Sunday, December 30, 2007

Dickens Challenge Progress Report


On December 9th, I posted about Timothy Hallinan’s Dickens Challenge. The idea was to post a chapter a week of a brand new novel as an experiment to knock the creative cobwebs loose. When I posted the announcement about the challenge I had no intention of participating. I don’t write very quickly, I’d only recently started writing every day and I like to edit and revise compulsively.

Within a few days I was swept up in the excitement and less than a week before the Dickens Challenge writers planned to post their first chapters, I decided to join them.

Some interesting things happened to my process once I committed. I didn’t have any ready made story ideas, but I had the basic germ of something I thought I could work with and for two or three days, I brainstormed possibilities. About three days before the first chapter was “due” I started writing it.

The idea of winging it was terrifying. I was self-conscious about posting early draft work on my site. After all, I’d never shared any of my fiction on line and this wasn’t going to be my “A” material. One of the wonderful things about being part of this great online community is that I knew that all of you who stop here regularly would be supportive and that there was probably no better place to take chances.

It was a race to get the first chapter up. I worked pretty hard on the second chapter and really hated it when I posted it, but I didn’t want to miss my “deadline”. Once it was out there I decided it wasn’t nearly as bad as I first thought. And now, I’m actually finished with the third chapter early and will have it up Monday morning.

Some of the loose rules of engagement we’ve been following have been that we’re not going back to revise or rework chapters we’ve posted, and we’re not posting more than one chapter a week.

Having a deadline and committing to it has had a significant impact on my writing process. I suppose I could have given myself deadlines before, but it never occurred to me, even though I’ve always worked well under pressure.

Establishing a unique chapter as the weekly writing goal has been interesting. It has made the weekly goal much more fun to work toward than a word count ever was because it keeps me focused. Posting only once a week makes the need to leave each chapter with some kind of a hook or question even more important than it normally would be.

I literally don’t know what will happen from one chapter to the next, so I can’t say whether or not I’ll really be able to sustain this for the length of an entire book, but no matter what the results, this is proving to be a great experience.

We now have nine Dickens Challengers and you can check out their work at their own sites and also on the Dickens Forum. I’ve got chapters one and two on my sidebar and will continue to post links to each chapter there as we progress.

My fellow Dickens Challengers are:

John Dishon, newly married and newly out of college, is a beginning novelist with special interests in Asian culture and literature, who sees the Challenge as a way of getting one of his ideas for a novel out of his head and into written form. His book is called Country Snow and it can be found at www.johndishon.com

Nadja (NL Gassert) is working on the second book in her gay romantic suspense series set on lush, tropical Guam: When a vengeful STALKER seeks to punish Mason Ward for the sins of his past—and present—the security specialist needs to fight to save himself and those closest to him. You can read her at http://write-experience.blogspot.com/

Timothy Hallinan is a novelist who lives in Los Angeles and Bangkok, Thailand. The Fourth Watcher, which is the next novel in his Bangkok series, will be published in June 2008 by William Morrow. (The first, A Nail Through the Heart, is out now.) His Challenge book, Counterclockwise, can be found at http://www.timothyhallinan.com/blog/

Steve Wylder is an Amtrak ticket agent and freelance writer living in Elkhart, Indiana and Bloomington, Illinois. His most recent published work is “Time Passages: Reflections on the Last Train Home,” in Remember the Rock Magazine. His contribution to the Dickens Challenge is tentatively titled “Things Done and Left Undone” and can be found at : http://ontheslowtrain.blogspot.com/

Wendy Ledger has an M.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University, and has taught there as a lecturer of introductory writing. Her work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, The East Bay Express, and Music for the Love of It. She has two blogs, http://crookedtune.blogspot.com and http://weledger.typepad.com/pomegranate. Her contribution to the Dickens Challenge, is called “The Untitled Leap,” and can be found at http://weledger.typepad.com/pomegranate.

Cynthia Mueller is a US Army veteran living in Las Vegas, Nevada. After more than 15 years as a technical writer, she’s working on her first novel, Casual Duty, a mystery/thriller set at a remote Army post in the southeastern Arizona mountains. When the bodies of young women start turning up on the training range, Private Bridie Traynor must overcome her fear and lack of experience to help stop a killer before he kills again. Read it at http://anuncappedpen.blogspot.com/

Jennifer Duncan has been writing her first novel for eons. In faith and fear, she accepts this challenge as the search for freedom in the writing process. The two installments of “Waiting for Gauguin” have been posted at her blog ( http://quidite.blogspot.com/ ). Is it a long short story? A novelette? A novella? She doesn’t know. She must write to find out.

Usman is a businessman and writer who lives in Pakistan and has recently completed a book, which is now in revision. His work for the Challenge is a mystery/thriller called Capital Risks. http://reality967.livejournal.com

New chapters will be posted soon and it’s never too late to jump on board. For those of you who’ve taken the time to read the DC chapters, thanks for your encouragement and support!

How do you respond to deadlines? How much “pantsing” are you comfortable with? Are you comfortable with starting to write and trusting that the story will reveal itself, or do you outline and plot it all out first? For the DC writers, what are your thoughts on this experience?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Change The World

Although this was written as a love song, it reminds me that each one of us has this power.

What would you like to do to change the world?

Friday, December 21, 2007

O Christmas Meme, O Christmas Meme

Yogamum from Yoga Gumbo tagged me with this Christmas meme. I have to confess, I’m a little out of it this Christmas season. In years past, I’ve gone over the top with decorating, parties, elaborate wrapping and cards and this year, I just haven't been interested. Thinking about the questions on this meme really took me back to the past and made me think about why my 2007 holiday spirit isn’t what it was. It’s not a bah humbug thing and it’s not a holiday season depression. I'm not sad. I think perhaps it's just that things have changed too much and I'm more old fashioned than I care to admit.

Christmas Meme Part I:

What are your three favorite Christmas songs and who sings them?










O Holy Night

Good King Wencesclas

O Come All Ye Faithful/Adeste Fideles

I like only versions of these songs that sound “churchy”.

