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. ūüėČ

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

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

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 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

Characters talk back

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.


Dear Needy Author,
I need lots of things. I need to know why my mom never talked about my siser but why she sent me here to live just before she died but I probably never will on account of the fact that my mom is dead now. I need to know all the things Mr. Mac knows about native plants but I probably never will on account of that thing that happened that started the whole story in the first place. I need to fit somewhere, anywhere. I’m tried of being told to "bloom wherever I’m planted" because planting something means setting down roots and roots tie you to something, someone and near as I can figure, I’m not tied to anything.

No roots makes it kind of hard to stand up for anything at all.

Plant kid

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.


Thursday, April 10, 2008|Categories: Letters to Characters|Tags: , , , , |0 Comments

Letters to characters

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

Dear Plant Kid,
Your voice changed. You’re no longer the thoughtful, introspective kid I’ve been writing about and I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I’m trying not to think about it but I can’t help it. I noticed it a little in the Teaser Tuesday post and now I am wondering if there’s a smart aleck trying to get out. Oh gosh I hope not. I can’t do smart aleck. Not for a whole book. And I don’t see a smart aleck as being the nature nurturing soul that I thought you were.

Maybe it will be different once you’ve finished composting.

If I work on your book I am saying that I trust myself enough to write a book that has no plot, no problem, no purpose with the hope that those needed pieces will appear by the time I reach the end. I don’t know if I trust you that much. I already know you don’t care. I already know that you don’t need me as much as I need you. And maybe that’s part of the problem. You don’t need me at all. Flyboy needs me. Frankie and Max need me. But, you’re so darn self-sufficient that you don’t need me or Mr. Mac or your sister or anyone. I don’t know how old you are but you’ve already got more control of your life than I can ever hope to find.

There are lots of things you don’t know but you don’t even care that you don’t know them.

Author who needs to be needed


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

Friday, April 4, 2008|Categories: Letters to Characters|Tags: , , , , |7 Comments

Letters to characters

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. 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?


Dear Author With Too Many Ideas,

No problem, I understand. I’m composting right now. 

Plant kid

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.


Monday, March 31, 2008|Categories: Letters to Characters|Tags: , , , , |6 Comments

Character letters

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, heredity or environment or some combination of the two. You are the me that doesn’t laugh out loud 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 themselves 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


Dear Plant Kid,

I love writing about you and I love sharing plant knowledge but I really really need to know what you want. I have no title for your story, no names for most of the people in your story, no idea what your story is about and absolutely no idea what the point of the whole story is.

What do you want more than anything else in the world? Why can’t you have it? What’s getting in your way? What would happen if you got your deepest wish?

All the roses and oranges and friends and favors you do for Mr. Mac don’t amount to a hill of beans if you can’t make me want something for you.

Author moving you to the bottom of the list, for now


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.

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

Author who needs to read through her old notebooks

Thursday, March 27, 2008|Categories: Letters to Characters|Tags: , , , , |15 Comments

Letters to characters

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?


Dear Insecure Author,
My sister? You know I think I remember my mom talking about a sister. They had a fight about something a long time ago, right after I was born and she went away and I stayed behind. I bet she wasn’t so thrilled to see me show up on her doorstep after mom died, was she?

I do like the attic bedroom. I like being able to open the window and reach right out and pluck an orange off the tree. I like the way the mourning doves gather on the roof of the garage and peck around at the scraps of bread I throw out for them. I’m not so crazy about the way the stairs go straight up and the railing is a little wobbly. I’m afraid I’m going to fall and land at the bottom of the stairs on that metal grate for the furnace.

I’m mostly okay just hanging out with Mr. Mac and learning from him but I’m thinking me and my sister don’t have a lot to say (except for when she’s yelling at me.) I could use a friend my own age. Think you could work on that for me? There’s this one kid at school, Benny, who seems okay. We worked together on the science project and he didn’t think my worms were stupid at all. There’s Alison too, but she’s a girl and I don’t want her to think I like her special like. Besides, her dad is the one with all those fancy roses so maybe I better not have much to do with her.

