Writing Characters


It’s a great afternoon to sit on the balcony, watch the sun sink down, and write.  Currently, I am working on sketching out my characters, and I’m finding it a bit hard to put detail to my male characters.  Which is ironic, because  I’ve historically had more problems making friends with females–I think because I tend to be more pragmatic than a stereotypical female.   I actually don’t usually know why women don’t like me when they don’t.

Whereas, I usually get along pretty well with guys.  Probably because I view my emotions with a degree of suspicion–a side effect of having dealt with depression in the past.  But I can’t claim to know what men think.

On the other hand, I have decided that my female protagonist will have depression, because I can write about that.  I was thinking today of an episode Katy had years ago.  It could have been a scene out of “The Bell Jar”:  she slit her wrists and took a bunch of meds, then laid down in a bathtub to die–and helpfully, contain the blood.  But when all the drugs in her system took hold, she ended up thrashing about and lurching room to room, getting blood all over the walls, before finally collapsing.

Her husband came home to a house with blood-smeared walls and found her, unconscious.  He then immediately went upstairs to check on their baby daughter.  The baby was fine, still asleep from her nap.  Then they got Katy to the hospital where she recovered.

She called me afterwards.  We were at a point in our life where I no longer asked why.  I knew that at some point the depression inside of her would win.  The part of the conversation I remember is that she was upset that her husband could possibly think she would hurt their child.  And the funny thing was, I understood both her and her husband’s point of view.  I understood her–her hatred of herself was only confined to herself.  She loved her baby, but hated being a mom.  She felt trapped and disillusioned.  The happiness she had expected from being a wife and mother had never materialized.  And I understood him–he comes home to that disaster and if she’s willing to do that to herself, what wouldn’t she do to others?

Less than a year later, she did kill herself, leaving behind her 18 month old and her husband.  Perhaps someday I will write her story, but I don’t think now is the time.







We’re seen our neighbors naked–and the naked truth is ugly.


I was in college and wondering what to write about for my editorial column, when my adviser came in. “I want you to write about the O.J. Simpson trial,” he said. My heart sank.

Nationally, the O.J. Simpson trial had been divisive and lingering, and I didn’t want to take sides. Everyone had made up their mind on what the outcome should be; and at my conservative white college, they all had the same opinion. He was clearly guilty, was the thinking. It shouldn’t even be something we’re talking about. Justice demands he pay an appropriate price. Now get off of the T.V.

It seemed like I wouldn’t have much to offer by repeating that stance, nor would I probably convince the student body by making an argument for the opposite. Instead I focused on the part that I found the most interesting—the divisiveness. The divisiveness fell along racial lines and it roughly went like this: if you were white, it seemed a pretty cut and dried case. Look at how he tried to escape! He had clearly committed the murders and he should go to prison. If you were black, here was yet another example of the police mishandling evidence against a black man just to get a conviction at any cost. The fact that police were trying to sway the case probably meant he wasn’t guilty.

The assumption about the justice system was at the heart of both worldviews—is the justice system mostly fair? Or is it systematically unfair? Which assumption you believed had a lot to do with your own personal experience, and good luck trying to change anyone’s mind.

Now here we are, on the eve of an election, and though the issue is different, the divisiveness is very much the same. Except now is it a divide that falls along urban, suburban, and rural lines.  We view the same events and come to completely different conclusions.  In this case, there is only one assumption—our country is systematically unfair, and we should do something about it. The question is, who has the worst unfairness of them all?

But a pissing match arguing which of the bad things is the most bad doesn’t solve anything.  Seeing the ugliness in other people tempts us to be ugly too.  A witty argument, though personally satisfying, won’t change the mind of someone who doesn’t want to be changed.  People don’t change their minds or themselves easily.  And no matter how irrational any one person may be, each of us has our reasons for believing what we do.  Which is why I found this article inspiring, and I’ll add my two cents.

Voting is a great thing to do, but change takes time and our most powerful impact, as always, is within our own sphere.  Be kind to your family, friends, and be kind to strangers too.  Seek to understand before being understood.  Contribute in time or money what you can to find solutions to the things that make you the most angry.

