Sunday, June 24, 2012


This week I happened to eavesdrop on a conversation that took me by surprise.

A gentleman (a doctor), and a rather attractive young woman were sharing stories about his aunt, a Catholic missionary nun at the orphanage where the woman worked.

It was a familiar tale. They spoke of his aunt's devotion to God and to her work despite crushing poverty and suffering. Both of them became emotional as they spoke of her--the doctor because his aunt had recently passed away, and the woman, because she had known his aunt since the day she was born, as she put it. Whether it was a gesture of compassion or attraction I don't know, but he reached over (I saw that coming...), pulled her close, and was just about to kiss her...

...when she dropped the bomb: his aunt was her mother!! A Catholic nun--her mother! Well, you can imagine how that little tidbit of information changed everything! He nearly fell out of his seat! I nearly stumbled over a stone in the road!

So...what do you think happened next?

I'm not telling...because this entire scene actually unfolded in my head while I was out for a long walk, trying hard to overcome a case of writer's block...

...and this little piece of information came as a total surprise to me!! I'm 1/4 of the way through the novel, and the possibility never crossed my mind. I was just playing with dialog in my head when Rachel let this slip...and everything changed. All of a sudden, my imaginery friends were talking to me again!

I've heard of this happening to other writers...their characters sometimes "surprising" them by doing or saying something that the author never imagined, taking the story into unexpected and uncertain territory.

I can't wait to see where this scene takes us. I'm working to figure it out as fast as I can!

Do your characters ever surprise you with their antics? Does it slow down your storytelling, or energize it?
"I will tell you what I have learned.
For me, a long five- or six-mile walk helps.
And one must go alone and every day."
--Brenda Ueland--
My SIL is an amazing artist, and she retires from her deadening job at the end of this week. Look out, world!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

fatherhood misunderstood

"Fatherhood is pretending the present you love the most
is soap-on-a-rope."
--Bill Cosby--

If you are a father, today is your day! Get ready to celebrate! Clear some space for the cards and gifts your family has prepared for you--your reward for going off to work every day, for scrimping and saving, for keeping a roof over their heads and food on the table.

For teaching your children, for playing with them, and for sharing your stories with them.

"A father is a man who expects his son to be as good a man as he meant to be."
--Frank A. Clark--

For your bravery--the spiders you kill and the mice you banish, the dark shadows and strange noises you confront in the night.

For mustering a sense of humor when there is nothing to smile about.

For making the sacrifices no one sees.

And...for keeping stuff all bottled up inside.

For the wisdom you impart, for the trust you instill, for the rock of safety you represent...this day is for you.

Or not.

Because, maybe you didn't get it right. Perhaps your marriage failed, and your children have turned away...or been taken away...from you. Perhaps you lost your job...or your house...and a sense of failure stalks you like a hungry lion.

Perhaps your childhood demons have returned to haunt your own children. Maybe you found refuge in drink, or release in violence.

Perhaps you feel unneeded or unwanted. 

And you thought nobody noticed!

And what if you have lost your own father? What if you are a father who has lost a child?
"Grief is the price we pay for love."
--Queen Elizabeth II--

Who will remember you today? What does Father's Day mean to you? How will you celebrate the day?

Today I will remember my father--all he did and all he failed to do, what I knew of him and the secrets I believe he took to his grave, the times I cherish and some I prefer to forget.

Because this is the thing: He didn't know how important he was to me in my young life--the things he did for our family and the things he failed to do, the words he spoke and the silence he kept in his heart. The love that went unnoticed and the longings, unfulfilled.

If he were here today, I would forego the soap-on-a-rope, the shiny new golf balls, and the expensive silk ties.

I would tell him that I loved him because of who he was...and that I loved him inspite of who he was.

That I love him still.
"The most important thing a father can do for his children
is to love their mother."
--Rev Theodore Hesburgh--
"IT" happened again...and I'll tell you about it next week.

ps.: I found THE PERFECT card for my husband, the father of my children, this year!!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

in training

This week I revised two chapters in my WIP. When I finished, I was surprised at how many changes I had made, keeping in mind the conventions that govern publishable works these days.

Using strong verbs. Eliminating adverbs and superfluous adjectives. Avoiding the past perfect tense, etc., etc. So...I'm learning. I have taught my ear to seek out these offenders...and retrained myself to appreciate the sound of the rewrite--its rhythm and flow. The prose sounds crisper and tighter, but it doesn't come easily to me.

The question is: how was my ear trained in the first place? Where did I learn to use the colorful adverbs and flowery adjectives that flow so naturally onto the paper for me? Who taught me about verb tenses?

When did punctuation change? Why?

