’t anyone love me you. I am the you who doesn’t understand you are afraid to let people know how you feel, why you worry so much about what they will see in you and why you put up a wall that keep people at a distance. I am the you who can’t sleep because of worrying all the time. I am the you who wants a family and doesn’t feel like they deserve it.

Keep that in mind when it comes to telling my story. Trust yourself.

I need you to tell the truth about me because I’m too afraid to do it for myself. I need you to explain to people how I really feel about what my mother did and what I really remember about my dad. I need you to find a way to support me so that people don’t freak out when they hear the whole story.

I need you.

Isn’t that enough?



March 27th, 2008 | 6:23 AM

Dear Flyboy,
You made me cry.

I was okay until I got to the last couple of lines of your letter where you said:

I need you.
Isn’t that enough?

And suddenly I was sitting at my desk bawling like a little kid. Do you know how many people I’ve said that to in my life? Do you know how many of them never said "yes?" Maybe it’s all this therapy I’m doing lately or maybe I’m just finally peeling away enough of the layers of myself that I can see you there, waiting for me to find you. It’s going to be so hard to write your story because yes, you are me.

You are the me that never knew my father and was always afraid to ask anyone any questions about him. You are the me that is filled with hundreds of questions about why I do the things I do and wondering if anyone else ever felt the same way I feel right this moment. You are the me that questions who makes us what we are, heridity or environment or some combination of the two. You are the me that doesn’t laugh outloud and is always afraid of looking silly in front of other people. You are the me that is sure I am the only one in the entire history of the universe who ever did something wrong and can’t forgive themself for it.

To write your story means to lay myself wide open to feeling everything you feel.  It means actually allowing myself to FEEL. Do you know how many years I have spent not feeling things? Sigh. I suppose you do. Your story is going to rip me up in a lot of ways and what if I can’t put myself back together again? You will turn me inside out and then everyone will be able to see who I really am and then, well, and then they might all turn away.

If I put myself out there for you like that and then your story falls apart, I don’t know if I can handle it.

But I think the hardest thing about your story, the very hardest thing about writing your story, is that by the end of the book you are going to understand where you came from and what made you the person you are today. You are going to get answers to all those questions you jot down in that notebook you hide in your flight bag. You, Flyboy, are going to get to know all about your dad.

And me, I never will.

Author with a hole in her heart


March 31th, 2008 | 6:17 AM

Dear Author Who Isn’t Really Empty,
I know how you feel. I know, people say that all the time but really, I know just how you feel right now. I remember when my CFI had me try a stall for the first time. It was a good flying day, clear sky, no wind. The 152 was humming along. Okay, humming is too nice a word. Flying in the 152 is like being locked in a metal shed with a lawnmower going full blast. But that’s okay. I liked the noise. I liked that I had to concentrate on the voice in the headset for any directions from my CFI in the seat next to me. I liked feeling the power of plane vibrate all around me. With my hands on the yoke and my feet on the rudders I could feel the airplane hum up from my fingertips and down to my toes. It made my whole body come alive. It made me FEEL alive.

Stall practice was the only time I’ve been flying that I felt like I might need a barf bag.

First we were drifting then all at once the stall horn blared and the right wing dropped. I thought for sure we were going to go into a spin and I was praying my CFI would be able to yank us out of it before we crashed.

Maybe you think my CFI was crazy to have me do something that sounds so dangerous but the way he explained it to me made sense. He said you do stalls in practice so you can avoid them in real life.

So maybe writing my story is like stall practice for you.

What do you think?


April 4th, 2008 | 5:23 AM

Dear Flyboy,
When did you get so smart?

Yes, writing about you will help me but what I am supposed to do when the siren goes off and there’s no one in the seat next to me to bring me out of the spin before I crash?

No, don’t answer that.

Instead, tell me how it is that you can remember what all those lights and dials and meters mean on the dashboard of an airplane, you can calculate things like the weight of fuel and passengers and and baggage how it effects lift-off and landings, you can plot a long cross-country flight that will take you an entire day and 3 fuel stops,  but you can’t remember to feed the dog?

Author who didn’t even know you had a dog


April 10th, 2008 | 8:17 AM
Dear Author Who Should Have Known Better,
Remembering things I care about is easy. It’s all that other useless crap that’s hard. Tell me how diagramming sentences or conjugating French verbs is ever going to help me fly a plane? When I’m flying, I don’t much care how clean my room is or whether or not I made the bed. It doesn’t matter. Nothing else matters. Just flying.

About the dog. There’s always a dog.  Haven’t you figured that out yet? Madison, Zero, Max, Guster, Fuzzbucket and Baron. There’s probably more. But there’s always a dog.



May 6th, 2008 | 11:48 AM

Dear Flyboy,
Find the leather jacket. That’s all I can tell you right now and you probably won’t like me very much when you do but trust me, you need to find the leather jacket.