Regardless of the outcome, we have found out more about what our friends and acquaintances believe than we ever did before–and some people will simply disagree.  For our future, we are going to have to find a way to disagree peacefully, because we are beyond the era of simple problems that have simple fixes.  The problems we face are complex and can no longer be solved by lone individuals.  We need everyone, even and especially the ones that are not just like us.  But we can’t work together unless we let go and listen.


Summary sentence and now this!

All right, when we last left my exciting life of writing a novel, I had written a summary sentence, sort of. It did NOT follow a nice blurb like the ones on the NYTimes bestsellers list.  Oh well, I can always come back to it.  So now it is time for the next stage:

Step 2.  Expand the story sentence to a full paragraph describing the story setup, major disasters, and the ending of the novel.

Really?  I have to decide right now?  Man, I thought this would all be sort of organic and free flowing. . . but this is probably the right way to do it.  Well, they could all die in the end, but that’s jumping ahead.  And this isn’t Hamlet, that’s not what I’m going for, they’re all going to live, dammit!  I’m all for some darkness, but this novel is not to be that dark.  After all, I can’t write this and then want to kill myself–now that I’m all mature and stuff (!) that’s no fun anymore.  Okay, we’ll go with less fun.  Less fun than before.

“She was the type of woman that was her own worst enemy, not because she was malicious or stupid, but because she could never seem to have faith in herself.  She could only see her own inner light reflected in the eyes of others.  Ironically, when it came to other people, she could see their soul and their inner beauty, especially in men.  She loved the otherness that was in men; their wildness, their strength, and their sweetness.  She wanted to be wanted and she wanted to be desired, but she also want to heal others.

They say that you get one, maybe two great loves in your life.  But she didn’t believe it.  Because she loved more than one: the one that had come before, the one she could never have, and the one that perhaps she had overlooked.”

. . .damn, that’s two paragraphs!!




And though  I liked those two paragraphs, but they did not fulfill the requirements of Step 2.  *sigh*


So you want to write a book? No, I do!

Yesterday, I had decided to start correlating all these snippets of scenes and dialogue I’ve accumulated over the years and make it coalesce into a grand unified work of fiction.  I wrote one chapter.  No, don’t be impressed, it was short and not impressive.  I don’t really know where it’s going.

Which is why I decided to listen to some podcasts on writing today, which led me to a TED talk, which when reading the comments led me to this site, the Snowflake method.  That looks like a good place to start.  (And yes, this is how I read/consume media, one labyrinthine path to the next, never knowing where I might end up).

Step 1: Write a one-sentence summary of my novel.  Check out NYTimes for hints.

But my novel cannot be condensed into one mere sentence!  Especially when I haven’t written it yet!  . . . okay, this is what the structure appears to be:

When an [adjective] person has [something happen], she must [do something about it that you want to read].

That last part is pretty rough, let’s start with the person.  How do I describe her?  Quirky female?  Ugh, that sounds like me.  Yes, obviously parts of me are going to manifest because I’m writing it, but I only want to use the best parts of me.  And if really embarrassing things are going to happen to my character, I want her to be different enough so that I don’t feel like they’re happening to me.  I gotta have some distance.  But my character has to go through some troubles, right?  No one’s going to read, “…and Lena lived happily ever after, skipping in a field of sunshine and flowers.”  I can’t even buy birthday cards like that, much less write it.  Okay, summary sentence, here we go!

“When a unconventional woman. . .” ugh no.

“An offbeat woman finds. . .” no, she sounds like a pot-smoking hippie.  That’s not meant to be an insult, it’s just not my character.  As in the character I’m writing.

“A sensitive and soul-searching  woman. . . ” GAH.  Magic thesaurus on the wall, help me find the best word of all.  Find me a synonym for geeky.  Computer specialist?  No thanks, not a useful descriptor for getting you to fall in love with my character.

“A searching woman struggles to make peace with her right- and left-brains.”  That’ll bring them in.

Except, of course, I’m forgetting about the other character.  And if we had to take his view into account, it would be something like:

“Men and woman can be friends, even if the sex part DOES get in the way.”  That’s not a great tagline.  Obviously references “When Harry Met Sally.”  But it is what the novel is about, so I guess it’s a start.



