One of my Facebook friends, a musician and all around raconteur who likes to toss things out there for the sake of lively conversation, recently posted a meme titled “What is the most beautiful song ever written?” People piped up with suggestions from all genres, including hard rock, blues.

Of course, I have opinions, and after much thought, I offered up “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens. I know. So very sappy. It’s a song told from the point of view of the father, and of the son. It’s short, it’s sweet, maybe it’s even cliched. But even though I first heard the song over 40 years ago, my heart still hitches a bit when I hear it, dare I say I might even get teary-eyed? Even though I’m of the female persuasion, I have been on both sides of the generational divide. I was on the son’s side way back in the day. As a daughter, a young woman, I was headstrong (with those strong opinions once again) and did things my parents did not agree with. And now I listen to the song from the other side. As a mother, and old woman, I have decades of hindsight under my belt. It’s a natural tendency to want to make things easier for your children, to protect them from the evil in the world, even though in reality you can not.

That’s the main reason why “Father and Son” is a beautiful song to me. Songs from this era pull me back into the way I felt back then. Memories rush from their dark corners and into the fore. Plus, you know… Cat Stevens. From back in the day when he was up-and-coming. What’s not to like?

A good ANYTHING (book-movie-work of art – you fill in the blank) will do that. You experience a thing of beauty that touches your heart and leaves a lasting impression, something that can be drawn up again and again.

I suppose that’s what I strive to do in all my endeavors. As a writer, I’m telling a story, but I want to make sure that within the confines of those pages, what I reveal will be the best words I can find, used in the best way I can. It’s not just beginning – middle – denouement – The End. I’m searching for more to give you. As an artist, I try to make my designs wearable and beautiful. Yes, they are part of me, but I’m looking to touch something in you, too. When I cook (another of my loves), I don’t just cook for nourishment, I want my food to be a work of art as well. I want the people who join me in eating it to feel my passion.

There are many things in the mundane world we are told to worry about, most of which are petty nuisances that don’t amount to much once you strip away the outer shiny covering. What really matters is the heart, of your family and friends, of your readers, of the world at large. What really matters is the contributions we make from one heart to another.

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I have not been around much lately, as I have spent the last two-plus months cleaning and decluttering in preparation for possible (and yes, I did!) listing my house for sale. It’s a beautiful house and I love it, our master bedroom is to die for and the yard is park like with my many gardens. But let’s face it. We are not getting any younger. This is a HUGE house. We’ve lived here 13 years. I found more junk than I’d forgotten about. It’s a major pain working in the garden every year. (I should insert here that this year I performed a reverse flip whilst pulling a weed. Yes. Comical, and it hurt.) We are losing the battle with the weeds and the critters. When the things you love start weighing you down, it’s time to jettison the albatross.

Whatever disposable time I’m allotted I’d rather spend doing something enjoyable. Something creative. Which is why a smaller house is appealing. I can manage small.

So finally the house is clean – now I have to maintain a somewhat magazine lay-out freshness, so potential buyers aren’t scared off by my lifestyle (fairly free and easy and casual). This is not easy to do, but having a two-hour lead time for showings is helpful. I can’t get too out of control with that hanging over my head.

In the meantime, I haven’t just stopped writing. I’m working daily in my Hobonichi. Sometimes it’s character sketches, sometimes it’s poetry, sometimes I just draw, sometimes I write down something interesting I’ve encountered or heard.

I’m editing two entire books (!), one I’d forgotten, one I keep saying I will get to but never seem to find the time, and compiling a book of “shorts” – poems, flash, etc. I’m also collaborating (for the first time) on a piece I’d started and let fall to the wayside. (There’s a cautionary tale here, about poor time management, laziness, and a host of other “bad” habits a writer can pile up without thinking about it.)

All of the above excuses for not writing and not completing anything I’ve started, of course, are lame ones at best. A writer writes. When she doesn’t write she can’t blame anyone or anything except herself.

The busy-ness has finally come to a halt. It’s time to carve out a little time to get my writing as organized as my house. I plan to spend the rest of my summer coming to grips with the inside of my laptop.

(To kick start my plan, I designed a new logo for my books (see above), and I bought a BLOCK of ISBN numbers. I’d better have 100 books on the way. That’ll teach me. I hope.)

What are YOU doing this summer? Lounging by the pool and letting it all slip away? Not me. I’m down to the business of writing.

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I’ve always been a writer, starting before kindergarten when my mother gave me a pencil and a scrap of paper. Sometimes writing comes easily, when I can sit and spew forever and a day. Other times it would be the ultimate struggle: I knew I should be writing something, anything – but I just couldn’t, for whatever reason. Real life, stress, too many things to do, self doubt, laziness, sickness – you name it, I’ve used it for an excuse.

