Oh, Write


For the past couple of months, I’ve been writing around the edges of everything else.

I get up early and write—after I take care of our elderly cat’s needs and until I have to wake the kids.

I write on breaks at work—after I run errands or answer e-mails.

I write in the evenings—after the kids go to bed sleep and until bedtime/husband-attention-time.

On the alternate weekends I don’t work at the library, there are swim lessons or church or other family stuff, so I write when everyone else is occupied with their own interests.

On my every-other Friday off, I run errands in the morning, and write after lunch until the kids get home—or fall asleep where I stand, because jeez.

This hasn’t been a bad way to write—there are no bad ways to write, if writing is being done—and for a long time, it’s been the only way I could have a family and still write.

Because I need both.

But it recently dawned on me that in my efforts to make sure my writing time doesn’t inconvenience the family, I’ve given them the impression that it isn’t important to me, either.

Which meant that it could be interrupted, dismissed, and ignored.

It was becoming harder to submerge myself into a scene, when I knew that I’d be yanked out again at any given moment.  And it was easier to give in, most of the time, because I don’t really have any deadlines I don’t set myself, anyway, and the kids are still young and this will only take a few minutes and it’s easier to stop than explain (again) why I need to get these words down right now . . .

But then I read Averil Dean’s post, “work |wərk|“,  which asks the question, “How do people take it when you refer to your writing as work?”

This question struck me right between the eyes.

Because I haven’t.  Not for a while.

When had I stopped treating the act of writing as my internship/second job/thing-I-would-rather- be-doing-than-anything and started treating it like a poor excuse for not doing what other people expect me to do?

Writeus Interruptus is a chronic condition for most writers, but when had I stopped treatment?

I mean, did I still want to do this writing thing?  Did I still want my stories to be read?  Did I still want to take the time and effort necessary to convince someone to pay me to do this, someday?

Okay then.

In order to be taken seriously as a writer, in order to have my family treat my writing as an important activity, I needed to show, not tell.

So I decided to make a deal with my husband.

In Summer, he likes to play sandlot baseball on the weekends—he rarely misses. The league offers games Saturday and Sunday, and he’s usually gone for three hours.

On the Saturdays I work, he plays Sunday. On my Saturdays off, I’ve been watching the kids, so he can play in the afternoons.

I braced myself—for what, I don’t know, exactly, but brace I did—and told him that I needed more time to write. And I asked him to play baseball on Sundays all season, so I could take three hours on my Saturdays off to go to the library, while he took care of the kids.

If he absolutely had to play on Saturday, I’d be glad to move my three hours to earlier or later in the day, or take them on Sunday instead—if the library wasn’t open, I could hide in Panera or Starbucks or somewhere.

He agreed.

I was surprised, which tells you more about my mindset than his.

I was also elated. I’d figured out what I needed and made it happen.  Sure, it’s a very small step, but it’s in the direction I want to go.

So, after lunch this past Saturday, I ran away from home with my laptop and headphones and notebook. Jane wanted to go with me, but before I could figure out how to tell her that I wanted to spend some time in her favorite place in the world by myself, my husband explained that I needed some time to work on my book without any interruptions.

“Oh,” she said. “Okay. Have fun, Mom!”

The first hour was hard—I kept expecting to be interrupted and ended up interrupting myself. But it smoothed out eventually, and I fell into the Zone for an hour or so until the alarm buzzed on my phone.

It was a very good write.

When I arrived home, my MIL told me that everyone else was biking the river trail.

So I stretched out on the bed and closed my eyes and thought about plot points and poisonous plants—until Sunny landed on my stomach.

Anyone else notice that the pain of Naptus Interruptus is directly proportional to the size of one’s kids?


Book Review: Alice Close Your Eyes

Full Disclosure:  I’ve never met Averil Dean face-to-face, but I consider her a good friend—it’s a Betsy Lerner thing, a bloggerbuddy thing, an e-mailing, occasional care-packaging, shared parenting-woeing, mutual why-do-I-want-to-do-this-writing-thing-again-oh-right-thanks thing.

And the woman can writeas anyone who’s visited her blog will agree.  She classifies her posts as Poetry, Porn, and Petulance, but there’s far more to them than that.  She’s savvy, insightful, earthy, brave, and has paid her damn dues, thank you.

So when she offered me an ARC of her new book, Alice Close Your Eyeswith several disclaimers about not being sure it was my usual cup of tea and that she would understand if I was too busy—my reply, verbatim, was, “OH MY GOD, GIMME!”