To Write, To Dream


One day at work, when I was having a particularly bad day, I jokingly told a colleague I was just having a existential crisis.  She looked at me quizzically, and said, “Really?  I’ve never had one of those.”

“You’re lucky,” I said, “I have at least one a year.”  We laughed, she because she thought I really was joking, and me, because…well, I wasn’t.  I can’t say that I’m having one now, but due to events in my life, I am doing my typical uselessly-looking-inward exercise.  Again.  Yelling at myself because as I well know, ideas without actions are regrets, yet here I am regretting my inactions.

One thing I have always wanted to do is write a book, so I have signed up for NaNoWriMo.  I don’t know that I will get to 50,000 words in a month–but something is better than the nothing I’m currently doing.  I don’t have to post my novel publicly–and frankly, I’m not sure I want to–so that leaves the question of accountability.  Which is why, in my infinite wisdom, I have also signed up for NaBloPoMo.  *sigh*  This could backfire terribly.

Wish me luck!


Goodbye, Last Cat of My Marriage

I am a long time owner of cats.  Funny, really, because when I was a girl we had a dog:   Gwener, a Welsh Pembroke corgi.  She was Devourer of Table Scraps; Squirrel Chaser; Roller of, and with, Dead Toads; and Warrior Against the Demonic Vacuum Cleaner.  She was adorable, with deep brown eyes, a foxy face, and red and white markings.  She died during my college years; or rather, my parents had to put her down.  They loved her so much they have never had a dog since.   But she was there for my childhood and adolescence, and her passing was the end of that era.

After college, when I ended up getting a house with my fiance, we ended up getting a cat.  And then another.  And then two more.  Four proved to be unsustainable and we ended up re-homing the friendliest, and then there were three.  Years passed, we had two kids, three cats, a house with a stream, and a backyard with peonies and an apple tree.  There are different stories about that time in my life, but if you know me, you know that also ended.  I am divorced–I left the house, took one cat, split the kids, and never looked back. Though I only moved a town over (which is good for my girls, they deserve time with both of their parents), it was, and is, a whole different life.

People always get sad about endings, about changes, as though life is changing the rules.    Sometimes it can be sad when we’re not ready to let go–but life IS change.  Those are the rules, and there is no stopping it.  You can choose to try to plant your feet in stubbornness–and then be swept away against your will, in a direction you didn’t choose–or you can accept that this is the nature of being, and guide with the grain.

In the last year, those three cats have passed away.  Kiku, the eldest.  Kinoko, the middle that lived with me.  And last, Kashi, the sweetest.  They each lived to be about sixteen, the same amount of time I was with my ex, now my co-parent.  Both of the kids are in school–no longer as young as they used to be.

I cried over Kashi’s death today.  After all, she brought a lot of joy.  She was always a cuddly cat, the one who loved me pregnant.  My belly was so warm she would lay on my belly shelf, until Rowan would kick her off from inside the womb.  (Rowan was a feisty fetus, never still, and she didn’t like to be hot, even inside me.)  But here’s the thing–she was never meant to live forever.  I can love the memories of her without being bitter.  After all, once I put Kinoko down, I adopted immediately–because love and loss define another.  To know love, to love a pet, is to make yourself vulnerable by knowing that it ends.  It ends before you do, and it doesn’t matter, because it’s worth it.  Love, and risk, is worth it.

Today, I have two different cats.  Boys, both black, sometimes assholes.  Tearing up the screens, chewing electrical cords because they know it annoys me, breaking mugs and pushing glasses of water off the table, because they can, and they are young.  But also coming in the night to body flop against me, chewing on my fingernails (a sign of love, I swear), and sometimes I can hear the purrs and their heartbeats through my pillow.

And my girls–one growing into young adulthood, and one growing into herself.  Rowan and I were watching Parks & Rec the other night and with our sense of humor, we burst into boisterous laughter in tandem.  Rowan looked at me and said, “Do you think our neighbors ever get annoyed that we laugh so much?  Because we’re pretty loud.”  I thought about it, and it’s true, we are laughing about something every single day.  Not a day goes by where we don’t.  How freakin’ great is that?  And my youngest–she’s a queen of the side-eye, but I can still make her smile.  She doesn’t like to admit that she thinks I’m funny.

