November 03, 2009

IN THE EVIDENCE OF THE TEETH Posted by Sheila Connolly (who hopes all you mystery writers recognize that clever Dorothy Sayers reference!) I'm having a tooth pulled today. No, I won't share with you with the gory details–in fact, I expect to do my best to forget them ASAP. But this is just the latest adventure in my troubled relationship with my teeth. I have lousy teeth–soft, fragile, and far from pearly white. In part this is hereditary, because both of my parents had rather yellow teeth, so I guess I was doomed from the start. I'm afraid to consider bleaching, either professional or the handy home version, because that would probably just further weaken whatever feeble enamel I've got. Or I'd manage to turn the teeth into an approximation of military camouflage pattern. I'll settle for dingy. I really thought I could hang on to all my teeth. My mother did, and so did her mother, to the age of 94. My grandmother grew up in the early years of the 20th century, in a family that wasn't affluent, so I can't say what kind of dental care she received early in her life. Maybe she just had good tooth genes, but whatever the circumstances, her teeth stayed with her. Clearly she didn't share her genes with me. In appearance I inherited my father's teeth, including the gap between the front two, which miraculously closed without benefit of orthodontia when my wisdom teeth came in, all at once, in my senior year in college. Yes, I still have all four wisdom teeth in place–with a few fillings. My mother always made sure I had good dental care. I still remember my first dentist: Doctor Manuel Album, Jenkintown, PA. He had won awards for pediatric dentistry, and I started going to him when I was five. I was not his favorite patient: I didn't mind the drilling so much, but I was consistently terrified when surrounded by adults looming over me with large hypodermic needles. And they never let me prepare myself–I guess they thought moving in fast was better. I disagreed. And I got through the drilling part by thinking, what would [favorite cowboy of the moment] do? Cowboys are brave and stoic–"It's just a scratch"–which is a handy role model when you're sitting in a dentist's chair. (Note: the saving virtue of Dr. Album's office was that it was right around the corner from the Peter Pan Diner, to which my mother and I would adjourn after my appointment for an ice-cream soda.) Obviously the pattern was set early. I have teeth that are woefully susceptible to cavities. I always brushed them regularly, and I had fluoride applications back when that was exceptional. I had regular check-ups. None of it mattered. My teeth kept betraying me. Memorable occasions of my life have been marked by tooth failures. The day of my first date with my husband, I was eating an egg for breakfast and wham, a molar fell apart. I went on the date anyway (stoic, remember?), and the rest is history. On my way to my first writers conference, a filling came loose, and finally gave up the ghost while I was eating a piece of chocolate cake. In Australia we were visiting a distant relative in Sydney; I bit into a piece of cheese, and another tooth crumbled. Do you see a pattern here? So help me, I don't crunch ice or open bottles with my teeth. I don't chew gum or even think about eating caramels. All of these incidents have taken place while I was chewing on something soft. I think my teeth hate me. To be fair, I've known that the soon-to-be late lamented tooth was gearing up for a showdown for quite a while. First the twinges, then the pressure sensitivity. My dentist filed down a few things and said, maybe that will work. It did, for a while. then the twinges came back. He took x-rays: no abscess, nothing visible. Just another tooth giving up on me. Given my track record, I fully expected it to explode at Bouchercon, but it kindly held off until I got back. At which time I decided I was tired of both the constant dull ache and the worry about exactly when it would betray me, and went to an endodontist. He was very nice, and had lots of really cool high-tech instruments, but the bottom line is, the tooth is beyond salvage. Cracked through and through. Time to say goodbye. I feel like I've failed, even though I've done everything right. But into every life some rain must fall, and apparently it's raining on my poor tooth. At least my daughter grew up as part of the fluoride generation, and will never share my dental horror stories. Lucky girl. Ave atque vale, Tooth #15. You will be missed. (But at least I hope I won't end up looking like the lovely lady below!)