I am not now a practitioner of any religion, but when I was growing up, going to church was a part of my upbringing. Everyone in my family was crazy about the Christmas season. We played Christmas music constantly and it was always traditional music performed by the Vienna Boys’ Choir or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir -- sacred sounding recordings. I knew all of the words to every verse of every song that was printed in the Christmas carol pamphlets that the John Hancock insurance company gave away, including Adeste Fideles. In the 60’s, the people in my family were all big drinkers, and there is nothing that will get you in the mood for four verses of Joy to the World on a road trip like a whole lot of liquid Christmas cheer. Yes, it’s true. It was a family tradition to attend the 11:00 PM Christmas Eve Service at St. Paul’s with several adults who were three sheets to the wind and filled with the Christmas spirit. And who doesn’t sing Christmas songs while drinking and driving around looking at lights? Now before you start thinking how terribly sad this all must have been, let me assure you that it wasn’t. I wasn’t all that aware that they were drinking like fish at the time or that what they were doing wasn't completely normal. I have a lot of fond memories of those times, believe it or not.

What are your three favorite Christmas foods?

Roast Beef with Yorkshire pudding, Mince Pie, Christmas pudding with Hard Sauce

My grandmother’s parents were English and that carried over into most of the things we ate and drank. I don’t think anybody in my family even owned a coffee pot, because they all drank tea with milk and sugar all the time. My poor father had a sad little jar of Sanka somewhere in the house. My grandmother always loved mince pie and not everybody in the family ate it, but I did. I haven’t had Christmas pudding in too many years to count, but we always had it when I was growing up. The roast beef with Yorkshire pudding was a Christmas tradition and a Sunday dinner favorite if we weren’t having roast lamb with mint jelly.

What are three Christmas Secrets?

1. I’ve always thought there was something magic about Christmas Eve. That’s the night I’m most likely to secretly talk to my dead loved ones – and I think maybe they hear me. They all loved Christmas.

2. My parents used to tell us when we were little that there were little elves that hung around the Christmas tree and would watch us to make sure we were being good. I think they were right.

3. I can’t hear or sing O Holy Night without getting emotional. It doesn’t happen if the songs are sung by pop stars or with a modern sound, but if I hear it sung in the more traditional, church style, it brings me to tears. The same goes for Ave Maria and a number of other Christmas songs. Color me sentimental.

What are your three favorite Christmas movies?

1. Hands down favorite is A Christmas Carol, the 1951 version starring Alistair Sim.

2. It’s a Wonderful Life

3. The Charlie Brown Christmas Special and The Grinch That Stole Christmas

Part II is YogaMum’s Grinch Meme from last year (click on the link to see her answers).

What is your least favorite holiday task? (e.g. shopping, cooking, wrapping) I don’t like shopping for people who are so picky that I end up with a list of things they want and I have to choose one or buy a gift card. It sucks the joy out of the whole gift giving experience for me. These are the kind of people that don’t appreciate cool, creative gifts like yoga lessons or sealing wax or silk padded book rests or hamsters.

What was the worst gift you ever received? I can’t think of anything. I am very easily pleased. You could wrap up a chewed up old pencil and give it to me and I’d be delighted I was on your shopping list.

Who is the hardest person in your family to shop for? My father-in-law. He doesn’t need anything, doesn’t want anything and doesn’t have any hobbies or interests.

What relative do you dread seeing at the holidays? Or, when you were a child, what relative did you dread seeing? I’ve never dreaded seeing anyone that I can think of.

What holiday tradition would you eliminate if you could? If I had the power, I’d eliminate giving generic gifts that have to be purchased. Exchanging store-bought gifts just feels like an empty habit, without any real feeling behind it. It would mean so much more to me as a gift recipient if I got a poem, a plate of cookies, a knitted scarf, a contribution to a good cause made in my name, a song or a hand made card.

What do you swear, every holiday season, that you’ll never do again, only to find yourself doing it again the next year? I loathe buying gift cards. When I was growing up, shopping for gifts or making them was exciting. Everyone loved what they got, no matter how silly, because we really thought hard about trying to find something special for each other. I hate giving gift cards to people because I feel like I might as well throw a fistful of cash at them, but there are some people who will tell you that they’d actually prefer getting a gift card, rather than getting something they don’t want. I think we just have too much now. Do we really need to go out and buy more crap and create more waste with all of the gift bags, wrapping paper and ribbon? Disclaimer: This doesn't pertain to little kids. I love watching them open toys.

This concludes the official meme part of my Christmas post. This year my stepson and his children (okay, okay I’ll say my grandchildren but it kills me every time I do) are coming over to open presents on the 23rd. I started the cookie baking process today and have vowed to finish my shopping and figure out what to make for dinner by Saturday. On Christmas Eve, Scott and I are going to his sister’s house to have dinner and exchange gifts with his family. This year, we’ll spend Christmas Day alone together. Scott is Jewish, but not religious, but I think I’ve got him convinced that we should observe one of the great traditions of his people on Christmas Day: A movie and Chinese food.

I’m not going to tag anyone, but hope you’ll give the meme(s) some thought and maybe post your own.

What are a few of your favorite and un-favorite holiday traditions?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Roar For Powerful Words


Steve, from On the Slow Train has awarded me the Shameless Lions Writing Circle's "A Roar for Powerful Words" award. Thank you, Steve. I am sincerely humbled and honored by this.


The award was initiated in November by Seamus Kearney, a writer living in Lyon, France. Here are Seamus’s instructions:


Those people I've given this award to are encouraged to post it on their own blogs; list three things they believe are necessary for good, powerful writing; and then pass the award on to the five blogs they want to honour, who in turn pass it on to five others, etc etc. Let's send a roar through the blogosphere!

Here are the three things that I believe are critical elements of powerful writing:


1. Honesty. The Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa has been quoted as saying “to be an artist means never to avert your eyes”. The writing that resonates most powerfully to me is honest. The writer wrote what he or she saw, felt, smelled, tasted and heard and didn’t avert his eyes, didn’t abstract, didn’t write anything that wasn’t true.

2. Precision. The best writing uses no more and no fewer words than are absolutely necessary. Every word is chosen specifically because it is the only word that will do. I struggle mightily with this.

3. Voice. My favorite writers have a voice and a style I could pick out of a literary lineup.

There are so many blogs that inspire me with powerful words that I am reluctant to name just five, but in the spirit of the rules, here are my nominations:

Beyond Understanding

Carleen Brice

From Here to There and Back

Iyan and egusi soup

Yoga Gumbo

Please follow the link back to The Shameless Lions Writing Circle and claim the lion of your choice.

What are three things that you think are critical to powerful writing?

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Eudaemonia Year in Review


The lovely and talented Olufunke at iyan and egusi soup tagged me for this fun meme. The instructions are to simply show the first line of the first post of each month of the year. Eudaemonia debuted on April 10, 2007. I enjoyed reviewing these posts and I’ve enjoyed reviewing the year with blogging friends on other sites too.

