Sunday, November 27, 2005

post-it addiction: incurable and loving it

I've written two novels before the one I'm working on, one published and one not, but this is the first novel I've written with the aid of post-its. I'm not sure how that was possible. In any case, I'm totally post-it dependent now. Not only must I have post-its to write up stray and potentially brilliant thoughts, but they must be in different colors and sizes. Sometimes I use them to count up how many pages I've written so far (I only do this once a day--strict rule); to make a note of something I've thought of for future chapters ("The cheese in Carl's locker--he should forget about it, and later there is a suspicious smell"); or small character insights ("should Jason work at the horse farm?"); and of course for cryptic notes that I'll be unable to remember the significance of ("The mother-accusers should come later").
A question for the ages: would post-its have improved the output and/or work of novelists of the past? I think James Joyce would have taken to post-its, but Virginia Woolf would have scorned them as plebian. Tolstoy: No. Dostoevsky: Yes, but he wouldn't have been able to keeep track of them. I can't decide about George Eliot, but Dorothy Sayers would have been a fan, and also Balzac, I'm sure. If Coleridge had had post-its, he would have been able to take the interruption from the person from Porlock in stride--a few judicious jottings and he'd have been able to slide right back into Kubla Khan and we'd know what was supposed to come after

For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Maybe there could be a reality show that goes back in time and offers post-its to writers. I know, not much of an audience.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

not home for the holidays

Over the river and through the woods--not to grandmother's house but my daughter's, in the wilds of southeastern Ohio. Not really wild, but very woodsy--a lot of the land down there is National Forest land. I'm not cooking (except for a vegetable and general help in the kitchen). And I won't be writing. When I left Carl someone was trying to inveigle him into giving a talk to the Historical Society on ghosts. But he's lost his verve for ghost hunting. What to do? He'll have to hang in his dilemma until the weekend. Carl hates it when I do this.

Monday, November 21, 2005

breakfast notes

I'm borrowing a meme from the food blog world (where I'm an enthusiastic lurker)--the What I Had For Breakfast meme, introduced by Andrew of Spittoon.
What I had for breakfast today : two pieces of bread with poppy seeds toasted, buttered and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese; a glass of Tropicana orange juice; a personal blend (two tea bags in one cup!) of Tazo Passion tea and GingerAid; and a handful of walnuts. All this was served on a Chinet paper plate and in two styrofoam cups, because we have no running water in the kitchen until the sink is back in.
Believe me, the food bloggers were eating much more interesting things than this--poached eggs, just-baked scones, omelets with goat cheese, and so on. Even on days when I have a sink, I don't have just-baked scones for breakfast. But maybe when the water turns back on, I'll be inspired. At the moment, I'm even sort of looking forward to washing dishes.

Friday, November 18, 2005

what I'm reading

Currently on my bedside table (and also on the other half of the couch and in a pile on the floor by my desk):
Finding Fish, Antwone Fisher: I'm reading this for a seminar on childhood that I'm participating in. Probably everybody knows what this is about.
The Sound of Us, Sarah Willis: also for the seminar, but I'd read it before. A woman who sign-interprets for the deaf crosses paths with a child who needs protecting.
13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, Jane Smiley: so far I haven't gotten past the introduction, where she's discussing writers' block (always a compelling subject for me).
Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, Simone de Beauvoir: the first volume of her memoirs, covers her strait-laced childhood, up to her meeting with Sartre and the beginning of their life together. (Don't do it, Simone!)
Reflections, Jo Bannister: a well-written British mystery.
Harvey and Eck, Erin O'Brien: truthfully, I finished this already, but have to mention it because aside from its other virtues it's an epistolary novel, which I love and think there should be more of.
Undead and Unreturnable, Mary Janice Davidson: vampire-lite; part of my unsuccessful attempt to fill the void left by the end of Buffy.
The Book of Faces, Joseph Campana: a book of poems that are centered on Audrey Hepburn. A strange idea, but why not?
The Mystery Chef's Cookbook, by the Mystery Chef: a vintage cookbook, written by a famous-in-the-30s radio chef, picked up at a friend's house sale.
Bird, Angela Johnson: wonderful book for children, the kind of children's book that should be read by everyone, about love and loss and death, with handy tips on how to survive if you've run away from home and are living in someone's shed.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


The number of words I wrote today. Which is better than no words, but it's a little depressing. However, to maintain my membership in the Pollyanna Novelists Club, I want to point out to myself (and anyone who is reading) that 308 is probably more words than I wrote in all of a certain bad writing year I've experienced (you know who you are!), and so 308 is good.
I had a writer friend who wanted to write a novel, but was always having trouble finding time to do it--she was a librarian and a mother and a number of other things. Her solution: she decided to write 15 minutes a day, and never to waver in her commitment to the 15 minutes. She did the 15 minutes a day, and she wrote the novel. (Interestingly, the novel was about a woman who secretly rents a room where she goes to spend time away from her husband and children--every mother's dream?)
So 308: yay. 308 is great. Don't be late with 308. But wait, I'm not a poet, which is too bad, because poems are so darned short. (I'm expecting to hear from my poet sister about this.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Question: is it better to blog before or after writing?
Answer: it is unquestionably better to blog after, because otherwise it can become one of the already-too-numerous repertoire of procrastinating behaviors.
Today is gloomy and wet, but paradoxically, the view out of my office window is falsely sunny, because the leaves on the silver maple tree in front of my house are goldeny-yellow. The tree must have some kind of arboreal super powers, for it keeps its leaves until every other tree on the street has lost theirs, and even after other silver maples elsewhere. I'm hoping that this means it's also super strong, and will hold up for another winter, even though it's over 100 (oldish for a silver maple, I think) and is partly hollow inside. Raccoons have lived in it as if in a nice vertical apartment building, although there aren't any now. Just The Squirrel, which is what we call the squirrel who lives there, even though we know that it's not just one, but a succession of squirrels. We used to give The Squirrel peanut butter, but had to stop because he got a sense of entitlement and started climbing up the outside of the screen door and peeing on it.
But yes, I did write today before I blogged. Carl sat in the antique mall, unpacking a box with railroad memorabilia in it and listening to an old man tell him about the ghosts in his house. Carl is filled with resolve, but it won't last, I know.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

