Monday, May 31, 2010

Summer Schedule

Happy Memorial Day to all. Like you, I am vacationing today, so this will be short. As summer is upon us, I'll be transitioning to a summer schedule. Look for new posts on Mondays. In the meantime, enjoy the holiday. And to my dear friend Glenn, who served our country in WWII, rest easy. Sail on.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Page Three Hundred.....and One

A few days ago, I wrote about page 300. I was happy to see it. I stretched, hit save and wrote a blog about how happy I was to see. It’s a few days later, my baseball hangover has subsided (a baseball hangover involves no alcohol, just a whole lotta baseball) and I’m staring at page 301. What comes next?

I suppose writers are issued in various makes and models. Some of us render beautiful settings and landscapes with ease. Some of us have an ear for dialogue. Others are gifted with insight that leads to well rounded, sympathetic characters. And then there are the lucky few who are gifted with plot. Plot seems to roll off their finger tips with nary a chart or sticky note or excel spreadsheet in sight. They can juggle characters and plot points and keep each spinning, ever faster until they culminate in a stunning climax that leaves us readers breathless. Yes, I am wildly jealous of these writers, and I know a few of them well enough to know that their brilliant plotlines don’t roll off their fingertips. Darn it all, they work very hard at it.

Still, I have to believe that the question of “what comes next?” plagues most writers and it will plague me until I reach page 375 or so. In the meantime, having sat down with my teenage son last night to watch the season finale of LOST, I have to believe that if those talented writers could figure out a way to wrap up 6 seasons of plotlines when none of us thought they could, I can figure out a way to wrap up my 300 pages.

Congratulations to the Chargers baseball team on an amazing 2010 season.

Monday, May 24, 2010

No Time for Creativity

Today is short and sweet - it's all baseball all the time. As the Chargers win the semi final game to advance to the state championship, all of us parents are passing on the same advice to our boys.
Take a deep breath.
Enjoy this.
Enjoy every moment.
It may never come again.
Get to bed on time. Eat a good breakfast. Play the hop. Take the shortest path. Leave it up. Watch the pick off. The Ring is the Thing. Git 'R Done. Trust your hands. All for for all. Pound the zone. Win the last game.
Enjoy this moment.
It may never come again.
Best of luck to the Shorecrest Chargers.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The End of the Middle

I’m sitting at my desk, my cup of green tea having gone cold, my jack russell lying on the floor near my feet, and there it is—page 300 of the novel I’m currently writing. (Still no title for this one.)

I’m not sure why page 300 is so pivotal for a writer, but I know it’s not just a quirk of mine. I’ve seen other writers blog about it or tweet about it or facebook about it. Page 300 has special meaning. Perhaps it marks the beginning of the end, which is another way of saying the end of the middle.

When sitting down to write a novel, the beginning, of course, comes first. Beginnings are like are eating dessert before your broccoli. They are like a first date, a first kiss, like roses when it’s not your birthday. Those first fifty pages fly off a writer’s fingers, well, at least my fingers. And then comes the middle and the fingers come to a screeching halt.

If a writer has done her job well, all the plates are spinning by the end of the first fifty pages, which is to say the plot is set in motion. You’ve seen it—the guy who spins plates on top of wooden rods, dancing from one to another, giving each a nudge to keep it in motion. During the middle, those dreaded two hundred and fifty pages or so, the plot has to advance. Something must happen next, and then again, and something more after that. The tensions must rise, the consequences must escalate, the characters must try and fail. Try again. Some will succeed, while others will fall short. The writer must keep those plates spinning. Occasionally, one falls. It needs extra attention. A gentler hand to get it spinning again. But while the writer’s attentions are focused there, another plate is likely to tumble. One day at a time, one thousand words at a time, the writer trudges through the middle. And at long last, there it is. Page 300.

While page 300 isn’t necessarily always the end of the middle, because in ATLAS SHRUGGED, it is barely the end of the beginning, for many of us, it means we are close to the top, if you consider the ending downhill.

On another note, in my first blog, I promised you a picture of a manatee when they showed up in our canal again. Well, the thing about manatees is that they live underwater. So, here is a picture that I took this morning while dangling off the edge of my dock. First a gray wrinkled snout rises out of the water. Next, a loud snort as the manatee exhales. The snout disappears. My camera goes snap. You see a picture of the tell-tale rings left in the manatee’s wake. Sorry. Either my camera is slow or my clicking finger is slow. This is the best of many attempts.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Gifted Fisherman

It’s a Sunday afternoon at home. Rain clouds roll in from the east. No sign of lightning yet. It’s a perfect day for fishing. This is a competitive sport in our family, primarily a battle between Father and Daughter. They catch, they release and they count. The victor claims bragging rights.

You might think it’s not a fair fight. After all, Father grew up on a farm where he fished every weekend and dug earthworms for bait. Daughter is only twelve and buys her bait at the store. Father is patient. Daughter’s hook is out of the water more than it is in the water. Father considers the tide and shadows thrown by the seagrass. Daughter likes to sneak shrimp out of the bait bucket and release them when Father isn’t looking. Daughter’s first fishing pole was a Tweety-Bird pole. The three foot long rod was bright yellow. The line was little more than dental floss. But even then, Daughter always won.