For the last month or so, I’ve been going through a MASSIVE housecleaning. (This is my current excuse for not writing.) It would have started out a huge undertaking anyway. We have three bedrooms that we never use and 2000 square feet of house that we don’t live in. Add to that 14 years of stuff accumulated by four humans and we are talking major decluttering. Thank goodness I’m not a hoarder like you see on TV. I’d just have to run away from home instead of clean.

The basement was one of my last jobs to tackle because it was the grossest. The attic wasn’t bad – it’s a walk up and dry, and my spare bedrooms aren’t bad because I clean them once a year (or before company comes to call). But the basement…yuck. Kind of damp, very spidery, and home to ancient centipedes. Plus it’s a HUGE mess, bigger than the rest of the house combined. And it’s dusty.

As I’m chucking out toys and enough Christmas accoutrements to open my own store, I found a box of my writing. Two novels that I knew I’d started but never made it past the first hundred typewritten pages. More than a few poems. Some other writing I didn’t recognize as my own, but I’m sure it was mine.

My mother had given me an antique (yes, in 1974 it as an antique) Remington manual typewriter for my high school graduation. She must have thought I was going to make a living with my words (ha ha…). I lugged it around from place to place for ten years, until I got carpal tunnel syndrome and I had no finger strength to press the keys down. When I moved from St. Paul to Detroit, I gave it to my best friend at the time. I retired from typing, but still wrote poetry by hand, mostly to my husband. After the kids came twenty years of writing not much more than notes to teachers.

I’d also unearthed an enormous box of cards and letters from that period. Ah, pre-Internet, when the cheapest form of communication was via US Postal Service. Long distance phone calls were expensive! Trips out of town were too. There were tons of newsy missives from friends and relatives, years and years of back and forth. Many were mundane musings of daily life, sometimes the talk was deep. I found a letter from a truly nasty woman giving me 15 handwritten pages of what a terrible person I was. (I tossed that one, but I did keep some of the others. AND all of my fiction.)

Why did I keep that awful letter? or any of it?

Rereading my past was eye opening. These words brought back memories of myself as a young woman. My novels were mostly narrative (it took me 30 years to write dialogue!) but the voice was sassy and fresh. I’d never thought of myself as sassy and fresh at the time. My friends were interesting and led compelling lives, even though now none of us is where we thought we would be all of those long years ago.

As for me, I’m nearly finished with the Massive Purge of 2017. There might be one last garage sale in the future; I’ve given or thrown away everything else. Also in my future: old characters resurrected and given new life. Story lines I’d forgotten getting another chance. I’m starting right now.

Revive your past. It may pave the way to the future.

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We live in times where choices are made in black and white.

If you’re not a Democrat, you’re a Republican. If you question global warming, you must be a gas guzzling denier. If you love God and believe in him, you must be a bigot toward everyone who doesn’t believe. If you can’t see peace, love and understanding in everything, you must be shallow and stupid. Such contests of black and white make for interesting fireworks, but they also draw red lines of demarcation. Cross it, and you are dead to me.

Believe me, this has happened to me more lately than I’d care to think about. Make the wrong choice, and you lose friends, online and off.

The thing is, people are complex and flawed beings. We are more than black or white. A lot more.

I was thinking about this very thing this week as I completed the final modules of the short story course I’m taking online. (Have I mentioned before how much I love taking courses online?ย  ๐Ÿ™‚ Gets my brain in gear and thinking.) I learn so much from these courses. Thank you, Michelle Richmond.

Stories are much more than beginning, middle, and end. Once you get that concept into your head and begin branching away from stream of consciousness writing and into something that makes logical sense, you can begin to incorporate the other necessities of a good story, like dialogue, plots, themes – you know, the parts of a really good story.

I wrote a short story during this class, hardly original since I’d started something like it seven years ago and never finished it. (Maybe now I will.) But with a novel half-finished, some of the things I learned in the class I’ll now use in that work.

I thought about how I used to write my characters – the long-suffering female protagonist who at first comes off as too needy and without backbone. Or maybe she’s shallow and materialistic and not the brightest bulb. Or the antagonist who is a textbook slimy attorney, ruthless and mean. Bad guys without a vein of gold, or good girls who live the straight and narrow and never think beyond the box.

They were all black or all white.

They were also all boring. Re-writes change that, and add depth and interest. Characters are far more likeable if their layers are revealed slowly.

This is where I thought about black and white.

In my current WIP, I see where my main characters are coming out of worlds that are all black or all white, in their own way, of course. When we first meet, they are frozen, locked into course, as if they don’t choose black, they automatically choose white. They can’t see anything else. Real life isn’t like that, and as the story progresses, they each begin to see their lives as more than two choices, as black smears into white resulting in shades of gray. In my head I see them coming out of that monochromatic world and bursting into color, something with hope and promise at the end, like a rainbow.