Plant kid

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 


Monday, March 24, 2008|Categories: Letters to Characters|Tags: , , , , |4 Comments

Character letters

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

Dear Plant kid,
You’re right and I’m wrong. There, does that make you feel better? I hate it when I give my power away and that’s exactly what I did. I am a social writer and I love LOVE LOVE talking about my books before they are actually books. I love to brainstorm and bounce things off of trusted friends. But the one thing I forget is that ideas are fragile and I need feedback that comes from a loving place.

I think part of the problem is that I don’t have anyone to talk to about your book or any of the other books I am working on. I’ve lost my brainstorming partners so except for talking to you here, there’s really no one else who wants to listen to me try on plots for size or help me figure out the motivation behind a certain character’s actions.

I know writing is a lonely business but I need to talk to some people about you sometimes, someone other than you. You should know that I have been thinking about you lately and where you live. I think it’s your sister, a sister you hadn’t seen in a long time for some reason. And the house looks a lot like the one I grew up in. How do you feel about an attic bedroom?

Author grateful for second chances

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

Wednesday, March 19, 2008|Categories: Letters to Characters|Tags: , , , , |13 Comments

Characters talk back

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.



Dear Author Who Let Someone Intimidate Her Away From My Story,
You tell me to find my own way and when I do, you get mad. You shouldn’t talk about me. Not yet. You’re not ready. That much is obvious. Yes, plants are boring to some people. There’s so much that takes place underground and now you’ve let someone convince you that you don’t have the skills to bring my story to the surface.

Maybe I was wrong to trust you with it.

But here’s the thing, Mr. Mac says that sometimes we have to give people second and third chances. Sometimes even more chances than that because if you do that enough, well people will surprise you. But you have to believe they’re going to surprise you. If you don’t believe then it doesn’t matter if you tell my story or not.

Plant kid


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.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008|Categories: Letters to Characters|Tags: , , , , |4 Comments

My brain is too full

Of people, or characters, to be most specific. Having been NOT writing for so long and then writing again, all sorts of long forgotten characters are talking again. I need to remind myself to focus on the three projects at hand. 

So I have to say a few things to the other characters in my head:

Dear Kid on the boat,
Ships moved much slower back then and I have lots of time before you reach ground and I have to worry about you. Can you please just go talk to your grandfather or practice your English but for now, leave me alone! I don’t have time for you.

Dear Kid with the musical inclinations,
Patience please. Practice your scales when no one is home. Do not, repeat, DO NOT, go anywhere near the house across the street. I’m not ready for that yet.

Dear Kid with mother issues.
I am SO not Catholic and not ready to take on the church. 

Dear kid headed for disaster,
Bring peanut butter. That’s all I know.

Dear MT,
You scare me. What happened to your sister?

Dear kid with the bamboo pole,
How many times do you think I can write about the missing crummy parent anyway?

Dear Civil War kid,
No one is interested. Really. 

Signed the author too busy already juggling planes, plants and gypsies.


Sunday, March 16, 2008|Categories: Letters to Characters|Tags: , , |7 Comments

Character letters

(Yes, I do plan to return to normal blogging sometime soon but right now this is all I can manage.)

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

Dear Plant Kid,
Sorry about the sarcasm but really, I had no idea you were going to do that so I was surprised at the way everything unfolded. As the author though, I have to admit to being secretly delighted that there is already so much conflict going on. It bodes well for the future of the book.

There’s going to be a HUGE fight over it, you know that, don’t you? And I don’t mean between you and MM. The town, especially that one neighbor, is going to fight it. You could make it an environmental issue but really, I think that’s been done enough times already and never in a spectacular fashion so it would be hard for me to interest
an editor in it from that angle. You need to find your own way.

Fate versus dreamers, an interesting concept. I always thought you were on the side of fate, at least until the recent events. Interesting how quickly you’ve switched to the other side. Does he really have that much influence over you? Why is that? What do you get from him that you don’t get from anywhere else?

You asked who you are living with and I have to tell you that right now, I’m not sure either. I think it may be your aunt. Maybe. I know you just moved there and the town is new to you.

What’s it like for you at school? Do you have any friends? Are you a good student? Tell me something that will surprise me about you.

