Nemo, our rescue beagle, loves everybody, but some people are particularly special to him.  The son and daughter-in-law who found him in the woods as a puppy and nursed him back to health and into our home.  Other family members.  My cleaning lady and my assistant, both of whom have provided pet care in the past.  

To show his love and appreciation, Nemo unfailingly greets them with gifts.  These are not necessarily things they would think of asking for.  A chewed up blanket.  A dirty sock straight from the laundry basket.  His leash.   Rarely Nemo’s own toys, I’ll admit, but still, you can’t fault the dog for his generosity and his desire to let visitors know they are treasured members of his pack.

Spring is not an unexpected gift, of course, although every year as winter drags on and on, we wonder if this is the year that spring forgot.  Then, a snowdrop pushes through ice-crusted soil, followed by crocus, daffodil, hyacinth and on a larger scale, forsythia. 

Here in Northern Virginia, we’re sure spring has arrived when cherry blossoms begin to appear.  And as they and the Japanese magnolias begin to fade and carpet the ground with pink, the dogwood, redbud appear, and finally, our glorious, breathtaking azaleas. Expected yes, but still, somehow, a surprise.

Nemo and I take a walk together every morning, another gift a beagle gives.  This time of year we take the same walk every day.  Up the road about half a mile from our house, is an embankment of azaleas on the edge of public land.  A genius planted them.  There are masses of every color, an azalea rainbow, and they open slowly, so that every day we have a different view to admire.  The show goes on for weeks, and we try not to miss a moment of it. 

This year the spring parade of color has lasted longer because of cool, wet weather.  That means we’ve been outside less often to enjoy it, but when we are able to get out, the sight and smell of spring is so heady, we can’t make ourselves go back inside. 

The best gifts are unexpected.  A gloomy spring whose glimpses of sunlight and bursts of color are appreciated that much more.  A silly beagle dropping an old sofa pillow at my feet out of love and gratitude.  And for me, this spring, those bursts of insights a novelist receives, those moments when, in the midst of kneading bread or sewing a quilt square, a plot point drops into place, or two characters have a conversation and I can only listen and nod. 

Maybe half of being alive is paying attention, and the other half is saying thank you.  Nemo has this figured out, but we humans can be slower.  Luckily, we have spring and azaleas to remind us.  For this, I’m grateful.

Welcome to Sunday Poetry.  We began this page in March, and if you didn’t join us then, don’t worry.  This is a drop-in, drop-out adventure.  You can read about the purpose and inspiration behind Sunday Poetry here.    

What’s your part?  Just slow down a little and come along for the read–or today, for the listen.  If you’d like to tell us what the day’s poem means in your life, or what word or phrase you’ve chosen to reflect on, or where those reflections have taken you, we would be honored.  But there are no demands or imperatives.   If I have something to add, I will.   If you have something to add, please do.

Unless a poem is clearly no longer under copyright protection and I can safely quote it here, I will provide links to websites who were careful to secure the necessary permissions.  Much poetry on the web has been put up without the poet or publisher’s permission, and I couldn’t find a legally posted copy of today’s poem.  However I still I found two intriguing versions on You Tube for you to enjoy.

Today’s offering by ee cummings, ”i thank you God for most this amazing day,”  is one of my favorites.  The message seems wonderfully appropriate for Easter morning.  So, as a special treat, if you click here, you can hear the author himself read the words.  If you click here, you’ll see and hear these beautiful words sung by VU-Kamerkoor, recorded in the old city of Amsterdam in 2007.  The musical setting is by Eric Whitacre and a joy to listen to.

Whether you celebrate Easter, Passover, or simply the coming of spring, this poem is for you.

I can count on two questions from any Q & A session.  The first?  Where do I get my ideas?  The second is whether I’ve ever suffered from writer’s block.

I’ll confess I used to snicker whenever I answered this one.  “Not me, thanks.  If I’m stuck I just keep working until I’m not stuck anymore.” 

Simple, and as far as it goes, true.  But that answer also discounts the severity of the problem that some of my most talented colleagues have experienced. Writer’s block (I prefer calling it writer’s paralysis) is very real.  Were it not, Margaret Mitchell and Harper Lee, not to mention a host of other geniuses, would have turned out small libraries of novels instead of one single blockbuster.

I suspect the causes of writer’s paralysis are many.  Too much success, too little success, too knowledgeable of pitfalls, too little confidence manifested by listening to the “editor” and not the “creator” inside us, or listening to people who shouldn’t give advice.  For most writers the ideas are still there, but we become so frightened, we send them packing well before we’ve given them a chance.  The idea has to be bigger, better, more original, more saleable.  We toss the proverbial baby out with the bath water and not surprisingly, there’s nobody left to bathe.

