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Author Interview, Family, Featured, First Paragraph, Growing Up, Lifestyle, Memories, Writing, Writing Style

Getting Started

August 13, 2018

As a writer, I’m often asked where do I find my ideas? How do I get started?

I start with two words: What if. I find this works with everything I write, whether it’s a short story, a novella, or a novel.

Take my Mad Max series as a starter. In Max 1, Unintended Consequences, the what if question was: what would happen if a mother decided she no longer want to take care of her children? When Max’s daughter emerges from a coma after a terrible car accident, she is diagnosed with having a traumatic brain injury. Her entire personality changes, and not for the better. This leads Max to have to decide what role she will play in raising her two grandchildren.

Max 2, Uncharted Territory, raises the bar with what would happen if the family were suddenly thrust into an alien environment? That environment is post-Katrina Mississippi, a food desert, a land washed clean by the tidal surge, a land where locals were suspicious of any outsider. Max has to figure out how to keep a growing, extended family clothed and fed, all the while keeping her eyes open for new perils.

And in Max 3, Unsafe Haven,  the what if question is what would happen if you took your grandson to a hospital to set a broken leg and all hell broke loose? How would Max cope with fears of losing both her grandson and her boyfriend at the same time?

You see where I’m going with this. The right what if question sets the stage for everything to come. So when I began working on my latest, Out Of the Desert, my what if question was personal, very close to home. When I was twelve, my favorite cousin died. He was a year older. I’ve always wondered what he might have become, as any parent who has lost a child wonders. My cousin wouldn’t leave me alone.

He emerged in a short story named “Toad,” which I was lucky enough to have accepted in the VWC Centennial Anthology. Toad was a dreamer. My cousin was a dreamer. Therein lay one comparison. I thought the short story would be the end of writing about Toad. Now, 80K words into the second major rewrite, I’m drawing to a close on the story of what might have happened. Toad grows up. He experiences love and loss, success and sorrow. He wonders if Thomas Wolfe was wrong. Could he go home again? And that, dear friends, is the impetus for the novel in stories. What if he did go home again? What would Toad the man find? Would he find Toad the Dreamer alive inside him after four decades?

I’m not one for spoilers. I’ll have to see how the ending plays out. But, what if I hadn’t listened to my cousin’s voice? What if I hadn’t cared enough to imagine a life beyond age thirteen?

What are your what if triumphs?

Family, Featured, Memories, Writing, Writing Style

The Keepers of the Box

July 1, 2018

Every family has a keeper of the box. It’s often the eldest child, or the only girl, or the one interested in genealogy. The box can be literal or figurative, but there is always a box.

My husband and I are both only children. The boxes handed down to us from our mothers have no other home. My mother-in-law didn’t believe in keeping what she called “old stuff,” things like family documents, photos, etc. She kept a few, but not enough to reconstruct the history of his family.

My mother kept tons on documents, photos, report cards. I found information on land I didn’t know the family owned, land lost to unpaid taxes. Photo albums with lots of pictures of people who have gone ahead and have not left their names behind. Legal papers. Ticket stubs. She kept so much of my childhood that I haven’t taken time to unpack it.

As writers, we are all keeps of our characters’ boxes. To create a complete character, we need to know ever so much more that we will ever use. We need to know what each character, main and minor, looks like. That means small details like the shape of ears, small scars and other marks. We should know what a female carries in her handbag, a man in his pockets. Where do they put their keys? Do they empty handbags or pockets every night? What is on their dressers, in their medicine cabinets? Do they floss?

You’ll never use these details, because in real life they are both automatic and boring. But, if you know these things, you know your characters. And then you can throw these minutiae away and get on with the story.

At times, however, one or more of these details demands to be unpacked and imagined. When did the item, if it is literal, enter the character’s life? What’s its importance to the plot? Can you avoid writing about it, or will you miss an opportunity to enrich the story with just the right detail at just the right moment.

Take for example, a concert ticket stub. Did the character attend the concert alone? With a best friend? With a long-lost love? What emotions go through the character’s mind when she holds that stub in her hand? How can you exploit the moment to illustrate something bigger?

Yes, families are the keepers of the box. Writers are as well, because our characters constitute our other families. What boxes do you have packed away? And how many of them have you unpacked?

 

Featured, Lifestyle, Memories

An Open Letter To My Father After Father’s Day

June 18, 2018

Let me start by saying I never celebrated Father’s Day. I never bought a card, picked out a terrible tie or a pair of socks, or visited the man who was my father. Why? Because I never knew him.