Author who still doesn’t know what you really want

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

Friday, March 14, 2008|Categories: Letters to Characters|Tags: , , , , |6 Comments

Characters talk back

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


Dear Author Whose Doing a Pretty Good Job Bringing Me to Life,
Mr. Mac explained to me how sometimes people do things without thinking and then later, it turns out that they meant to do it all along. But it was their subconcious that got things started. I don’t know if that’s true for me because I didn’t even know Mr. Mac until I, well, until that first day when I just went ahead and did what someone paid me to do and then you know how THAT all turned out. I guess I could have said no but it didn’t look like it would be that big of a deal. And I needed the money.

Maybe I knew something was going to happen. Sort of like the way dogs can tell an earthquake is coming only they can’t tell the humans around them. So the dog starts acting all scared or goofy or something and the human hasn’t got a clue as to what’s going on. Maybe it was like that.

Or maybe it was just fate but Mr. Mac says believing in fate is for lazy folks who are afraid to dream.

Plant Kid

PS – You think maybe you could tell me where I’m living because I see someone in the house with me but I sure as heck don’t know who she is.

PPS – Sarcasm isn’t going to change anything


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

Wednesday, March 12, 2008|Categories: Letters to Characters|Tags: , , , , |8 Comments

Letters to characters

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   

Dear Plant Kid,
Nice entrance. How long do you think it will be before he starts speaking to you again?

And yes, I realize that you now have two, possibly three names, and that I am calling you by all of them at various times. I still like the first name best but there are several books already out with that character’s name as the title so it simply won’t work. If you don’t like my choices, why don’t you come up with something of your own?

Author with rocks in her head


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

Tuesday, March 11, 2008|Categories: Letters to Characters|Tags: , , , , |5 Comments

Characters talking back (and one of them is very wise)

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?

Dear Author Who is Trying to Blame the Lack of Plot on Me,
I don’t know much about a lot of things, especially writing books, but here’s something Mr. Mac told me before he died. You’ve got to believe in things you can’t see before you see things you won’t believe. He was talking about gardening but I’m thinking it might work for telling stories too.

Here’s the thing about gardening. You plant the seeds, water them sometimes, ignore them othertimes (especially if they’re native plants) and then you wait. And while you’re waiting, there’s a whole lot of something going on under the ground, deep down in the dirt. Seeds are opening and roots are unfurling, stretching down deep toward the water table. Earthworms are churning the soil and tons little bugs and mites and tiny things we can’t see are doing just what nature intends them to do. But up top all you can see is dirt. Piles and piles of dirt and not a stick of nothing growing in it nowhere. It’d be easy to give up then and just roll out some plastic grass and call it a day. But if you’re the believing type, you just wait. And then you wait some more. And then one day you walk out and you see a lot of those seeds you plant have pushed their way up through the dirt just looking for the sunshine and blue sky. Some of them still wearing bits of the seed hull on their hat like a lopsided hat. And just like that, you have a garden.

So I’m thinking maybe plot is like that – there could be a whole lot of something going on under the surface of my story, you just need to plant the seeds.

Plant kid


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

Wednesday, March 5, 2008|Categories: Letters to Characters|Tags: , , , , |15 Comments

Letters to Characters

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.)

Dear Plant Kid,
You’re older than I thought. Hmmm. Not sure what that is going to do to things. But worms? Now I have to learn about worms? I’ll do it but you have to do something for me in return. As in, you have to DO SOMETHING other than plant plants and pull weeds.

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?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008|Categories: Letters to Characters|Tags: , , , |10 Comments

And the characters talk back, again

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.


Dear Author Whom I Know in Her Heart Really Wants to be Working on my story,

I can’t tell you about my “thing” but maybe you should check the books on Mr. Mac’s nightstand. Under the plant books, there’s another one, a medical one. He’s got the pages bookmarked. 