If you’ve been following along here, you know I’m hard at work on a novel that introduces a series.  Recently I told you about creating the world’s longest bio for my major character, and finally forcing myself to stop so I could begin outlining.

That’s when the paralysis set in.

I always outline–you can read an earlier post about that here.  Using my long synopsis, it should have been simple.  But every time I tried to “make it work,” I felt clammy and unable to move–which is why “paralysis” seems to sum up the condition. Finally, after days of staring at a blank screen and notepad, I realized I needed to forget the outline and begin the first chapter.

More clammy, unable-to-move-my-fingers moments.

I’m writing now, I’m pleased to say.  But not before some highly anxious weeks.  So let me share what I’ve learned.  Will these points solve every problem?  Ha!  Are my fingers flying as fast as a hummingbird’s wings?  Don’t I wish.  But here are the tips that got me moving again. 

  • Accept the paralysis as real, but temporary.  Remind yourself that you’ve written before and you’ll write again.  Believe it.
  • Find another creative outlet to get the juices flowing.  I’m spending part of each day quilting, and it’s helped the writing and the attitude immeasurably, not to mention the progress on my Happiness Key wallhanging.
  • Approach the manuscript from a completely different angle.  If you normally outline, try writing without one, or vice versa.  If you usually start at the beginning and write straight through to the last page, try starting with a scene that’s already vivid in your mind, even if it will appear midway through the manuscript.  Remember cut and paste were invented to use often and well.
  • Feel free to experiment.  Try telling the story from the point of view of a cocker spaniel or a robin.  Try setting the story in outer space.  Try writing it as a sonnet.  Anything to get moving, to have fun, to get the words flowing again.  Will you use it?  Who cares?
  • Think about everything that’s happened in the lives of your characters and the situation they find themselves at the beginning of the novel.  Try changing the background or the situation to make it more dramatic, compelling, exciting.   You say you can’t change it because that’s the heart of the story?  Well, isn’t it possible that this heart isn’t beating and never will, which is why the story’s dead and you’re paralyzed?
  • Consider the characters who are telling the story and why you’ve chosen them.  Then try writing through the point of view of other characters instead.
  • Don’t show your work to anyone until you’re happy with what you’ve done.  By then you’ll be able to tell if their comments are helpful or just downright silly, and nothing they’ve said will keep you from finishing.

If you’re shaking your head right now and saying, none of this applies to your story or you, then perhaps you need to assess what part  ”not writing” plays in your life.  Is it possible that “not writing” is exactly what you should be doing now, and you really don’t want to find ways back into your story?  That’s okay, too.  Just be honest with yourself, then forge a new, more welcome path.  It might angle back to your story, and it might not.  But maybe you’ll be happier.

For more writing tips, check out all The Write Way posts under categories to your right.

Welcome to Sunday Poetry.  We began last month, and if you didn’t join us then, don’t worry.  This is a drop-in, drop-out adventure.  You can read about the purpose and inspiration behind Sunday Poetry here.    

What’s your part?  Just slow down a little and come along for the read.  If you’d like to tell us what the day’s poem means in your life, or what word or phrase you’ve chosen to reflect on, or where those reflections have taken you, we would be honored.  But there are no demands or imperatives.   The photo on today’s blog will appear each Sunday along with a poem’s link.  Out of respect for copyright, I won’t be posting the poem of the day on the blog, but it will be just one easy click away.  If I have something to add, I will.   If you have something to add, please do.

Today’s poem is The Hymn of a Fat Woman by Joyce Huff.  It called out to me since I decided to start charting calories at Spark People on my battle to losing an unwanted ten pounds.  Then it called out to me because it reminded me so strongly of my mother, gone now, but whose birthday would have been this week.  Mom, who was more given to puns than poetry, would have understood this one.  She would have smiled. You’ll find it and many other wonderful poems at the Poetry 180 website.

It’s National Library Week.  Did you know?  I’ll confess I’m not a fan of “Blank-Blank Weeks” in general, but this one’s too important to ignore.  I’ve relayed my own memories here of the Gulfport, Florida library where my addiction to reading got its start.  At the time many of you commented about your own good experiences.

