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Never Throw Anything Away

March 18, 2019

Our mothers told us to clean our room, put stuff we weren’t using away, and throw/give away stuff we no longer use.

The same thing holds true with authors. Everything we see, every fragment of conversation we overhear is material. Sometimes it finds its way whole into a bit of prose or a poem. Sometimes it influences a scene. Sometimes it just plain old doesn’t fit and retreats into the parking lot where it waits for the right place to reemerge.

My novel, Out of the Desert, is saturated with just such bits. A few years ago, I published a story about a woman who had named her breasts before she had a double mastectomy. It was light-hearted, if ever that topic can be light-hearted. I needed a powerful scene between two estranged sisters. How to get them back together after a twenty-year separation. Recycling the long short story into a five page scene did the trick.

I wondered how I would end the novel. It had to have a positive ending. It had to answer one of the key questions asked near the end by the main character. I searched the parking lot for ideas. What did my eye fall upon except a small character sketch I called “The Greeter.”

Several years ago, my husband and I made the trip between northern Virginia and Smith Mountain Lake about twice a month. When we drove in daylight, we were overjoyed to see a man standing in a cross-over, waving to the passing cars, and grinning widely. We nicknamed him the greeter. As time passed, the greeter grew older and was in the cross-over less often, until one day he wasn’t there any longer.

My husband and I made up stories about his life. We wondered if he was a retired veteran. That idea fit with what we wanted him to be. We wove tales around his life. We made up names, a backstory, and an ending. I jotted these down in a file called “The Greeter.” When it came time to write the last story, I gave my main character a greeter who’d waved at him when he was a teen. I gave the main character an interest in the man, a curiosity to learn about the man’s backstory. I gave the main character permission to write about this humble in glorious prose.

I gave myself permission to recycle the greeter’s story in the final passage of the novel. Due out later this year, I hope you remember the path the greeter traveled to appear in the final movement of Out of the Desert.

Featured, Lifestyle, Writing


April 25, 2016

Mocha 005Such a simple word. Alas, not enough people truly unwind today.  Most of us are strung too tightly. We think we are unwinding when we stop for dinner, until we realize we are staring at a screen too much of the time. Many eat with the television on, which dampens conversation. Many more have to have phone surgically removed from their hands.

What does it take to truly unwind? Do we need to escape to a sunny beach someplace, where drinks are served with little umbrellas and the air is full of the scent of sunblock? Some unwind by hiking. Others like hanging out at home, lying on porch mats and generally enjoying life.

The first and third work for me. Years ago when I was younger, hiking was my greatest getaway. Just me and my dog, a German Shepherd/Malamute mix. We would take off on Fridays after classes ended or work was over for the day, exploring various trails in California. A couple of nights in the wilderness, disconnected from electricity and phones, sleeping under the stars where no city glow hid the Milky Way, set me back on my feet with a peaceful mind.

As I’ve gotten older and somewhat wiser, I lust more for a sunny beach or hanging around my own house, cutting myself off from screens. I find I can unwind just about anywhere. I can slip into mindfulness and savor the moment. Sometimes, it’s enough to shut down early, whether I’ve finished my writing or not, and move to the deck to sit in the sun and read. Or watch birds flit through the trees. Or boats move through the cove. Or all three.

The point is, you unwind where you can and how you can. You have to make time for it.

I have a dear friend who claims he’s wired not to unwind. He throws himself into everything and rarely takes a few hours off. Is he balanced? No way. He thinks being mindful is a waste of time, even as he occasionally walks on his green way. I’ve tried to work with him, but he’s adamant. He’s wound too tightly to relax. Probably. I know he’s wound too tightly for me to help him.

What do you do to unwind?


A Day in the Life of This Writer

September 14, 2015
     I’m usually at my desk by 7am, butt planted firmly on my balance ball. I either write or edit for the next three to four hours before taking a break to look at e-mail, Facebook and Twitter. If there is anything I need to respond to, I do it in small increments in what is left of the morning. By small I mean 15-minute segments. And I use a timer. Otherwise, social media becomes a sinkhole I don’t 3-minute-sand-timer-egg-timeremerge from for hours.
     Lunch, usually a walk to clear my head, and back to work in the afternoon with an emphasis on social media. I respond to all Facebook posts directed to me. I spread my promotions for my books in up to 40 different groups throughout the week. Yes, I’m anal enough to have a schedule for which groups I post in when.
     Twitter follows. I use nearly 30 different #hashtags to raise awareness of my books. I set aside 18 minutes each day to set up a week’s worth of tweets in a  Twitter storm about my books, giveaways, special sales, etc.  Late in the day, when I’m nearly brain dead, I set one Twitter storm for a friend’s book. I try and promote books I’ve read or authors I like or members of my literary agency or publisher. I pay it forward.
     When I stop around 6pm, I turn off all electronic toys unless I’m reading on my tablet. I don’t look at Facebook, Twitter, e-mail or anything else. I do answer the phone and respond to texts. Other than that, I unplug.
     The next day, I wash, rinse and repeat. I do this at least six days a week.
     Now that I look at what I do, You’ll notice I don’t work late at night. I don’t sit with a cigarette clenched between my lips, head tilted to keep the smoke from my eyes. I don’t keep a bottle of Scotch on my desk. What I do is write.
     I don’t see that exciting “life of a writer.” I see a hard-working writer who works her butt off to put words on paper that you might like to read.
Care to join me??
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