The secret life of the alphabet.

December 7, 2014 § 2 Comments

Alphabet

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 »

St. George Souvenir.

November 17, 2014 § 6 Comments

Shrimp boat.Every November I lead a women’s writing retreat on St. George Island. I spend the days before we sequester ourselves in the ultimate “room with a view,” inventing the writing exercises we will do when we gather around the sprawling dining room table.

Here is one of the exercises from our latest retreat.

Begin every paragraph with the words Where I come from… Then choose nouns from the provided list to write about.

I wish you could read your way around that table, but you’ll have to settle for looking over my shoulder:

Where I come from the dogs are mostly pit bulls with vacant eyes and mangy collars. They hit backyard fences hard, or wander, a few links of chain jangling. Their damp noses are the color of pencil erasers. They slink across yards stopping only to lift a leg on an azalea bush.

Where I come from the older trees that convinced us to choose this neighborhood are quietly dying. Live oaks and water oaks drop limbs on cars and swing sets. Something about the changing climate; too wet. too dry, too hot, too cold is felling these giants that have held up the sky for so long. Dismembered, they sit in piles by the side of the road in chunks too large for firewood. « Read the rest of this entry »

Following the light.

September 27, 2014 § 4 Comments

Sunflowers in Maine.Watch a field of sunflowers.

Like an audience, the flowers turn, tracking the progress of the sun across the sky.

Heliotropic, sunflowers always follow the light.

Once, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan I saw dozens of ravens, each in the top of a tall pine.

All faced into the storm, oriented to ride the whip of that wind.

Like the sunflower, like the raven, each of us seeks a direction to face that makes our lives possible.

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Under the rainbow.

September 14, 2013 § 13 Comments

Her whole job is an exercise in short-term memory.

Which one gets scrambled. Which gets over-easy. Which cup gets topped off with high-test, which with decaf.

She’s so dog tired some days she only knows right from left if she looks at her hands: regular right, decaf left.

A cup of Joe.She will probably arrive at the pearly gates armed with regular right, decaf left. And she’ll say to St. Peter, “Can I warm that up for you, hon?”

She’ll top off his cup, then ask, “You mind getting that big door? My hands are kinda full.”

She’ll be wearing her white support hose, hopefully without runs–and hopefully it will be close to payday, so she’ll just have had her hair done.

Couldn’t hurt to stride into glory looking good.

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In the beginning…

July 24, 2011 § 12 Comments

Want to know how to start a story?

If you are a writer you are saying, dang! Start a story? Give me something I can use. Tell me how to middle a story.

Like a clothesline, the beginning and end of a story are firmly anchored. It’s the middle that usually sags.

I have only one potentially useful tip for those lost in the middle. Write an ending.

Start and finish (like Romeo and Juliet yearning for each other) will find a way to come together as swiftly as possible.

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The well.

June 16, 2011 § 2 Comments

My mother had a metaphor for how writers store and retrieve memory. She called it “the well.”

Every experience, whether good or bad, is thrown down into the well, and then, brought up again when it is needed to inform a story.

But memory is a great reviser of truth–especially a writer’s memory. So I’d say we toss memory into the ocean, where it is smoothed and polished and returned to us stripped of everything but what gives it meaning and significance.

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Walking on the ceiling.

February 4, 2011 § 16 Comments

The non-conformist in a world of all-the-same.

Sometimes I write these posts and wonder, am I the only person who thinks this way?

Like now.

This is a post about metaphors.

You know, the alchemy of turning one thing into another, like that old trick of lead-into-gold that was such a hot human pursuit for a while.

But this post is not about the metaphors I employ as a fiction writer.  This is a post about the metaphors that appear unbidden; metaphors that explain and even shape my life.

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