Sunday, January 29, 2012

In the Act of Snoozing

I posted the poem, below, several days ago. Sundays are the days I can and do indulge. I wake. I snooze. I wake and turn on NPR and snooze again. I wake. During the waking and snoozing, I think about my story. Not the writing, but the story itself. It would be nice to say I get my best ideas that way, but it isn't true. I get my best ideas by sitting down to do the work. Butt in chair, fingers on the keyboard. That's how it's done.

But sometimes, just once in a while, there is a little magic in those Sunday morning moments.

For some reason, a long time ago, I put a character, Colin, in a new suit. That suit just appeared. I liked it. I felt he should have it. But it had to have a purpose. To be able to keep it, I worked it out that his grown daughter cajoled him into buying it, because her mother--his late wife--liked to see him nicely dressed. I intended that the suit tell you something about him and his wife and his daughter.

Working out backstory is great fun. I get to write the biographies of my characters up to the moment that you, Dear Reader, meet them. Backstory is the part that doesn't actually show up in the book you're holding, but if it doesn't exist, the story will have no depth. The characters will be flat or predictable or so blah who will care?

My writing group, collectively, has let me know that they don't know how or why the young Colin and his wife ever got together in the first place. What did they see in each other? They don't seem like the inevitable couple that they absolutely have to be, to share their lives in this book.

This morning, as I moved from snooze to awake for the last time, that new suit of Colin's floated into my mind. Until then, I thought I had all the detailed backstory for this book I needed--but I didn't have the where and the how of the first meeting between Colin and the girl he would marry. Now I have it, and what they were wearing is all-important.

I like to believe that's why, forty-five years after that first meeting he got his new suit. It would be the clue I need when backstory ran out. And it's why I look forward to next Sunday's snooze.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why I Lie in Bed

I wait for that
Dream to recur.
The one in which
I hold the pieces
To the puzzle in
The flat of my hand.

Monday, January 16, 2012


The most in-the-act-of writing I know is Prompt Writing. You take a phrase, a photo, a random word, anything, and use it as a prompt. You set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes, put pen to paper and write until the timer dings. You let the prompt literally prompt your writing but let the writing take over and take you wherever it wants to go. What comes out is sometimes dull, but more often surprising and vivid.

In Nancy Peacock's monthly workshop last Saturday, I was given two photos, one of an old farmstead with a house, a barn, another building or two, clothes on a line, and straight plowed furrows. The other photo was of bright and dainty china tea cups and saucers. The prompt was to synthesize the two. Here, unedited, is what I wrote:

Don't break that tea cup. My daddy brought it back from Charleston when he went once. And don't break that one. He got it when he went to Atlanta. Don't know why he thought a tea cup was the thing to bring me but that's he did.

All right now, you can help me wash them all up, but you got to be careful. I got, I don't know, how many. One or two get broke over time. I'm not one to put a pretty thing away and never use it. I use one to break eggs in when I separate them for a cake. See, you don't want to pour the whites out straight in the beating bowl because you might get a speck of yolk in and then you can't ever get them to beat up fluffy. So you crack the egg, pour the white in a cup and when you know there's no yolk in it, you pour it into the bowl. One at the time. I can't tell you how many a cake's been saved by my doing that. The yolks--they don't matter. Just dump them in the batter bowl any old way.

What else do I use a tea cup for? There's tea drinking, ha ha. And this one with the pink inside--it's my sugar measuring cup. This one with the green and yellow sprigs--it's how I measure butter. This one, the red rimmed one, I mix up salt and pepper all together so when I reach for a pinch of one, I get both. Saves me all kinds of time. So you best be careful how you wash 'em. Turn 'em up on a tea towel by the sink to dry. Mother Naure's the best dish dryer. She never cracks or chips anything.

My daddy, he worked hard, he could plow the straightest furrow you ever saw and he put up the posts for the clothes line I'm still using. But even so, he had a little wanderlust in him and if he could find a reason to be gone a few days, he'd take it. Charleston, Atlanta, Richmond, even Miami Beach. Most anywhere the railroad went. Mama fussed. She didn't like it when he was gone but he always come home. He always brought her a length of fabric and a silver teaspoon. Me, he brought me a tea cup. He had an eye for something pretty. You can see that. He liked to stand on the proch when the sun was just down behind the trees and say, "Sister, aint' this a pretty place? I keep looking but I can't find nothing prettier." Oh I remember it so good, how he'd say that.

Lord, what did I do? Careless. I get thinking and recalling and I get careless. No, honey, don't worry. Get the broom and the dustpast. At least it wasn't one of the real useful ones. No crying over spilt milk. You know what I do with the broken ones? Toss 'em down the old privy.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Week in the Life

About the decision: I fully expect I'll publish Beyond Doubt as both an ebook and a print-on-demand book. I realized the decision had made itself when a friend told me she is on the agent search and my inner voice asked "why?" I didn't say it. Not my business. But a viseral reaction must be right.

On Thursday this week, I went to Fayetteville to meet and talk with a reading group that has been going for decades. They promised to have me back when the book is in hand and I had a great time talking about how the story has evolved, the different points of view and structures I've experimented with to get where I am. I told them that on Saturday, my writers group would be going over the manuscript in fine detail. Several of ladies promised to pray for me on Saturday morning. I've heard that all prayers are answered one way or another.

On Saturday--yesterday--I got what I expected from my Girls Writing. Love, to be sure, for me and also for my story. And honesty. And great ideas. I want this book to be the best it can be, and by golly, so do the Girls.

So for a while, I'll be in the Act of Rewriting. Reimagining. Listening more closely to my characters, and giving them voice. It may only take a few weeks, or it may take a few months. I'm excited.