In Writing, Tell the Truth

The-Rooms-are-Filled

Today I’m very happy to have my friend Jessica Null Vealitzek as a guest on my blog!

Jess and I met online, connecting over writing and a mutual love of good books when she first got involved with Great New Books, where she is one of six contributors (by the way, if you haven’t seen this blog, you should check it out). We started talking about writing and reading and publishing (we were both writing novels). Fast forward to the current day, and Jess just last month debuted a wonderful first novel (that I just finished reading and loved!): The Rooms Are Filled. In addition to Great New Books, Jess writes for PDXX Collective and has her own blog at True STORIES. She also contributes to the anthologies Three Minus One and The HerStories Project. (Did I mention that Jess also has two young children?)

Please welcome Jess with a post about something near and dear to her heart.

 

In Writing, Tell the Truth

I often think back to one particular assignment in Ms. Jenewein’s Expository Writing class my senior year of high school. We had to interview someone and write an article.

I chose to interview a friend’s father because, starting with almost nothing, he had worked hard to become quite successful. I asked him questions, typed up the answers, and turned in my profile. Probably B-worthy. Fine by me.

Ms. Jenewein handed it back with something like, “You can do better,” written at the top.

Excuse me? It was a perfectly respectable article. I’ll take the B, thank you.

I walked up to her desk, article in hand, hoping to talk her out of making me re-do it. She asked me why it was so dry, why she didn’t feel she knew the subject of the interview. Finally, I crinkled my nose and quietly admitted, “I don’t like him very much.”

“Aha!” she said. “Write the real version. He’ll never have to know.”

The final article, the one I earned an A for–the one I was proud of–was called, “Interview with a Vampire.” (The movie was big at the time; I was being clever.) Ms. Jenewein hugged me and said, “This is the result when a writer tells the truth.”

Russian proverbI have never received another piece of advice more useful. Tell the truth. Readers know when you’re lying, when you’re fitting the story into the words you want to say, or don’t. You know it, too. And when, in the midst of writing, you hit upon a truth you didn’t even realize was there, it’s golden.

That happened to me just a few years later, in college, and it was an experience that has served as one of the more important moments in my life, both creatively and personally.

I sat in my dorm room revising a creative nonfiction piece, a letter to my alcoholic uncle I’d been working on for some time. The piece was dear to me, as was my uncle. He was a poor father, a poor husband, he was in and out of rehab, he borrowed money, but I loved him—we all loved him. He was a goofy, playful, charming man and I’d always felt a special bond with him. Once when I was young, he pulled me aside at a Christmas party and told me how much I meant to him. It was one of my most cherished memories. His slide into homelessness had been devastating.

I wrote all of this in my letter to him. And because he once wrote me a card that said, “I am proud to be your uncle,” I ended with, “I am proud to be your niece.”

Something about the piece, though, didn’t feel right and I couldn’t put my finger on it. I stared at the words. Then I found myself picking up the pen and writing: “I found out later that you were drunk the time you told me how much I meant to you.”

I continued writing almost without thought: “You were drunk. But that’s okay.”

And it was. It was okay. At the time, this was a revelation—that not only my uncle could be flawed, but our relationship could be flawed and I could still love him and be loved by him. Instead of writing the story I wanted to tell, I’d told the truth. I felt lighter. And my letter was much, much better.

There are loads of books that use many pages explaining how to write. In my opinion, it comes down to just three things: Read a lot. Write a lot. And tell the truth. These don’t ensure you will be a good writer, but you can’t be one without them.

It’s such a tall order and yet so absolutely freeing: simply tell the truth. It will be more than good enough.

pic-screen-shot Jessica Null Vealitzek is the author of The Rooms Are Filled, the 1983 coming-of-age story of two outcasts brought together by circumstance: a Minnesota farm boy transplanted to suburban Chicago after his father dies, and the closeted young woman who becomes his teacher. You can read more about Jessica and her book on her web site.

Writing Aboard the Downeaster

My little writing corner

My little writing corner

Did you see the buzz on Facebook and Twitter last week about the writing residencies that Amtrak is offering? So far only one writer (that I know of) has had this very cool opportunity. But I’d like to be next. I would love to be next!

So much so that I decided to take a test run. Two days ago I rode the Amtrak Downeaster train (runs from Brunswick, Maine, to Boston) on a seven-hour round trip ride…and I wrote along the way.

Today I’m on Writer Unboxed blogging about that trip and why I am still hoping beyond hope that I’ll be picked by Amtrak to be a future writer in residence! I hope you’ll check out Writing the Rails.

In addition to discovering that I really really REALLY want to have a real writing residency aboard Amtrak, I encountered several problems and obstacles along the way. Here’s a video I took on the bumpiest part of the trip (which was one of my biggest writing challenges).

 

Thank you, Julia

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This time I went with bacon… almost Quiche Lorraine

Not to get all Julie & Julia on you, but this post is about cooking…well, about cooking and writing. About cooking and writing and re-writing, to be precise. And the cooking part? Inspired by one of my favorite cooks—maybe you guessed?—Julia Child.

I used to make quiches all the time when my kids were home. It was kind of a Sunday morning tradition. But now, quiches are reserved for more special occasions. Like yesterday: my son’s girlfriend’s birthday brunch. Last time she was here (at Christmas time) we attempted a quiche together. The crust was gorgeous but the quiche itself? An unmitigated disaster. The problem was it never set. If you’re not a cook—or if you’ve never made a custard—you may not understand. It means that the quiche was a runny, watery mess. (In case you’re curious, I later found out through Internet searches that it was likely due to the asparagus I used in the filling… too much asparagus equaled too high a water content equaled the non-setting of the custard.)

I digress. Although the quiche filling was what failed last time, it’s the crust that I’ve always had more trouble mastering. But finally, through those years I was making quiche every Sunday, I could produce an amazing crust, as evidenced in my blog post on Writer Unboxed about the pie off (which clearly I won).

As I got out my well-worn, well-loved Julia Child French Chef Cookbook, here’s what I read as I loaded up the Cuisinart with ingredients (yes, that’s how I do it):

“Every serious cook should be able to produce a tender, crunchy, buttery pastry crust that is a delight to eat in tarts, quiches, turnovers, or quick hors d’oeuvre. The mastery of pastry dough is simply a matter of practice, as there is a definite feel in the hands you must acquire for mixing and rolling. Do a batch of pastry every day, if you are determined to learn and keep notes as you go along.”

I thought about the last quiche that M. and I made together, remembering that it wasn’t the crust that failed—it was near perfect, in fact (if I do say so myself). Although I hadn’t made a crust everyday, I had over the years become comfortable with making pastry crust, with the feel of it in the hands, as Julia said. It was then and there I decided to blog about yesterday’s effort, so I took some photos along the way.

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I did some patching…

But of course, wouldn’t you know it, as I rolled out the crust, it stuck to the mat and then it broke apart a bit. In years gone by, I might have gotten frustrated. In fact, ask MEH (My Engineer Husband), I have been known to throw pie dough across the kitchen a time or two. But this morning, partly because I’ve learned the way of the crust (and how to fix things) and partly because I was writing this post, I stuck with it. I finished rolling, put the crust in the pie plate, did some patching, and I crimped the edges.