Those two, of course, came from my marriage and are one of the reasons I have no regrets about the past.  But someday, that will also end, by my death, or theirs. It would be better if I ended before they do–after all, that seems to be more natural, doesn’t it?  Having children makes your heart so vulnerable.  I’ve already decided not to worry too much if they go before me–I doubt there is a way to protect a heart from that kind of heartbreak. The only way to do so would be to distance oneself from love, and I have already decided that I don’t do that kind of thing.

It is the risk of all kinds of connection, human or otherwise.  The divorce was hard, make no mistake–I am fortunate that both he and I really did live up to our ideals of keeping the kids first, and it shows.  And I can’t say if I will ever marry again–though frankly, it is not something I dwell upon.  Because the greatest gift and truth of all is time–with our pet companions, and with our human friends.

Time reveals all: the true nature of things, the true being of animals, and the true character of people.  I love my cats.  If I didn’t have kids, I might have dogs, and I would love them too.  And I love my friends, my family, the souls that are my kids, and dare I say, my boyfriend.  I love the people I share my time with.  I do get frustrated with my mortal life, and I do get a bit worried by the magnitude of humanity’s problems, but there is still so much to love in this world, to love in this life.  I can accept the closing of doors, because there are other ones that are opening.  Change is a flow, life is a current.

So goodbye, another phase of my life.  Goodbye, another beloved pet.  I am grateful for the joy you brought, and thankful that I got to experience all of that.  Welcome, life.  I look forward to another, yet different phase.  Because I can cry and smile at the same time, and neither has to take away from the other.

Choose your Future–Fear Or . . . ?

“I’m not a parent. So I’m interested to know how you feel. For those of you who are parents, are you concerned about your child’s future? Are you concerned about what sort of world they will be living in? What we are leaving for them?”

This came up on my feed on Facebook in the wake of the Orlando shootings.  Of course, I am concerned about my child’s future—but I would be in any place, and in any time.  Bad things have always happened in our world.  Our species is adolescent, and there is still the possibility that we could be stupid and exterminate ourselves.  Or get exterminated, even without our input.  Life is fragile and temporary.  You can get a stack of all good cards, play them all right, live a good life, but death is still the denouement.  You will still die.

When something unexpected happens, like a random death of someone we love, it is not just the loss of the person that makes it so heartfelt.  It is compounded by the loss of the dream of a future than will now never come to pass.  Disappointment is a bitter thing.  Often we make sacrifices in the present so that we can reap the dream in the future.  Letting go of that, that life has changed without our control, feels like a poor bargain.  It feels like a con.  And no one likes to be bested.

I hope, and pray, that my children will outlive me.  It is every parent’s fear that they won’t.  But because I don’t know the future, and cannot control it, I choose to enjoy the good in my life now.  I choose to love my children without restraint, even if my heart is broken later.  I choose to have pets, though I know they will die before me, because the daily joy of their existence is worth it.  I choose to make happy memories of happy moments, because this is life.  This is life’s longing for itself—in us, in our children, in our world.

There is always the choice to be fearful, to try to guard one’s heart against pain—but that is not humanity’s gift.  Our ancestors had the same feelings—what is the future of my children?  This world we live in, imperfect but with islands of light, is the future they worked so hard for.  We are here because our predecessors worked hard to change their present.  We are here because they worked hard to improve our future.  It is frustrating how slow change can be, but there has still been progress.  I don’t wish to live in any previous age.  I am grateful to live in this one.  I enjoy my life, I know love, and I understand that it can all disappear in moment.  But so what?  I will enjoy this moment.  I will love all that I can and love every moment that I am to receive.  If there is grief to come, I will deal with it when it actually happens, rather than try to deflect it by anticipating it—you cannot really protect yourself against loss.

Love your family, love your friends.  Bad things may or may not happen.  But in the meantime, enjoy what is—because right now, there is so much to love and so much light to give.