Saturday, October 30, 2010


Kristin had portraits done of T in her costume, which touched me beyond belief. I'll post the finished pics, but you can at least get an idea from these proofs. Nothing more beautiful in the entire world. Nothing.

She's coming to my house to Trick or Treat. I have baby food bananas for her treat.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Chasing Shiny Things

So, today I'm working on a scene in which my characters shop for new underwear for an 11-year-old boy. I google around a bit and learn a few useful details. I also learn that Jockey briefs, introduced in 1935, sold 30,000 pairs in the first three months they were on the market, despite the Great Depression.

Still not sure what my characters would find in a department store in 1946, I check Amazon where I discover a history of underwear offered. It sounds fascinating. My cursor is hovering over "Add to Cart" when I realize that buying a book on underwear might--just might--be the slightest bit of overkill, given that the info wouldn't show up in more than one sentence in the finished piece.

And so goes my main problem in writing and in life. I'm interested in virtually everything and find myself chasing every shiny thing rather than keeping my eye on the prize.

I'd write more, but I've got to get back to my underwear research. Did you know that in 1938 Jockey advertised their Y-front briefs by having a bride and groom dress in cellophane evening clothes for their wedding? Viral marketing at its finest.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


In a scene I'm working on, a character smokes. I don't smoke and never did. I've never lived with anyone who smoked openly. Slowly, slowly, I've worked texture and physical detail into the picture, snatching an idea here and there as it drifts by and tucking it into place. Or saving it for later.

Many of the smoking details I'm using turn out to be long-forgotten images from my childhood. My dad's business partner chain smoked in the way my character does. I remember standing on a chair, washing dishes and watching him light one cigarette from another at our kitchen table when I was 7 or 8.

My grandpa had a particular way of picking bits of tobacco off his tongue and wiping them on his pants. The inside corners of his thumbs and index fingers were stained brown from nicotine. His nails were broad and square and heavily ridged. His are the fingers I see when my smoker character holds a cigarette or spreads his fingers wide and uses them like combs to slick back his hair.

Mom's brother continually patted his shirt pocket as though to reassure himself that a supply of nicotine was available. If something interrupted him during a smoke, he stubbed out the end of the cigarette and tucked it behind his ear for later.

All those images were locked away somewhere in my memory banks. I search for details to flesh out the story and memories rise to the surface, insubstantial as smoke and just as pervasive.

My friend and teacher Crescent Dragonwagon calls her blog "Nothing Is Wasted on the Writer." (She's quoting someone, but I'm sorry to say I don't remember who.) She writes on the theme fairly often and, of course, it came up in the magical Fearless Writing workshop I attended in September.

Now that I'm writing like a mad woman, I understand "nothing is wasted" in a whole new way. All the hours I've spent watching people, observing their movements and listening to their patterns of speech, haven't been wasted time as I've always feared. Images and memories are flaring into phrases or sentences that light my story like matches in the dark--brief, satisfying bursts accompanied by sounds and smells and warmth.

I feel like a child with a brand-new toy.

Photo by: Dave Barstow

Monday, October 25, 2010

Monkeying Around

Spent the weekend making a Halloween costume for my darling granddaughter. She will be the cutest monkey on the planet. I had to combine several patterns and revise my plans several times to work out something that fits her--her height is at something like 95% on those growth charts, but her weight is more like 50%. Anything that fits her around is much too short. Anything that's long enough flops around on her body. But that's why elastic as invented, I guess.

Anyway, monkey pictures to come. For now, here's a black-and-white peek at my darling. Is she not beautiful? She waved good-bye to me for the first time yesterday and I haven't stopped smiling yet.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

It's a Teagan Day!

Teagan and I are running errands together this morning. This afternoon, we're taking a friend to the doctor for a check-up after shoulder surgery.

Shopping with my beautiful girl is my favorite thing in the entire world right now. Every third person we pass remarks on how beautiful she is, and I get to agree and smile and be proud of and thankful for my darling granddaughter.

Kristin has started dressing T in things I've made when she's coming to my house. When someone comments on her clothes as well as her general beauty, my smile could light all the houses in the greater K.C. area.

Work-work got in the way yesterday, and I didn't hit my writing commitment until 1:00 a.m. Even so, I'm bright eyed and ready to go get my girl in a few minutes.

The sun is shining. The air is crisp. I have the day with my granddaughter. Who could ask for more?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

LOVES Me Some Interwebs

Tonight I realized one of my characters needs to visit the offices of the Billboard Magazine in St. Louis, MO. After less than five minutes of Googling around, I have the address of the building and photos of the interior and exterior at the time of my story. These images provide architectural details, directional orientation and info on surrounding buildings.

And I am thrilled, even though my writing includes very little direct description. Details like this mostly give me ways to let the characters interact with their surroundings. My character might leave finger smudges on the brass doors of the north side of the building or feel wary of the gargoyles guarding the entrance. His wife might browse the shops in the building's arcade while he does his business. He might join her at a 2nd floor coffee shop after his meeting. He's very likely to head straight from the meeting to the Post Office, which was then directly across Olive Street.

Right now, I don't know for sure what any of it means. I only know that tomorrow, when I peer into my 1-inch frame, the picture will be filled with life and color, richness and texture. All I have to do is watch what happens and write it down.

I have no words for the joy this gives me.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fearing Less

Since Labor Day, I have been gathering family stories and researching and writing. And writing. And writing.

The words in the books on writing have become more than theories. I get how they work. And why. Where I once "knew" about Anne Lamott's "1-inch frames," now I can peer into my own frames and see things worth describing. I'm no longer afraid I won't find the story. I just keep showing up, confident the story will find me.