April. I always believed we have some notion of who or what we're meant to be from the time we're eight or nine.

May. Painting is as lonely a business as writing can be, so Scott has developed friendships with other artists over the years and alternates his studio time with group outings to paint en plein air, visits to other artist’s studios and vice versa.

June. I was not much of a joiner as a kid.

July. Close to three months ago when I made the decision to write in a committed and purposeful way, more specifically, to write a novel, I found many great blogs about writing and I began reading them religiously.

August. In a workshop I recently attended, we did an exercise I wanted to share.

September. It's been a weird couple of days.

October. Evergreen, Colorado is a small town in the foothills, about forty five minutes west of where we live in Centennial.

November. Hola! Scott and I had one of the best vacations ever in Baja.

December. Organization is important to me, even when it’s only in my mind.

This was so fun, fast and easy that rather than specifically tag people, I’d like to suggest that everyone reading this go ahead and do it. You’ll like it and as Olufunke mentioned when she posted hers, it lets you take a look at where you’ve been.



Dickens Challenge Writers

I've copied this from Tim's blog, but wanted to come back to list the writers, with links to their stories. As soon as I have a minute, I'm going to link all of these to a new Dickens Challenge category on a sidebar here, so you'll be able to follow our progress.

John Dishon, newly married and newly out of college, is a beginning novelist with special interests in Asian culture and literature, who sees the Challenge as a way of getting one of his ideas for a novel out of his head and into written form. His book will begin Monday, December 17. It’s called Country Snow and it can be found at www.johndishon.com

Nadja (NL Gassert) is working on the second book in her gay romantic suspense series set on lush, tropical Guam: When a vengeful STALKER seeks to punish Mason Ward for the sins of his past—and present—the security specialist needs to fight to save himself and those closest to him. Nadja will begin to post on Monday, December 17 and you can read her at http://write-experience.blogspot.com/

Timothy Hallinan is a novelist who lives in Los Angeles and Bangkok, Thailand. The Fourth Watcher, which is the next novel in his Bangkok series, will be published in June 2008 by William Morrow. (The first, A Nail Through the Heart, is out now.) His Challenge book, Counterclockwise, will start Monday, December 17 at http://www.timothyhallinan.com/blog/

Steve Wylder is an Amtrak ticket agent and freelance writer living in Elkhart, Indiana and Bloomington, Illinois. His most recent published work is “Time Passages: Reflections on the Last Train Home,” in Remember the Rock Magazine. His contribution to the Dickens Challenge is tentatively titled “Things Done and Left Undone” and will begin Monday, December 17 at : http://ontheslowtrain.blogspot.com/

Lisa Kenney is a telecommunications industry account executive and beginning novelist who lives in Denver. She’s tackling the Challenge with a Dickensian themed story with the working title Foundling Wheel and will begin posting excerpts Monday at Eudaemonia. Lisa, bless her brave soul, will begin to post on Monday, December 17.

Wendy Ledger has an M.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University, and has taught there as a lecturer of introductory writing. Her work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, The East Bay Express, and Music for the Love of It. She has two blogs, http://crookedtune.blogspot.com and http://weledger.typepad.com/pomegranate. Her contribution to the Dickens Challenge, “The Untitled Leap,” will be posted at http://weledger.typepad.com/pomegranate, starting Monday, December 17th.

Usman is a businessman and writer who lives in Pakistan and has recently completed a book, which is now in revision. His work for the Challenge will be a mystery/thriller for which he’s still gathering ideas. (Welcome to the club.) It’s not titled yet but when he publishes, beginning around January 1, 2008, it’ll be at http://reality967.livejournal.com

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Dickens Challenge Is On

Please check out Tim Hallinan's post here to find out more...

Friday, December 14, 2007

When Kids Get Life


http://view.break.com/330589 - Watch more free videos

On November 21st I watched an episode of Frontline, called When Kids Get Life. I was completely unprepared to learn that in our country, there are over 2,200 juveniles who are in adult prisons serving life sentences without the possibility of parole.

In the rest of the world, there are a total of twelve juvenile offenders serving life without the chance of parole. Let me say that again. In the rest of the world there are only twelve.

In my home state of Colorado, there are currently 46 offenders who were convicted as juveniles and who are serving LWOP. When Kids Get Life profiles five of them.

I feel compassion for the victims and for the families of the victims. I cannot imagine what it would be like to lose a loved one to a violent crime. I lived in the communities where two of the crimes occurred and well remember the shocking stories unfolding. But I don’t believe that the desires of the victims can weigh as heavily on how we choose to mete out justice in our society as it does.

Some people should never leave prison because they will always pose a threat to the rest of us. Some of these juveniles should probably never leave prison. But the concept that we, as a civilized society would decide that children are irredeemable, should have no chance at rehabilitation or redemption is appalling to me. The idea that a person who is too young to drive a car, join the military or buy a beer, can be tried and sentenced to stay in prison until they die a natural death, kill themselves or someone kills them is inconceivable.

I contacted Mary Ellen Johnson, the National Director of The Pendulum Foundation to see what I could do. An incredible woman, Mary Ellen has been fighting for changes in our juvenile justice system for fifteen years. She’s appeared on Frontline and on television programs broadcast in other countries. She’s been interviewed many times and has dedicated herself to trying to help a small group of people the rest of us would rather not think about. She’s been harassed and threatened for what she does.

Mary Ellen became involved in the case of Jacob Ind in 1992. Jacob Ind murdered his mother and stepfather in the mountain town of Woodland Park. I lived in neighboring Colorado Springs at the time and I followed the case in the news daily. During the trial, it was revealed that both Jacob and his older brother had been subjected to years of violent abuse and to sexual molestation. Jacob Ind was fifteen and he was tried as an adult and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Over the years, I’ve see his case in the news now and then. When I saw Frontline, I was nearly sick. Jacob Ind is now thirty years old and bears little resemblance to the skinny teenager we all saw on the televised trial. He has now spent as much time behind bars as he did in our world.

Nathan Ybanez and Erik Jensen, fifteen and sixteen at the time of their arrests were also profiled on Frontline. Nathan murdered his mother and his friend Erik helped him to clean up the crime scene afterwards. Nathan had been beaten and sexually molested by his parents for years. He’d run away repeatedly, but was always returned to his abusers. Erik and another friend's parents called the county social services to report the abuse and they were told that social services would take down a report, but the reality was that he was a boy over the age of 13 and with the caseload they had, nothing could be done. Nathan and Erik are both serving life without the possibility of parole.

