Monday, May 31, 2010

Remember the Day

Holidays always bring new adventures, and this one was no different.

Although I drive past it every day on my way home from work, I had never been to the Marine Corp Memorial before. And what a perfect morning to visit a place that honors the people who have sacrificed so much for our country. We also walked over to Arlington Cemetery to see all the flags placed at the graves, which is always a sobering sight.

Then I spent the afternoon enjoying time with friends by the pool. Because we all have busy lives and varying responsibilities, seeing this group of friends doesn't happen as often as any of us would like.

And of course, what would be a summer holiday without pictures of babies by the pool. I think they enjoyed it even more than the adults, but any kind of relief from the blazing 90-degree weather we had today would improve anyone's day. What a giggly group of chubsters!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

In keeping with the theme...

...of writing what you (don't) know, I've been thinking of ways to change my writing perspective. I've been trying to come up with ways to push myself by writing something new. But it hasn't been as easy as I expected.

I've written short stories and newspaper columns, magazine stories and indexes, radio scripts and plays. My poetry isn't great, but I've done it. I've written pieces for children as young as seven and even information pieces on Medicare. Letters to my aunt, letters to the President, letters to Santa and letters to PBS, all of which have been answered in various forms.

Then I think of all the people who have done something completely different, and it makes me feel like I can never live up to the precedence they've set.

From Mo Willem's making words into art and then putting it all on top of photography

To Brian Selznick taking old movie stills and telling a story all his own with pen illustrations

From Patrick Carman intermingling the written word to the viral world

To the folks at the Library of Congress hosting a multi-authored internet book

What more can possibly be done?

Then I remember a story about the U.S. Patent Office closing it's doors back in 1932. Why? Because nothing more could possibly be invented. Everything that ever would be already was. Only that was before the pace maker, the space shuttle, the microwave, the internet and the smart phone.

So maybe I do have a chance at creating something new and turning the publishing industry on its ear. Now I just need to figure out what that something is.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Write what you (don't) know

One of the best things about writing is that you get to research some facinating topics you never expected to learn about.

While working for the PR department of a university, I was writing a lot of press releases about plays and dance team performances and vocal recitals. Through that, I got to know the costume mistress pretty well. I even ended up doing a feature on her because I loved sitting in her room watching her sew. Though the room was quite large to accommodate all of the items she needed to produce costumes, it was probably the coziest spot on campus. All the sewing machines, manikins, clothing racks, fabric bolts made the room so intimate and colorful I could have watched her work for hours.

That was so long ago I had almost forgotten all about the costume mistress. But then I found myself revisiting those long ago chats and wishing I still had my notes from those interviews for my current WIP. Instead I'm having to satisfy myself reading about Colleen Atwood. She is my new hero. She did the costume designs for my favorite album

(The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance)

as well as some of the best movie eye-candy of all time.

(Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd)

I might have a hard time getting an interview with Colleen Atwood, but I'm going to find contact information for that costume mistress who's name I long ago forgot. She's a part of my story now, and I hope I'll be able to give her credit for it some day.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Tell Tale Day Trip

It wasn't a midnight dreary so much as a sunny afternoon, but I walked the path of Edgar Allan Poe today. A friend and I went up to Baltimore to visit Poe's grave site and home. While Poe died in Baltimore, he wasn't actually living there at the time but just passing through on his way from Richmond back to New York.

The graveyard was everything you'd expect from the master of horror, only it was just about the sunniest day we've had this year.

Amid crumbling tombs and fading headstones lies the bodies of one of the greatest and most misunderstood American writers.

While the graveyard looks a bit frightening because of its age and exposure to the harsh city elements, it is the final resting place for many great Americans, including James Henry, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Just a mile or so down the road is the home where Poe's writing career first began. He lived there with his grandmother, aunt and two of his cousins, one of whom he married when she was just 13 years old.

(This picture is from the Edgar Allan Poe Society.)

Because the family was living on his grandmother's pension while Poe attempted to make a career of writing, they were often ill-clothed, cold and starving. Probably one of the most interesting things about this house is that the neighborhood in which it's located really hasn't changed much since Poe lived there. While few of the original buildings still stand, it is still a poor, unkempt neighborhood. In fact, the Poe House and Museum shares a wall with a public housing unit and has a police office stationed outside of the door at all times.

I still remember when I first read "Annabel Lee" in middle school. While many of my classmates loved "Fall of the House of Usher" and "A Tell Tale Heart" because of their elements of the macabre, I was much more interested in his stories of love lost and tragic death. At times I feel sorry for Poe and at others I feel I can relate to him because of his openness about his feelings of self-doubt, depression and anger. So many writers of that time were these idolized members of the upper class who wrote because they could, but Poe wrote because he had to.

This had to be one of my favorite day trips. To learn more about and walk the steps of one of my favorite authors was pretty amazing.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Friday Five: Keep Writing

I go through a lot of writing ups and downs. When my life gets crazy, I don't feel like I have anything left to give a manuscript. Last month was an especial struggle for me. I felt stuck on revisions, rewriting and revisiting old material. But I feel like I'm finally coming out the other side thanks for a few tried and true tricks to overcoming writer's block.
  1. Turn to a new project. You know that saying about beating a dead horse? Well, writing's a little like that as well. But sometimes, if I move on to something different for a time, I can come back to the original project with fresh eyes.
  2. Write something, anything. I love watching words fill up a page--a physical manifestation that I can create something good. And if I'm not watching my own words fill up a page, at least I can watch the words of some else fill it up. Usually, within a couple of seconds of transcribing a song or story I love, I've jump-started my own writing.
  3. Ask someone for help. I'm a very independent person, so going to someone for help doesn't come naturally to me. But the more I write, the more I realize how little I know. So I ask for a little help from my friends. My writers' (support) group is a wonderful resource that I often turn to to talk over what's going on in my life and what I can change to make the writing process work better. I also have very supportive friends and family who help me when I'm down.
  4. Don't make excuses. I like to say "Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?" But if I actually live by that creed, a lot of tomorrows come and go before anything gets written. So I make sure not a day goes by that I don't write something new (not revise something old), even if it's just one line in the notebook I carry in my purse.
  5. Keep the goal in sight. My goal isn't just to finish a novel or to get publish, although these are both some superficial goals I have with writing. Really, words connect me--to other people, to the characters on the page, to something bigger than all of that. My goal is to express through a story those emotions that I can't quiet express for myself. Seeing a character deal with those emotions make it a little easier to accept them within myself.
Through sacrificing time, sleep, a personal life, I discover a little part of myself with each word I put on paper. So maybe my laundry doesn't get folded right away or I eat veggies from a can because I can't get to the store or I have to pull my hair up because it's too long to use the flatiron on. Writing is who I am, and as I fill up myself, everything else falls into place.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The books my mother read me

The books my mother read me weren't really books at all. They were lessons learned and adventures taken and quiet moments spent together. They were cold Saturday mornings spent cuddled together under her blankets with Laura Ingles Wilder and stifling summer days spent on long road trips with C.S. Lewis.

From Berenstain Bears to Harry Potter, my mother created an entirely new world for me through the stories she shared. She taught me how to deal with grief, look for happiness, learn from the past and hope for the future.

Best of all, she taught by example. She suffered through me learning to read even when I thought I couldn't, sacrificed hundreds of hours in library time waiting for me to find the perfect book, and made sure I knew she loved reading by reading for herself.

So here's to my mother--the original bibliophile. The one who taught me to love books. The one who still lets me drag her to libraries and book signings and literacy fairs. The one who never questioned if I could write one myself.

Happy Mothers' Day!