This confidence was born over four magical days in the Green Mountains of Vermont at Crescent Dragonwagon's Fearless Writing workshop. Crescent will weave similar magic November 12 through 14 at the Mount Sequoyah Retreat Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The $895 fee includes three days of instruction from Crescent, lodging, and three meals a day.

To quote Crescent, "Fearless teaches students how to harness the anxiety generated by chaotic or unknown conditions or apparently immutable limitations as a powerful creative force."

I still have anxiety. I'm still surrounded by chaos. But now I wave to my limitations as I pass them on my way to work.

If you're interested, I highly recommend checking out Crescent and Fearless. You can find more information here.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Voices in My Head

Home. Safe.

I usually listen to audio books on long drives, but the voices in my head entertained me all the way home. The 14 hours flew so fast I drove past my last turn home--just didn't notice it until too late and had to circle around.

The letters fascinate and thrill me, but the big thing is that they inform my story with telling details. I'd been struggling with one specific transition for about two weeks. When I woke yesterday, the answer hung in the room, so tangible I could have folded it up and packed it along with my toothbrush.

In a letter to one of his girlfriends, Mr. P. gave intricate details of building a trailer and mentioned that he was going to take the trailer to have the seams welded. From that, I know the seams could erode and develop leaks. The condition of the seams of his trailer is something my character can inspect, which gives me the opening of the transition and helps me show that this once prosperous carnival is wearing out and wearing down.

The detail will show up in a mere handful of words: it may not even register with some readers. But it gives me a place to start, details to build a world upon.

More happy. More joy.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Trickety Trot

I'm headed home again. I got exactly what I came for and much, much more I could not have imagined.

Two weeks ago, I tripped across the existence of a collection of correspondence from a man who traveled with carnivals and circuses for forty years. So, naturally, I got in my car and drove across four states to see it.

The man corresponded with hundreds of different people, some as often as twice a week, for years. He kept every letter, card and telegram he received as well as carbon copies of the letters he wrote. It is, hands down, the most interesting thing I've ever read.

It's also something like a giant puzzle because the letters are filed by name of correspondent, and show people changed names frequently. One central character has five different names I'm aware of so far and may have more. The letters progress through the years in each file, so cross referencing stories is a challenge. For example, he writes to a girlfriend, her husband, her mother and father, her sisters, her brother, and the brother's wife. The same stories wind through each set of letters, but the versions vary. Wildly.

Through the passage of years, you see the man transform from a young cad to a solid family man. You see him help people over and over, even when they burn him time after time. You see a kind of desperation most of us can't imagine: people whose lives turn on less than $10. Babies are born. And die. And are lost to divorce and disinterest. Men go to prison. Women wait. Or don't. Everyone scrambles to pay their bills and stay alive.

The letters fill 35 file boxes. I couldn't stay long enough to read all or even a large part of it, so I resorted to photographing one page at a time. (Photography is easier on the old paper than photocopying. And cheaper.) I'm going home with images of 500 or 600 pages waiting to be read like a vein of gold waiting to be mined. I hope to come back next spring. I may pay for copies of some of the letters to tide me over through the winter. I didn't get to the letters to and from his mother or his father or his wife. (The girlfriends were so compelling!)

I am exhausted. I worked very early and very late so I could read/photograph from 8 to 5 while the library is open. I haven't slept more than four hours a night for five or six days. Tonight I plan to sleep like a mid-winter grizzly. Tomorrow I plan to read and write. Same thing the next day. And the day after that.

Following my nose leads to the most amazing blessings. I am so grateful.

Monday, October 11, 2010


Apparently, it's my day for struggling not to make public scenes.

First, I had to take several gulps of tea to keep from laughing out loud at the middle-aged blonde with three sizes of wedding dresses in her closet.

Then, I started reading the correspondence I came here to find. OMG! OMG! OMG! I wanted to find people in the hallways and read to them. Or make them read. Just share with someone. Anyone. A couple of times, I gasped so loudly everyone in the room looked up and stared.

Tomorrow I'm having lunch with the archivist, and I can hardly wait. She's read every word and I can't wait to ask questions and compare notes and laugh. And laugh. And laugh.

It's a little crazy to drive 800 miles (1600 round trip) to read a bunch of old letters when you don't have any idea whether they include anything you need or want for a story you're not sure you're capable of writing. It's a little crazy to spend all day reading in a library and then all night working to keep up with regular work. It's a little crazy to spend time and money chasing dreams.

Except it's not. I'm going to get old if I'm lucky and die someday, no matter what. I might as well chase my dreams, even when they lead me through the Michigan woods in the dark, unsure of where I am, where I'm going, or what I'll find when I get there.

This is exactly the life I want to live.

Happy. Happy.

Dear Me

Overheard @ breakfast in a hotel in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, where I have come to read an archive of letters vaguely related to the story I'm working on.

"I've gained so much weight over the years, each of my wedding dresses is a bigger size than the one before. I have three sizes of wedding dresses. (sigh)"

It was all I could do not to laugh out loud.

Monday, October 04, 2010


Over the last few weeks, I've had several conversations with several family members I've never talked to beyond the basic "good to see you, how's the family" conversations at weddings and funerals.

Generally, I ask an opening question and step out of the way as a flood of fantastic stories pours forth. Every single time, I am reminded of how we all long for someone to listen.

Listening is enriching my story and my life. Between Teagan and work and writing The Story, I don't post much these days, but I am alive and well and listening to stories.

So. Much. Fun.