I tried to summarize the story myself, but kept dropping spoilers, so here’s the official blurb, instead:

Alice Close Your EyesTen years ago, someone ruined Alice Croft’s life. Now, she has a chance to right that wrong—and she thinks she’s found the perfect man to carry out her plan.

After watching him for weeks, she breaks into Jack Calabrese’s house to collect the evidence that will confirm her hopes. When Jack comes home unexpectedly, Alice hides in the closet, fearing for her life. But upon finding her, Jack is strangely calm, solicitous…and intrigued.

That night is the start of a dark and intense attraction, and soon Alice finds herself drawn into a labyrinth of terrifying surrender to a man who is more dangerous than she could have ever imagined. As their relationship spirals toward a breaking point, Alice begins to see just how deep Jack’s secrets run—and how deadly they could be.

Like all blurbs, this is only a surface description—and like Averil’s posts, this book is far more than advertised.

It’s an exploration of changing points-of-view, mistakes, and motivations, of loss and missed opportunities, broken pieces and unfilled needs, and the many, many different kinds of devotion and desire.

It’s also an exercise in symbolism both subtle and shouted so loudly that even the characters can’t help but notice.  And so precisely written that every single plot point and flashback and spiraling erotic moment slots into place with a click.

The characters all hold their own, even though they’re  filtered through Alice’s memory,  mindset . . and misinterpretations.  Jack, who knows he’s being played, but can’t back down.  Molly, who broke my heart more than once.  Alice’s grandmother, who, with the best intentions, may have taught Alice the worst interpretation of vengeance.  And Alice herself—writer, orphan, semi-recluse, lost girl interrupted—who thinks her eyes are wide open and her vision is true . . .  and who is very, very wrong.

About those erotic moments:  they may be dark, they may be frequent, but not a single one is gratuitous.  Each is a payment offered or extracted, a manipulation, a binding, a powerplay, a promise, a punishment—or any combination.*  Averil’s talent for infusing a scene, an act, a single touch, with the emotional tensiondark or light—that defines true erotica, is undeniable: there’s a scene in a craft fair booth, a fully-clothed moment of supercharged choice, that rivals, at least for me, any other scene in the book.

This isn’t a mystery with sex scenes tacked on—it’s a symbiosis.  And a damned good story .

Someone, can’t remember who, described this book as erotic noir.  So I knew going in that it wasn’t going to be a light read.  And it isn’t—there are some tough, true things in here, things that happen and shouldn’t and do anyway.  The world of these characters was broken when they got here,  and that they have trouble coping with the unfairness isn’t surprising.

The level of involvement I had with these characters would have been, except I know Averil Dean and what she can do.

You should find out for yourselves.


* And, if I may, the dom/sub dynamics between Alice and Jack are fascinating on several levels. In both their intimate relationship and the plot, Alice has the power and Jack has the strength.  They each have the need, even the craving, for aftercare, even if they’re unable to express it, or even accept it.  They could be the saving of each other—but their inability to trust each other, or themselves, upsets the necessary balance.

Random Thursday Blogswap: There’s Always $#!%

What could be more random than not actually writing Thursday’s post?

The following bit of self-depreciating brilliance is from Averil Dean, who is an incredible writer, a thought-provoking blogger, a visual artist, and a terrific friend—no matter what she might think.

If you don’t already follow her blog, do yourself a favor and check it out—and not only because I’m over there today talking about the difference between porn and erotica . . . and which one makes me walk into walls.


Okay, this is my fourth try at writing a post for Sarah’s place. She’s a tough act to follow, let me tell you. She’s fun and funny and smart, and she knows about poetry and history and shit like—

Oh, here we go. Three sentences in and I’m ready to drop a four-letter word into her beautiful blog. What is the matter with me? Why, for the love of Pete, can’t I stop the profanity?

It’s not as though my vocabulary would suffer some immense loss if I were to abandon my predilection and aim my buggy down the straight and narrow path toward clarity and the pristine expression of thought. I can do this. I know there are better words out there, kinder on the ear, more intelligent and less offensive. And if the urge overwhelmed me, there’s always $#!%.