It wasn’t totally perfect to look at, but it didn’t have to be. I knew that once I added the filling, it (probably) would be fine… although there is that danger point in the oven, when the crust could collapse.

Then I thought about something else. How much like my writing this is right now. I’m in revisions of my current work in progress. I started with a lump of dough and now I’m rolling it out. It’s unfinished and incomplete, but I’m patching it and crimping it and putting it in the pie plate everyday, sometimes over and over again each day. But I’m mastering it. And it’s looking (more) perfect. And that’s when I realized, that I’m writing the Julia Child way.

The mastery of pastry dough writing is simply a matter of practice, as there is a definite feel in the hands you must acquire for mixing and rolling revision and editing. Do a batch of pastry every day Put your butt in the chair everyday, if you are determined to learn and keep notes as you go along.

Thank you, Julia. For the pastry lessons and for the writing advice, too.

Cheers,

Julia

P.S. I’m also guest posting today on Jessica Null Vealitzek’s True Stories blog about the Great Ice Storm of ’98, in a post appropriately titled “The Great Ice Storm.” I’d love for you to visit me there, too!

Have you ever gotten writing advice in unexpected places? What’s your favorite thing to cook?

 

It’s All About the Story

By postbear from Flickr Creative Commons

By postbear from Flickr Creative Commons

One of my goals this year is to watch more movies. I’m doing this for a few reasons. First, the obvious, movies are fun to watch. Second, movies really help me think about my writing in a different way. Not just visually but also with pacing and tension. When I read a book I can skim if I want to (so I may not notice the slower parts) but if I’m watching a movie I can’t (or won’t) and so I’ll notice every boring or slow second.

Anyway, I digress from the point of why I’m writing this post.  Why am I writing this post? First, to let you know that if you want to, you can follow along with my movie viewing year. I’m posting the movies I watch on my Pinterest board 2014: My Year in Movies. (I’m also posting about the books I read, 2014: My Year in Books).

Second, I want to write about how sometimes I get an even bigger lesson from the movies I watch. Like with American Hustle. I went in wanting to love this movie (I didn’t). Why? Mostly because I really thought the script fell flat. In fact, I wrote to a friend of mine (who saw the movie the day before I did) and told her I was disappointed, really disappointed, in the movie. So imagine my surprise when I woke up this morning and found out that last night American Hustle won the Golden Globe award for best comedy.

This is not a movie review.

I am most definitely not a movie reviewer. I can guarantee if I were a movie reviewer, though, I would not be part of the 93% of positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. But isn’t it rather telling that on the Rotten Tomatoes website itself, the movie’s description says this:

Riotously funny and impeccably cast, American Hustle compensates for its flaws with unbridled energy and some of David O. Russell’s most irrepressibly vibrant direction.

Compensates for its flaws? Riotously funny?

First let me say that if a movie has to compensate for flaws, I don’t think it should be a Golden Globe winner. The flaws should be overlooked enough that they shouldn’t even be mentioned. Second, if this movie is riotously funny then I’m the Queen of England (I’m not). In fact, I laughed more then anyone else in the theater (only, maybe, 6 times in the entire movie) and MEH (My Engineer Husband) who usually loves these kind of over-the-top absurdist movies (I don’t) turned to me at one point and said: “Wasn’t this supposed to be a comedy?” I was embarrassed that I laughed when I did—was there something wrong with me? That’s what I wondered. (NO ONE ELSE WAS LAUGHING… okay, we live in Maine, we’re not known for our culture, but we do laugh…sometimes…)

And I thought the script dragged. Yes, I’ll say it. I’m sorry David O. Russell. I sincerely hope that the story lost tension and pacing on the cutting room floor, but it dragged. And it was boring. No amount of Bradley Cooper (who I thought was fabulous) or Jennifer Lawrence (who played a convincing part) or a chubby Christian Bale with a bad comb-over (not my fave) or even Jeremy Renner (who was my fave) or a zillion plunging necklines or even an amazing soundtrack can compensate. 

But no, Julia, tell us what you really think.

Okay. I’ll digress back to why I’m writing this post. (This post really isn’t a review. And it’s not in any way meant to discourage you from seeing American Hustle; you’ll probably like it—on Rotten Tomatoes it got an 80% audience approval rating.)

It’s just this simple. I’m glad I watched American Hustle because it reminded me of something important. The point is to write a good story. And that can’t be compensated for by anything. Period. It’s all about the story. That’s what I learned from watching this movie.

And that is all.

Cheers,

Julia

What have you learned from watching movies? Have you ever seen a movie and thought you should love it (because everyone else did)?

Magenta is the New Red

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That’s it: the InkJoy 500 RT!

These days you’ll find me in revision and editing mode. The manuscript I (almost) finished during NaNoWriMo is now just about at first draft stage. I’m doing a read through, and while I do I have my favorite editing pen close at hand: a magenta PaperMate InkJoy 500 RT. No, this is not an endorsement nor an advertisement, and I’m not being paid a penny for saying what I’m about to say.

Still, I’ll say it. I’ve always been a red-pen kind of writer (I can thank Professor Drechsel for this: Newswriting 101). In fact, editing with a red pen was one of my regular habits—like writing at one particular table in one particular coffee shop, listening to the same set of songs prior to and during writing, and wearing a special pair of socks while writing (okay that last one is untrue, but rule of three and all…).

Anyway, last Christmas my son’s lovely girlfriend gave me a pack of PaperMate InkJoy 500 RT pens (assorted colors), and I got particularly attached to said magenta pen. Not to be mistaken for the InkJoy 550 or 100, mind you—something that came up when I tried to replace my favorite pen and I accidentally bought the 100s (this is when I also found out that the RT stands for retractable, thank you kind Staples associate for this key piece of information).

But why was I in need of replacing my favorite pen, you might ask. No, it didn’t run out of ink. I actually left it somewhere quite on purpose, in a particular circumstance. I’m not trying to be overly mysterious or dramatic here, just trying to pique your curiosity enough that you’ll head over to read the whole story on Writer Unboxed… let me add that it involves Nathaniel Hawthorne, probably my favorite author of all time.

Please head over to Writer Unboxed and read: I Left My Heart At Authors Ridge!

Cheers,

Julia

 

 

Lost in the story

2013-Winner-Square-Button

50K PLUS

Yesterday I finished. 50,000+ words since November 1st: “WINNER”

That’s what flashed on the screen after I uploaded my words to the site. But the truth is, I won the battle but not the war. (Can you tell I’ve been submerged in a novel that takes place during wartime?) I haven’t typed THE END. I’ve got my NaNo words, but I’m not done with first draft and then I GET TO edit and revise.

And I’m pretty happy about that. Because I’m lost in my story.