But while we were waxing nostalgic, did any of us realize that:

  • 68% of Americans have library cards and use them.
  • 92%  who were polled believe libraries will remain important in our future, even with the internet.
  • Only 22% of library users are over 55.  35% are between the ages of 18 and 34.
  • 1 in 10 card holders visit the library more than 25 times in a year.
  • For people without internet access at home, public libraries are the number one point of access.
  • There are more public libraries than there are McDonalds restaurants! Without a French fry in sight.
  • About 80% of library funding comes from local sources that YOU can influence.

I just discovered that my own county board is returning 3 hours of library time during the week to each of our branches after cutting hours several years ago to help balance our local budget.  Let’s all encourage our city mothers and fathers to remember libraries and their importance to our communities when they make their tough decisions.  And while we’re at it, let’s tell our librarians how much we appreciate all they do.  I plan to when I pick up the two books I’ve reserved this week.

And aren’t I lucky I still have a library where I can do that? 

By the way, the photo above?  The Celsus Library in Ephesus, Turkey was built somewhere between 115-25 AD, and the facade is still standing.  May our libraries continue to stand, as well.

Welcome to Sunday Poetry.  We began last month, and if you didn’t join us then, don’t worry.  This is a drop-in, drop-out adventure.  You can read about the purpose and inspiration behind Sunday Poetry here.    

What’s your part?  Just slow down a little and come along for the read.  If you’d like to tell us what the day’s poem means in your life, or what word or phrase you’ve chosen to reflect on, or where those reflections have taken you, we would be honored.  But there are no demands or imperatives.   The photo on today’s blog will appear each Sunday along with a link.  Out of respect for copyright, I won’t be posting the poem of the day on the blog, but it will be just one easy click away.  If I have something to add, I will.   If you have something to add, please do.

Today is my father’s birthday.  He turns 93 and still lives alone in Florida, where I grew up.  He’s not an easy man, nor was his life easy, so when I went in search of poems about fathers, I discarded most of them.  Some are gaggingly sentimental.  Others portray an accessible man I never knew.  Then I found this one.  Although it’s not quite the story of my father’s life, the feel of it seemed right, and it expresses, so profoundly what I often write about, the impact that people we may never have met still have on our own lives.  You’ll understand when you read it.

Late Poem to My Father by Sharon Olds can be found at Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac, along with other pleasures.  This title is from a broadcast in 2005, and you can hear that entire day’s content, including the recitation of this poem by clicking on “listen.”  Why not give it a try and see if hearing the poem read out loud brings new depth to your experience?

Some of you who pop in an out of my Facebook page know that I’ve been working non-stop on character sketches for the first book of my new series, which will debut in August of 2012.  Not all authors bother with this.  Some are content to allow the character to reveal him or herself as the book develops.  They like surprises, an extended timeline of revelations, to keep them interested.

While I understand this and occasionally follow that path, this book had to be different.  This story and the ones that follow are character-driven.  The character’s growth and life experiences are of primary importance, and because they are, I have to understand each one of them fully.  Since characters who will appear in other books are introduced in this first one, I decided I needed to know who each of them were right now, where they come from, the pitfalls and triumphs they’ve faced.  In other words, all the details that have made them the people they are.

Do you remember reading the autobiographies of the four neighbors of Happiness Key?  Tracy, Wanda, Janya and Alice were all featured here on my blog.  What you read–and still can if you missed it–was a portion of what I’d asked them to write about themselves as a bonus prelude, before Happiness Key was published.  That was the first time I approached characterization quite that way.   It was fun, and as it turned out, sharing it with you was fun, as well.

This time to begin I launched into the stories of my supporting characters.  Once again I was glad they opened up to me.  I discovered potential story lines for subsequent books, learned how they would interact with the major character of my first book, Charlotte Hale, and found a few welcome surprises, as well as more than a few challenges. 

After I had done three of these characters, I moved on to Charlotte herself.  Charlotte’s basic story had been laid out in the synopsis that I wrote for my publisher. So for some time I’d been thinking about why she was the woman she was, and how to make her sympathetic to my readers.  Because Charlotte, like all her real-life counterparts, has made a lot of mistakes in her life.   And readers?  Well, most of us want to read about people we can root for.  My job is to be sure that early enough in the book, well before a reader considers tossing her copy against the wall, she’ll be hopeful that Charlotte’s worth the trouble.  In fact she’ll be so hopeful, she’ll stay up all night, just to see if she’s right.