Kid with perpetually dirty fingernails

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

Thursday, January 31, 2008|Categories: Letters to Characters|Tags: , , , , |3 Comments

More Character letters

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

Dear Plant Kid,

Look, I’m really sorry about Mr. Mac dying. I had no idea that was going to happen until he walked in front of the garbage truck. You keep talking about that “thing” you have and I’m guessing its somewhere on your upper body since I’ve never seen you without your hoodie but I don’t know what it is. And if I don’t know what it is, how can I connect it to the plot line and deepen the theme? And if I don’t connect the plot dots, no one is ever going to get the chance to read your story anyway. And yes, you can have the poppies. All the poppies you want. But later. I’m not supposed to be working on you right now anyway. If you’re really bored, you can help Flyboy pack.

Author with too much time to think and not enough time to write

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

Wednesday, January 30, 2008|Categories: Letters to Characters|Tags: , , , , |16 Comments

And the characters talk back

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

Dear Word Person,

Do you have ANY idea how important Mr. Mac was to me? You don’t, do you? If you did you wouldn’t be trying to make me leave the yard. Mr. Mac was the only one who understood me. He didn’t care about my, well, you know. It didn’t matter to him. For someone who reads a lot of books you’re not very bright, are you?

Disgruntled and dirty character without a name to call his own

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

Thursday, January 24, 2008|Categories: Letters to Characters|Tags: , , , , |17 Comments

the closest thing to writing for me lately

I am almost loathe to do this because 

 does it so well but since I am giving her full credit for the idea, I hope she won’t mind me copying her idea. It’s the most writing I am able to manage of late. 

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,

Dear Main Character in the plant book that I am not supposed to be working on at all,
I can’t set an entire novel in your backyard, no matter who’s buried there. Do something, will you please?

Plotlessly yours,

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



Monday, January 21, 2008|Categories: Letters to Characters|Tags: , , , , |11 Comments

characters – another one bites the dust (I think)

 Sometimes you think there’s a character who belongs in the book. Let’s call him, oh say, the grandfather. You describe the grandfather. You write scenes the grandfather. You have a list of plot points between the grandfather and the main character. He’s a fun character to write.

Then you think about the book and how because it deals with adoption you already have a set of birth parents and adopted parents and an adult in the book who is sem-parenting the kid already and you ask yourself, if there’s a grandfather in the book is he going to do something important? And you answer yourself, well sure. Then you ask yourself, is he doing something that could be done by someone in the book? And as much as you hate to admit it, you know the answer is yes.

There’s really not a compelling reason to keep the grandfather in the book.

At least not THIS book. Muhhahaha!!!

PS to Kelly – please mark this down as one day of progress on VZ

Monday, November 19, 2007|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , |4 Comments

Do you enjoy coming up with character names?

I came to the conclusion a couple of weeks ago that I needed to rename all the characters in my book except for the MC. Have I managed to do that yet? No. None of them seem right. What’s worse, because I need so many of them, it feels overwhelming.

 If you are one of those people who can use a generic name until the right one comes along, more power to you. I can’t.

I really don’t enjoy trying to come up with the right name for each character. It’s downright painful sometimes, like trying on a pair of shoes in the store and you think they feel pretty good but who’s to tell when you wear them to work and it’s too late to send them back and suddenly you have a blister on your heel and you fold squares of toilet paper into a wedge and stuff it into the shoes so you can make in til the end of the day and then the next day the thought of even looking at those shoes makes you want to cry. (This can’t just happen to me, right?)

Tonight’s mission is to find one name, just one and I’ll be happy. Like a name for a rough-around-the-edges adult female character who becomes a mentor of sorts to the MC. Or names for the 3 or 4 kids that are obstacles to the MC through-out the book. Or a name for the dog even. Sheesh. It shouldn’t be that hard. But it is.

Flipping through the baby books isn’t doing it for me this time and I don’t think I even own a phonebook anymore (which is how I came up with my own name). So what do you do to find the right name for a character? And when you pick a name, does it feel instantly right or do you have to break it in, just like that pair of new shoes?

Monday, November 12, 2007|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , |25 Comments

killing off characters

You know when your own cast of characters becomes too tough to track that something is wrong and someone (or several someones) have got to go. 

So I killed off a pair of moms in my current WIP. The adopted mom and the birth mom. Which left me with a group of people weighing heavily on the side of testosterone which meant changing the mentor type character from a man to woman just to get a wee bit of the female viewpoint in her (though she is far from a girly girly). 

