Category Archives: Writing

A Cautionary Tale

I have a friend. A dear friend; the dearest possible friend. We met when I was in my early 30s; she was 25 years my senior. We were (are) both writers.

When I moved away from the town in which we both lived, we began a correspondence. An almost-daily correspondence. At first it was letters via snail mail (which would cross in the mail), then fax, then email. We were quite intimate with our conversations, covering the whole emotional ranges of our very different lives.

correspondence

Thirty Years of Correspondence

We talked very eloquently about our divorces, our marriages. We talked about infidelity. We talked about our children and various problems we had with them, their illnesses, their marriages, both successful and failed. We talked about ourselves, our histories, our futures, our feelings, in excruciating detail, because that’s what writers do. We talked about our glory moments and our devastations. There was nothing off  limits for us to discuss with sometimes brutal honesty. As we saw it at the time.

Imagine my astonishment when about three years ago she mentioned that she had kept–was keeping–all that correspondence. It was all boxed up, in her office closet.

This is stuff that could wound, hurt, devastate her children, my children, my husband. This was personal, very confidential stuff between two people. It never occurred to me, not once in all these years, that what we had written to each other had been saved. I assumed she let it drift into the ether as I had.

But her reasoning, she said, was that one day she would cull through it, excerpting it, writing the book of our friendship.

She is elderly now, and doesn’t remember the tortuous times we wrote about. She doesn’t remember the emotional firestorms we went through that we dissected, how we helped each other through rough patches, how we helped each other understand the motivations of those who slashed us to the core.

Needless to say, since this revelation of the existence of these papers, I have been far more judicious in things I say to her. I mourn the loss of that intimacy, and am a little bit resentful that I have to edit myself in this way.

When I asked for these papers, her caretaker (a family member) said she wanted to go through it for family history.  When I told her it was private communication not meant for others’ eyes, she was unmoved.

I had terrible thoughts of my friend’s children reading our letters and having their worlds rocked by what they read—the truth about their mother’s most intimate inner musings–and her friend’s unabashed opinions.

So I became determined, absolutely resolute, that this material would be shredded. I began to get insistent. I may have hurt some feelings in the process.

Yesterday, seven boxes were delivered to me by FedEx.

I breathed a sigh of relief that it is now in my hands, and no one will ever read it.

I do not regret baring my soul, naked, with both beauty and ugliness, to my dearest friend in all the world, but I’m sorry that we did not have an agreement beforehand about the disposal of our correspondence.

This is a cautionary tale.

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Filed under Aging, family, regrets, relationships, Writing, years

Time to Reflect

I have taken the summer off. I’ve biked, hiked, knitted, hassled, fretted, sweated, gardened and napped.

Now the harvest is coming in hot and heavy and soon I’ll be putting food aside for the winter (already have lots and lots of applesauce, raspberries and rhubarb in the freezer for morning oatmeal), and I’m eager to get back to writing.

I recently wrote about the value of lying fallow. This has been a good time for me. For certain, I still write, but what I’m writing has more to do with posts and blogs and copy for Wordcrafters’ variety of literary events. I now need to get back to my personal work.

So this morning, I tallied what I have that is incomplete, but still holds my heart. This exercise was both gratifying and horrifying.

  • Four novels – first drafts complete, awaiting rewrites.
  • Three novels – first drafts in process.
  • Two novels – outlined and ready to go.
  • Four nonfiction books in various states of completion.
  • I also deleted a few fits and starts that no longer interest me.

When I decided to take a few months off, I was convinced that I had exhausted my creativity, that I really didn’t have anything new to say. Today, I look at my list and I am excited to prioritize and get busy, mostly because I have a whole batch of new ideas popping up in my head every day. Clearly, however, I need to finish something before starting something new.

I participated in NaNoWriMo last year (National Novel Writing Month – Write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days), and that was not only great fun, but it helped move forward a project that had been languishing. I only wish I had come to it better prepared, as I ended up with a very messy first draft. My first drafts are usually untidy, but not this ugly. So this November, I will work on one that I have already outlined. Between now and then, I intend to complete one of the novels awaiting rewrites.

My self-imposed hiatus lasts until mid-September.

I wonder if I can wait that long to get started.

 

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Oh, Those Golden Moments

I have spoken and written about the golden moments of an author before. These are the twinkling little tiny gems that happen amidst the angst and insecurity that creates fiction and comprises most of the life of a writer.

Most of the time, I’m a writer. Sometimes, I get to be an author.