I’m now 75 pages into Charlotte’s autobiography.  Yes, 75 pages.  Do I understand her better?  Well, yes.  Do I understand her completely?  Well, no.  Do I understand her well enough to let the rest of her story stab me in the gut, explode like heat lightning on my pages, wake me up in the middle of the night with a new revelation?  I hope so.  Charlotte is now with me as I dress in the morning, and as I turn off the light at bedtime.  My friend Casey Daniels says I’ve written enough to sell her autobiography as a novella on Amazon.  That means it’s pretty clear I need to stop.

So what’s next?  Today? Charlotte’s family.  I wonder what they’ll have to say about her?   When I’m finished, will I still be haunted by the things I don’t know?  Or will I be so engaged that I can’t wait to write page one of the novel. 

Stay tuned.

Welcome to Sunday Poetry.  We began last Sunday, and if you didn’t join us then, you can read about the purpose and inspiration behind Sunday Poetry here.    

What’s your part? It’s easy.  Just slow down a little and come along for the read.  If you’d like to tell us what the day’s poem means in your life, or what word or phrase you’ve chosen to reflect on, or where those reflections have taken you, we would be honored.  But there are no demands or imperatives.   The photo on today’s blog will appear each Sunday along with a poem’s link.  Out of respect for copyright, I won’t be posting the poem of the day on the blog, but it will be just one easy click away.  If I have something to add, I will.   If you have something to add, please do.

This week’s poem is Hand Shadows, by Mary Cornish, found on the Poetry 180 website.  Enjoy.

My public relations trip to Germany is over, but the questions keep arriving.  I answered these today for a major German newspaper, and it occurred to me that you might find the answers interesting, as well.   Maybe you’ve wondered about some of these subjects yourself.   As always, I’ll enjoy your comments.

1. Are you surprised about how successful the Emilie Richards movies are in Germany? 

I think it’s delightful that they’re doing well.  I never anticipated this, but movies based on any novel rise or fall on how well they are adapted for the screen and how well they are produced.  I have faith in the producers and the network and know that all of us share common goals. 

2. Do you find the spirit of your books well portrayed in the movies or are the differences very big? 

To be honest, some of the movies are quite different, but some are surprisingly faithful to both the story and the theme of the novel.  You can imagine that like any author, I’m happiest when the story on the screen matches the story that was in my head and heart.  At the same time, though, I know that I was writing to be “read” and the movies are to be “watched.”  I know this means that changes have to be made. 

3. How are the movies different? 

While the first movie Polyphon International made was from a novel I actually set in New Zealand, the rest of my novels have been set in other places, primarily the United States as well as some in Australia.  So by changing the setting, other things must change to match, of course.  Too, my novels are often filled with suspense and conflict that doesn’t always make it to the screen. 

4. The viewers love those movies, but the critics are a bit reserved almost taunting towards the romantic genre. Does this surprise or hurt you?

Sad, but true, but I’m neither surprised nor hurt.  Some critics seem to believe that positive characters and resolutions are impossible in real life, when, of course, all evidence points to the contrary.  I find it interesting that anyone believes portraying people in heroic ways is new to the romance genre, when in truth, we as human beings have been telling stories about people triumphing over their circumstances since we developed the power of speech.  There’s a place for gritty realism, and a place for uplifting stories that give people the strength and optimism to tackle the problems in their lives and move forward.  I choose to write the latter.

 5. You are always defending the Happy End, which always comes at the end of your stories. Is there any possibility that you will ever write a book without a Happy End? 

Many, many plot threads intertwine in my  novels, and not all of them end positively.  I don’t think in terms of “happy endings,” but in resolving the conflicts I’ve set up.  Sometimes those conflicts aren’t resolved in traditional or positive ways, and sometimes they are.  But I will never write a novel that makes my reader feel worse about the world once they’ve finished the last page.   

 6. You say that places and landscapes inspire you. Where would you love to travel to to seek more inspiration? 

Quite honestly I find inspiration everywhere.  Exotic settings are wonderful, but only if they say something important about the world of my characters and who they are.  I really have to feel I understand a place to write about it, which doesn’t happen on a brief holiday.  I like to make setting a “character” in my novel, as important as any character who walks through the pages, and just as defining of the story. 

7. Could Germany ever be a place of inspiration for you? 

That’s a wonderful question.  Inspiration, yes.  But in order for me to think I had even a small grasp of what it’s like to live in Germany, I would need to live there myself for some months–and learn the language.  Even then, I truly doubt I could do it justice.  Still, I can be inspired by the people I talk to when I visit, the scenery, and the culture.  I think we’re always richer for having traveled and tried to absorb the world other people live in.  I hope I always carry that back with me and into the novels I write.