Isn’t it great that humans are more than one thing or the other!

Remember this as we traverse the great wild Internet (especially) and the world at large. People are so much more than the public persona, of what shows on the surface.

I know. This is not very interesting and kinda preachy. But in developing characters, it might be something to think about.

 

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My husband and I don’t watch most “network” TV. We are totally unaware of anything new or trendy or hot or with it. With the possible exception of crime shows on HLN or ID (and of course, Snapped on OWN and Celebrity Autopsy on REELZ), we can’t stomach “reality” TV either. The “news” (I refuse to call it “fake” because I’ve known for 20 years that it is and a decade ago even hosted a web site of NonNEWS) is depressing and serves no purpose besides propaganda, but I digress. We watch series, not binge watch but one episode a night. We wait until a series shows some value or positive reviews and then we latch on. We’ll watch them over and over too. Good TV, like good books, never goes bad. Besides, if you wait long enough you can stream or buy the DVDs and don’t have to contend with pesky nuisances like commercials.

We started with Leave it to Beaver back when the kids were little, hoping to impart some wholesome values as we are not regular church goers. Every one of those 239 episodes had a moral to the tale. We moved on to That 70’s Show, which was funny and irreverent and so like the 1970s that we grew up in – upper Midwestern mayhem. The Wonder Years is also a great series for such nostalgia. I’m sure my husband sees himself as Kevin Arnold, much like I see myself as Winnie Cooper. (We were, after all, the same age at the same time.)

Then we started on House of Cards, which was entertaining but also like real life. And scary. And hot.

Finally we began watching Mad Men. This series hooked us from day one. The splendor of the photography, the perfect ensemble of actors, the plots exploring relationships and race, fast living and heavy drinking, the accurate depiction of the 1960s. (I love when Sally and her brother are playing with a dry cleaning bag – over their heads. I did that!) Turbulent times reflected just as I remember them as a kid, even though I grew up mainly on the High Plains and was miles and worlds away from the swank of NYC.

Last week, we watched the final Mad Men episode. If you haven’t watched the show, too bad; it’s too old for a spoiler alert. This was the end of the line, folks. The 60’s had ended, Sterling Cooper was no more. While parts of it were satisfying (Roger finds love – with a woman HIS age, Peggy and Stan get together, Pete gets his family back and scores a job at Lear Jet, Joan makes use of her Rolodex and reinvents herself) where most of the characters seem to find some sort of resolution, a huge part was not. A very huge part.

And that part of was what happened to Don Draper. You know, the handsome main character? The original mad man? At the very end, we see him in what I assume to be Big Sur meditating with a bunch ofย  hippies with a smile on his face.

But is he really smiling? Meditation is the polar opposite of Don Draper, womanizing, high stakes guy that he is. Is he really content with the Northern Californian alternative lifestyle? Grinning like a Jesus freak?

For some reason, Don Draper’s denouement didn’t sit well with me. It didn’t sit well with my husband either. We’re still talking about it, and it’s been nearly a week.

I remember feeling the same way about certain books, The Horse Whisperer and Gone Girl being two that come to mind. I was so disturbed by the endings that I couldn’t stomach seeing the movies.

There are two points of view to endings. A pleasant, sensible one ties up all of the loose ends. Without sounding too much like a romance writer, you would like to see resolution. I personally do not subscribe to “happily ever after” as I enjoy watching my characters suffer, but hope for the future, a definite maybe. You like to leave your readers with resolutions but further possibilities. I like to hear that my characters are believable and when people ask me what happened to them.

Then there is the unexpected, highly dissatisfying ending. Like “Yay, I’m so happy I solved this problem but now I’m going to jump off a bridge for no reason at all.” No. That kind of ending is jarring, the kind that leaves your stomach in Maalox knots.

However, there is an upside to the unexpected ending. After all, we’re still talking about Don Draper, as I’m still talking about Gone Girl.

Thinking about this further, I might change some of my endings to the unexpected, dissatisfying type. What can it hurt?

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If you believe I do that (easily), I’ve got a huge piece of commercial property on the east side of Detroit I would love to gift you. But, it’s not enough to tell yourself that every day (I do), you have to follow through with actual words. On a piece of paper (or computer, but I find the paper and pen/pencil more compelling). The words have to make some sort of sense, so that you can string them together later to make a much bigger sort of sense.