I hesitate to shine a light on the stories of the abuse victims who killed their parents because in some ways, it feels like I’m trying to excuse their crimes or imply that the sentence of life without the possibility of parole should be used in some cases and not others. I do feel that abuse victims should be subject to special consideration, but I also don’t believe any juvenile should get this sentence, no matter what the circumstances of the crime.

No child should be sentenced to die in prison without any hope of redemption.

The Rocky Mountain News published thirty days of journal entries from Nathan Ybanez a couple of years ago. For me, they were a unique and heartbreaking view into what happens to children who go to prison. Rolling Stone did a piece on Nathan in November of 2006.

A fellow blogger coined the term obligation overload some months ago during a discussion about all of the social causes that need our attention: the environment, abused animals, children, disaster victims, incurable diseases, the homeless – the list goes on and on. I’ve always believed that we need to help other people and despite rumor to the contrary, there are a lot of good people who are making change and doing good things.

In 2006, in large part due to the work of Pendulum, Colorado passed a law changing the mandatory sentence for juveniles from life without parole to 40 years before the possibility of parole. Previously, offenders as young as 12 were eligible for life without parole. The law was not made retroactive, however, so it does not affect the sentences of Colorado's 46 juvenile LWOPs. A map showing the number of juveniles serving LWOP by state is here. We have nearly 50 in our state but several other states house more than 300.

There aren’t many people who are trying to help convicted murderers. Maybe that’s why I feel like I need to. I can’t seem to get it out of my head that no other country in the world does to its child offenders what we do here. There’s a call to action on the Pendulum site that lists some things that people can do to help.

Talking about it is something we can do here. I believe that through raising awareness and through expressing opinions to our state lawmakers, we can make slow change. I’ve written to all of my state representatives and state senators and I’ve been surprised and encouraged at the number of responses I’ve received.

Please watch the episode of Frontline, visit the Pendulum website and some of the other links and think about what you can do to help. If you have suggestions and ideas about what can be done to raise awareness or to accelerate changing the laws, even if you don't have the time to work them yourself, please comment or send me an email.

If you don't agree that juveniles should be given the opportunity at a second chance, tell me why. If you support change, tell me that too. Let’s talk about this.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Timothy Hallinan's Dickens Challenge


Tim Hallinan continues to amaze me. I recently finished his thriller, A Nail Through the Heart, his eighth novel and I absolutely loved it. Hallinan manages to balance several intertwining plot lines, he tackles incredibly difficult subjects all the while creating memorable, vivid characters in startlingly real settings. The main character is an expatriate living in Bangkok and I finished the book with new perspectives on eastern and western cultures and how we perceive and misunderstand each other. In addition to being a great read, A Nail Through the Heart could be a primer on craft. Some of you may have seen the excellent posts on Tim’s blog about finishing and about craft in general. If you haven’t, they are well worth the time and they’ve helped me to get out of the rut I was in.

Now, for you seat of the pants writers who enjoy working under pressure, Tim has come up with a challenge, Charles Dickens style. Go here to check it out.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

How Does This Happen?

Organization is important to me, even when it’s only in my mind. This makes my book situation particularly vexing. I put all of the books on writing on one shelf, which means that I’ve got books crammed on top of the books in the shelf, so they can all fit.

Only fiction and memoir get shelved in the two bookshelves in my office. Non-fiction (with the exception of books on craft) gets relegated to either the bookshelves in the living room or it goes with the art books in Scott’s studio. Short story collections and essays are on top of an armoire in the bedroom between two bookends. This includes the entire collected works of Chekov. Most of these volumes technically belong on the “To be Read” category also, but I’ve segregated them because I do sometimes grab a volume and read one story.

The “To be Read” pile causes me problems. I’ve alternated between shelving the books where they belong – which would be alphabetically, by author – and pulling them out and leaving them in haphazard piles because I’m afraid I’ll lose track of them. Now there are so many that even outside the shelves, they need their own system of organization. Choosing which book to read next is typically a highly impulsive decision. It depends on how much energy I have, what I’ve read last and what time it is when I’m ready to turn to page one.

I’ve organized the books I have not yet read in several different stacks, according to loose categories and I’ve decided to show them to you and ask for your recommendations for what I absolutely must read next in each category.

Let’s start with what I’m about to read next. I just finished a book today and I’ve decided to read Atonement, by Ian McEwan now. I loved On Chesil Beach and Kristen highly recommends Atonement. To seal the deal, Matthew from my Monday night workshop said that Atonement was one of the two novels he’s read that he felt led to an inevitable ending that he was not necessarily expecting. In case you were wondering (as I was) what the second book was, it’s Black Swan Green, by David Mitchell, and yes, I just ordered it too.

Next, is my stack of books written by people I “know”. A Nail Through the Heart, by Timothy Hallinan is standing face out because it’s the book I finished at lunch today. Tim is the author of a number of books and he’s also a blogger. You can check him out here. More on this excellent book in a future post.

This grouping is comprised of all the signed first edition books I’ve received this year from the Odyssey Books signed first edition club. Amy at The Writers Group previously recommended Free Food for Millionaires and Timothy Hallinan just gave Richard Russo’s Bridge of Sighs five stars in a recent blog post.

This is a mix of titles that I chose either because I read a review that intrigued me, or because someone I trust made a recommendation. I’m especially interested in input on these.

These are books I bought because I like the author and I’d like to read more of him or her.

Last, by by no means least, I have the titans. The long, hard tomes that I'd like to read for one reason or another. I suspect I'll save and tackle these big guys for vacations or in case I end up in a body cast and incapacitated for months on end. I'm very interested in hearing from anyone who has read any of these books. I can see this picture doesn't show the titles well, so they're: Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, The Recognitions by William Gaddis, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, Swann's Way by Marcel Proust, All four Rabbit Novels by John Updike and Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.

So, I'd love to hear your thoughts -- pros and cons -- about the collection I've accumulated in this overwhelming stack of recycled trees.

What's up next on your TBR stack?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What's in the Middle


It's not what you think. My lovely friend Larramie at Seize a Daisy, chose me to complete this meme. I was literally working from 7:30 this morning until after midnight when I found out that I’d been tagged and I thank her for the diversion!

