Making Up Reality

I remember grumbling to my husband Pat one night about a secondary character in a book I was writing who wouldn't do what I wanted. "He keeps taking over the whole story."

In that type of gentle voice usually reserved for talking someone off the ledge of an open window on the 28th floor of a skyscraper, Pat said, "Mary, it's an imaginary person."

"Tell him that!" I retorted.

It's fairly easy for anyone to understand what a person does who's a nurse, a custodian, a doctor, a taxi driver, a politician--well, maybe not that last one. Understanding writers takes a little more doing. It's hard to figure out what's going on with people who can stare at a blank computer screen for hours at a time and claim they're working. Or when you're having a great conversation with some guy (male or female--I think it's been degenderized by restaurant servers) and suddenly he/she appears to have gone off into space somewhere. One of Andrew Lloyd Webber's wives told how this would happen to the famous composer at a dinner party. No offense, but the guy probably just had a marvelous idea for the next Phantom of the Opera and everything else paled by comparison. I know. It happens to me, too, except I don't make so much money from mine.

When writers begin talking about recalcitrant characters, it's just part of the process. You care about them, so your readers will, as well. And it's also part of the process that sometimes you're so successful at this that characters develop their own voices, their own way of behaving (or not), their own way of solving their problems. How real is Winnie-the-Pooh? Scarlett O'Hara? Charlotte, the spider? Anne of Green Gables? This is the magic of writing and writers this happens to will know that they been gifted and feel appropriately thankful.


Excuses, Excuses

Time is perhaps the biggest bugaboo for writers. I guess there are people who can say they're going to get up at 5 a.m., write for three hours, then breakfast on dry toast and organic orange juice, but then world peace is a possibility, too. The rest of us struggle each day, trying to find a few minutes to pursue the muse and much too often failing.

The problem is, we do it to ourselves. For someone who professes a love of writing, I can find more excuses than Carter's has liver pills, if they still do. (It's too early in the morning to think. Sometimes cliches do come in handy.) Anyway, when it's time to write, it also appears to be time to:

walk the dog (even though I don't have one, I figure I can make one up. I'm a writer, right?)
take a walk myself (and convince myself that my mind will be fresher when I come back)
do the dishes (which I normally feel is the sole job of whatever gadget GE has placed in my house)
play the guitar (once I dig it out from under the bed and dust it off)
run a load of wash
shred old tax receipts
call somebody on the phone (even if it's to hear my bank balance on the automated teller)
and this latest,
check my worms.

I'm afraid you read that correctly. Worms.

Let me explain. For Christmas this year, I got a worm farming kit, complete with a thousand little wigglers. I won't go into all the rather gross details, but it's something I've been encouraged to try by several gardeners who claim my garden will be an earthly delight if I use castings from the worms. (I'm not sure yet what castings are. They could be worm poop or dead worms. Either way, they sound awful.) These gardeners also claim that worms are easy to take care of. Dump them into a bin with a bunch of wet, shredded newspaper and a bunch of garbage. (Oh, yeah? Then, why do people feel the need to write books about worm farming, huh? If it was that easy, wouldn't a pamphlet do?) Well, I shredded and dumped and have been down in the basement a few times to see what's happening. As far as I can see, nothing. The worms don't seem to be trying to crawl out, which is good--very good. They might be dead already, although I doubt that. I have to assume they're munching away, happy as clams, making good dirt. (Yes, even for cliches that's poor, but I said it's early.)

Now, my gardens have always been an experiment in experiments. My general approach has been to toss seeds in the direction of the ground and wait until something comes up. I also use compost and often get interesting products from last year's rinds, skins, and cores. Tomatoes are the ones that most often show up, although I've also had cantaloupes, pumpkins, and decorative gourds. So, I have to ask myself whether the worms are really going to make a big impact, or whether they're better used as an excuse for not writing.

I'll keep you posted. Right now, though, this blog seems to be fulfilling the need just as well as the worms.


The Tax Man Cometh

One of the tough parts of self-publishing is dealing with taxes. They seem to be even surer than death. You only die once. You pay taxes all the time. So, you have to keep track of all your books--the inventory, where you sell them, how you sell them, ones you give away, your expenses, your income, and you have to pay state sales tax every six months. I inadvertently skipped one reporting period. They waited three years and then let me know I owed them $800! Luckily, I was able to knock it down to sixty dollars, but still. . .

So, now I'm knee deep in papers and records, trying to figure out what's mine and what's theirs.

Despite that, I have a few projects in mind for 2008--one involving a mouse and some cookies. Another Christmas tale. The Christmas Dragon was well received, even though we only had four weeks to get it out there. I think it looks great and many people have told me how much their kids/grandkids, nieces, nephews, etc. enjoyed reading it. That always makes an author's day. Susan Collett (the illustrator) and I are getting together soon to talk about new marketing strategies.

On the normal side of life, I'm trying to organize Christmas stuff, clean up the basement, get back to work, and promising this week to get back to exercising!


Entropy Plaza

I got this term from my husband, Pat, who once built a small stone plaza around our flagpole. He's always been interested in fractals and the chaos theory. (That's possibly why he married me.) Anyway, the basic definition of entropy is as a measure of the disorder that exists in a system. In physics, it's a measure of the energy in a system or process that is unavailable to do work. (Wow! That is so me!) I got this from the Microsoft Word on-line dictionary. If you understand it, let me know.

So, how does this have any bearing on the stone plaza? Well, he started off placing the stones very neatly. Eventually, he realized everything wasn't going to fit perfectly in the space he had defined, so he finished the job a bit haphazardly, with stones going off in all directions. He dusted off his hands and declared it to be Entropy Plaza--from order into chaos.

And that kind of sums up the way I function.

I Started Life As A Cowboy

I didn't really start life as a cowboy, but I wanted to. I haunted movie houses and drank in every scene where Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, or Hopalong Cassidy rode up mesas and down canyons to bring law and order to the Wild West. I owned my own pair of chaps. I loved horses. Still do, although I never learned to ride very well. I read every Zane Grey book I could get my hands on. I was, in general, the despair of my father who thought I was never going to grow up. I discovered that fact many years later, too late to show him that, in a way, I actually was living my dream of "catching the bad guys." Because isn't that what stories are all about? Bad guys don't have to be gunslingers. Bad guys are the conflicts in our lives--and conflict is at the heart of every story. Hopefully, my father knows I'm okay.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit New Mexico and Arizona. I felt as if I was finally home.