But I’ll admit to a sneaky satisfaction in using the naughty words. They have a beautiful look about them—short, carved into the page, a vowel and a collection of sharp consonants. They are a disruption, a distraction, a fleck of pepper in the milk. When you use them well, they become a sort of blasé punctuation (Yeah, I called that guy a d___, but did you see how I avoided the exclamation point?), a way to indicate that the writer is fired up beyond caring and will curse as she damn well pleases. Profanity is punk. Dirty. Unworried. All my favorite qualities, in such nifty little packages.

I like the division they provide between people: those who curse and those who don’t. We potty-mouths love to goose you with an f-bomb. We consider it a public service, designed to help you rid yourself of the urge, or possibly remind you of why you choose not befoul your speech in the first place. (You’re welcome.) We think you’re adorable. We’re behind you at the back of the classroom, passing notes you’d rather not read, sticking a wet finger in your ear while the teacher is lecturing wah wah wah at the chalkboard. Come on, we whisper. You know you want to . . .

And as my mother told me decades ago, if you have an innocent face you should cultivate a colorful pattern of language. Everyone needs dichotomy.

But of course, I’m at Sarah’s site today. Her mother is reading, and may not have shared the same advice with her daughter. If she reads this, she may refuse to let Sarah come over to my place and play in my sandbox.* She may tell Sarah I’m not a good friend for her, a bad influence, not the kind of person you’d want to–

You know what? Sarah’s mom is right.

Fuck it.


Photograph by the incomparable Ellen von Unwerth

*Sarah’s Note:  Who do you think taught me most of my more colorful vocabulary?

Backstory: From Cardboard to Who Cares?

Of the many, many webcomics* I follow, Sheldon, by the talented and beyond-awesome Dave Kellett, is probably my favorite.  Janie loves it, too, and often requests that we read one of our many printed collections of the strip as her bedtime story.

It’s fun—we do the voices.

One of the reasons I love this comic is that the author is as big a geek as I am and riffs on all the cultural icons of geekdom, up to and including Star Wars, Star Trek, and, of course Lord of the Rings.**

Last night, we landed on this strip:

Click the image above and read through the arc—it’s six strips long, ending on this one:

Exaggeration aside, you know damn well that Tolkien knew the backstory of every single creature in LOTR, down to what each one had for breakfast—and second breakfast—the morning of the battle of Minas Tirith.  Even Tom Bombadil.

Writers are told to create a backstory for our characters, too—even if the character is a minor one.  Alison Janssen wrote a gorgeous post illustrating why:

Think about your character like this: He is a very small ocean when he’s young and inexperienced. As he moves through time and experiences life, the coasts surrounding him widen, and the sea floor drops. His ocean gets bigger as his character grows, containing more saltwater.

Now think about the formative events of his life — the stuff that happened to him before the story you’re telling in your manuscript. The kinds of things that led to the quirks and traits he possesses in the story you’re telling . . .   Imagine each of those events as a drop of colored liquid in the character ocean. The larger the impact of the event, the larger the drop, and the more viscous the liquid . . .

And it’s not just the immediate, most recently dropped pool of liquid that will inform your character’s actions, behaviours, and perceptions. Every drop of liquid, even when dispersed, will have changed the overall makeup of the character ocean. Wave patterns, currents, the flora and fauna — everything’s related.

This is heady stuff for writers!  Whether you make it up on the spot or your characters tell you more about themselves as you go, characterizations are nothing but fun.  And we’ve all become wary of cardboard characters and flat characterizations.  There needs to be something behind those baby blues, right?

BUT . . .

While Tolkien wrote in almost every possible historical, genealogical, and personal detail for his characters—including Tom Bombadil—it was the early 1950s. And he was Tolkien.

Currently, we aren’t supposedto use a character’s entire backstory—unless that’s what the story is about—because an infodump slows  the pace to a crawl while the reader tries to process everything,  like a kid trying to eat a sundae through brain freeze.  It can be done, but it’s not as enjoyable as usual.  And most backstory isn’t important to anyone but the characters and their anxious parent author.  It’s natural for us to want our babies to show off for the nice people, but that’s not the point.

Naturally, it depends on the audience—ten-year olds like Sheldon up there have a low boredom threshold, while professors of 19th Century Delphinapterus literature seem to have quite a high tolerance—as well as the needs of the story.   And I’m not discounting talent and skill; some authors seem to effortlessly balance any amount of backstory—or none at all.

J.K. Rowling works a couple of tons of personal backstory into Harry Potter, especially the last volume, but it doesn’t slow anything down at all—she  keeps up the pace because the details are relevant and immediately useful  to the plot.