As an update to my last post, I’m happy to report that so far, so good. My 500 word per day goal has been working out very well, no matter how busy I get. It’s reasonable enough that no matter how tired or busy I am, I can make time to do it.

OK, here are the rules:

1. You have to post these rules before you give the facts.
2. Players, you must list one fact that is somehow relevant to your life for each letter of your middle name. If you don't have a middle name, just make one up...or use the one you would have liked to have had.
3. When you are tagged you need to write your own blog-post containing your own middle name game facts.
4. At the end of your blog-post, you need to choose one person for each letter of your middle name to tag. Don't forget to leave them a comment telling them they're tagged, and to read your blog.

J – Justice, demonstrated by the degree to which we deal with the world with honesty and fairness, as individuals and as a culture may well be the thing I feel the most passionate about. It is certainly the one thing that can draw me into a heated discussion where very little else can.

E – I’ve always been very Empathic. There was a great discussion on empathy here not long ago and I naturally had to research more deeply into empathy. I feel genuine joy at the good fortune of others and I feel real pain for complete strangers. I don’t consider it a virtue. I believe it’s just the way I’m wired. It mystifies me that I am normally very level headed and rational, but I am easily brought to tears over things that happen on the other side of the country or the world. Commercials and music videos can do it to me. I have determined there is a big visual component to how emotional my reaction and it extends to the printed word.

A – Animals are a great love of mine. I have a rescue dog and cat and I don’t recall ever meeting an animal I couldn’t feel affection for. Even the animals that I have irrational fears of – like snakes – I admire, just from afar.

N – Novels. I am obsessed with reading them, I love to watch my friends making progress on theirs and nearly all of my free time is spent working or thinking about mine.

N – Although I’ve been away for the better part of my life since I was 19, New England will always be a part of me. All of my nostalgia, reaches back to that small cluster of states.

E – I consider Education to be a lifelong, joyful pursuit and the greatest gift I can receive as long as I am always open. It comes in all forms – all of my connections with friends, co-workers, writers, children, animals, strangers, books, magazines, newspapers – there are new things to learn everywhere I look and there are few things I find boring.



Middle names are always interesting. Let’s find out what they are for:

Kristin at From Here to There and Back

Kristi at Yoga Gumbo

Moonratty at Editorial Ass

Shauna at For Love of Words

Karen at Beyond Understanding

Carleen at The Pajama Gardener


Next up – My TBR stack has become so completely unmanageable that I think I’ll post a selection of books I want to read and ask you to recommend one. It will be interesting to see what you recommend.

I’ve gotten into a pattern lately where I try to alternate a hard book with an easier read, a long book with a shorter one.

I’ve also been reading books written by people I know. For a while, I was thinking that just buying the book was a good show of support and if a friend published a book that I might not normally read, I didn’t. I’ve been pondering the question more deeply and wondering how I’d feel if people I knew and liked didn’t read my book and I decided that I think I’d prefer it if someone took my book out of the library, read it and told me what they thought about it than if they bought it and it sat unread. It’s ambitious, I know, but little by little, I think I can work those books into my ambitious list.

So far this past year, I’ve read fabulous books by Patry Francis, Judy Merrill Larsen, William Haywood Henderson, Therese Fowler, Carleen Brice, Kim Reid, John Elder Robison, Nick Arvin, Chris Ransick, and Shari Caudron and just last week I read a fabulous short story by Bernita Harris in a recently published collection.

Books in the stack of people I know (or sort of know via blogging or because they are part of the Lighthouse Writers Workshop faculty) are by Karen Degroot Carter, Patricia Wood, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Jennifer McMahon, Tish Cohen, C.S. Harris, Charles Gramlich and Timothy Hallinan.

I am certain there are books around here that belong on one of these lists, but at the moment, I can’t place what I’m missing so I apologize to the author(s) in advance and will update this list if I remember more.

So whether published or not – which would you prefer? Would you rather know that a friend bought your book or that they read it?

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Blank Page Fears Me


Well, I copied Kristen at From Here to There and Back and changed my blog template to be cleaner, like she did. Sure, I'm a copycat, but I'm kind of liking it.

Second, I found a great new accompaniment to writing. Pandora Radio has been around a while and I've always liked it, but they finally added classical to their list of available music. If you haven't checked it out, you'll want to. It's one of those genome projects where you choose a song or an artist that you like and you can create radio stations where they'll select songs that they think you'll also like. Fantastic.

I'm in the middle of reading Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris and one of the characters in this story is an aspiring novelist. He's got a piece of paper with the words, "The Blank Page Fears Me" taped onto the wall of his office. Pretty funny. I like it.


One of the toughest things I’ve had to do in my writing is to prioritize my time. After my last post, where I confessed my current state of mind and my focus on putting the analysis to the side so I could finish a first draft, things have really turned around for me.

I've never made myself write every day. If I had a lot of day job work, some heavy reading to do, if I felt too tired and decided I’d rather read blogs and write posts, I’d let myself.

No more.

I do have some experience with setting unattainable goals, so I decided that shifting gears and committing to a daily writing practice was not going to end well if I gave myself an unrealistic word count.

A lot of people aim for 1,000 words a day, but I decided to set my goal at 500. Most days that means I can exceed my goal. Timothy Hallinan pointed out at his blog that by writing 500 words a day, you can have 25,000 words or roughly 25% of a fair sized novel in less than two months.

I’m pretty lax about how I track my progress. I look at the word count when I start and I know roughly what number I need to meet or exceed and I’m happy. There are a million different ways people track their progress, edits and changes. I just re-save my document with the date that I worked on it every time I do anything and that seems to be working fine.

Working every day does have the benefit of keeping the story right at the forefront of my mind. I always know what my characters were doing when I left them, so I’m always thinking about what they’ll do next and what other horrible things might befall them. It does seem easier to open up a document daily, rather than to let it sit and then have to get back into it several days later.


Since I am still in a writing work shop, I've also found that the writing exercises I get in class have sometimes yielded some pretty OK stuff that I can use in my work in progress. I've got a great book, filled with writing exercises that I've decided to use the first time I sit down to write and I'm having a hard time getting started.

I’m not the most disciplined writer in the world by a long shot and I’ve only been working this way for a very short time. I will say that less than a week ago I was at 16K+ words and today I’m at 21K+.

There’s a very good possibility that some, most, or all of what I’m doing will be cut out later. It’s impossible to say. What I can say is that the story is moving forward and the characters are continuing to develop and for now, that’s exactly what I need.