My father was married to my mother for about two years, during which time I was sired and born. And while my mother was carrying me, he had another girlfriend who became pregnant about the time I was born. Needless to say, my parents separated before I was nine months old, before my half-sister arrived. You left my mother to raise me by herself with no child support, although the courts ordered it. She did a damned fine job.

My father contacted me twice, once for half a day when I was 13, again for half a day when I was 17. A card or two followed the visits, plus a weird invitation to come and live with him, his wife, and my half-sister. Why would I leave my mother, who had been my sole caregiver, for a man I didn’t know? NOT!

My mother was annoyed at first when I started referring to the old man as my sperm donor. To me, that was what he was. Nothing more. I knew later how much that phrase demeaned their relationship. I’m forever sorry about it.

So, now that both my dear mother and the sperm donor are gone, I have some words for SD.

I hope you were a better father to your second daughter than you were to your first.

I hope you taught her how to play catch, played hide and seek, and did all the great dad things, like eating ice cream in a snow storm.

I hope you taught her a sense of right and wrong, gave her a strong ethical foundation, and were there for her when she needed you.

I’m sorry you were estranged from your own parents. I wasn’t, because my mother kept in touch with your mother and father until I was old enough to write. I know she did. Grandfather sent me a box of her letters, cards, and photos of me. She kept me alive in their thoughts until both passed.

I’m sorry you never got to see how I turned out, but then, you would have had to keep in touch. Once Grandfather died, there was no touchstone with your side of the family until a couple of years ago when your brother’s older daughter reached out. We’ve established a long-distance relationship, one I once wished I’d had with you.

For this Father’s Day, I don’t send good wishes. I don’t send bad wishes. I send the same type of wishes you sent me all these years. None.

 

P.S. Thanks, Mom, for being the best father a girl could have. Happy Father’s Day.

 

9/11, Emotional Release, Emptiness, Featured, Grief, Inspiration, Lifestyle, Memories, Patriotism, Stress, Survival, Twin Towers

Seminal Events

September 11, 2017

We all have seminal events in our lives. Most are personal–births and deaths, weddings and divorces. Some, however, are public. Massively public. Depending on how old you are, you can respond immediately when someone asks, “Where were you when…?” Pearl Harbor. Kennedy was assassinated. The Challenger exploded. Armstrong walked on the moon. 9/11.

This will be published on 9/11. September 11, 2017. I can remember exactly where I was when I heard my country was under attack. I remember watching the twin towers fall again and again on television, never thinking that, to a child, all buildings in all cities were under attack. Watching the Pentagon on fire, not knowing how many were killed or injured. Weeping when passengers took down a jet in Pennsylvania before it could be turned into a weapon.

Yes, we can remember, but what I remember most is what happened later. After. When we drew a collective breath and realized there were no additional planes in the air waiting to attack us. When there was a run on US flags and poles for displaying them. People who had never flown the flag did so with unabashed patriotism. Some flew it to thumb their noses at the cowards who attacked us. Whatever. They flew them. Whole subdivisions, whole city blocks bloomed red, white, and blue. Many of those flags still fly all these years later. Mine does, although my original flag has long since gone to its grave. Properly destroyed in a military-style ceremony when its colors were retired forever.

Doors opened to strangers. When the commercial jets were pulled from the skies and hotels filled up, people took in strangers. Some stayed more than a week, because the skies were closed for many days. New friends became instant best friends. Blocks had cookouts and group functions to share their grief, pain, anger. Strangers worked hard to help their hosts. Prayers. Hand-holding. Hugs. “Thank you” didn’t seem like enough, but it was.

As days turned into weeks, people in cities looked for hiding holes should there be another attack. Knowing cities could never be evacuated should there be a biological or nuclear attack, city dwellers looked for places away from home where they could feel safe. We gave eight families invitations to our lake house, where we now live year round, but where in 2001 we didn’t. We told them where to find the outdoor key, told them to eat what was in the freezer, sent them maps not only to the house but the local services. Gas stations. Grocery stores. Pharmacy. Liquor stores.

We were lucky. No one needed a rush evacuation due to new attacks. Everyone who knew where the keys were came for long weekends after the initial fear cycle was behind us. The keys are in the same place, so if anyone needs to get out of any situation, they have sanctuary with us.