Obsessive Writer Stymied by NaNoWriMo Posted by Kate Flora In the early years of my writing, when I was first learning about discipline and obsession, I became very faithful to my schedule. Having come to writing from working in a law firm, where my time was measured out in tenth of an hour doses, and being the busy mother of two small boys, my writing time was limited and I knew I had to make it count. I had thought that I could write while the boys napped--very optimistic of me. I quickly discovered that their schedules rarely synchronized, and that I was most likely to have pieces of available time when they were with a babysitter. When I did have time to be at my desk, I was obsessive about being sure that I stayed there and made the time count. I'd assign myself a number of pages or a number of words that had to be accomplished that day, and wouldn't leave my chair until I reached that goal. During my ten years in the unpublished writer's corner, I got very good at discipline and a whole lot better at my craft. The boys got older and went to school. And with three unpublished novels in the drawer, I had learned to write. I happily settled into a routine where I would write while they were in school, and then shove the stories away while I drove them to little league or karate, while I coached soccer, and while I perfected my role as the homework police. Along the way, I learned that the process was different for each book. While storycraft and discipline were fundamental, each individual story and set of characters seemed to have their own rhythm. Sometimes a book would take a nice, tight nine months from start to finish and just seem to work. Another book would take a year and a half and some days feel like I was dragging out each word and nailing it to the page so it would stay there while I went back and got another word to go with it. Sometimes the plot that I'd worked out in my head before I began the book would stay the same; sometimes my characters, those willful creatures of my imagination, would start acting up and take the book in an entirely new direction. I learned to listen to my characters and trust them when they were being willful. I learned that at some point, in most books, I would lose my way--usually somewhere between chapter sixteen and chapter nineteen--and that eventually this would sort itself out and the book would get finished. Writing is a solitary occupation. It requires many, many hours spent all alone, in a room, living in your head. I turned out to be good at that. Possibly I have a low thirst for living. Certainly I can spend six to ten hours a day at my desk, year after year, and not feel deprived or lonely. I have learned that I have to cut the cord and leave the desk from time to time. And I also learned--most surprising of all--that though we become writers because we have a great capacity for solitude, once we are published, we are suddenly expected to become charming and polished public speakers. Outgoing. Articulate. Interesting. This can require a major mental shift, from that tight cocoon of writer and keyboard and imagination and character's voices inside the head, to an audience that needs to be entertained and enticed to buy a book. One of the most frequent comments I heard, when I joined the traveling author's circuit, was from people who used to say: "I've always wanted to write a book, and someday, when I have a free weekend, I'm going to." That really pushed my buttons. Here I was, day after day, month after month, and year after year, sitting there in my chair, trying to craft compelling fiction, and these people were going to do it in a weekend. Admittedly, everyone's process is different. There are authors who write much faster than I do. But I began to wonder how fast I could write a novel if I really pushed myself hard. Then came the empty nest shocker, and it pushed me over the edge. My older son was leaving for college. The younger, seeing that he was going to be left home alone with the homework police, promptly started applying to boarding schools, and within three weeks, I had one at Wesleyan and the other at Exeter. At first,I used to stand in their rooms and snivel. But we old yankees aren't really the sniveling type, and so I took a deep breath, and that January, I decided to see how fast I could write a novel. I wrote ten to twelve hours a day, every day, and in 4 1/2 months, I'd written a 485 page police procedural. It was as close as I've come to an ecstatic state in my writing. I lived and breathed that novel. Went eagerly to my desk every day to see what my characters were up to. And when it was done, when I'd typed THE END, and assumed I would go back to my usual, more rational, schedule, I realized that I was lonely and sad. I had become so obsessed with my characters, so close to them after spending every waking moment with them for months, that when the book was done, I felt like they'd deserted me. A few months later, I had to start the second book in the series so I could go back and spend more time with them. After my taste of obsession, I became more rational. Life, in the form of my mother's stroke and slow decline, and a 2 1/2 year project co-writing a true crime, made more demands on my time. I learned to balance my love of gardening and cooking with my love for living inside my head. But the urge toward obsession...

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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