I’m sure this will add an entirely new set of problems to the plaot for my main character but it pretty much rules out the mentor being played by Danny Glover in the movie.

Monday, October 29, 2007|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: |18 Comments

Why I have to change the names of all the characters in my book

When I made the decision to toss out pretty much everything I ever wrote in the gazillion (not much of an exaggeration) drafts of my current WIP I knew that there were more changes ahead. I didn’t, however, think that I would be changing all the names of the characters in the book. At least not at first.

But in last night’s writing session (where I didn’t even manage one true sentence ) I realized the time had come to let go of what was probably just a silly author prank on the readers. (Now, keep in mind that I started this book over 20 years ago, long before I had sold much of anything at all.) 

I can’t believe I am going to admit to all this but here goes . . . Because the book centers around airplanes I thought it would be interesting to name the characters in the book something that had to do with airplanes. Yes, that’s right. Airplanes. 

I was creative, for the most part. I mean I didn’t have a bunch of people called Cessna or Piper or Lear. They were more obscure names. Mostly. But here’s the thing, I’ve been thinking about my one true sentence and how it relates to the plot of the book. There’s one character whose name could be an airplane. Or not.  And I realized the story that went along with that could actually support my initial one true sentence. I think that’s good but if everyone around the character has the same sort of name it might lessen the impact. I think.

So tonight’s writing session will be all about finding the right names for these characters. Again.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: |14 Comments

What is your character's flaw?

The pain. The pain. The pain of letting go of a piece of a plot that you love. Sigh.

Backstory first. VZ is the YA novel I’ve been working on for over 20 years. DC is the main character, a 16 year old boy. Last night I’m brainstorming DC’s plot with my husband and it hits me how similar DC’s story (the original one) is to Hugging the Rock in that both stories had a mom who wanted to abort the baby and a dad who convinced the mom not to do it. While I know that we do tend to tell the “same” story over and over again, there must be a limit as to how close we come to doing the same thing. Here I was thinking I was all ready to sit down and go back to work on the book and I have a MAJOR problem. Grumble grumble. I’m back to thinking stages trying to figure out some reason that the birth dad would need to get a bunch of money for some reason that involves DC. I suppose it could be a court battle (or lack of) but it isn’t nearly as exciting as my original idea.

But that’s not why I’m posting. Since this book is a story I’ve known for a whole lot of years I’ve been looking for fresh ways to approach it so that what I write is NEW and not a rehash. I have heard for years that many people study screenwriting techniques to help them with their novels. As I came to the end of the edits on HTR I ordered a bunch of screenwriting books to find out if it would work for me. I’ve never 100% grasped the “hero’s journey” concept of writing though in bits and pieces, it makes sense. Some of these screenwriting books are great because they break down well-known movies and map them to various pieces of myth. I’m learning to understand some of the roles that I need my characters to play for each other in order to have a strong story. (I’m still working on the execution part of it.) The biggest thing I’ve been trying to do before I started my rewrite was to understand DC’s character flaw. It’s the key to everything. In all the other versions this kid is a nice kid and he has nice parents and isn’t it sad about his dad and everyone is just, well, too damn nice. Not anymore. I’ve found it fairly easy to rethink all the other main characters in terms of flaws, attitudes and actions except for, well, the most important one. Grrr.

Rob Tobin’s book
How To Write High Structure, High Concept Movies talks A LOT about character flaws and basically says that the flaw in your MC is one of the most important thing in your story. I quote, “The relationship between the hero’s flaw and the lifechanging event is the most important element in any story.” He also talked about the things at stake for our hero, which we all know is important, but that the ultimate thing at stake was that the hero would have to give up his flaw which is akin to “asking them to take off a bulletproof vest in the midst of gun battle.” I like that.