I was privileged to enjoy an extended golden moment two weeks ago, when I was invited to be on the set of the film production as they shot the movie of my book, Candyland.Candyland book cover art

Rusty Nixon, the screenwriter/director and I have talked about this for almost ten years, and it is finally a reality. He wrote an excellent screenplay.  Much of this story takes place within the characters’ heads, so he had to craft original scenes that dramatized that internal action. He did a stellar job.Rusty and Liz

I arrived in Vancouver (and was a guest of the gracious Judy and Ken Nixon) and went to the set that had been constructed inside a vast warehouse space. A complete apartment had been built inside the warehouse, complete with “wild” walls—walls that could be moved to accommodate the camera.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The crew of about thirty went about their business as complete professionals, from Jan Wolff, the Director of Photography, to Malin Ottosson, the Assistant Director, to the hair and makeup people, to the wardrobe people, grips, gaffers, set decoration, sound, lighting, and craft services (caterers). And, of course, Marena Dix, Blaine Anderson, and Marc Petey the producers, busy all the time making it happen, fixing glitches, and putting out fires. The stars, James Clayton and Chelah Horsdal, total professionals, rehearsed tirelessly in that cold warehouse, and then got out of their down coats, undressed, and made movie magic.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For the most part, I watched the actual filming from a tent outside the set on a monitor with the others who were not required to crowd those doing the filming, and was amazed, take after take, as actors spoke the lines that I wrote, and I believed them.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There were nesting owls in the warehouse, and every day I got a glimpse of one or the other. Pueo. My ’aumakua. Magic.

Nobody on the set initially knew that I was the author of the original material, and slowly, as word got around, those tiny golden moments happened over and over again for the three days I was on the set.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It has been said that the most exciting day in the life of a writer is the first day on the movie set when a book is being filmed, and the most boring day in the life of a writer is the second day on the set. I did not find that to be the case. In fact, the second unit shoots in April, and I hope to be there, at least for part of it, because it is amazing beyond belief. Yes, there’s a lot of down time, but there is always something interesting to do, someone interesting to talk to. While the actors are working, the makeup, wardrobe and other people are not, and when the actors are relaxing between takes, the other people zoom into action. There is always something going on.

It was my job to keep my mouth shut and stay out of the way (I promised to be an adult and behave myself—this is not my book after all, it is Rusty’s movie), but I certainly took it all in.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Those golden moments. I tell ya, they make all the angst and the insecurity (financial, social, mental and all the rest) worthwhile.

(This post was simultaneously posted in the Shadow Spinners blog

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Resisting NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) takes place every November. The point is to write a novel in 30 days, which turns out to be approximately 1667 words per day. Hundreds of thousands of people participate in it, and every year I have said, “Maybe next year.” The truth is, I could never really see the point. I’m a professional writer with several published novels to my credit. It seemed as though NaNo was for people who had no discipline or needed something like that in order to get the job done. How many, after all, finished anything worthwhile?

Plenty, as it turns out.

Well, this year, when I said, “Maybe next year” to my friend Pam Herber, she said, “You say that every year.” The gauntlet had been thrown.

So I did it. Every day I wrote approximately 1500-1800 words, with an extra spurt at the end that had me finish a couple of days before the deadline, and this is what I discovered:

1. I now have 2/3 of a poorly-conceived, messy, ugly, unwieldy first draft of a potentially good novel that I would not have had had I not participated in NaNoWriMo. I wish I had taken a week to prepare for my project, both plot and character, before the start of the challenge.

2. I had fun doing it, meeting friends in coffee shops to write together with headphones and caffeine.

3. I complained a lot because I didn’t get a Saturday or Sunday off, not even Thanksgiving Day, but I didn’t complain too loudly, because by Thanksgiving, magic was happening in the twists and turns and character development in my book.

4. I watched as my online NaNo “buddies” struggled with and overcame difficulties to also complete the challenge. Not all of them made it.

5. The pep talks the NaNo folks send almost daily are funny and insightful. Though I didn’t attend any regional events, they were frequent and looked to be a lot of fun. I might pop in on the Thank God It’s Over party tomorrow to accept my winner’s pin.

6. NaNoWriMo has writing events all year long. Darfinkle, my regional liaison, is going to give a presentation at the Wordcrafters in Eugene conference next March about NaNo and its camps and youth programs.

7. I read Chris Baty’s funny book, “No Plot? No Problem.” Chris is the founder of NaNo, and he might be more surprised than anybody about how well it has taken off. He has a lot of tips to writing a novel in this book and I found it to be a good read.

Really now, what is the need in the world population that NaNo has filled? That is a question worth considering, because I think that over 600,000 people registered this year, from all over the globe.

8. My process of writing urgently, under deadline, was more than validated. For 23 years I held a series of weekend retreats where all participants were required to write a short story in 24 hours. Though many never believed they could do that, nobody ever failed. 50,000 words in 30 days is a little different, but the same idea prevails.

So now I have a first draft to finish, reorganize, and polish.

Will I do NaNo next year?

Likely. If you do, “buddy” me so we can encourage each other on this crazy journey. It is a writing experience like no other. Highly recommended, at least once. NaNo

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Top Ten Things I Wish I had Known

Top Ten Things I Wish I’d Known…

After thirteen books in print with a fourteenth and fifteenth slated for publication, I’ve garnered a little wisdom along with all the heartbreaks, hard knocks, high fives and golden moments that only a published author can experience. Here, then, are the top ten things I wish I’d known when first starting out.