I have never forgotten the kindness the world showed the US. It seemed that even age-old enemies stood beside us symbolically. We wept and raged together. Later, we met together on battlefields against a common enemy.

The blog entry will be published on September 11, 2017. My gratitude toward the world hasn’t weakened. We were all Americans for a period of time. All over the world. The world became one when we were attacked.

Now, I wish we could become one again. Not due to a tragedy. Not due to a natural disaster. But, because we need to be one world. We need to stand together. We need to build bridges. We need to make amends for our actions which have disrespected other countries. We need to open the door of friendship. We need to be the grownups. We need to do it now.

Featured, Memories, Mother, Uncategorized

I’d Walk A Thousand Miles

February 15, 2016

Twelve years ago today, February 15, my mother, variously called Doc or Mini-Mommy, died. I still miss her every damned day.

Mom was a tiny dynamo, hence the Mini-Mommy moniker. She was fiercely protective of her only chick, me. As a single mother she took me to movies and rodeos and plays. She was a voracious reader, so mysteries, thrillers, suspense stories and romances found their way onto her bookshelf.

I grew up to be a reader, too, because she and my grandmother taught me to read by the time I was three. No, I wasn’t memorizing oft-heard stories my grandmother read to me. I once corrected her when she missed a word. She thought I was kidding until I pointed to the word. From then on, I had daily reading lessons.

Mom died with about fifty linear feet of books in her bedroom. I saved some of her favorites, books that have moved with me from the home she shared in her last years with my husband and me. I donated boxes to the nursing home/rehab center/hospice where she spent her last days. Others I’ve given to Goodwill for strangers to enjoy, but only after I revisited them in the past dozen year.

Mom’s last three weeks were painful. Once she was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer, doctors could do nothing but keep her calm and out of pain. I visited her every day, read to her, listened to her stories, held her hand. Two days before cancer won, she stopped talking. Communications were through squeezes, her hand in mine. I finished reading our last book in the dark middle-or-the-night hours before she died. I was with her when she was finally out of pain. I kept a promise that she wouldn’t be alone. She wasn’t.

I know yesterday was Valentine’s Day. I hope you told your parents, children, siblings you love them. Whatever you did to celebrate, I hope you didn’t overlook the woman who gave you life. Without her, you wouldn’t be here.

Now, a decade plus later, I’d walk a thousand miles to see her smile again, to feel that hand squeeze, to have one more healthy day with her. I miss you, Doc.

Memories, Uncategorized

A Thousand Miles

November 23, 2015

Thanksgiving is a few days away. I’ll spend it with my husband, calling our kids who live too far away to visit, remembering our mothers who have left this world. Neither Terry’s nor my mother lived to enjoy this day, but we did. And we remember and give thanks for the good times when my mother was healthy and his mother still had a steel-trap memory. We forget the bad times when my mother was dying from lung cancer and his mother slipping into dementia.

For years, the two mommies, Terry and I celebrated a string of wonderful days. Mother’s Day, within a week of my mother’s birthday. His mother’s birthday in September. Our wedding anniversary  on May 11. We joined together in a group celebration with presents for each special day.

My mother was a reader, so any mystery, thriller or suspense story found its way onto her bookshelf. I’m a reader, too. I saved many of her favorites after she died. More I donated to the nursing home/rehab center/hospice where she spent her last days. Terry’s mother never met a crossword puzzle she couldn’t conquer.

We think of them all the time. We miss our mother’s who worked long and hard as single parents to raise us with solid values, a love of helping others, caring personalities. We remember times when we were good and bad, when we did or said things that hurt. We’d take back those words were it possible, but our mothers were bigger than both of us. They understood when we lashed, well, more me than Terry, and forgave us our thoughtless behavior.

On Thanksgiving we will fix their favorite holiday foods, cook more than we can eat at any one sitting and put aside leftovers for meals and snacking. We will tell stories we’ve told each other many times before. We’ll call the kids, tell them the same stories and keep tradition alive. We don’t have to be together to share memories. We just have to be willing to tell stories we don’t want forgotten.

I invite all of you to join us in spirit. Tell your parents, children, siblings you love them. Thanksgiving is coming soon. Say a special thanks the woman who gave you life. Without her, you wouldn’t be here. And if you weren’t here, you’d deny your friends and family the pleasure of your company.

When Terry and I take a walk before dinner, once again we’ll think how we’d walk a thousand miles to talk with our mother’s one more time.

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