Some light bulb moments because it all resonated with me. So I scratched my head some more and wondered, as I have been a lot lately, what DC’s real flaw was because that’s the big issue. THEN Tobin gives me the answer. Well, okay, not an answer but a clue. He says, “you can use one element to figure out the other ones.” Well duh. I just never thought of looking at plot that way before – maybe all of you already did. If you want a character who is brave at the end of the book he needs to be afraid of something at the beginning. Which means for this book, I need to know how I want it to end before I can figure out how I’m going to get there. Whoa. And there we have it. That’s what I think has been the stumbling block for years with this story. Normally when I write I sit down and follow the character around and see where he goes. I’ve done this for years with DC and he’s taken me to some interesting places but not the right places.

I had a 2 hour brainstorming session with a friend on the phone yesterday and she asked me, “What story is it that you want to tell?” Well I had that answer before she even finished the question. I’ve ALWAYS known what story it is I wanted to tell about DC. I want to tell a story that shows readers that it doesn’t matter what kind of people you were born to or how you are raised but that you are in charge of the type of person you will become.

Well maybe that’s the story I want to tell but I am not so sure it’s the story that DC NEEDS me to tell.

Oh my. My brain might just explode. Every time this happens, every time a story takes wing and becomes its own, I am amazed. Where did it come from? How does it happen? Will I ever be able to do it again?

The story I think DC needs me to tell (and that I needed a member of my critique group to help me see) is that it is all about trust and forgiveness and unconditional love. Sure, some of my ideas might be woven in, but it’s a different ending than I was originally aiming for and that means a different approach from the beginning. I’m still not sure how this will translate into a character flaw but I feel like I am getting closer.

I feel like this is the fundamental thing I need to understand about the book before I can go much farther.

Sunday, January 29, 2006|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , |11 Comments

Dreaming our writing

One of the things I believe is most important in our writing is to write with emotional honesty. For me that means finding something in my own life that somehow will connect itself with the main character so I can use my emotion to fuel the character emotion. I’m not talking about an exact match in the event that causes the emotion but a matching emotion that can drive more events. So far it’s missing in Frankie’s story which means I think about it a lot. For me the emotional connection between my life and my character’s life makes the difference between a book with voice and just a bunch of words on the page.

I read a recent interview with Deborah Wiles¬†that she did for The Institute¬†of Children’s Literature. In it she said,¬†“When I say I start with a voice, I think I’m also saying that I start with a feeling. And that’s how it works for me that I get my life into stories. It’s a voice, yes, but it’s really a feeling that I want to make manifest, if that makes any sense. I don’t even understand it myself all that well. I just know that when something is bothering me, or making me particularly joyful, it can find a voice in story.”

That resonates with me, most especially with Frankie. I know he is in pain and I know he hasn’t had an easy life. I don’t know the details but I know that he doesn’t believe his life can be anything different than what it is right now and that somehow it is my job to help him think differently.¬†I try to use my dreams as a way to help me with my writing. I often give myself a sleep suggestion to let my subconscious work while I rest. Of late it has been the same suggestion: “tell me more about Frankie and his story.” Most mornings I wake up and remember very few dreams but sometimes they are vivid like one I had just the other night.

In my dream I went to answer the front door and there was a man there, kind of¬†old, his short beard was gray but he had¬†some black hair on his head. He wore a bit¬†a suit that had seen better days. He handed me a box, a white box, like one you might get clothes in or a little bigger. It was tied with string, not a¬†ribbon.¬†I asked him what was in the box. He shook his head. I asked him again to please tell me what was in the box. Nothing. I don’t know why I didn’t just open it myself but I didn’t. Then he walked away. I asked him to wait. He kept walking.¬† Then I asked him who he was. He turned around and said, “I am your father.” And then I woke up. And I have NO idea what was in the box.

No, this is not¬†a Star Wars connection. I haven’t seen that movie since it came out and am not a big fan. And here’s the thing, I don’t know my own father. I’ve never met my dad or anyone in his family. In my 47 years I’ve only seen the few wedding pictures of him from when he was a gawky 18-year-old in a white suite. He was gone before I was born and I have heard little about him. What little I did hear wasn’t good. In fact, it was so bad that back in elementary school when someone asked me if I was Tommy Webb’s daughter I automatically said no, so conditioned was I to hiding the truth.

So it is odd and maybe a bit scary to think that my father, who never paid a dime of child support, might¬†give me a gift, perhaps even what I need. And it is sad to think I don’t know what is in the box.