I can’t stop thinking about Pat and Marin and Jason and Jimmy and Mrs. Murphy and Ray and Tyler (if that’s the name that sticks). I dreamed about them last night. I wake up early to rush to the computer. I mean early. Some days in the middle of November, my eyes flew open a little before four and no matter what I couldn’t get back to sleep. So I’d get up and write. This morning was slightly better. I slept in until 4:15. (You get the point.)

And I’ve been annoyed and antsy if I can’t write. And agitated.

I don’t know how long the finishing of the first draft will take. Or the revisions after that. I do know that I’ve read a lot of blogs lately that point the fingers at NaNo-ers (like me!). I’ve been surprised. Some have been judgmental. Saying that “no one should write a novel in a month.” Because it won’t be good, that it will degrade the overall quality of what’s out there to read. I don’t know about that. I know that some novels that are well regarded (like The Night Circus, Wool, and Water for Elephants for example) got their start as NaNo novels. And I even read a great post about other (longer ago) writers who wrote speedy fast even before NaNo was around–and their novels are still well regarded. Bradbury, Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson. You can read about them here, it’s pretty cool. I also know that we all write in our own way, our own time.

And I know this, too. NaNoWriMo worked for me. And I’m happy about where it took me. Lost in my story, excited to write (and revise) more. I felt stalled out before I started this month, and my goal was to get writing again, and I did. Some of the results of my experiment truly surprised me, too. As I was writing, some of what I wrote seemed forced and like it wouldn’t “sound right” after I finished, but my fears were unfounded. Some parts I barely remember writing, and that’s always a good sign to me that I entered the writing zone. That surprises me, too (and makes me happy): that I can force the zone.

I can thank NaNoWriMo for that. For helping me bring back the magic and for helping me get lost in my story again. I’m thankful for that.

Happy Thanksgiving (and happy writing!),

Julia

NaNo Truths

From Flickr's Creative Commons by Monda@NoTelling

From Flickr’s Creative Commons by Monda@NoTelling

One week and two days of NaNoWriMo, and here’s how it’s going.

I’ve put my butt in the chair everyday and written until my eyeballs were falling out of my head. To help me accomplish this, I’ve been drinking copious amounts of black coffee in the morning (well, at all times of day, really) and I’ve started smoking (cigarettes). I’ve stopped cooking—can’t be bothered, really, and all we’ve eaten is Cheetos and brownies. I’ve told everyone I see at the coffee shop that “yeah, that’s right, I’m ‘doing NaNo,’ this year, and it’s awesome.” Everyone I’ve told has been struck speechless. I thought about taking LSD and driving up a windy mountain road with a teenage hostage, but thought the better of it. At night, I’ve exchanged the coffee for shots of Bushmill’s Irish Whiskey and write more… I’ve written over 13K words.

The truth…

I’ve been drinking copious amounts of black coffee in the morning (well, at all times of day, really) I used to use milk in my coffee, but I started drinking black coffee last month because I’m lactose intolerant. I drink only one cup of coffee, first thing in the morning, or it keeps me up at night.

…and I’ve started smoking (cigarettes). Nope.

I’ve put my butt in the chair everyday and written until my eyeballs were falling out of my head.I’ve written for at most four hours each day and one day only three. In truth there were two days I wrote nothing at all.

I’ve stopped cooking—can’t be bothered, really, and all we’ve eaten is Cheetos andbrownies. Truth is, I cooked every night and even made a new recipe: quinoa pilaf with almonds and cranberries. It was delicious. I did bake brownies, too. I wanted to eat Cheetos but I resisted.

At night, I’ve exchanged the coffee for shots of Bushmill’s Irish Whiskey and write more… This is untrue. I did have a quarter of a glass of wine with the quinoa pilaf (I’m a lightweight). The Bushmill’s is a nod to Denis Leary’s Rescue Me (one of my favorite TV shows). The truth is that every night we ate brownies and watched movies: dumb, scary, and ones that were supposed to be funny. My favorites: Loopers (which also terrified me) and Beyond the Pines. Admissions was a disappointment.

I’ve told everyone I see at the coffee shop that “yeah, that’s right, I’m ‘doing NaNo,’ this year, and it’s awesome.” I’ve only been to the coffee shop once and I spoke to one person who I didn’t mention NaNoWriMo to. I did mention it to several people I ran into when I went to get new tires and at the grocery store and also in casual conversation at Trader Joe’s. No one had ever heard of it… “Nano, huh?” (and then they really were struck speechless)

I thought about taking LSD and driving up a windy mountain road with a teenage hostage, but thought the better of it. This is actually somewhat true—well not me—I wrote about a guy who took LSD and drove up a windy foothills road with a teenage girl he was in love with. This was my favorite moment of NaNoWriMo so far, actually, because it was one of the days that I really did make myself write because it was NaNo, and I never envisioned this particular character doing these particular things, but it came to me in a flash, and it will most definitely stay in the book.

I’ve written over 13K words. YES! According to the NaNoWriMo website, at my rate I’ll finish (my 50,000 words) in early December, and I’m thrilled. Prior to NaNo I wasn’t writing anything, and now I’m writing (almost) everyday. Better yet, I’m fully engaged and in love with the story. It’s all I see in my head, all day long, even when I’m not writing, and once that happens I know I’m in the zone.

Will I do it again? I’m not sure, but this year NaNo was the way to go, and that’s the truth.

What are some truths (and lies) about your week? Are you doing NaNoWriMo? How’s it going?

Cheers,

Julia

 

Rising From the Ashes of the Phoenix

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The Phoenix by Philip Pryke (Flickr Commons)

My life and writing schedule have been in a bit of a chaotic mess lately. After MEH (My Engineer Husband) lost his job, and I stopped going to the coffee shop every morning to write, I stopped writing. Well, I wrote a couple of blogs, some blog comments, a handful of tweets, maybe 500 words a week of fiction. But for four weeks I felt like I was at a standstill. I drank coffee with MEH every morning, we chatted, I helped him look for jobs to apply to, I ironed his shirts, I gardened and cleaned the yard, I looked at the fall leaves…in short I puttered. No, worse. I floundered. I foundered too. (I get those words mixed up a lot but this time I looked them up, and both are true.)

Then came November. And NaNoWriMo. On October 31st I told MEH I was going for it. Thing is, I’m about 25,000 words into the current WIP, and I just made a mental breakthrough of sorts—I finally figured out the structure the book will take. November 1st I wrote about 400 words and then the power went out. We went to a coffee shop in town, but not the one I used to go to every day. We had to charge our computers, we told ourselves, but the truth is we were both floundering. MEH had gotten bad news about a job he’d applied to, “a sure thing,” the headhunter told him. And I—well, I was foundering.

I talked to the barista; “S” is a writer, too, working on an MFA. She and I talk writing and books whenever I go to that particular coffee shop. I told her I was thinking I was going for the NaNo. “NaNo?” S asked. “OH! NaNo! She pointed over to the coffee shop bulletin board: front and center and practically the only thing on the board, in large cut out letters was an announcement about the National Novel Writing Month. She wasn’t familiar with it until she saw the board, she said.