I’m a world class procrastinator. We all know that. There are stories in my head bursting to get out. In addition to the art form, I have tons of Things to Do with regard to the business end of writing. Getting my publishing company started. (Look, Mom, I finally have a logo – after a year! Now on to the purchase of ISBN numbers. Wonder how long that will take?) Writing blog posts (which used to come so easily, now feeling like a molar extraction). Writing my newsletter (I have failed – temporarily – miserably!). Social media. (For the unsociable, a true hurdle.) Getting the web site(s) fixed up. Editing the two novels and one proposed book of poetry/shorts. (I know. I should have been finished so long ago!)

Of course, there are Real Life distractions. Many Real Life distractions, some of which hold promise, and others I should discard. Big, life-changing ones, like planning for retirement. (Promise.) Teeny-tiny ones, like Words With Friends. (Discard!) Snow. (It’s snowing today.) People calling in sick when it’s snowing. (What can you do? In my case, you tell the sick one to stay home and YOU take over.)

Writing every day takes a great amount of will power, the kind to say NO to distractions.ย  (Example: I’m trying to work on this while the phone is ringing. A challenge.) This is very difficult to do, especially if you’re like me and your eyes follow every shiny object that comes into view. You must tell yourself “NO” and commit to filling a page, even though some days you’re at a loss for words.

This year, I bought a Hobonichi Techo Cousin, which is a fancy Japanese planner/calendar. The pages are graphed, which I prefer better than lined. I use a graphed Moleskine too. The Hobonichi is a bit smaller, but the grid boxes are smaller too. I find myself adjusting my writing to fit into the boxes. These are shiny facts that have no value in this paragraph, but the point is that I try to fill out a page every day. If I miss a day, I use the next to fill the pages and catch up.

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Another way to stay on the writing track is to commit to classes. I’m a great proponent of online classes. I’m so busy, I can barely fit in my jewelry class on Tuesday mornings. Online classes are nice, not just because you don’t have to get out of your PJs and brave the snow and cold, but also because you can work around your schedule. You’ll want to choose an online class with some interaction, and homework. I’m currently taking Michelle Richmond’s short story class. I think I’m not so good at short stories, but it doesn’t matter. I’ve also taken classes with authors who mostly write fantasy, or prescriptive non-fiction, or romance.

Classes are all about honing what you know, or learning something new. If you think you know it all and have no need, you’re wrong. You can always learn something. Classes mean deadlines too; if you have homework niggling at the back of your head, you’re more likely to take writing seriously. I’ve gotten so many good, fresh ideas from taking classes

The last year and a half were so difficult for me in the write-life. It was hard to find my motivation, and even if I managed to whip some mojo up, the results were half-hearted and half-assed. It is now the middle of March and I can say truthfully that this year’s efforts are far stronger than last year’s. (I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m making a valiant effort to write one blog post a week.)

And now, for a non-writing moment, I will leave you my heart.

Good luck my writer friends, and keep writing!

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This is not a slam. Dude, I love San Francisco!

I spent a third of the month of February in San Francisco. First, to visit my son (it’s always reassuring to know that 50% of the offspring is still in reasonably good health), then to attend the San Francisco Writers Conference.

Unfortunately, I was met by rain on my arrival. It had been raining there for nearly six weeks straight. The clouds parted on the second day and stayed that way for a few more days, which was nice. Thank you, God. The rain reappeared in time for my last four days indoors.

Rain is nice for California. They haven’t seen a lot of it in many years. Because of this, many Californians cannot drive in wet. On previous trips, I’ve seen the people of San Francisco freak out over momentary wet. Heavy rain is another thing altogether. I’ve seen this type of terrible driving here in Michigan. Every year. The first real snowfall, and the place goes berserk.

California has another problem with too much rain. There’s literally no place for it to go. After seeing photos of 25′ high and higher of the snow in the Sierras, there’s going to be huge problems once spring comes and that melts on top of the record rain.

So…we were driving back from Santa Cruz one day, and the main drag out of town and onto the South Bay was closed because of mud slides. The long, circuitous detour up and down mountains wasn’t much better. Parts of the road had washed away, leading me to wonder why I’d decided to drive down there in the first place. But it was an adventure, all good.

Another hazard is that of overindulgence. Wine, food, you want the best, most decadent and creative things to put into your mouth, California is the place to go. Except for no wine this time, I kept my eye on good food. Everything from Hog Island oysters for breakfast to Mexican to Chinese to seafood, to the room service at the Mark – believe me, it was all good. I tended to overdo, meaning when I got back to Michigan, it was time to diet.

Except because I was gone for eleven days, I had a mountainous pile of Things to Do at the house and office. You know…laundry, payroll, the refrigerator full of mystery food, taxes. Two days at the artist market. Catching up with my short story homework. The daily filling out the Hobonichi was about all I could handle.

Yesterday, I ran for the first time in three weeks.

Remember, before you take a trip to San Francisco, the aftermath can be hazardous.

๐Ÿ™‚

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