Have you tried something new in your creative process recently?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Where My Head is Tonight

About a year or so before I started this blog, I began a mission. I wanted to write a novel.

Like everything else I’ve ever dedicated myself to, I went crazy tackling every angle in order to learn as much as possible, to write the best book I'm capable of producing. I’d been reading books on writing for a while, but I kept ordering and reading more. I picked up the pace on my reading and began consuming as many great works of fiction as I could. I started to read writing websites and blogs and then I started my own blog. I found a great writing school, joined it and signed up for a week-long retreat. Then I signed up for a novel writing workshop and then another. I signed up for an experimental fiction class, with required reading. Everything helped. I had epiphanies daily. The blog has been helpful in more ways than I can count. Somehow, the decision to share my writing experiences has cemented my resolve and the people I have met and the things that I have learned from them have enriched my life in ways that go far beyond the writing.

And then --

I burned out.

Sometime in 2005 I started writing a story. I was on and off with it, but I worked on it for close to a year. I was 32,055 words into it (I just checked), so I’d invested a fair amount of myself and my time.

Then, after all of my reading and research and just before I went to the retreat in July, I had serious doubts about everything I’d written. The characters were too much like people I knew and although I actually did have a vision for the end of the story, I felt like I could do better. I felt like I’d gone into battle unarmed and it was better to surrender than to withdraw and retool.

I thought about a different story, and then another story. I wrote a couple of short stories.

Just before I went to the retreat in July, I had a story notion I was excited about and I started over again. I’ve been working on it ever since and I’ve been taking excerpts to workshop and I've been getting lots of feedback.

Then I hit a wall. I had a lot of work to do with my day job. The workshop forum was teaching me a lot, especially about editing. All of the sessions, classes, blog posts, craft books and DVDs (I have two on writing) had a lot to offer. The books I was reading inspired me, yet they also made me feel inadequate.

I lost confidence.

After I started the workshop process, I found myself endlessly revising and editing what I’d already written. New writing was coming slowly, if at all. I was self-conscious and worried so much about turning in pages that I couldn’t produce any more.

I went on vacation for a week and didn’t write.

When I came home, I opened up the manuscript I’d set aside and I read it, expecting it to be horrendous.

It really wasn’t all that bad. In fact, what I found was that the first manuscript sounded more like me. It’s rough, but it’s my voice. The characters felt more authentic. While I was working hard at the second story, I was editing my voice and my life experiences out of existence. I wanted my characters to be new and unique and different from me, but I’d subconsciously placed too much distance between myself and them.

Here’s a revelation that came to me. I read too many books that have been written by people who are completely unlike me. Most of the authors I love are people who have studied writing extensively, gotten MFAs and PhDs and teach writing. They tend to write stories with characters in them who are sort of like them. Not all of them, I suppose, but I’ve read (and loved) more books that take place in and around preparatory schools and colleges than you can shake a thesaurus at.

The truth is that there are very few college graduates in my family. I come from working class people. There are some exceptions, but not many. I was enlisted in the military for many years, which makes my background very different from most people and in particular it makes it different from most writers. Things that have touched my life and my family over the years include alcoholism, drug abuse, mental illness, suicide attempts, violence, sexual abuse, illness, death, poverty, neglect, closeted homosexuality, infidelity, divorce, crime and imprisonment – you name it.

For some reason, I think I believed that since I don’t read a lot about working class people and people with all of those messy problems, that I didn't want to write about characters shaped by those things. I thought I wanted to write stories about the people I liked to read about. The problem isn’t writing about them. The problem is that I can get into the heads of the more screwed up characters so much more easily.

That’s probably the reason that when I think about my favorite writers and books I’ve loved, I always get back to Ernie Hebert, the Dartmouth College professor who came from immigrant, working class roots and writes about working class people in New Hampshire. There is a copy of a speech he gave at an awards ceremony that brings me to tears every time I read it. The Dogs of March remains one of my favorite books of all time.

I’ve thought a lot since I got back from Mexico and I had a long conversation on the phone with a good friend (another blogger) just this week. Not all of our challenges are the same, but we are both struggling with that inner editor. We’ve both had trouble moving forward because we can’t seem to stop questioning what we’ve done so far and whether or not what we plan to do will be any good. We came to the same simultaneous conclusion.

We just have to tune everything out and finish that first shitty draft.

It sounds so simple, but it was so hard to see for such a long time.

A novelist is someone who finishes a novel. I am a person who could be stalled forever if I don’t stop analyzing, questioning, reading and tinkering.

Today, I gave myself permission to write crap. And I sat down and I wrote and before I knew it, I had pages. I don’t know if they’re any good or if they’ll ultimately stay or go and it doesn’t matter. I’m giving myself permission to write whatever comes out, every day until I get to the end.

I’ve learned enough to know that the most important thing for me to figure out is my process. I don’t know what that will be yet, but for now, it’s just to keep going and to finish.

Sphinx Ink linked to a great post by the writer, Timothy Hallinan and it has turned things around for me. Maybe it's even saved me. Of the many things I’ve read about writing, his points about finishing have hit home unlike anything else. He’s got some great stuff here that really resonates with me. He is the author of more than a dozen books and his most recent is the thriller, A Nail Through the Heart

I know that a lot of the people who stop by here are published and have finished one or more manuscript and then some are like me and haven’t done either. I’d love to hear thoughts from you all on the concept of getting to “The End”.

Friday, November 9, 2007

That novel that you're working on?

The Lighthouse Writers posted this to their blog and I couldn't resist. OK, now seriously, I have to go back to work!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Taking Care of Business


Hola! Scott and I had one of the best vacations ever in Baja. We went to the beach and swam in the Gulf of California and relaxed in the sun. We spent time in a great community called Todos Santos, populated by a surprising number of ex-pats and filled with art galleries. We stayed in a little boutique hotel in Cabo San Lucas, called The Bungalows and got to know the wonderful family who owns and operates it very well. We learned all about Dia de los Muertos, which was very cool. For the first time in seven years, I spent a vacation with absolutely no access to the internet or work emails. I read four books. We ate and slept when we felt like it and came back feeling refreshed.

The timing was good.

There are times when work becomes so all-encompassing that there’s no time left for much of anything else and I am in the midst of one of those times. I miss the blogosphere. I miss reading the posts and comments and I miss writing my own. Popping in after an extended absence feels a little like what I imagine it must be like to disappear from a regular A.A. meeting for a month and then suddenly reappear. People wonder. Is something terribly wrong?