“Yeah, I’m going for it,” I said laughing nervously and looking over my shoulder at my computer next to MEH. I went back and wrote another 400 (or so) words.

The next day was Saturday. And I wasn’t so sure. Would I write? Was my resolve flagging? After all, I hadn’t really written much anyway. November 2nd and I was behind—at least in my own mind. 800 or so words of 50,000 hardly seemed to constitute a real start. I read some blogs, wrote some comments (do those count, by the way? I’m not wondering, it’s MEH—he asked), then I came to Lisa Kramer’s blog (Woman Wielding Words) and she was writing about NaNo…that she was doing it. I left a noncommittal comment, something about using NaNo for motivation (not admitting what I’d told S and MEH, that I was doing it), and left it at that. Later that day I went back to see if Lisa responded—she had. She suggested I should go for it, for the camaraderie…I thought about writing back and saying I was. But then I thought about the 800 words… the road ahead. My chaotic life.

Fast forward to this morning, way too early. In bed. Daylight savings gets me every time, and I woke up at 4:00 a.m. for good. I did what anyone would do… checked my Bloglovin feed and started reading blogs on my iPhone. I know, it’s a bad thing, but I do it.

The first one I read was the Debutante Ball. News flashes… one of them was an announcement by Natalia Sylvester, that she was going for it, at the last minute she’d decided to do NaNo. If I wasn’t fully awake yet, that woke me. #NaNoWriMo and #WordMarathon, she said. Check in, she said. I thought about my 800 words (I didn’t write at all over the weekend), I thought about the chaos in my life, but more, I thought about writing and how much I missed it, how much I loved the thought of checking in everyday with Lisa and with Natalia and with the other 267,777 people who have signed up, and I decided it’s just what I need.

I’m in.

How about you? Are you in? Have you ever done NaNo? Have you ever floundered (or foundered)? What did you do about it? Find me on Twitter @wordsxo, checking in at #NaNoWriMo and #WordMarathon.

Cheers,

Julia

The Treasure in the Box

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This morning I had a bit of a breakthrough.

I’ve been grappling with an idea for a new story…trying to figure out how to tie things together, looking for a thread. The idea came to me on my trip across the country, when I was driving across the southwest, and it’s been in the back of my mind, just sitting there. This morning I read a blog post that made me think of another story I’d started a long time ago—in fact it was my very first attempt at long fiction—and I thought of something in that story that might help me connect the dots in my current idea.

I wondered if I kept that long-ago manuscript, and I knew if I had, it would be in “the box,” the one I keep under my desk, the one labeled Phase I (I wrote about it here in The Goodbye Box). That box holds all my early drafts and ideas from my early forays into fiction: from the time I was in college, studying journalism, all the way through to when I was writing middle grade fiction as a young mother.

In the stack of folders, at the very bottom, I found the folder labeled simply: BOOK. Inside, I found almost 200 pages held together with a rusty clip. I wrote this manuscript over twenty years ago, and during that time the paper and metal had fused together—perhaps in some inanimate agreement that no one should ever open and read the pages… because…

The manuscript isn’t just old, it’s also bad. Incredibly bad. But this is a good thing. It was, after all, my first attempt at fiction. I can clearly see I’ve improved. Not just in writing but also in story and in complexity of ideas. The entire story is sketched out in a multi-page outline, but it’s simple and pretty boring. Interestingly, an old journal is intrinsic to the story, and old journals are also key to the storylines in two of the three adult manuscripts I’ve written most recently! It also involves a mystery, an historic southwest train robbery (the key piece I was looking for when I opened the box), and a dog named Homer.

Here’s a brief excerpt involving Homer:

I was interrupted by Homer running triumphantly into the room carrying my dank, filthy jeans that I’d left on my bedroom floor. Before I could say anything, he started growling and shaking them as though they were a small rodent. I jumped out of the rocking chair and ran toward him. “Homer drop those right now,” I said, which had about as much effect as a flea biting an elephant. Matthew’s uproarious laughter filled the small apartment as I chased Homer around the room. Homer took one look at me and decided I was ready for a good game of chase, which I was not. But every time I got within an arm’s length of him, he dashed in another direction. It is a frustratingly idiotic dog game that felt even more idiotic played in front of an audience…

I told you… it’s bad. You don’t want to read more (me neither). Clearly the real prize isn’t the manuscript, but I’m glad I kept the folder with those early pages. Not only did I find the information I wanted that could provide the missing link I was looking for, but I found something much more important in those pages. The real treasure in the box is the tangible proof of my progress and growth as a writer—cringe-worthy though it may be—bonded together forever with the rusty clip.

Have you ever found old work of yours that makes you cringe and/or makes you realize how much you’ve grown as a writer? Do you, like I do, keep everything you’ve ever written?

Cheers,

Julia

This is a True Story…

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It’s a sweet little table…

This is a true story, I kid you not. I know you’ll think I’m posting it because Halloween is coming up (but I’m not) because it’s weird and eerie and hard to believe—even for me—but it’s not particularly scary. Just hard to believe.

Here’s the backstory. About four years ago I bought a small end table at a garage sale up the street. It’s a sweet little table, as you can see from the photo. More importantly, it served a need: something to put next to the couch. I suppose I should first explain that our decorating scheme is one step further than shabby chic. I’d call it “comfortable and lived in.”

Anyway, I digress. One of the reasons I was drawn to this particular end table was that it has a drawer—well I assumed it had a drawer when I bought it. From the photo, I think you can plainly see why I thought that. But here’s the thing. I couldn’t open it at the yard sale. I bought it anyway, figuring I could pry it open when I got home.

But even when I got home, I couldn’t open it. I tried screwdrivers and metal paint spatulas, figuring it was painted shut, but no luck. I felt fairly certain there was a drawer (and not just a fake drawer front) because I could hear something rattling as I carried the table home and there’s that hole in the front—where a knob should fit. MEH (My Engineer Husband) tried, the dog even tried (okay, Abby didn’t really try, but you get the point). We even tried to pull the drawer open by tying two toothpicks together with dental floss, then pushing them inside the drawer pull opening and pulling on the floss. Wouldn’t budge. Finally, I kind of gave up, deciding it was either a false front or glued shut. Over the years we’ve used the table for a variety of things—picked it up and moved it wherever it’s been needed. Each time, I’d hear the rattle inside and each time I’d try to open to no avail. Instead I was always left wondering: what’s inside?

I’m guessing you can see where this is going. Today MEH and I were tidying up, and as I picked up the small end table to move it to a different spot, I heard the rattle, and I said to MEH (like I have every time I’ve heard it): “I still always wonder what’s inside this thing, don’t y—”

But I never had a chance to finish because just then the drawer slid open. Slid all the way open. Just like that. Smooth as can be. As the drawer opened, one small nail—with traces of wood and white paint—dropped out onto the carpet. MEH and I just stood and stared, first at the table then at each other. I set the table down and finally got a chance to see what was inside the drawer: a second small nail (also with traces of wood and white paint), a screw (assumedly to hold in the drawer pull), a tiny dried green flower, a hat pin, and those two toothpicks tied together with floss.

photo 2-1

I was disappointed at first.

