Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Writer's Guilt

When I was a kid, I didn't dare get caught sitting—or heaven forbid, lying—on the couch anytime the sun was up or there would be hell to pay. I cringed and broke into a cold sweat every time the back door squeaked open. Always afraid it would be my father walking in, ready to ask that all-too-incriminating question, "What are you doing?"

Eventually I learned how to jump up without a sound and scramble to look busy. Maybe I'd move some stuff around on the shelf or re-fold the blanket or rearrange some pillows. Or, even better, slip out of sight before he made it into the family room. I spent a lot of time in the barn or in the woods or down by the river, but inevitably the sun would get too hot or the winds to chilly and I would seek the peace of the family room couch. Always laden with guilt.

Perhaps that's why I have a hard time letting myself be a writer. I mean hours can go by and I get only a few words on the page. I get a cup of tea. Bounce my magic glitter ball a few times. Clean out my fountain pen. And think...

Then I sit in my rocking chair for a while, with the laptop on my knee. And think...

Then I watch a little tennis or golf or show jumping. Or maybe I'll surf the net a while. And think...

I can hear my father's voice so clearly, "When are you going to get a real job?" Of course teaching high school was never a real job to him, either, but I did that for almost 10 years. Still, I can't help but feel guilty that there isn't more to show for all this thinking and tea drinking and web-surfing and magic glitter ball bouncing. My head gets it, but old habits definitely die hard. I have to keep reminding myself that all this nothing is what allows me to create something. And for that matter, writing is not a finite process. There is no true beginning and end. It is with you always—creating, composing, revising. Just because the words are not pounding across my computer screen a mile a minute does not mean I'm not writing. Hell, I'm writing in my sleep!

So I guess when I really need to feel more "active" and ease that writer's guilt, I should take my writing self and keep it going while my other self mucks out the horse barn (when I finally have one again). And if I want to sit in the rocking chair or take a nap or watch a bad movie in the middle of the afternoon...

Well, it's all part of the job.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


As you can gather from some of my recent blogs, I've been in serious need of distractions lately. I've considered blogging about the complexities of grief and the insanity of dysfunctional families, but I think I (and anyone who might stumble upon this blog) would be better off saving those musings for my next YA novel. Of course as a writer, just about any life experience, no matter how big or small, is fodder for some masterpiece in the making.

Consider my latest MOD (mode of distraction)—backyard birding. Yes, I could sit for hours watching the intricate ecosystem that is our backyard, if it weren't for the 105ยบ heat. However, even with the scorching summer sun, I spend a lot of time in the lawn chair with Ghost Hunk's 2-ton camera in my lap while I meditate on life's crap and watch the birds. It's amazing the personality you can find out there. These are just a few interesting fellows who gather in the yard regularly:

There is so much chatter in my yard that I have to wonder what they talk about. Are they griping about their passive/aggressive maniacal sisters who seem bound to make life absolute hell? Are they gossiping about the neighbors and who's cheating on whom? Or is the greatest concern on their little minds how fast the bird seed seems to be disappearing from the plastic tube this crazy woman with the funky machine in her lap has hung on the wrought iron hook next to the tree?

And then I wonder...

Do they know how rich and welcome their songs are at the first light of day? Do they realize how much I love to watch them go through their day, chattering away in the trees about who-knows-what? Do they ever see themselves as little saviors who guard my sanity?


They should.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What Characters Live With You?

Yes, I have finally re-entered the blog-o-sphere, although my perspective may be a little shaky.  Please forgive me if I ramble a bit too much. 

With my own revision finally done, I actually had a chance to finish the fabulous book I had started before everything went pear-shaped.

If you haven't read THE GRAVEYARD BOOK yet, please run straight away to the nearest bookstore or library and grab this jewel. How could a boy named Nobody be so strong a character that he takes up permanent residence in my brain? Because Neil Gaiman crafted an amazing character in a brilliant setting with such a sublime mission. Yes, I gush. But this is one of those books.  And Nobody is one of those characters. 

Neil Gaiman makes it look so easy, but how does a character manage to transcend the page and haunt your thoughts for who-knows-how-long?  And who has done that for you?

First, what better mechanism for drawing on the reader's sympathy than opening your book with a prodigiously courageous infant in peril?  From the first meeting, we are drawn to Nobody in the most primal way.  Especially if you are a parent.  If you are kid, you can't help but admire this kid's tenacity and guts.  His loneliness haunts us, his hunger for knowledge tempts us, his evolution inspires us.  I think dear Bod will be with me for quite a while—most likely forever.

Second, what other characters stay with me?  Of course Harry Potter grabbed me from the start.  Again, I think the fact that I am a parent engendered a connection beyond what the intended audience would understand.  I wanted to protect him, to love him, to give him hope.  But of course, if I could, he wouldn't be Harry. 

Kit Tyler from THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND was one of my favorites from my childhood.  I read that book...32 years ago (Yikes!)...and I still think of her.  She has spunk.  She has righteous indignation...and the courage to do something about it.  

Others that stay with me:  Ramona Quimby, Gooneybird Green, Gemma Doyle, Edward Tulane, Ann Fay Honeycutt,... just to name a few.

It's not just their strength or their boundless courage.  Quite the contrary.  It's their fallibility.  Their humanness.  

I am thinking about all this as I begin work on my next YA novel.  Already I'm living with my characters and learning about them, watching them grow into interesting and flawed young people.  I just hope I can right them as clearly as I feel them.  

What characters haunt you?