In The Key, Averil Dean weaves the relationship between Elizabeth and her late father into the first several chapters, but these memories and details aren’t infodumpy or extraneous—they establish the character’s loneliness and explains how and why Elizabeth views the world the way she does, which also influences her actions when strange things start happening.  The details are relevant.

Nero Wolfe, Rex Stout’s premiere detective, raises orchids.  It’s one of  his signature character traits—his entire schedule revolves around his greenhouse.  I’ve read all of his adventures, but I don’t believe there’s any mention of why he loves these flowers so. Stout supplies a lot of Wolfe’s backstory,  but I’ve yet to find an outright explanation for this.^  Yet the orchids aren’t just a surface gimmick:  orchids are as fussy, particular, and agoraphobic as Wolfe himself, and serve as a reflection of himself, even to his preference for bright yellow.  Wolfe without his orchids would be Wolfe lessened.

BUT . . .

While I may find it fascinating that my MC likes flavored coffees because her first sensei used to brew hazelnut-mocha coffee  in the back of the dojo and the scent has become a sign of safety and comfort,***  interrupting the story to mention this isn’t going to help things along.

Her coffee preference is a good personal detail (at least in my opinion), but while  the reason might matter to the character—if she would even remember it it doesn’t matter to the story, and wedging it in there wouldn’t work.  She’s not the kind of person to share this kind of personal information, or naturally ponder it so the readers will catch on.  In the end, the why doesn’t matter.

It’s enough that after tough days, she always makes a pot of hazelnut-mocha,  and breathes in the steam before relaxing.  And doesn’t give a damn if her co-workers wrinkle their noses.


*Or  my “four-paneled” soap operas, as I call ‘em.

**But not, to my relief, sparkly vampires.   Bless you, Dave Kellett!

***I just made that up, but why not?

^If there is one, please let me know—and cite the story, please!

Random Thursday . . . On Wednesday!

(see what I did there?  I mean, how random can you get?)


The owner* of the bakery down the block from the library likes to mix it up a little with the Daily Featured Flavors.

Today he offered a strawberry-cheese danish muffin.  Good flavor, odd texture—had to try another one to make sure.

But for sheer weirdness, nothing beats the pistaschio-mocha-chocolate chunk muffin I sampled on St. Patrick’s Day.    It looked like uncured peat moss—which I guess is sort of Irish—and it tasted . . . exactly like a pistaschio-mocha-chocolate chunk muffin.


I spent three hours at work yesterday trying to find the year that the state started issuing driver’s licenses.  Managed to narrow it down to somewhen between 1903 and 1959, though examinations probably started in 1931, if I’m reading the section history of the current state codes correctly.  And that’s a toss up.

So I finally admitted defeat and offered the patron contact info for the state historical society, the nearest university law library, and the state DMV.

Sometimes, “I don’t know” is a perfectly valid answer.

Except now I want to know.

And this is why I never ask patrons why they want to know.

Because I already know.

You know?


My new favorite clean joke:**

A college professor walks into a bar.  “Bring me a martinus,” he says.

The bartender smiles politely and asks, “You mean martini?”

“If I want more than one,” snaps the professor, “I’ll order them.”



My new-found resolve is being tested: The Torchwood DVDs I reserved have all come in. But I managed 1,200 words of new material last night without the distraction of John Barrowman and Gareth David-Lloyd, so they all went back.

Besides, it was tough enough putting The Key down . . .

I did play a computer game before dinner, but I maintain that this doesn’t count because a) I was only  dragging the pointer for Sunny, who can click and move the pointer, but not at the same time; b) the game involved giving Barbie numerous fashion makeovers, and; d) I bailed as soon as my maternal instincts were overwhelmed by having to give Barbie numerous fashion makeovers.


Janie and I are going shopping for Sunny’s birthday presents tonight as soon as I post this.

We know exactly what Sunny wants and Janie is fully aware that we’re shopping for her sister and not her sister’s sister.

And I am fully aware that I’m on a budget and the peanut is having two parties and will not suffer for gift—so I don’t have to buy everything in sight lest she feel unloved.

I figure that’ll last until we reach the store—the path to Toys R Us is paved with good intentions.


*He looks like he belongs on the crossover episode of American Chopper and  Miami Ink, but he has some mad piping skills  and sells frosting shots in ice cream cones.

**My favorite dirty joke involves a penguin and a mechanic.  Nope, that’s all you get.