the novelist questions the universe

Today was so nice a day that I thought I ought to take a day off from writing. There are not so many November days in Cleveland when you can go outside without a jacket, or when the sun is shining, after all. But yes, this is dangerous thinking. If I take a day off because it's nice outside, it's just the thin end of the wedge, and I'll find days that need to be taken off for a long and intense perusal of the Buffy DVDs or because I can't find my new post-its.
So I wrote some, and it wasn't brilliant, but it was more words.
I have some questions:
Why are novels so long?
Why can't they be written collaboratively?
Why, if they can (and I guess they can), am I the kind of person who wouldn't want to write collaboratively?
Where are my new post-its?
Why did Virginia Woolf commit suicide before I had even the ghost of a chance to meet her?
Should Isabel (one of my characters) have a dead or estranged daughter?
Why has Nature's Bin stopped selling Paul Newman's Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups?
Why does the library close at 5 on Saturday?
Is there an organization for despairing novelists? (I'm not despairing, but I want to be prepared.)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

the flavor of prose

Today I wrote about one of my favorite places, Pizza Crossing in Logan, Ohio. Where else would my characters go for a quick bite? I didn't mention the crispy perfection of the crust, or how I sneakily always try to get one of the edge pieces (it's not cut in the usual pizza triangles, but in a criss-cross manner that gives more and smaller pieces). But maybe I should go back and put some of that in--the flavor of the place.
I also wrote 1500 plus words, which is a lot for me--I tend to hover around 1000 per day. To celebrate, I'm having smoky cheese on crackers for lunch.

Monday, November 07, 2005

taking the day off

"There are no days off for the novelist!" This was thundered at me and the rest of the audience at a writers' conference sometime in the '90s. "If you don't write every day, you're not a writer!" More thundering.
I'm all for regularity and routine--it really does help if you come back to the stuff you're writing frequently, if you don't leave it sit for days at a time and then when you go back you feel as if you don't know your characters. Once, when I'd taken a months-long hiatus, I tried writing my characters a letter because I felt so estranged. ( Did it work? kind of.)
So, yes, to write as often as you can is desirable, and even rewarding, and sometimes fun. But, oh thunderer, who is a big-name writer whose big name I won't mention, we do have lives, and sometimes we are sick and sometimes we have a child who is sick, or we have a job which is demanding, or maybe we just need some fun, we need to play hookey even from writing which we love and revere.
All of which I hope doesn't sound like an excuse, which it isn't, because I planned not to write today, and when you plan something, it's not a dereliction of duty.
Carl, I promise I'll be there tomorrow, and I'll help you get through the difficulties caused by the fact that someone wants you to come over to their house and exorcise their ghosts. We'll get through it together.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

avoidance: an art

Here is what I've done today instead of writing:
1. Checked my email 3 t imes.
2. Looked fruitlessly at an old story that I might revise some time, but probably not because I hate it.
3. Made the bed.
4. Went down to see if there was mail.
5. Made a Christmas shopping list.
6. Looked in the linen closet for a round brush I used to have that would be good for creative blow-drying.
7. Checked for mail a second time.
8. Had a snack: crackers, cheese, the last olive.
9. Put away some of my summer clothes (you see the desperation, don't you?)
10. Changed the page on my calendar to November.

Friday, November 04, 2005

That old devil dialogue

In my writing stint today, I wrote a lot of dialogue. I like writing dialogue, and I think I'm good at it (please, don't disillusion me!), but I always worry when I find I've written a number of dialogue-heavy pages. Is dialogue the easy way out? Am I cheating the reader of dense, informative, deep-delving narrative if I write a lot of spritely, fast-moving dialogue? I try to deal with these doubts by shelving them--much better to think about that later, when I've actually written a draft.
I worry though that I 've made some kind of moral equation: dialogue = lightness, triviality, speed; narrative = gravity, significance, slowness. After all, is Muriel Spark (dialoguist extraordinaire) a lesser writer than John Updike (the king of adjective-laden narrative)? I don't think so. And while we're there, I'd like to say that Muriel's book Memento Mori is one of my favorite books, and much funnier than you'd think a book about aging people and death could be.
I'm reading Bird, by Angela Johnson, a writer from Kent, Ohio, and a MacArthur winner. It's both light and grave, and so far a wonderful book altogether.
Note above another picture of my incredibly messy office.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


This is the table that's next to my computer desk--as you can see I'm the messy-desk type of writer, who needs all her books and papers and tea mugs and ancient candle holders given to her by her daughter when her daughter was 7 and her file cards that she never uses--all within reach. I'm the kind of writer who hopes that's true that a messy desk equals a productive worker. The kind of person who believes in the pile system of filing.
Today I started a new section or part or whatever I'm calling it (I can't deal with chapters, even if what I'm writing are in fact chapters). Carl is going to Kroger's, where he buys cereal, plums, and cheese. He's not as depressed, I'm glad to say. But, of course, since this is a novel, troubling things will surface. Tomorrow, I'm going to Youngstown to do a reading, and Carl will be on his own for a couple of days. Stuck in Kroger's--what a fate. Not that I dislike Kroger's, but still, would you want to spend a couple of days there?