Saturday, August 20, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , , , , , |10 Comments

We know more than we think we do

Yesterday I wrote about the confusion I was having with my current WIP, wondering if it was even the book I was supposed to be writing. I could hear my MC talking to me but when I tried to put it into the book I THOUGHT it belonged in, nothing fit. I thought I was working on another verse novel, MTLB. I had a few poems, an idea of where it was going but the more I heard the MC talk the less he fit into MTLB. But doggone if I didn’t keep trying to jam him in there.

I sat myself down and had a little talk about form and function and all the various WIP I have. I was so fed up that I thought about working on a picture book even though I promised my agent I’d commit to novels for a while. Funny thing was, as I reread all the bits and pieces of unfinished stories I started to see a bit of a pattern. Many of them had one really great scene, a few pieces of dynamite dialog, or an image in words that showed exactly what I wanted to show. One them had a perfect title. (I love titles and can’t work on a book until I have the title.) They all featured a boy MC who was a big brother. Yet each of these bits and pieces were in different stories. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe the excitement that got me started fizzled without a plot (a common occurrence for me) or perhaps something else grabbed a tighter hold of me and begged to be written. I think a lot of these are stories that just didn’t work, won’t work, but I was afraid to let them go. They had “pretty pieces” in them and I wanted to save all the pretty pieces until I could fix the story to go with them. And I’m sure I was thinking that if I had 5 unfinished picture books with some good parts in them, with revision I could have 5 new picture books. I was thinking quantity, not quality, which is a bad idea with writing. I know better. I know that’s not the way I work. I know I’m an instinctive writer who needs to trust herself to let go and hold on according to some invisible inner guide.

Annie Dillard says, “One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water.

It may not have been what Dillard meant but I had the feeling a few of those pieces still spoke to me and still belonged somewhere, just not spread out across 5 picture books that had no future. With some cut and pasting, I yanked the pretty pieces from the gaudy frames of poorly written stories. And as I reread them all I got that little electrical charge of adrenalin, you know the one, your personal geiger counter as Stephen King calls it. There was a voice here. Someone worth listening to. Someone who needed me.

For a few minutes, I confess, I contemplated trying to shove the pieces into the verse novel even though I knew they wouldn’t fit. (Yep, sometimes I’m a slow learner.) Then I got to the title I had saved, TMT. I remembered when I first found the title. I remembered knowing that I would use the title. I remember being sure it would be a picture book.

That was about the time that Frankie tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Hey, that’s me! I’m TMT.” And it hit me, yes, it was time to tell Frankie’s story but MTLB wasn’t Frankie’s story, TMT was.

Nancy Werlin says, “When I write a thing, I write it with a ferocious trust in the unknown stuff that lurks somewhere in my mind.

Keeping that trust in mind I looked at my saved scraps again, only this time through Frankie’s eyes, and the picture became a little clearer and his voice a little louder. (He even told me about the dog and the little girl.) So this is it. I will put aside MTLB and work on TMT and try to help Frankie’s voice be heard. Most of all I will trust that the rest of the story is hiding in my subconscious and will be there when I need it most.


Thursday, August 18, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , , , , |12 Comments

The doubting writer

You’d think that by now I would be used to the fact that my writing path is always filled with doubts of one kind or another, but no, each time I hit a hill of doubt I’m caught off-guard. Once I am deep into a project the doubt usually (but not always) fades away. In the early stages of a project the doubts attack me like highwaymen hidden in the dark woods waiting to steal my treasures. I think the hardest part of it all for me is trusting myself enough to know when I am on the right path, the mostly right path, the path likely to lead to the right path or the path headed directly for a dead-end. It should come as no great surprise that I have the same issues in many other areas of my life but it is the writing doubt that bothers me most of all, perhaps because the writing, because BEING a writer, matters so much to me. Whenever I do something that my “inner me” considers wrong or a bad choice, I hear a lengthy diatribe that starts with something like “I told you so” and ends with something along the lines of “why don’t you just give up now.”¬† Sigh. Not that I intend to give up or give in to the “inner me” at all. This whole inner lecture can take place in a minute or two but boy, the impact can last quite a while.

