While I am always fascinated by writers' accounts of their writing habits (Faulkner in his rundown shed, Proust in his cork-lined bedroom), talking about my own process bores me to tears. It’s right up there with watching paint dry. (Note to self: avoid clichés). Still, it behooves me (did I just use that odd word?) to give an account of an activity that engages so much of my time.
An essential part of my daily writing ritual is setting up my tools: a well-worn dictionary and thesaurus, extra-fine black ink pens, #2 pencils sharpened to within an inch of their lives, tablets of college-ruled white paper (no margins), folders containing the novel’s outline and notes, print copies of completed chapters, and a hand mirror. I check it periodically to be sure I haven’t disappeared, a hazard of an overactive imagination.
Longhand is the only way I can write. There’s something about the movement of my hand, the flow of ink...
If anyone were to ask me for a few words of advice or wisdom (excluding the usual Do unto others and Always wear clean underwear), I would offer this nugget:
Read as though your life depended on it—because it does.
I was a precocious reader. Began reading at four, zipped through all the Nancy Drew mystery series titles by eight, began a lifelong engagement with the novels of Charles Dickens (every last one of them) at eleven. It is unthinkable for me not to have a book (or more) on my nightstand or in my handbag. Reading fills every minute of waiting, whether to board a flight, see the dentist, get through a checkout line. I will never understand or accept the excuse “I don’t have time to read.” I say, TURN OFF THE COMPUTER! AND THE PHONE! AND THE TELEVISION!
When you read you’re not alone. When you read your mind fills with ideas and images outside of your narrow existence. When you read you empathize...
Well, for starters, schmaltzy movies like The Sound of Music in which Julie Andrews frolics in her nightgown, singing about schnitzel with noodles, while all the little Von Trapps gaze in adoration. And darn if she doesn’t win their hearts! And the Captain’s too!
The kids coming home for a visit.
The kids coming home for a visit without dirty laundry.
Every single sunlit, smoky-aired, colorful, majestic, melancholy day of autumn.
Cold pools. Hot showers.
Forests. Even the word forest.
Finding something I thought was lost. Even if it wasn’t something I missed or liked, its unexpected reappearance in itself is the delight. Oh, there you are!
How before some storms, rain or snow, the sky takes on an eerie glow and a hush falls over everything.
The first cup of coffee in the morning. Suddenly everything becomes clear....
What is it about three-word sentences that makes them so effective at communicating? There’s a forceful rhythm to them, for one thing, making each word pack a punch. And summing up thoughts and sentiments so concisely implies confidence and certainty. Twitter restricts writers to 280 characters, but I think limiting thoughts to three sentences is more challenging and fun.
For obvious reasons," I love you" and "You complete me" have universal, timeless appeal. (As for personal appeal, nothing beats "Block this caller").
Interpretations of three-word sentences vary, depending on mood, disposition, life experience. "Back to school" may elicit "Oh, happy day" from a parent or "Oh, please no" from a student.
Some are unintentionally suggestive like "Slippery when wet" and "Fill ‘er up."
From snarky, "Suck on this," to Terminator nasty, "Fuck you, asshole" as Schwarzenegger so fam...
In my previous blog I described my waning wanderlust. I neglected to mention, however, that one of the reasons I am less curious about other countries is because New York City is, to me, quite a few countries in itself. Frequent visits there satisfy my need to mingle with a diverse population, enjoy multinational cuisines, and explore rich cultural offerings. The saying about The Big Apple goes, “if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.” I’d like to add, using another meaning of the word make, if you can make it there, you won’t need to go anywhere else.
There’s nothing quite like being in a city of eight million people, none of whom know me, want to talk to me, or even notice me. This anonymity is one of NYC’s greatest pleasures. Everyone is going about their business—and it doesn’t matter how outlandish that business is or how they dress doing it. Outfits range from Hugo Boss suits to saris to marathon-ready to just-...
