Sunday, November 25, 2012

sensory overload

I just took a cup of coffee out of the microwave where I have re-heated it for the third time this morning...and have yet to sit down long enough to take a sip. The Thanksgiving guests have departed. The leftovers are dwindling. The tablecloths and towels are in the washer, and the kitchen floor has been swept and mopped. Today is recovery...and

I'm in the process of revising a short short story for a submission. I don't know how other writers approach revision, but I do it in layers. Formatting, typos, and punctuation first. Grammar and usage, second. Next I circle all the "to be" verbs and eliminate as many as I can, and then I look for other repetitive constructs--paragraphs with too many he's, she's, and it's, and sentences, one after the other, beginning subject/verb, subject/verb.... Finally, I strike out as many adjectives and adverbs as my sinking heart can bear.

Then, the fun begins! Imagining new metaphors...and engaging the five senses--vision, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.

Thanksgiving definitely reawakened my five senses! First, the sun rose such a deep red on Thanksgiving Day that my camera froze up at the beauty of it, so this isn't exactly it, but you get the idea:

Then, the mingling aromas of a slow-roasted turkey and spicy-sweet pie tweaked our appetites all afternoon...

...although, frankly, I could have done without the reptilian feel of the slippery, slimey liver and kidneys that I boiled up for the dogs!
The real taste treat came compliments of Chef Guy Fieri with his recipre for whiskey-glazed sweet potatoes that you can find at
And when we sat down to eat, silence prevailed, interrupted only by the sound of forks clicking against china, and an occasional sigh of contentedness.
Sensory overload.
So, today I'm working on incorporating the senses into my story, "Lost and Found."
  • Imagine an elderly widower's apartment that reeks of moldering coffee grounds and old bananas.
  • Picture a snow plow barreling down the street spewing out a wall of snow like a monster wave rolling into the shore.
  • See him coming in out of the cold with a moustache that has turned to frost and his cheeks, to cherry popsicles.
  • Imagine his relief when he opens the door to his friend's store and a tinkling chime and surge of warmth welcome him in.
  • Imagine his rue when he realizes he forgot to pick up the hard candy he likes to hand out to the children in the neighborhood. And picture him setting his bag down and slumping against a lamp post when he can't find his way home again.
If you don't see, hear, feel, smell and taste the things your character does, you are left with a mere shadow of the person you are trying to create or describe.
Are your senses fully engaged in your writing? Are you alert to your surroundings and to the people around you? Or are you rushing ahead with your eyes fixed on the ground and your thoughts elsewhere?
"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch
you must first
invent the universe."
--Carl Sagan--
Next week I'll be in Pittsburgh where I'll get to meet Beth Caldwell, author and project manager for the up coming anthology, "Empower! Stories of Breakthrough, Discovery and Triumph" where you will be able to read my chapter, "Begin Again". The anticipated date of release is March, 2013.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


Today is the day I intended to finish my yardwork for the season--trimming back the perennials and mulching the shrubs--a poor excuse for avoiding the gym.

A lingering diehard

The weathermen had us believing that it would be sunny and mild today. Instead it's 45 degrees and raining. I don't mind working in the dirt when it's cold outside...but groveling in cold mud is a different story. So, this morning, I'm huddled next to my space heater (Don't get me wrong...I'm grateful to have it when some people are still without heat or electricity a week and a half after hurricane Sandy.) and I'm trying to decide what's next.

I have three writing projects underway, all of them refusing to cooperate. They can be such brats! I've been waffling back and forth all week long with the rewrite of a chapter in my novel but it won't make up its mind which path it wants to take. I'm trying to polish up a short story for a submission, but my main character can't decide what to wear. (And here I thought only I had that problem!) And I've started work on a memoir based on a few isolated glimpses into my past that I can't quite knit together. I should be happy to be stuck indoors with nothing but time on my hands but I can feel my frustration level morphing into an impenetrable road block.

So instead, maybe I'll put on another pot of coffee and spend the day reading. Three books lay open on my night stand and I just bought another one this week. I finally got around to reading "The Liar's Club" by Mary Karr.

The story doesn't resonate with my childhood at all so I'm trying to understand what it is that makes me keep on reading. What is it that makes her dysfuctional family so much more engaging than mine? If I can figure it out, perhaps it will help me with my own story.

I'm also struggling to get through "A Hole in the World" by Richard Rhodes, Pullitzer prize-winning author of "The Making of the Atomic Bomb."

This is his memoir of the abuse he suffered as a child. I say I'm struggling with it because it's more expository in nature than Mary Karr's story, not as engaging as hers, and it is devoid of humor, even dark humor.

The third book is Arthur Plotnick's "The Elements of Expression--Putting Thoughts into Words," a "how to..." book that does for storytelling what "The Elements of Style" did for grammar and usage.

As soon as I knock one of them off, I will relax into Anna Quindlen's memoir, "Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake."

Faced with an empty day do you ever find yourself spinning your wheels? Do you have a hard time getting started because you're frustrated or blocked...or because you're so excited you just can't decide what to do first??

Oh! Look! The sun just came out! Problem solved...
 "Life is denied by lack of attention,
whether it be to cleaning windows or
trying to write a masterpiece."
Get ready for another vocabulary quiz next week.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

in the aftermath

Those of us who live in the Northeast held our breath for a couple of days last week while Hurricane Sandy swept over, under, around and through the region. While we were fortunate enough to have enjoyed a deep sigh of relief when it was over, thousands of people were not so lucky.

Our trees are still standing, meaning that our house is still standing…meaning that we have everything to be grateful for.
I tried to imagine what it must have been like last week to have been cold, wet, and hungry for days on end…what it felt like for mothers and fathers who couldn’t feed or comfort or reassure their children in the dark. What it felt like to lose a loved one in a heartbeat. To lose everything. Forever.
I couldn’t fathom the loss, the heartbreak, the helplessness reflected in the faces I saw on the news.
Stories were born this week…stories that will be passed on the old-fashioned way for a while—person to person, neighbor to neighbor, and friend to friend. Stories that will be shared for generations around the dinner table, in churches, temples, and synagogues, on visits to the beach, and on other stormy nights in front of the fireplace. Stories that will eventually appear in journals and letters and pictures.

The question is: how will people put their stories into words? Into words the rest of us can understand? And…how will their stories end?

My heart aches for victims of the hurricane this week. If I had been able to reach into the TV set and draw people out of the storm and into my own living room...I'd have done it. I'd have offered food, clothing, a good hot shower, and a soft, warm bed to anyone who needed it. I would have wrapped my arms around them and welcomed them. But what would I have said to them? The truth is that I felt totally helpless.
If you, too, feel helpless as the news continues to unfold, you may want to donate to any of a number of disaster relief agencies. Among many others are:

So...even if you aren't able to donate at this time, you can still help because...

To all the people who are still struggling...and will continue to stuggle for a long time to come...I wish you faith, hope, and solace.

"It has been said, 'time heals all things.'
I do not agree. The wounds remain.
In time, the mind, protecting its sanity,
covers them over with scar tissue
and the pain lessens.
But it is never gone."
--Rose Kennedy--
With this, I totally agree. She should know...