My current doubt centers around my choice of project to work on. I’m still waiting for the revision letter for Hugging the Rock so I have time to get to work on something new. It shouldn’t be a problem as I have many projects in various stages all waiting for my attention. And even if one of those didn’t appeal to me, ideas are not usually an issue for me.

There was an interesting post which was an offshoot of another post from about the concept that every writer starts off being able to do one thing well, one free card you don’t have to work for. I won’t repeat the whole conversation here here since you can go read their posts for all the juicy details but I decided that ideas was my free card. I’m working on characters and voice, plot still eludes me, and theme always has to tap me on the shoulder when I am done to remind me that it needs to be included. But ideas, they are constant for me. So I took at look at 7 of my projects in various stages and picked another verse novel to work on. It was the least together of them all, only a handful of poems, a hurting character, a setting, and not much more. Nothing recognizable as plot. I was drawn to the character, wanting to save him or at least point him in the right direction away from the pain. But now . . .

It’s going nowhere. I mean nowhere. I can deal with a crummy first draft (second and third drafts even) but I don’t think I’m feeling Frankie as strongly as I THINK I should. I don’t know if I have his voice or if what I have IS his voice or if his voice is even one worth listening to. I don’t know what happens next, but that’s okay, to be expected even. Most of all, I don’t know if this is the right time to tell this story or if I should just force myself to keep going even when I feel like I am driving with a flat tire. I could pick up my YA instead. I know the story. It’s all written and¬†“just” needs to be revised for about the 20th time. I could pick up any one of several MG novels that I have started and then stopped somewhere after chapter 4 or 5. I am not feeling obsessed by any one story more than another at the moment which is what makes it most difficult. The obsession phase is important to my creative process but it is difficult to attain when there are so many other non-writing things that want my time, like the darned day job, cleaning house, and sleep, just to name a few.

I am filled with doubts so I will probably do nothing for a while (which then inspires great guilt) and hope for the best. Sigh.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , , , |5 Comments

Ideas come at the darndest times

I worked late, again, which meant I was driving home later than usual, which means traffic. While I drove I let my mind wander, knowing that I needed some good thinking time to figure out what is going on with MTLB (my WIP). I’m trying to figure out where a good thinking place would be because other than the drives through the backroads on the way to Santa Cruz, I’m fresh out of thinking spots. The doctor told me no walking the dog until my knee heals. I don’t think my husband, as supportive as he is, would agree to just drive back and forth through the woods for a few hours every night so I could think. But this book is new. It needs lots of thinking time. Traffic got worse. Cars slowed down. Slower still. I inched along waiting to merge into the metering lane which would merge into another metering lane and then it happened. One idea popped into my head. Then another. I couldn’t reach for a pen, not in that traffic. I couldn’t reach my phone to call home and leave a message for myself (yes, I do this sometimes if I’m afraid I might forget). So I started repeating the few lines to myself over and over again, like I wanted to remember them for a play. I didn’t want to forget a single word.

Frankie (my MC) tells me this is VERY IMPORTANT STUFF. I mutter to myself. I merge. I keep muttering. Merge again. Add a couple more sentences. Mutter louder. Harder to remember them all now. I never was any good in drama class. 4 lane freeway, at last. I drive faster. Frankie talks faster, like he’s afraid he won’t have enough time to get it all out. I accidentally hit my horn and tick off the guy in the white truck next to me. My heart is beating like crazy so I know this is good. I can’t wait to get home and write. I can see the entire scene unfolding and Frankie is screaming  “no no no” in my ear. I miss my turnoff so I have to get off at the next exit and make a U-turn. Frankie is still yammering at me but I don’t want to tell him to slow down because he might run away again. He does that a lot. Finally I pull into the driveway and shoo the squirrels out of my way as I race into the house, throw open the back door for the dog and grab a pen and my tablet.

As fast as I can I write it all down. Every single word. I reread it once then twice. Suddenly I’m the one screaming “no no no” in my own head because Frankie is nowhere around and he left out a few important pieces of information.

Was it the little girl or the dog?

Thursday, August 11, 2005|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , , , |0 Comments