The dog days of summer and the early autumn were slower and I got to immerse myself in writing and workshops and reading blogs and comments and it was wonderful. Activities related to my job in sales are tied tightly to the calendar and every year at about this time, we gear up to close as much business as we possibly can before the end of December. Within the company, we enter into the sparring match that constitutes establishing quotas and compensation plans for the upcoming year. The workday extends ‘round the clock at this point.

There was a time when this kind of interruption would leave me heartbroken and discouraged that so little time is left for writing, but this year, I accept it. Although it’s not my dream job as a published author, it’s the means to an end and it keeps me in toner cartridges and bond paper. It’s demanding, but the truth is that it’s been good to me in many ways.

I’m still writing and I’m still part of a weekly workshop, but I’ve come to the realization that I have to cut my blogging back until we get closer to the New Year. I’ll still be lurking often, although not commenting quite as much, but I’ll be back. I’ll miss being here every day. Since so many of you are my friends, please drop me an email when especially exciting things happen – as they so often do.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

To the Beach!


Tomorrow we’re headed to Cabo San Lucas on the tip of the Baja California Peninsula. That early snow over the weekend scared us south and we’re off to warmer climes. I'll be back with tales from south of the border on Halloween. Have a great week!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The View From Here


There is something magical about waking up in the morning to see that the world has been transformed during the night. In a ritual almost as old as I am, I tuck my sleeping T-shirt into a pair of jeans, pull on my favorite “Live Free or Die” sweatshirt, my hiking boots, a hat and a winter jacket and run outside.

The first time putting on a winter jacket each fall is always a small treat. Left pocket: one nearly full pocket sized package of Kleenex. Right pocket: three fossilized, but unopened pieces of nicotine gum and eleven cents. A decent haul.

The snowfall today is heavy with moisture and the temperature outside is mild. The phone calls haven’t started yet, but they will. How deep is it at your house? I meant to stop at the grocery store last night too and I didn’t! We’re going to lose some tree branches if we don’t go out and knock some of that white stuff off.

The dog embodies the joy of new snowfall. He tears back and forth across the yard and snuffles his muzzle underneath, as if expecting a hidden trove of milk bones.











Friday, October 19, 2007

Olive Riley's 108th Birthday

Susan at Spinning has a post up today about a woman named Olive Riley, who lives near Sidney, Australia. Olive is 108 Years Old and Blogging!. I just stopped by and her blog is full of delightful stories, pictures and videos. I could read about her all day long. Today she is 108 years old, so stop in and wish her a happy birthday from wherever you are!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

From Where You Dream

I am obsessed with books on writing and craft. I just did a quick count and I have somewhere on the order of forty-five of them. From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction by Robert Olen Butler, edited by Janet Burroway is one of the best.

This post is a bit of a cheat, since I used this review over at The Book Book several days ago, but I thought this book was worth talking about here too.

The book is less of a narrative on fiction writing than it is a transcription of a series of lectures Butler has given at Florida State University, where he teaches creative fiction writing.

Butler is the author of ten novels, two collections of short stories and is a Pulitzer Prize winner.

One of the things that make this book different from most is the tone. Most books on writing present methods and ideas as alternatives that may work for some writers and not for others. Butler makes no bones about what is and isn’t good fiction and he doesn’t mince words about how he believes you must pursue the creative process. Based on some of the reviews on Amazon, many readers couldn’t get past his voice and rejected what he said, based on that. My recommendation is to get over it, because he’s got a lot of great stuff in here.

The book is divided into three parts. The first has his lectures, and they read like lectures. He’s very clear that he’s talking about writing literary fiction, or creating art and he makes a distinction between art and commercial or genre fiction. Again, if this is going to offend you, you very likely won't care for this book, but you’d do well to smooth your feathers and see what he has to say, if you’re interested in some great ideas for elevating your fiction to the level of the best it can be.

He talks about “the zone”. All writers know this place and we do just about anything to find it as often as possible. He offers some valuable insights about “the zone” and accessing it. He talks a lot about writing from the unconscious, versus writing from the head. Unconscious = good; writing from the head = bad. He has an entire section on yearning and goes as far as to say that by far, the most common writing blunder that students and aspiring writers make is that they don’t make their characters yearn for something. The lecture called “Cinema of the Mind” is about the best I’ve ever read about showing and not telling, but it goes much deeper. By showing, he’s talking about concrete sensual details versus abstract, general description. Later on in the book, there is an actual exercise that he does with four students where he has them walk through a scene and describe what their characters are experiencing and it’s powerful. The students actually don’t do all that well – so useful in reading through this – because it’s very difficult to do, but by allowing us to be a fly on the wall, so to speak, the book really reinforces what sensual description is all about.

The section on Reading was especially intriguing to me, since I've been doing so much of it as a means to study great fiction. Butler emphasizes reading to evoke an aesthetic response, as opposed to reading analytically. From page 108-109:

“Your experience of this name should be aesthetic, not analytical. A kind of harmonic resonance is set up within you. That is the primary and appropriate response to a work of art. You don’t listen to a Beethoven symphony or look at a Monet painting or what Suzanne Farrell dance and walk away with your head full of ideas, having, say, sat in your chair and had the keen intellectual enjoyment of watching the way the themes of the first movement were echoed in the second and then turned into that crescendo in the fourth. That’s a separate kind of pleasure with certain value, but it is not the aesthetic response.

It seems to me that a lot of literature classes go wrong because the teachers, unintentionally but often intentionally, give the impression that writers are rather like idiots savants: they really want to say abstract, theoretical, philosophical things, but somehow they can’t quite make themselves do it. So they create these objects whose ultimate meaning and relevance and value come into being only after they have been subjected to the analysis of thoughtful literary critics, who translate that work into theoretical, philosophical, ideational terms.”

The third part of the book analyzes three actual short stories done by Butler’s students. The observations and critique are just invaluable.

I loved that this book touched on subjects that I just haven’t seen addressed quite in this way. There are some great techniques I’m anxious to try myself and I suspect this is one of the many books on writing that I will dog ear with repeated readings.

The biggest challenge I have with my current work in progress is that I've come to a point where I need to make a decision that impacts how I'll continue and how the story will be structured and it doesn't make any sense for me to write any more until I've done this. I feel very strongly that I need to access my unconscious mind in order to discover the rest of this story. It all makes sense on paper, but making that time and making that space to be open to inspiration is very difficult for me.

How do you do you find the space and the opportunity to open up your mind and solve your writing problems?