They each take their seat on the dock. Father on the left. Daughter on the right. We watched Jaws recently, so no one is allowed to dangle feet over the edge. Father casts far into the canal. A red and white bobber marks his line. Daughter drops her hook straight down and pokes at the seagrass covering the water’s surface with the tip of her pole. Father slowly reels in his line, rolling the handle with his index finger. He keeps his line taut, the tip of his rod low. We have many sheepshead in our canal. They are particularly difficult to catch. The line has to be just so, the rod in perfect position. Before Daughter’s bait has settled in the water, she pulls in her line with three or four quick cranks. She is troubled to find seagrass dangling from her hook, covering up her bait. She shakes it off, drops her hook in again, and reels it up just as quickly. She drops and reels. Drops and reels. The tip of her Zebco dips. She yanks and pulls in a four inch porgy. Yes, even a four-incher counts.

After removing the silver fish from the hook, her bait still in tact, she lowers it back in the water. “That’s one,” she says. Father continues his slow and steady strategy. After a few minutes, Daughter sets aside her pole, leaving it unattended on the dock, in favor of counting how many shrimp are still alive in the bait bucket. “Oooop,” she says, when her pole jerks. She grabs it, gives the reel a few cranks and up comes another fish. A pig fish this time. Another four-incher. Still counts. “That’s two.”

And so it goes that afternoon and every afternoon for about the last seven years. Daughter walks away the victor. She follows no rules, except to always sunscreen and wear shoes on the dock. We had a hook in the heel incident. Or perhaps she knows rules that we don’t. Does she know that the fish prefer the shade under the dock when the tide is neither coming nor going? Does she yank the heads off her bait because she knows the small fish in our canal won’t be drawn to bait that is too large? Does she use the barnacles that grow on the dock’s pilings as chum? Or perhaps, she has a knack. She’s a natural. It’s a God given talent. Perhaps we should have her tested and charted. Perhaps we should take her to a better dock and buy her a better pole with heavier line. Perhaps she is a gifted fisherman who should be in a gifted fisherman class. Or perhaps, it’s none of these things. Perhaps she is a twelve year fisherman with younger reflexes and a little bit of luck.

Congratulations Chargers baseball on their Regional title - the first since 1989. And good luck as they advance to the State championship next week.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Boys of Spring

Thursday, May 13 - Hello all
In honor of the big game this Friday-Regional finals in case you haven't gotten word-and also in honor of the return of Friday Night Lights (about time) I am leaving this blog up until Monday.
Best to all

In the Majors, they are called the boys of summer. But for a mother of a high school baseball player, deeply embedded in post season play, they are the boys of spring. They are the boys, young men, who juggle school work, final exams, college applications for some, homework for most, jobs for a few and X-box for all. Once, twice, maybe three times a week, I sit on metal bleachers, the sun burning through the number silkscreened on the back of my gray team t-shirt, and cheer on the Chargers.

Hopefully, it is fair to say I am not a “crazy” baseball parent. But like the tree that falls in an empty forest, does a crazy parent know he or she is crazy? Perhaps not. But I try not to cheer an overthrow at first made by the opposing team, unless, of course, the game is close. I try not to yell at the umpire, unless he calls a ball that sails across my son’s collarbone a strike. After all, he is 6’5” and isn’t a ball that sails that high clearly and evidently outside the strike zone? Doesn’t a mother of such a son have an obligation, perhaps a deep seeded ancient right, to protest such a call? Under these specific circumstances, I’ll admit to yelling at the umpire, but by this point in the game, I am certainly too hoarse to be heard over all the other crazy parents yelling about the same call.

I am a parent who tries not to wince when a ground ball rolls under an infielder’s glove or when all the dads in the crowd yell “can of corn” as a pop fly sails into the outfield and the fielder runs in instead of out, allowing the ball to drop on the warning track with a thud. It’ll be mine making the error next time. Don’t they all make their fair share? No, I won’t wince, lest they all wince when it’s my son hanging his head and kicking at the dirt.

I try to be a parent who will text updates to my friend who can’t bear to watch a game that has taken a bad turn. I try to be a parent willing to change positions on the bleachers if that will mean a change in “mojo” so the team will start to hit. I try to be a parent who lets her daughter, who has been dragged to baseball games since she was one year old, have a hotdog from the concession stand, and…okay…an ice cream sundae, too. I try to be a parent who cheers until she is lightheaded from a lack of oxygen, who is brought to tears when her son hits a walk-off single, who takes pictures of another mother’s son hugging his father and then tossing that father aside when the sophomore girls appear, offering hugs of their own. I suppose all we parents try to do the same, and if one of us is crazy, we’re all crazy in our own due time.

Good luck to Chargers baseball as they advance to the regional finals.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

What's Your Major?

