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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

From the Past to the Present...and Beyond.

Since Mom died and I've been re-doing the house, I'm really making an effort to rid myself of clutter. It isn't easy. I have cabinets of files I hadn't looked at in years - correspondence from my earliest articles and columns, yellowed newspaper clippings from when I gave a talk here or there or received an award, files of (bad) query letters typed on an old Selectric typewriter, rejection letters (many), copies of magazines in which my essays appeared (and the follow ups if there were letters to the editor about them).

I'm an inveterate memorabilia collector. Some files contain concert stubs (two Farm Aids along with many others), guitar picks, Mother's Day cards, obituary notices, plane tickets, hotel and restaurant receipts and a Congressional Menu. I have plaques of all kinds and keys to two cities.

I have years of journals....intensely personal and (now it seems to me) often self-pitying. I was a poor young mother married to an alcoholic. I don't want to read about those experiences again and I don't want anyone else to read about them either. Now I want to tell that girl - "get off your butt and do something about it."

None of this stuff means anything to anyone but me. As I go through it, my first inclination is to trash it all but in the end, I simply can't do it. I cut it down to about half but I'll leave the rest to my son. Maybe if I become a famous author, some college will want my papers! (Not my alma mater because I don't have an alma mater.)

I found a a large file of rough drafts from my earliest days of trying to become a writer. I attempted everything - science fiction, romance, children's books, Young Adult, mystery. A couple of them I still think had some possibilities but mostly, they were pretty bad. I even found a manuscript in which I tried my hand at pornography. (I remember an instructor at one of the writing conferences I attended saying it was easy to sell and paid well and evidently, that convinced me.) Oh, my God! I have learned about subtlety since I wrote the Zodiac Club!

I can see myself in these files, struggling to find a voice of my own. I recognize the styles of those I admired in many of them (imitation being the sincerest form of flattery). My first success was as a nature writer. I still love describing lambs and trees and brooks and dragonflies but I'm really not always that sweet. I felt more at home when I found politics and social commentary. I like to take a contrary stance and rile people up, to poke them and prod them to react. I get as much of a kick from a letter of rage as one of approval.

As a novelist, I'm the same way. My books are edgy and graphic and my heroes are not always heroes. People love them or hate them. That's fine. Give me strong emotion either way.

It has been fun to take a trip back in time to see a young writer's journey to the present. As for the future, well, I'm 67 but I'm still working on it.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Writing Seasons


I can never quite decide which season is better for a writer. Winter can be good. When the temperatures drop below freezing and the winds are cutting, it's pleasant to simply hunker down in the warm at the desk, looking up only now and then to watch the snowflakes drifting down outside my window. Winter is the most quiet season and that's conducive to tending to business - no roaring motorcycles, no thunk of the baseline from rolled down car windows, no kids lollygagging and laughing as they make their way home from school. Even the birds are quiet in the winter except for an occasional outburst from the Cemetery Crows. Still, falling snow can be mesmerizing and sometimes I have to pull myself away from the spell of white silence to get back to work.

Spring can be inspirational, particularly if you're ready to start a project. Spring is the perfect time for beginnings. It makes you feel as if you're in sync with Mother Nature. Buds are opening into yellow and pink and purple blossoms. Eggs are hatching so that tiny heads peer above the nest to beg for food. In the pasture you see gamboling lamps and stilt-legged colts and a Joseph's coat of kittens following their calico mom. But sometimes spring can be hard for writers because your inclination is to be outdoors where the musky smell of fecund earth beckons you to add a new thing to the multitude of spring babies, not a piece of writing, but a lilac or a rose.

Ah, summer - my least productive time. A bright sun and steamy temperatures make me lazy. I'd rather lounge indolently and read someone else's writing than do any of my own. I'd rather sit on my shaded front porch and watch my world go by - little kids with chocolate-ice-cream-smeared faces, happy men on Harleys, the feral cats from Charley Creek park, lying on the sidewalk toasting themselves, but with one eye open, ready to bolt at a moment's notice. Like me, Charley Creek is giving it the least amount of effort. In places, it disappears completely, forcing the minnows into smaller and smaller puddles. I sit at the computer and write a paragraph before deciding to take a nap.

Fall is my favorite season. I find new energy when the air becomes as crisp as bubbly champagne and Mother Nature dolls herself up for the Harvest Ball in golds and crimsons and coppers. The roadside stands begin to feature pumpkins and squash, Indian corn and chrysanthemums. Giant machines rumble across the fields bringing in the harvest. Great piles of yellow corn sprout beside the elevators. There are flowers that revel in the fall. They are mostly jewel tones. The pastels of spring are long gone. Autumn is nature's season of abundance. There is too much of everything, even fresh tomatoes, which I would have killed for in April. Now people are trying to pawn off all their extra tomatoes and zucchinis. It doesn't necessarily follow that I'm an especially prolific writer in the fall, no matter how much I find the season exhilarating. I'm too conscious that I'd better enjoy it while I can since winter will soon drive me indoors.

The upshot of all this is that it really doesn't matter what time of year it is, the writer herself must find the self discipline to write consistently regardless of what may be taking place outside her window.