Thursday, October 11, 2007

All About Books

Mardougrrl at One Hand Typing tagged me for this meme, and I am honored and humbled to share my answers. The answers to these memes are always so dependent on timing and mood, so I’m sure I won’t recognize my own answers in six months, but here goes:


1. Hardcover or paperback, and why? Hardcover if I really want the book as soon as it’s released and/or there’s going to be a book signing and/or I know or know of the author and I want to support the book release and the author with my wallet. Most of the time paperbacks are just dandy. They’re cheaper and their much lighter to carry around in a purse. And, if I ever go back to the gym, I feel much less guilty cramming them into the book holder on the stair master.

2. If I were to own a book shop I would call it... Eudaemonia. This is purely hypothetical because far too many people ask me how it’s pronounced, which would indicate that it’s a poor choice to name a business.


3. My favorite quote from a book (mention the title) is... This was tough. I drew a blank when I first read this question because the first quote that came to mind wasn’t exactly from a book, it’s an excerpt of Andrew Marvell’s poem, “To His Coy Mistress” that’s on the first page of Peter S. Beagle’s A Fine and Private Place.

“The grave’s a fine and private place,

But none, I think, do there embrace”

The other one that came to mind was exactly the same type of thing. It was the Robert Frost poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay” quoted in S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders:

“Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.”

4. The author (alive or deceased) I would love to have lunch with would be... Tricky. At first I thought Joyce Carol Oates or maybe Philip Roth or somebody really iconic, and then I thought I’d be much too nervous and dorky to enjoy the time. My next thought was that I’d really love to have lunch with all the people who visit here, but then I thought, I really need to name someone I don’t “know” at all. I’ve loved the New Hampshire writer, Ernest Hebert for so many years and recommended his first book, The Dogs of March so many times that I’d have to say Ernest Hebert.

5. If I was going to a deserted island and could only bring one book, except from the SAS survival guide, it would be… I’d bring The Chicago Manual of Style. Kidding! I’m going to go out on a limb and I’ll bring one I’ve not read. The Recognitions, by William Gaddis is sitting here and mocking me at 956 pages. I’ll bet it would keep me busy for a while.


6. I would love someone to invent a bookish gadget that… Could someone please come up with something that would allow me to read in complete darkness? I’d say night vision goggles for readers would be just the ticket. They’d have to be comfortable, lightweight and of course, stylish.


7. The smell of an old book reminds me of… The smell reminds me to refill my allergy medication, but it also makes me reminisce about rooting through antique stores and second hand book shops and book barns in New England. Ah, the happy hours passed in those cozy places!

8. If I could be the lead character in a book (mention the title), it would be... Forrest Gump.

9. The most overestimated book of all time is… I can’t do it. Every title that comes to mind is a classic that I couldn’t get into, but rather than blame the author, I blame myself. I know this is a wimpy answer, but I can’t bring myself to single out a book and hurt the author’s feelings. Even if the author is dead. I will obviously never be a book critic.


10. I hate it when a book... Sucks. Um, wait, I can do better than that. I hate it when a book has me captivated for two or three hundred pages and then it becomes a struggle to wade through. Again, throw stones at me and call me a heretic, but that’s exactly what happened to me when I read One Hundred Years of Solitude. I was captivated and somewhere along the line, I was lost.

I feel a little guilty tagging people again, because this is twice this week, but this is a pretty good one and it was fun to do, so readers, do tackle this if you like and I would love to hear answers to some or all of these questions in the comments.

How about: Kristi, Candy, Liz, Usman and Moonrat



Wednesday, October 10, 2007

I'm No Angel

It’s true. I’m no angel. I was in the car Monday night and this Gregg Allman song came on the radio. It was released in 1987 and listening to it made me think of a series of recent posts Charles at Razored Zen has done about power words.

In particular, I was struck by the line, “come and let me show you my tattoo”, which in 1987 had a lot more power as a lyric than it does in 2007. Twenty years ago, I don’t believe tattoos had achieved mainstream status. Bikers, ex-cons, veterans, G.I.s and other assorted bad boys had tattoos. When you ran across someone who did have one, it was not uncommon to ask to see it – as if it was a sixth toe or a three legged dog – something different and dangerous.

Although we normally don’t think of tattoos other than those people pay to have done, there were other kinds of tattoos. You rarely saw them, but when you did, it was always a heart stopping moment. When I was in third or fourth grade, I had a neighbor named Barbara, who lived across the street. Barbara’s father had been a prisoner at Auschwitz during WWII. About once a month, Mr. Barbara’s Father (we could not pronounce their last name and so that’s what we called him), would get drunk and he would stand in the street in front of his house and rant in Polish for an hour or two. No one ever complained, called the police or tried to stop him. We never, ever said anything to Barbara about it. Now and then, as he would gesture wildly, you could see the blurry numbers on the inside of his wrist.

In 1981, most guys, and very few girls had tattoos.

In 1981, I was in the Air Force at technical training and living on Keesler Air Force base in Biloxi, Mississippi. There was a long list of things that were against the rules, but one of the big ones was: Do not get a tattoo.

In the dormitory where I lived, I was in a “bay” with six dorm rooms and twelve girls. Only my roommate and I remained tattoo-less throughout my seven month stay in Biloxi. Despite my wildness in almost every other respect, I was horrified at the idea that my fellow airmen would permanently ink themselves. We were in the eighteen to twenty year old range and I was fairly certain that anything that seemed like a good idea for a permanent skin embellishment then, would likely not stand the test of time. Despite my proselytizing, one by one, the unicorns, roses, hearts, tweetie birds, smiley faces and dragons all appeared on backs, pelvises, shoulders and ankles. The initial tattoo after-care had to be done in secret, so it was pretty common to get a knock on the door and have a bottle of lotion shoved in your face, while a girl would turn her back to you, bare her shoulder and request you rub lotion over a freshly engraved fairy or wizard.

Nobody ever had a custom tattoo. It was all done from whatever flash was hanging around. The first boy I dated who had a tattoo was a guy from Philly with this exact tattoo:


He was a bad boy. After Biloxi, I ran into him again a few years later in Germany. By that time, he was married and had a little boy. Not long after I returned to the states, I got word that he’d died of brain cancer.

Several years ago, I got a tattoo, but by then, it wasn’t the rebel move it had once been.

Tattoo was once a power word for a lot of reasons. Maybe for me, it always will be.

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.


Virginia Woolf