The air is decidedly cooler and lighter on a June morning in the Boston area than in Florida. This is my thought as I sit in the orientation of my first Solstice Writers’ Conference. I am also feeling oddly unencumbered, as if I have forgotten something. I didn’t have to wake anyone this morning, didn’t have to start a load of laundry, didn’t have to field breakfast requests. Instead, I rolled out of my lumpy dormitory bed, ate eggs and sausage prepared for me in the campus cafeteria and left my dishes for someone else to rinse and stick in the dishwasher. I sit back, flanked by two friends that I met at an earlier conference, and wait for the conference director to address the group.

Writers’ conferences are a bit like wandering through a bar in a college town. What’s your major…the college bar. Which class are you in….(novel, short story, non-fiction) the conference. When do you graduate…the college bar. Have you gone yet…(meaning has your work been critiqued in class yet?) the conference. Where are you from…the college bar. Where are you from…the conference. And like in college, when attending a conference, a participant has an assignment. Each writer must submit 25 pages that will be read by eleven or so classmates. For many attendees, this is why they have boarded a plane, hired a babysitter, purchased new luggage. They have hopes of finding a cure for their weary manuscript.

When a particular writer’s turn rolls around, he or she will sit quietly, (we’ll call her she) barred from speaking during the discussion, and the others will talk about and debate what is wrong with her work and what is right. But mostly what is wrong, or maybe it just feels that way. When it is over, usually lasts about 45 minutes, the writer takes a deep breath and says thank you for the flogging. (Another thing I’ve learned along the way…if this process doesn’t sting, at least a little, it probably isn’t working.) Later that night, while sipping wine following the nightly readings, people will ask, have you gone yet? The writer will say yes. How did it go? I learned a lot, the writer might say. And drink another glass of merlot.

The conference director arrives at precisely 9:30. She begins by announcing a room change and goes on to remind us that coffee cups and silverware are not to leave the cafeteria and that the library will close early on Sunday. Lastly, she welcomes and introduces the teaching staff. The morning lecture will begin shortly, the director says, but first she has a bit of advice. We students think we have come to the conference to share our work with our peers, to have our teachers comb through our pages to instruct us on how to fix our plot lines and round-out our characters. But if you want to learn, if you really want to learn, the director says, fall in love with another writer’s work. Love it like you love your own. Make it your mission to lift up that person and ensure that he or she leaves a better writer. Fall in love with someone else’s work and good things will happen. Fall in love with someone else’s work and you will leave a better writer.

Sadly, the Solstice Writers’ Conference doesn’t exist anymore, though Pine Manor has a fine MFA program. And while that conference may no longer take place, I count that advice among some of the best I ever received.

For information on how the oil spill may impact the Tampa Bay area and how to assist in the clean up should the oil find its way to our coast, visit

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Spring of 2010

A white pickup truck, its passenger door dented and its truck bed expanded by a wooden frame, parks at the end of our driveway. A man steps out. He’s familiar. He points at the cabbage palms straddling our driveway, and in broken English asks if we would like him to trim the brown, shriveled fronds. My husband says, “Yes, and would you take a look at those.” We all shake our heads at the three coconut palms that stand like skeletons in our front yard.

We’ve had many cold winters here in Florida. Northerners would laugh at our idea of cold, but you must understand that once you move to the deep south, you get rid of your parkas, sweaters and wool socks. First, you pack them away under a bed or in a closet. Perhaps you’ll go skiing over spring break or visit family up north over Christmas. But then a few years pass, perhaps five or ten, and all those things you were saving are suddenly dated. They have shoulder pads and high waists, so you finally pack them up and give them away.

This winter, however, was unusually cold in Florida, and aside from the damage to our agriculture—strawberries and citrus to name a few—back yards and front yards across the state have suffered. In our yard, the coconut palms suffered most. The gentleman from the truck trims our cabbage palms, leaving only a few bristly fronds on top, tosses the shriveled foliage in the back of his truck, and then slowly approaches the coconuts.

During past hurricane seasons, we would trim heavy clusters of coconuts from the trees so the large woody seeds didn’t turn into missiles during a storm and find their way into one of our neighbors’ windows. The thick green fronds shielded the front of our house from the harsh afternoon sun. Now those fronds have turned brown and droop down the trunk. Everyday, we squint through our front window, looking for a hint of green at the very top that might mean they are still alive.

As my husband sweeps the driveway under the cabbage palms, the gentleman from the white truck walks beneath our coconuts. Is alive, is alive, is dead, he says. The news is worse for the three trees in our back yard. One alive, maybe. Two dead. He’ll come back another day when his truck bed is empty and cut them out for us.

Yes, winter was tough on Florida this year. Iguanas, thrown into hibernation by the cold, dropped like stones from the trees. Brown lizards are decidedly absent this spring. Haggard coconut trees line medians and frame front doors. Thankfully, the Iguanas weren’t dead when they fell, though they looked it. And the brown lizards that were thinned out by the cold were not indigenous and the green lizards will now thrive again. The coconut trees that survived will regain their crown in a few years given a bit of extra care. The dead ones can be replaced. But sadly, the spring stands to be much worse for many along our panhandle and possibly other parts of the state. Sadly, the oil spill of the spring of 2010 stands to devastate the coast lines of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Perhaps many others. Sadly, we may lose a great many things that can not be replaced.

On a lighter note - Congratulations Charger Baseball - District Champions 2010