I went back to a couple of classics to see where the problem began. I turned to the small collection of books I enjoyed as a child, including Anne of Green Gables, An Old-fashioned Girl, Lad of Sunnybank, and The Yearling, among others. I also pulled out a couple of more contemporary pieces. I paged through them at random, and this is what I came across:
  • Hogan spoke to him cheerily...
  • ...the helplessly writhing head.
  • ...said meditatively, said resignedly, said smilelessly, said thoughtfully (all in the space of one page in Anne of Green Gables, possibly my favorite preadolescent read!)

  • ...sat up dizzily and answered uncertainly, hastily summoned, hurried wildly (also from Anne of Green Gables. Booooo!)
  • He put his hand on my shoulder again embarrassedly. (Hemmingway. Really?)
  • Jordan looked at him alertly, cheerfully...
  • ...was dancing, were sitting, were doing (all on one page in The Great Gatsby)

  • ...holding each other torturously, fashionably/dancing individualistically (same page from Gatsby)
  • ...sighed wearily, let her head fall heavily, laughed hysterically, looked at her clothing strangely...
Alas! The violations were too many and too frequent! Shame on them! My critique partners would be all over me if I brought this kind of thing in for them to read! Yet, this is how my ear was trained...

. appreciate wordiness, to read passively, to flow with the melody rather than march to the percussion.

Now, when I revise a scene, I hunt down the word "was." I cringe at the "was verb-ing" construction. I try to chop everything that ends in -ly. I've been trained to avoid some fine words: suddenly, ever, even...innocent little connectors that fit the cadence of the sentence. I miss them, but I think I can live without them. It's starting to sound better to me, now. Finally.

The use of the comma still sometimes baffles me, though.

"Genius does what it must; talent does what it can."
--Edward Bulwer-Lytton--
Today I have the privilege of attending a book signing. One of my critique partners  has published his first paranormal thriller, Shepherd's Fall! Proof that there is hope...

Sunday, June 3, 2012

you're "it"

This week, in addition to revising an essay for an up-coming conference, moving ahead on my WIP, and preparing a talk for a meeting this weekend...I was invited by Lisa at to join a game of tag. I like games, but there's only so much one can accomplish in one week. So, instead of laboring over my post this week, I decided, instead, just to play along...
...and you can, too.

These are THE RULES:

I have to answer the eleven questions that Lisa posted, come up with eleven questions of my own, and tag eleven people to answer my questions. So here goes nothing:
  1. Do you like your first name? Why? I never really liked my name, and I have no idea how my parents decided on it. As a child I wanted to be Gwynne--something medieval and Celtic sounding.
  2. What is your favorite TV show? Why? I literally NEVER turn the TV on except to listen to the weather report if I know that stormy weather is in the forecast. But if I had to watch a TV show, it might be "Chopped"--even though I hate to cook.
  3. What is the greatest life lesson you've learned? Not to worry about things over which I have no control. Not to worry, period.
  4. Who is your favorite author? Elizabeth Berg (Talk Before Sleep) for quick reads, but really? Ann Patchett (Bel Canto and State of Wonder). Or maybe Anne Lamott, or Anna Quinlen, or Martha Beck, or Sue Monk Kidd, or...oh, I give up...
  5. If you could buy a pair of shoes, what kind of shoes would they be?  Comfortable...and I'd but them in every color.
  6. Twilight. Love it or leave it? You mean the real thing? I love it when the sun sets and the fireflies come out...
  7. What's your favorite hobby? Anything that has to do with being outdoors.
  8. Are you a fan of eggs? What kind? Not a huge fan except in a nicely turned omelet.
  9. Where is the most exotic place you've traveled? To Tanzania on a recent medical mission where we visited the Tarangire National Park.

    10.  What's the worst thing you've ever eaten? Wildebeest. See #9...
    11.  Can you keep a houseplant alive? My sun room is a jungle.

Now that you know a little more about me, here is my list of questions for you:
  1. What are you most excited about in your life right now*?
  2. What is it that gets you down?
  3. If you had a million dollars, what is the first thing you'd use it for?
  4. Do you believe in the power of prayer? Why or why not?
  5. What is your one big regret?
  6. What or whom are you most grateful for in your life right now*?
  7. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? Why?
  8. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Why?
  9. Are you a loner or a groupie? Why?
  10. Thunderstorm or snowstorm, if you had to pick? Why?
  11. What is one thing you feel you must still accomplish in your life?
                                *from "Empowering Questions"

Any or all of you can come along and join the fun. Answer these questions, come up with eleven of your own, and tag eleven people to answer yours. I'd like to hear from everybody, but since I can only tag eleven of you, I'd especially love to hear what these folks have to say:

Tina @
Susan @
E. J. @
Sylvia @
Delores @
Peter @
Arlee @
Deidra @
Christine @
Debra @

Thanks, everyone. Have a great week!
"Dwell in possibility."
--Emily Dickinson--
In my next post, I'll share something I've learned about retraining my ear for better writing.