Author who knows the secret



May 8th, 2008 | 6:51 AM

Dear Author,
I don’t know anything about a leather jacket but I did find a box. A box I don’t think I was supposed to find. And I am pissed off big time about what I found inside.

I’m not really sure what to do about it. It’s times like this I really wish I had a mom or a sister or someone that I could talk to about this stuff. I’m really sick and tired of people telling me to be grateful for what I’ve got because crap, there are a lot of things I don’t have or know that are more important to me than what I do. But I’m a kid and I’m not supposed to think like that. I’m supposed to suck it up and be happy I’m not in some foster home or living on the street or off in some foreign country with bombs going off all around me.

Well screw all that. I’m 16 years old and I’m self-centered spoiled brat.

Deal with it.



January 19th, 2009 | 4:48 PM

Dear Flyboy,
While I know you think you are doing a good of hiding what you are really feeling I think someone is going to figure you out pretty soon. Boy are you going to ticked when you find out who it is.

Dear Edna,
Arrested? Really? You ARE toug

Dear Flyboy’s dad,
I don’t know if are ballsy or just plain dumb. For Flyboy’s sake, I hope it’s the second one.

Dear Girl,
Where ARE you? Or did you decide I didn’t really need you after all?

Author relying on index cards in order to tell this story


Dear Author,
There’s that saying about hiding in plain sight and how it makes it harder for people to find you. Do you think that’s true?

Letting people know what I am really feeling gives them power. Giving away your power is never a good thing. Trust me on that.



Dear Author,
I’m a woman in a man’s world, of course I’m tough. But I’m a mom too. Don’t forget about that.


Dear Author,
Have you ever done something and wished you could undo it? Have you ever had to wake up every single day of your life and sit across the breakfast table from someone who reminds you, just by his appearance about how much you screwed up?

Any guts I had rotted out years ago. You know that. I know I was an idiot many times over. I know he is going to find out the truth. And I know that everything is going to hit the proverbial fan when he does.

Flyboy’s dad


Dear Author,
If you would give me a name I might tell you where I am. Until then you’re out of luck.



Tuesday, January 1, 2008|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , , |0 Comments

I am in love

Oh my. 

It has been a while since I fell in love with a piece of technology.  I work with a laptop but really I only carry it from my office to the library and back again. I need to be working in my office more for the good chair and my fullsize keyboard and a better ergo setup. But there was a problem with my eyes. As in they are getting old and I could no longer use the laptop screen and sit back far enough to use the keyboard.

So I gave in and got a monitor to plug into everything. An LCD. A 22″ LCD monitor to be exact.

And all I can say is WOW!

I wish I had done this ages ago. It is lovely and I can read the text so much easier than before.

Happy sigh.

Now I just have to wait for the articulating keyboard tray to arrive and I will be fresh out of excuses not to be in my office. 

Edited to add that the brand is NEC. I had planned to buy a Samsung but when I saw the text on a row of 20 monitors, it was the NEC that was the sharpest for these old eyes.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: |0 Comments

The Hero's Journey

Tonight’s work.

I’ve been deconstructing movies with the Hero’s Journey and reading about how other people deconstruct movies with the Hero’s Journey and now I feel like I’ve been journeying way, way too long. 

Translation? My brain hurts.

But it hurts good.

Thursday, December 6, 2007|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , |0 Comments

Process and progess

One true sentence a day. That’s all I’m shooting for.

Every day before I start to write, I look through my yellow index cards to keep the various story questions in my mind as I write. If I have time in the morning before I go to work, I give them a look then as well. I never know what my subconscious will come up with on the drive or while I’m working on spreadsheets and other not-so-creative tasks.

Like today.

I’ve been working on the opening of the book. I decided to go back when the main character is very young and living through a horrible experience. (see this week’s Teaser Tuesday.) It’s a scene I’ve written many times over the years. Most versions I gave away too much. So I started cutting, digging in for just the emotion of the moment. But the rhythm was off at the end of the scene. It needed something more. One sentence. Just a few words. 

They were running but I had no idea what happened next. They were running and then they weren’t. They were running and something happened. I almost gave up and then I realized that they were running and they just kept on running.

It was enough and I ended the scene. I had no idea who was running (besides the main character.) I had no idea where they were going or what would happen when they got there. I just knew they were running. I knew it was a true sentence. On the way to work today, in that half awake fog that is my commute brain, I knew at once who it was. 

I filed that new knowledge away and started my work day. But first I gave my subconscious something to work on. Something that had to do with names. On the way home from work I got an idea and couldn’t wait to get home and play with it. I’m sure it is as a result of the suggestion I gave me subconscious  And now, as I call it a night, I can say it worked out better than I had hoped. 

I finished tonight’s writing session with one of those sentences that not only gave me goosebumps, but put another whole layer into the story. 

I love this job.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: |5 Comments