October 04, 2009

When Life Gets in a New Writer’s Way by Guest Blogger Rachel Brady For me, it often feels like there’s an arm-wrestling match going on between my real life and my writing life. The prize, of course, is my time. My children are still young and need me for many things—urgently, it seems, if they’ve seen me sit down with the laptop. A heaping serving of Mom Guilt is spooned out every time I say, “After I read this message” or “When I finish this scene.” Messages related to revisions and promotions are “work e-mails” in my mind, even though I read them from my home computer. I take them as seriously as I do the e-mails I receive at my day job, but my kids don’t see me at the office so they don’t understand the nuances between Fun Mommy and Focused Mommy. Fun Mommy plays Trouble, fills water balloons, and colors with magic markers. Focused Mommy is usually in a bad mood because she can’t finish this paragraph while you’re carrying on about the Hannah Montana eraser your sister just stole out of your backpack. Don’t get me wrong. Real life, especially with little kids, is great fun and these days with them will be the crowning jewel of my short time on the planet. But as a writer I confess I’m often torn. Don’t tell my son, but Dora the Explorer frankly doesn’t interest me, so when I’m snuggled up on the couch with him, I’m secretly working out plot points. And the mental multi-tasking doesn’t stop there. I think about writing while driving, when I’m working out, during boring meetings, and even when people are talking to me. That last bit sounds rude, I know, but let me explain. The truth is, the funnier and more interesting I find you, the more likely I am to be thinking about writing while talking to you. I’m stealing your material. But don’t worry. You won’t recognize it when I’m finished. My point is near. Sometimes I imagine a utopian scenario in which I get to spend full days with my laptop in a quiet house with no distractions. That’d be great for a while, but eventually what would I write about? Much as I long for more solitude to write, I sometimes think that life getting in my way is paradoxical serendipity. Real life and its quirky people and bizarre dramas are part of what make a convincing story. So I think as writers, when life gets in our way, once in a while we should step back and take comfort in knowing that somehow, it’s all sinking in. The next time we get a quiet moment at the keyboard, real life is what will brighten the page. -------------------------------------------- Rachel Brady’s debut suspense novel, Final Approach, was released in August. She works as a biomedical engineer at NASA and lives outside of Houston, Texas, with her husband and their three children. Visit her on-line at www.RachelBrady.net or read about her experiences as a new author at her blog, Write It Anyway. Fellow internet junkies can follow her on Twitter or add her as a friend on Goodreads. If you’re in Houston, please join Rachel at Murder by the Book next Saturday, October 10th at 4:30 for the launch of Final Approach.
TREES Posted by Sheila Connolly "I think that I shall never see/A poem lovely as a tree" wrote the American poet Joyce Kilmer. Trees, and the orchards and forests they make, inspire affection and nostalgia in many a breast. And this week I am killing off our two largest trees. I feel so guilty. I've said, ad nauseum, that I'm a genealogist, and I've used those skills for houses and other buildings as well. Every house has a history, and you can track it through deeds and property exchanges going back to the time of the Indians around here. Sometimes it's harder to tell exactly when a house was constructed, but if you find a census record that states that eight people were living on a property, it's a pretty safe bet that there was a house there. I've done the research for our current house, the one we moved into six years ago. It's kind of interesting. When it was built, the block opposite was fully occupied by a straw manufactoring business. Remember that this was the era of elaborate hats. This factory did not make hats, but made the plaited straw that was then used to make hats. The street we live on was created and named by one of the owners of the straw factory, about 1850-60, and our house was the earliest one built on the street. It was definitely in place by the time the 1873 town map was published. Strangely (at least to me) it was neither a humble workers cottage, nor the grand house of the factory owner (that was around the corner), but it was still a surprisingly substantial house, solidly built with plenty of gingerbread and fancy moldings inside and out. But if you look at a census, there were something like eight people living in the house in 1910, and they weren't all related–kind of an upscale boarding house? (By 1920 the mother-in-law had moved in and the boarders were gone.) I'll bet the owner needed a bit of help to pay the mortgage. Anyway, I'm supposed to be telling you about the trees. There was a row of maples planted along the property line on one side of, probably when the house next door was built, around 1900 (by the son of the owner of our property). They grew over the next 120 years–and grew, and grew... The people who owned the house before us had one cut down, but that left us to deal with the other two big ones in the front. We're talking at least 60 feet tall here. Overhanging the street electric wires and, worse, the phone/cable/internet lines for the two adjoining houses. And, sad to say, the trees were rotting. One major branch fell years ago (before our time), and we still have the water stains and the patching of the roof to prove it. In fact, the then-owner, possibly sensing some weakness in the tree, took to parking his car on the opposite side of the house. But when the limb fell, it hit the central chimney, and the bricks landed on his car anyway. So much for planning. So we knew we had to do something, so I would stop worrying every time the wind blew (and we are overdue for a big hurricane around here). The trees were far too big to do ourselves, so we started hunting for a tree service–and it took two years. Several outfits submitted bids, for a daunting amount of money. One said, sure, no problem, and quoted a reasonable price, and we thought we had a deal, but then his buddy with the crane got called away on another job, and his bucket truck wasn't working right, and...eventually he kind of disappeared. Finally we got a reference from a colleague, met the guy, signed a contract, and prepared ourselves for a couple of days of loud, messy chaos–which began last Friday. I had to go to a conference, but there was no way they were going to finish on Friday anyway–they're coming back Monday. They left some of the larger limbs behind, and as you can see, they're hollow. It's a wonder they've held together this long. This was a disaster waiting to happen, putting at risk both houses, all the street's wires, parked cars, innocent pedestrians and passing cars. But still... The trees were demonstrably the largest on the block, and gave it a certain character. As I said above, we nostalgize trees–our parents recalled the elms that arched over the streets of their home towns. Alas, the elms are now gone, stricken down by disease (and other varieties of our native trees are also at risk–the Emerald Ash Borer is making a run at our ash trees). It takes a long time to grow trees that will do that. So now not only will our property look very different, but the whole neighborhood will. There are plusses, of course, starting with all those leaves I won't have to rake this year (don't worry–we've still got other trees to keep me busy). We'll get more light–but the house will probably be warmer in summer, particularly the corner where I sit to work. I may actually be able to grow more crops next summer, or maybe I can plant another heirloom variety apple tree. But I'm still saddened. Can you mourn a tree? The best tribute I've come up with so far is the idea of saving a slice of one of the smaller limbs, which, as you can see, managed to curl itself into a heart shape. That will be my small memorial of the missing maples.

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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