I was disappointed. I’m not sure what I expected, but I did feel slightly let down. I mean, no old coin, no rusty key, not even a secret love note. Then MEH—the one who usually never says anything like this—asked if I could see any nail holes. Did the nails just get removed? Did someone or something sneak into our house and remove them? Is that why the drawer slid open? I doubt it.

But I guess we’ll never know the real answer. Like I said, it’s not particularly scary, this story. Not supernatural (I don’t think). But it’s weird. Why did the drawer open? I kind of hate not knowing. Maybe it’s one more thing we can chalk up to the ghost of Mr. Able, the man who used to live in our house. (Have you read that post?)

Whatever the reason, I’ll tell you this. I’m not closing that drawer until I get a drawer pull put on. Because I’ve got an old coin, a rusty key, and a love note I want to put inside.

What would you have liked to see in the drawer when it slid open? Have you ever had an unexplained event in your life (with furniture or anything or anyone else)?

Cheers,

Julia

Slowing Down to Notice

photo 1

The inlet MEH and I were driving by….

The other day I realized that I haven’t blogged recently about Maine—about the natural beauty of the area where I live. This was followed quickly by the realization that I barely notice where I am. Truth is, there are whole days and probably even weeks that go by when I rarely think about my natural surroundings at all.

The small town I live in is located in southern Maine, on a small harbor on Casco Bay. A beautiful river runs through town (at the current time its banks are steeped in autumn colors) and it’s a short hop to the coast, to the bridge where I used to take videos every Sunday during the first year of this blog.

In August, when I was writing at a local coffee shop every morning, I’d leave for home at around noon. One day, instead of heading straight home (a five minute drive), I headed east, toward the bridge where I used to shoot those videos. I crossed the bridge and got out of the car and just stood, smelling the salt air and marveling at the beauty I rarely thought of on most days.

For a while, I’d drive out there everyday. Finish writing and visit the bridge. Just stand there and notice. It felt great. Not so much what I was seeing, but the fact that I was seeing. I was slowing down enough to see, to notice.

Like most of us, I got busy again. I think one day I had to go to the store immediately after the coffee shop or I was meeting a friend—I’m not sure which. Then MEH (My Engineer Husband) lost his job and I got really distracted. (You can read about that here on Writer Unboxed.)

photo 2

A few minutes later…

Then the other day MEH and I were coming back from Portland—about twenty minutes from our small town—and MEH was driving while I looked out the car window, and I noticed we were crossing a small inlet. I asked MEH… was he like me? Were there times he didn’t even notice? Yes, he said, many. And we just marveled. At where we live, at the things we drive by almost everyday. At the natural beauty surrounding us.

The more I paid attention, the more I noticed…the small things, the nuances. The more I noticed the better I felt. More connected to my surroundings but also to the moment. More aware. More alive. Better. Just noticing, just knowing, that out there—outside myself—is a whole big world. Of beauty, of nature, of nuances, of life.

And it reminded me that I really need to pay attention and to slow down enough to just notice.

Do you, like me, sometimes go through life blindly without even noticing your surroundings? How do you get yourself to slow down enough to see, to appreciate? I’d love to hear your ideas!

Cheers,

Julia

Pie, Life, and Thoreau

IMG_2281When things takes an unexpected turn, I do what any writer does…wonder how I’ll write about it. A “pie-off” and Henry David Thoreau help me make sense of a life reorganization in a post I wrote today for Writer Unboxed called When Funny Just Won’t Come.

 

 

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Desired to Death: The Story Behind the Story

Next month I’m taking the plunge: publishing a novel. I’m becoming an indie author. Today I’m a guest on my wonderful writer friend Julie Luek’s blog, A Thought Grows, where I’m talking about the story behind the story—why I wrote this particular book at this particular time. I hope you’ll head over there to read the post. But first…

Here’s an excerpt from Desired to Death, the first book in The Empty Nest Can Be Murder mystery series.

Maggie felt guilty about brushing away Joe’s fears, and more than anything she wanted to drive to Boston’s Logan Airport to track him down—to reassure him his worry was for naught, let him know the visit with Lainey was anticlimactic, that she was just her usual self-centered self. She wanted a chance to tell him about her conversation with Jessie, about how well she was adjusting to college life.

Rush hour was just beginning, and it was messy on I-89 as it converged into I-93 as cars headed to Boston, to Concord, to home. It was still bright and sunny outside, but when she got home to Halfway Bay, it would be dusk. With Joe gone, only Smythe would be home waiting for her. She’d take the old dog on her walk alone, and Maggie felt lonelier just thinking about it. In the old days, when Joe was gone, she and Jessie would have girls’ night, painting their fingernails and toenails and watching girly reality shows: The Bachelorette, Bridezilla, and Jessie’s favorite, Say Yes to the Dress.

Somehow just the thought of sitting on the couch with her daughter made Maggie miss Jessie all the more. It had been tough seeing Lainey living so independently. Then talking to Jessie, so happy on her own, made Maggie happy but also made her realize she was becoming superfluous. She looked at the GPS, still over a hundred lonely miles to go, alone with her thoughts, the tires humming on the pavement. Maggie held back tears as long as she could, but it was no use. One tear followed another until she broke down into full-fledged sobbing.

What am I going to do with the rest of my life? I can’t just wait around until Hank and Jessie come home for a few weeks a year—if they come home at all.

Maggie blew her nose. The empty nest really can be murder, Cara was right about that. After a few miles on I-93, Maggie left the heaviest traffic behind when she exited onto 101 toward coastal New Hampshire. Traffic thinned even more when she hit I-95 north into Maine.

Now that she’d fulfilled Cara’s request, Maggie felt disappointed somehow. Her preoccupation with Cara, with A.J. Traverso, had certainly given her something to think about, to do, to keep her mind occupied and off her empty nest.

I hope you enjoyed this small glimpse of Desired to Death. And I hope you’ll head over to my post on Julie’s blog.

Cheers,

Julia

The Coveted Moleskine

Right there on the label it says it all: Legendary notebooks.
Ever since MEH (My Engineer Husband) gave it to me for Christmas, it’s been sitting on the kitchen counter next to my to-do list. I kept it wrapped in its lovely shrink-wrapped perfection until yesterday when I finally opened it, stripping away the bright green paper wrap. I put the notebook back down on the counter—still nervous about opening it.

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted one of these notebooks… surely since the first time I saw one. They’re beautiful. The classic black cover is soft to the touch, the pages smooth. An elastic band keeps the journal closed, a narrow silk bookmark is attached within. On the bottom of the back cover, Moleskine is engraved.

I’ve watched for years as my son filled up Moleskine after Moleskine. (He got another one this Christmas, too.) But me? I have to admit I have trepidations to start even one. You see, I’m a failure as a keeper of journals.

Inside the front cover, on the facing page, is printed In case of loss, please return to, followed by four lines, then As a reward $: A reward? For something I’d written?