When did my wanderlust turn into wander-meh? I have travelled through Europe by train, days of no sleep, no showers, no food—but a lifetime of memories of French lavender fields, the Swiss Alps, the family that boarded in Florence with their cages of squawking poultry. I lugged my eight-months-pregnant belly all over Seattle and Vancouver for the chance to see one of the most spectacular corners of the world. Crisscrossing the United States by car a few times, an adventure in regional dialects and cuisines, was worth every stretch of boring, billboarded highway. Mexico? Montreal? Been there, done that.
My journey (no other word will do since it also suggests an emotional passage) to Australia fulfilled a lifelong dream to see the place that had captured my imagination since childhood. Who can resist a country “sung” into creation by its ancestors as they traversed the landscape, laying down “songlines”?
In 1799, Edward Ludlum, popularly known as Ned Ludd, smashed two knitting frames in a fit of passion. (At the risk of being overly clever, I’d say fit of pique, one definition of pique being “a durable fabric of cotton, rayon, or silk.”). Or so the story goes. Some contend he is as mythical as Robin Hood. In any event, in the early nineteenth century, as the forces of the Industrial Revolution were gathering strength, textile workers rebelled against automated looms and knitting frames, calling themselves Luddites in homage to Ludd. The term has come down through the centuries to describe opponents of the dehumanizing and demoralizing effects of technology.
While I’ve never smashed an appliance or electronic device, I’ve come close to tossing, hurling, throttling, discarding them. Curses to vent my frustration have to satisfy, mainly because I’m too cheap to replace the item in question (yes, I’m talking to you, microwave oven. A...
So many times I’ll read a news article and remark to myself, or whoever else is in earshot, “You can’t make this stuff up.” As a writer who spends a fair amount of time in the realm of imagination, I have to admit real life puts my fantasies to shame. By turns intriguing, horrifying, hilarious, the articles offer a glimpse into people’s lives at a moment of … well, let’s just call it “dubious judgement.” Though the articles top anything I might come up with, I can’t help but imagine what happened beyond the event.
There was the 72-year-old Missouri woman who led police on a high-speed (100 mph) chase for 14 miles, ending when she rammed the deputy’s car twice and their bumpers locked. Asked where she was headed, she replied, “To eternity.”
Another 72-year-old Missouri woman (makes me appreciate that devil-may-care age, if not the Show Me state) thwarted a carjacker by bopping him on the head with jars of laundry det...
“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.” —the first sentence of Charlotte Brontë’s "Jane Eyre." She then describes the cold wind and penetrating rain that inhibit further exercise. It sets the tone for the novel’s exploration of the restraints placed on women in society. Jane’s bold assertion of selfhood and independence is nothing short of heroic.
Were it not for a period of forced seclusion, however, would Brontë’s keen perceptions and feelings have found expression?
It was while she was cooped up in a hotel room nursing her father after eye surgery that she penned her masterpiece. No possibility for a walk—but plenty for writing. In fact, not a few books owe their existence to a writer’s isolation.
In the case of Mary Shelley, she, along with Percy Shelley and Lord Byron, were forced indoors by fierce summer storms while vacationing in Switzerland. To entertain themselves, Lord Byron pr...
To travel to Australia has been on my bucket list ever since I was a kid and didn’t know what a bucket list was. One look at a magazine photograph of Uluru (formerly Ayers Rock) and I burned with a fever to know everything about the place that possessed a monumental, Martian-colored rock formation right smack dab in the middle of miles (excuse me, kilometers) from nowhere. As a Charles Dickens devotee, I was curious about the convict country of Magwitch in "Great Expectations." And what’s not to like about the Aussies’ broad vowels and their delightful vocabulary that includes words like billabong and fair dinkum? Even the fauna have names to make you smile: wallaby, koala, kookaburra.
An entire section of my library is devoted to Australian writers. Patrick White, Tim Winton, Peter Carey, Murray Bail, Evie Wyld, David Malouf and others have taken me on many an unusual and fascinating journey. And I’ve seen just about every Austr...