  1. If you’re good enough to get one agent/editor/publisher, you’re good enough to get another agent/editor/publisher. Don’t be so grateful to be represented or to be published that you grovel, sell your soul, or take minimum wage for your work. Trust the professional who sees something in your work that makes it worth their while, but don’t hang on to a sorry relationship out of fear that this is the only person who will ever believe in you. It isn’t true in love, and it isn’t true in publishing.
  2. Worry about your writing and your career will take care of itself. This was the advice given to me by my very first editor, and for the most part, it is true. I look after my career, because it means more to me than it does my agent, my editor, or my publisher, but once I turn a manuscript in, it becomes someone else’s job.
  3. The job of an author is to acquire readers, one at a time. There’s the profession of being a writer, and then there’s the profession of being an author. The writer’s job is to write. The author’s job is to grow a readership.  Be nice to your fans. Don’t annoy them with too much self promotion.
  4. Don’t take yourself too seriously. The fate of nations does not hang on your deathless prose. You’re a storyteller. Tell the story that is up for you to tell today and then move on. Do not rewrite it until you have ground off all its edges or smoothed out all its wrinkles or turned it into mush. By the same token, even if you’re an Author with a capital A, you’re still just a storyteller, not a brain surgeon, unless you’re that, too.
  5. Take your writing seriously. While you should never consider yourself all fancypants because you’ve had a book published, you should always consider that the contents of your work may be widely read. While you should be fearless with your truth, be certain that it is your truth before you try to convince others of it.
  6. Relax. There is real value in “creative procrastination.” I believe that we can outpace our creativity with page-count goals. If the words aren’t coming, don’t take a hammer to your head. Make sure you haven’t told a lie in your fiction (asked a character to do something that is against his or her nature in order to serve the plot, because this will cause all the characters to go on strike). If your work is solid, the pages will eventually come—provided, of course, that you are sitting at the keyboard. The book won’t write itself, you know.
  7. Be a professional. Be someone for up and coming writers to look up to. Be the person your agent adores. Be the writer your editor admires and loves to have coffee and/or a chat with.
  8. Be grateful. You have achieved what countless thousands others strive to achieve.
  9. Be generous. Give back. Teach, donate your time, expertise, and money to help the next generation of writers achieve their dreams as well.
  10. Know that there’s plenty to go around. Just because so-and-so got published first, or better, or more frequently, or whatever, this has nothing to do with you, your writing or your career. Don’t compare yourself and don’t be jealous. See number 2.

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Writing Violence

All writers know that conflict is at the center of a good story. The greater the conflict, the better the story. The badder the bad guy, the greater the conflict, the better the story.

Well, maybe it’s time to change that. Maybe it’s time for a new paradigm in storytelling, where the better the good guy, the better the story.

My new novel has violence in it. Gun violence. The bad guys are pretty bad, and now I’m questioning the entire premise of our reading culture and my role in it. Are those of us who write thrillers perpetuating all the wrong values, even if these books have happy endings, even if the bad guys get their comeuppance? Or is seeing the bad guys get what’s coming to them the part of the story that readers really want to read? Is that the part that validates our stand against violence, against bad guys? Is that part the light at the end of the tunnel, the glory that Truth and Justice will eventually win out?

My new book will come out, because it’s already in the process. Spoiler alert: Really bad bad guys, satisfying ending. But in the wake of the horrific events in Connecticut, I think I’ve lost my taste for writing such things. I think I’ve lost my taste for reading such things.

There are other stories to be told that don’t include the kind of violence that has been a staple of our collective body of literature, and I think it’s time for them to have their day in the sun.

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A Writing Conference in Eugene?

Yesterday, I had a preliminary meeting with Juanita Metzler of Travel Lane County, and Matt Lowes, writer, teacher, man of unlimited energy, and we hammered out some initial ideas and goals for a good writing conference for Eugene. The Register-Guard helped by posting a notice about the first public meeting on October 4, 3-5pm at the Travel Lane County offices at 754 Olive St., Eugene, Oregon.

We three came away extremely excited about the prospect of bringing world-class writers to our community to share that community and bounty of nature that we all love so much.  We don’t want to compete with other writing conferences that are established and do what they do so well, like the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland which is held every August. That is a big, stellar conference. No, we’re looking for something smaller and perhaps a little more specialized, without excluding the local writers upon whom we will depend to help with the organization. A conference runs on a battalion of volunteers.

After all, we’re all in it for the story, right? It all comes down to character, plot, motivation, setting and structure, whether you’re writing romance, science fiction, fantasy, thriller or mystery.

Anyway, we’re open to suggestions of all types. If you have a good idea for a name for this conference, or a theme, or a presenter you’d like to hear, or a type of class you’d like to teach or take, let me know. If you have ideas where we can acquire seed money to get this thing off the ground, we will be forever grateful. If you want to attend the meeting where I hope we will make some definitive decisions and begin to enlist volunteer captains, pop me an email, as the Travel Lane County conference room only holds so many souls.

Fun. Very fun.  A new adventure in writing.

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