Most of my failed journal attempts are on a shelf next to my desk. Nothing as beautiful as the Moleskine graces these: a handful of spiral notebooks of various sizes, a few old lab notebooks, two or three less beautiful bound books—each one abandoned, each one with a painful jagged edge where I tore out the first few pages.

I’m afraid to start the Moleskine, that it will end up with the others. As long as I don’t start writing in it, I can save it from the shelf. But why? Where is this fear coming from? When I was younger—much younger: in middle school, high school, even the first years of college, I kept a journal. But something made me stop. It wasn’t that I stopped writing—I write much more than I ever did in those days. But I wanted to stop writing anything too personal.

Doesn’t that sound crazy as a writer? Somehow writing something so personal that only I would read, see, is slightly terrifying to me. When I wrote nonfiction (particularly technical writing), I never had one bit of myself on the page—never an acknowledgement or even authorship. Just one time, in just one computer guide, I used my name in an example—in the hundreds of thousands of pages of writing I did. That was as personal as it got.

And now, as I write fiction, I hide behind the mantle of my characters. Maggie True, Annie Byrne, Ellen Langton. Those women, each of them also a writer, two write in journals, one even has a Moleskine. They are free to write about their feelings, their innermost fears and dreams.

But me?

No. Right now I don’t know if I’m ready to bare my soul, to live up to the Legendary notebook, the coveted Moleskine. And so for now the Moleskine will remain unopened on the kitchen counter.

What about you? Do you keep a journal? A Moleskine? Are you ever afraid of baring your soul, of getting toopersonal?

Cheers,

Julia

"Yeah, I’d Kill Someone for 110K"

From Wikimedia Commons
(by Francinegirvan)

“Yeah, I’d kill someone for 110K.”

You might think this is a line from my nearly-complete WIP (a mystery novel). But it’s not. It’s what I overheard at the grocery store the other day…in the produce section to be exact. I don’t think they were serious. Actually I’m pretty sure absolutely certain because I lurked around for a little a lot longer. Let me be honest, I stayed as long as I could without raising (too much) suspicion.

I’ve always enjoyed mysteries, and snippets of conversations raise my curiosity. But so does everything else. For instance, the other day MEH (My Engineer Husband) couldn’t find his navy blue slacks. He looked high and low. As he left for work, he said: “Don’t take that bag of stuff to Goodwill, I think my pants are in there.”

The thing is the day before we’d cleaned out our bedroom—went through all the drawers, the closet too. And MEH had a large pile of clothes to give away. By the way, MEH and I came to the conclusion as we sorted through things, that MEH has a lot more clothes than I do. (In truth, I called him a clothes horse.) This isn’t really a mystery, though—MEH works outside the home and I sit at the dining room table all day…in my sweat pants or other extremely casual wear (I admit it, some days I don’t even get dressed unless I’m going out of the house).

Anyway, I digress. The navy blue pants. MEH told me not to bother looking—he’d take care of it when he got home. But I couldn’t help myself. First I went through the hefty bag of Goodwill. Nothing. Then I started going through laundry baskets, drawers, our kids’ rooms, still nothing. I finally gave up. I knew they didn’t just walk away so they’d turn up sooner or later.

Although, there were those peat pots we lost once and never found. And the hammer. What about all the missing socks? Maybe MEH’s pants joined those notorious items?

A while later, I went to do a load of laundry, and when I opened the washing machine, I solved the mystery of the missing pants. During the cleaning frenzy, MEH had started a load of laundry and forgotten all about it. I put the blue pants in the dryer and declared “the case of the missing pants” closed.

The Next Big Thing

I want to thank writer friend KarenWojcik Berner for tagging me in the “The Next Big Thing”—a fun blogger tag game in which participants answer the questions about their WIPs. Here are answers about my new mystery. 
What is the working title of your book?

Desired to Death

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’ve had the protagonist (Maggie True) in my mind for some time—since my son left for college. The specific premise for the plot in this book came from a conversation with a friend.

What genre does your book fall under?

Mystery.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I truly have no idea.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When Maggie True’s ex-best-friend is arrested for the lurid murder of her hot young lover, “Tattoo Boy,” the now-empty nester puts her intuition to work as a sleuth and enters a seamy underworld far from her typical mom routine.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

To be decided.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Two months.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I was inspired to write this book when faced with the empty nest—just like my protagonist Maggie True. For me it’s a bit of a time of turmoil, of figuring out what I want to do next, of lots of conflicting thoughts and feelings.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Here’s an excerpt… I hope you like it!

Maggie couldn’t keep herself from asking. “Who is that guy?”

“Oh em gee,” Jessie said, rolling her eyes. “A.J. Traverso. He teaches kickboxing or something. The old women go crazy over him. They call him “Tattoo Boy.” Think you might want to take up kickboxing, Mom?” Jessie gave Maggie a playful push.

“Of course not…” Maggie could feel herself flushing and hoped Jessie didn’t notice. She didn’t. She was already gone, heading to check in at the lifeguard station. As Maggie turned to leave the Club, she couldn’t help herself and took another look over her shoulder in the direction of the group of women, forming such a thick circle she could only see Tattoo Boy in glimpses. As she watched, Tattoo Boy reached up and stretched one muscled arm over his head, flexing and turning his head with his hand, like he was loosening his neck muscles. When he moved he looked like a jaguar—with spots of tattoos on one side of his back, a vine of flowered tattoos on the other, leading to jagged dark lightning bolts down one arm, another jagged tattoo on the back of his neck. Maggie watched as he repeated the stretch with his other arm, his fluid movement mesmerizing. But he also looked as dangerous as a wild animal.


Instead of tagging specific writing friends, I’d like to tag all of you reading this! What’s your next big thing? And (I’m curious, naturally!) what mysteries do you have going on in your house and life?

Cheers,
Julia

Friday Four

As a child and teen I traveled with my family to
remote places in the world where I felt isolated and
alone. I wrote in a journal and letters to friends
back home…when something happened my first
thought was “how will I write it”?

“How will I write it?” These words, more than any, define and inspire me as a writer. I’d go so far as to say they define me as a person. So when writer friend Lisa Ahn asked me to contribute to her BE INSPIRED series, those words were my first thought.

I love Lisa’s blog, and I was honored when she asked me to write a guest post. I hope you enjoy reading about my sources of inspiration in Be Inspired by Julia Munroe Martin. While you’re there, check out Lisa’s inspirational writing and “tales of quirk and wonder.”

And it’s not too late… if you haven’t already read my Q&A with Erika Marks, my lovely friend and author of The Mermaid Collector, you can read it here. Make sure you leave a comment on that post (before tomorrow night!) to be entered into the giveaway—on Sunday one lucky commenter will be chosen at random to receive a copy of Erika’s book!

Finally, I am very happy to announce that yesterday I finished revisions to the latest draft of my mystery WIP (Desired to Death)! And today I’m moving ahead with excitement to start the YA book I talked about in Julia and the Purple Crayon. Thank you all for your excellent comments and writing advice—I appreciate it so much. 

