December 30, 2017 § 7 Comments
Growing up, New Year’s Eve meant eating chili on the couch, watching the ball drop, and each of us declaring to my mother (the family scribe) our New Year’s resolutions.
All were recorded in an innocuous notebook with a cover the color of dried peas.
If we didn’t make them for ourselves, she did. My father’s made-for-him resolution every year? Lose ten pounds.
Looking at that book I see one made in high school, definitely by me: to sing as well as Judy Collins.
No one in the family lived up to those vows, no matter who had made them. From the get-go I knew this was a system that broke down somewhere between plan and execution.
But after leaving home I still made resolutions in a notebook of my own:
Write 25 songs, paint the living room, finish the novel.
The resolutions are numbered and everything.
September 27, 2015 § 5 Comments
Ray waved me over to see this traveling circus of a vessel tied to the dock in Apalachicola.
In the company of this lavish floating box all the other boats were suddenly homogeneous, minor stabs at individuality like signs about Goin’ Fishin’ not withstanding.
Most of us want to express our individuality. But not too much. We value our membership in collectives where we unite around shared opinions, fads, social norms, disciplines, traditions.
These norms are around us all the time, traveling like ripples on water. Most of us ride those ripples.
Short skirts are in. We wear short skirts.
Everyone in our graduating class goes to college. We go to college. « Read the rest of this entry »
March 8, 2015 § 5 Comments
Every time I lead the women’s writing retreat on St. George Island I create, for our last exercise, a fictional event, then each of us draws a character from the hat and tells the story of the event through the eyes of that character.
This year a down-and-out circus/carnival rolled into a small, failing town–we writers like to call that the “setting.”
Among the point of view characters on the folded slips of paper were: the kid just learning to read who sees the poster, the clown who dreams of getting off the road and settling down, the town’s evangelical minister who believes this sort of show is a sign the end is near.
My draw from the hat was Juno, the woman who runs the local, underfunded ASPCA. Here’s her story.
Juno slumped against the wall facing the row of cages and a chorus of yips and yaps with old Fred baying the low notes as if a full moon hung overhead, not a sixty watt bulb that barely lit the corners of the concrete box that was the Greensville ASPCA animal shelter.
December 7, 2014 § 2 Comments
I spend most days creating characters out of words—which is pretty abstract.
Even more abstract are the words themselves, figments of the collective imagination of a set of symbols called the alphabet.
Each letter is translated to sound in the mind, but a letter also exists in its own right as a shape on the page, a shape with an attitude, a personality.
Take A for instance. A is confrontational. Note the wide stance, the arms crossed on the chest. A is adamant, stubborn and tough. Being a writer who struggles with confrontations I’d diffuse A’s anger by bringing B into the scene.
B is that bosomy older woman who will hug the mad right out of anyone, even a hot head like A.
C shows up in my stories a lot. Open, receptive, a good listener. Having C in a story allows the writer to turn exposition into dialogue making critics less likely to ding them for loading up on exposition and backstory.
D is that dandy who thinks he’s all-that—note the straight back and the thrown out chest. Writing D I’d like to give him a secret fear, something to make him, if not likable at least more human, but I have a hard time getting past the smell of his cologne. « Read the rest of this entry »
June 7, 2014 § 11 Comments
In 1998—a lifetime ago—I began writing a book called “Crossing Jordan.”
It was my third novel, and I was still finding my feet as a writer.
I am almost always spurred to write a story by some small, random incident that would otherwise be quickly forgotten.
In this case it was a conversation with the girl next door who said her family was about to move because there were getting to be too many black people in our neighborhood.
As soon as the door closed behind her, I sat down and began to write.