It’s a beautiful sunny (but cold) day in Maine, perfect for writing, and I’m inspired!

What’s going on with you this fine Friday?

Cheers,

Julia xox


p.s. Thank you to Jackie Cangro for inspiring the title of this post… every week I read her wonderful Friday Five, and when I was trying to come up with a title this morning for this collection of disparate links, I thought of her. I only had three things to share (now four with Jackie’s blog)… so hope you enjoyed my Friday Four! And make sure you check out my inspiration… Jackie’s blog! It’s awesome!

Julia and the Purple Crayon

I made it to the Jersey Pike
even without the purple path!
Whenever I go on a road trip, which is a lot these days, I rely on “Nuvi” (my GPS) to tell me which way to go. I just follow the purple path on Nuvi’s screen. That said, sometimes Nuvi does not give me the most direct path to follow—as is the case when I go to pick up my daughter from college and “she” sends me on a circuitous route to get from the Garden State Parkway to the Jersey Pike.
And by “she,” I mean Nuvi (not my daughter). It’s a female voice, so why not?
But I digress. The point is, this time before I left home I looked at a map so I could deviate (with confidence) from the path Nuvi directed me to take. Still, when I came close to the exit (.9 miles to be exact) Nuvi kept telling me to take the purple path on her screen. And I felt a sense of uncertainty and panic. Her voice, after all, is rather insistent and commanding. And I was, after all, surrounded by a zillion cars.

I couldn’t help but wonder: do I trust myself enough to go off Nuvi’s purple path?

It reminded me of what I’m going through with my fiction right now. I’m in the midst of revising a mystery novel I finished two months ago. And I’m also planning my next WIP—women’s fiction with dark, thriller overtones. But then something happened. Two weeks ago I had an idea for a new story—an idea that would cause me to deviate from my writing plan. And because of the age of the two main characters and the story’s premise, it makes sense it would be written as a Young Adult novel.

I’ve never written YA before, so this means going to an entirely new genre. My internal writer’s voice is telling me in no uncertain terms to not deviate from my plan, my map. And her voice, much like Nuvi’s, is rather insistent and commanding.
Yet here’s the thing: I can’t stop thinking about this new story. Not only has the whole thing come together very quickly, but it is also consuming my writing mind. And to be completely honest I’m already a bit in love with the premise and the MCs. Nonetheless, I’m also not entirely comfortable with going off the familiar terrain of the novel I’d already planned to write. Just like when I considered avoiding the path Nuvi directed me to take to the Jersey Pike, this time I’m contemplating taking a trip through unfamiliar writing terrain.

And I wonder: do I trust myself enough to go off the purple path?

Much like the iconic children’s book Harold and the Purple Crayon when Harold draws his own path with a purple crayon, I took my crayon in hand and followed my own path. In short, I trusted myself to go off Nuvi’s directions and found my own way to the Jersey Pike. . . I made it!

But what about the writing dilemma? I don’t have a map to consult, to see the end point. Nor even an objective Nuvi telling me where to go, something to blindly follow. So this time, as I take my purple crayon in hand, I’m firmly on my own. Just like Harold’s, my path is a constantly changing landscape, fraught with uncertainty, my final destination unclear.

What about you? If you come up with a new idea off your planned route (in writing or on a road trip…or life) are you comfortable deviating? Is it an easy decision or one that’s tough to make?

Cheers,
Julia

‘Can Do’ Tomboy Lessons

“I saw only two vehicles this day – both as I was heading home. Both men with surprised looks on their faces when they saw me.”

Today I am very happy to have Melissa Crytzer Fry as a guest on my blog! Melissa was one of the first writers I connected with in the blogosphere. We became friends over our mutual love of writing, photography, and the natural world around us—even though we see very different parts of the world: she in the middle of the desert and me on the coast of Maine. Her blog, appropriately called What I Saw—helps me really see and think about what I see every day around me. If you haven’t read it, you definitely should. It’s an amazing combination of great writing, beautiful photography, and wonderful observations about nature (and life). Please enjoy this small sample from one of my favorite bloggers… 

‘Can Do’ Tomboy Lessons by Melissa Crytzer Fry


My dad wanted boys. But when two pink-bottomed girls were placed gently into his arms two years apart, he did what any good dad would do. He loved us without hesitation.

And he did something else. He taught us that we could do anything that his boys might have done. Was he still pining for the sons he didn’t have? Maybe.

But I wouldn’t change a thing. Because, in our rural corner of Pennsylvania with its cornfields, hay bales and Holsteins, we grew up doing things that most girls wouldn’t dream. We drove tractors, chopped wood, played basketball, shot guns, rode motorcycles and drove go-karts faster than we had a right to. We dug ditches, changed spark plugs, knocked down chimneys with jackhammers and restored vintage cars.

View of Grandpa’s silos from the backyard of my childhood
 home. Grandmother’s (and grandpa’s) house was not over the
 river and through the woods. It was more like “over the
 meadow and through the cornfield.”
I wouldn’t say we were fearless. We were simply beef-fed and garden-raised tomboys, groomed for independence (even though we had boyfriends, went to prom and knew how to apply our makeup). Maybe that independent spirit guided me to Arizona in 1998, while my family remained in PA.
Maybe that same “can do” spirit led to my newest creative outlet: Jeeping. Alone*. In the remote rattlesnake-, bobcat-, scorpion- and mountain-lion-laden Sonoran desert. With my laptop.

My Jeep, Betty, takes me to a nearby natural desert spring.
This aerial view taken from a helicopter on my 40th birthday
shows the remote road I traveled during my first solo
 adventure (see photo above).
This office location in another nearby wash included
serenading by a lovely canyon wren. Betty has
ignited my creativity!
Oh – did I forget to mention that, in between Jeeping, freelancing and blogging, I’m an aspiring novelist, chasing the same publishing dream as so many others? You know: feeling a bit knocked around, bruised and bloodied over the years – but equally hopeful, optimistic and determined. Probably more of the latter. Can anyone say Taurus? Or maybe … maybe it’s that ‘can do’ attitude inadvertently drummed into my thick-skulled tomboy head by my dad?

*Of course, all of this outdoor adventure required
some refresher training at the gun range (thanks, Neighbor Mark).
And I obviously depend on my wonderfully supportive husband
 to help me learn as I go. Yep – I still need to work on tire changing,
using the Jeep winch, and even more practice with 4WD terrain.
What holds you back from reaching for those seemingly impossible dreams? Naysayers? Gender or age stereotypes? Something else? What activities might you try in pursuit of that ‘can do’ attitude?

—————
Melissa Crytzer Fry is a freelance writer and journalist living out her writing dream in southern Arizona, among wildlife ranging from javelina, bobcats and quail to mountain lions, coyotes and Gila Monsters. She pays tribute to Arizona’s natural world on her blog, What I Saw, sharing photography and asking questions that apply to writing in particular, and life in general. Her literary novel-in-progress was named a semi-finalist in the 2011 William Faulkner William Wisdom Writing Competition. Twitter: @CrytzerFry.

Goodbye Maggie True

I’ve gotten used to the fact that I can’t “go by” my daily name (Julia Martin) as a writer—there are writers, authors and artists by the name Julia Martin. When I got married, I was cautioned by a friend: “Don’t change your name—I already know another Julia Martin.” 

It’s why I write under my full name (maiden as middle): Julia Munroe Martin.

Because of my own name issues, I’m used to checking and double checking names on Google and Facebook. Character names. So a couple of years ago, when I thought up the premise for my current WIP (a mystery novel) but before I committed, I googled the main character name I was going to use for my amateur sleuth: Maggie True.

Nothing. And so it was that Maggie True came to be. My MC and Joe True’s loving wife.

Now I’ve finished the first draft, onto revisions. And the other day on a whim I checked again. Sure enough there she was: Maggie True—and I’m not talking about a real person (although there is one). I’m talking about a fictional character. And not just any fictional character. A character in a mystery novel. And not just any character in a mystery novel: the main character in a mystery novel.

It’s an unpublished book (except on the web) and unfinished (hasn’t been added to in a couple of years), but still definitely a reason to change a character’s name. Right? But here’s the thing. I love the name. Everyday this summer I’ve sat down with Maggie True (86,000 words worth of keeping company), and even before that—on this blog—I’ve written about stepping into my character’s life, imagining what Maggie True would do when she encountered the mystery of the blue bags or tried to figure out what neighbor called the police about a woodchuck in her shed.

Regardless, I’m back at square one. On the one hand I feel lucky I realized it before starting to query (or self publish) my novel. On the other hand, I’ve grown very attached to the name so I’m in a bit of a funk about it. Maggie True has become my daily companion—her name synonymous with her actions and the story. 342-manuscript pages worth of adventures we’ve gone through together. But Maggie can be no more. Joe has lost his Maggie. And I have lost one of my favorite character names.

Which means….I’m back to looking at names again. She’ll still have the same last name (True), and the name needs to go well with her husband’s (Joe). Some early ideas I’ve had are: Meg, Agnes (Aggie), Katie, Trudy. Unfortunately nothing sounds quite right—not in my writer’s mind. Granted, it’s not quite the same angst I went through naming my children, but it’s a big deal. So, I’m turning to you, writing and reading friends.

Any name suggestions? Or should I just keep the name as is? What would you do?
Writers, how do you pick character names? Do you google them? Would you change Maggie’s name or stick with it? Have you ever changed a MC’s name late in the game? Would you be, like me, sad to say goodbye to a character name?


Cheers,
Julia

A Change in Setting

Last week I was in Philadelphia helping my daughter move. A few days before I got there I finished the first draft of my current WIP, and I was at loose ends—between projects and figuring out what I want to write next.
Of course there’s still plenty to do with revisions so I have some time to think about it. But my writing mind was restless and searching, and the change in setting gave me the feeling of a fresh start, with lots of new ideas to think about.

I live in a small town with quiet tree-lined streets. My usual view is out a window toward a bird feeder, and my daily companions are birds and squirrels and chipmunks. My seat at the dining room table (where I write) is on the first floor of our house so I look out at the same level as these furry and feathered creatures.

My furry feathered friends.
In Philadelphia, I was on the sixth floor looking out over a cityscape view. I had a great view of the changing skies, parking lots below, many varied buildings, people walking by—even a party gathered under a tent in one of the parking lots. In short my setting was completely different than the one I was used to.

Inside, too, my activities were very different. At home I write and then I take a break to exercise, eat lunch, then I write some more. I lead a very solitary and quiet daytime life (of course in the evenings, MEH—My Engineer Husband—is home). But in Philadelphia, as we packed and cleaned (okay, to be honest my daughter did most of the packing and cleaning and I helped out as requested) we watched the Olympics, we talked and laughed, we listened to music, we went out to eat, and we moved the car to keep from getting tickets (okay to be honest, I moved the car, AND I got a ticket. I swear I didn’t see the fire hydrant I partially blocked…sigh…).

It was a good time to have a change in my venue and activities, having just finished the first draft and all. Not only because it helped me clear my mind, think about something other than what I had just finisheda step away before starting to revise and edit, but also because I came away with a lot of new ideas. 

Things I never would have thought of in my own little world. Ideas from my observations out that sixth floor window. Ideas from all the people watching—lots and lots of people. Ideas from riding up and down in an elevator and sharing a larger space with others—instead of simply walking in a door and being home. Ideas from a change in setting.
Are you, like me, restless and at loose ends after you finish a draft? What do you do to inspire new ideas and to move on to revisions? How does a change in setting inspire your writing ideas?

Cheers,

Julia

Words for the Picking

In my backyard, the blueberries are ripening—plump and dark blue, bursting with flavor—so many on one bush they’re almost falling to the ground. But we have three bushes, and the other two have noripening berries, in fact they have no berries at all. It’s a mystery. All three bushes planted in a row. Why are there berries on one bush but not on the other two?

I know enough about gardening to know there must be a botanical answer: the soil is not acidic enough or the bushes are too shaded or they don’t get enough water or the bees got tired after buzzing around the first bush, or… some other unknown buried deep in the cells of the blueberry bush. But I also know enough to cover the one bush that does have berries—we draped it with netting—to keep those amazing blueberries to ourselves and away from the birds—and soon they’ll be ready for the picking.

As I’ve kept an eye on those berries, I’m thinking about something else, too—my writing. My current WIP is approaching 30,000 words, and most days (these days) the writing is easy, like the first blueberry bush, with lots of words—almost falling to the page in fact. But other days I can’t seem to write a word, and my pages are as barren as those two bushes void of berries.

I know enough about writing (and myself) to know that it could be I’m grumpy or didn’t get enough sleep or am allowing self doubt to creep in or my mind is wandering, or… something else buried deep in the cells of my brain. But just like the berries I cover to keep safe, I protect my words. I make writing a habit: I sit down every day, I reread what I’ve already written, I write as much as I can, and sometimes if that doesn’t work, I read.

And I wait, confident that like the blueberries, my words will grow and ripen, and soon be ready for the picking.

How is your writing going? Are your words there for the picking or do you sometimes feel barren of words?

Cheers,

Julia


Finding Inspiration in My Own Backyard

Littlejohn Island, Maine

When I hit a bump in the road recently and wasn’t motivated to write as much as usual, Arizona writer friend Melissa Crytzer Fry gave me some advice:

“…find someplace outside where you can just go and be with yourself—take the camera. That ALWAYS inspires me. Just go take photos one day in your backyard to jar your creative juices into flowing again. You can do it!”

Well, I took her advice, and today I’m guest blogging at Melissa Crytzer Fry’s blog in a post called “The Photo-Therapist,” that you can read here, about what happened when I took her advice to heart (I’ll give you a hint: my guest post includes more photos like the one above!).

I hope you enjoy my post at Melissa’s, and if you aren’t already familiar with her great blog, you’ll definitely want to check some of her posts out too—she’s an amazing writer and a talented photographer.


Cheers,
Julia