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Never without a notebook

Last week I tackled my writing room – moved furniture, went through files, cleaned and reorganized. I had three reasons for this insanity. First, because my heavy desk was blocking the heat source and with the recent frigid weather, I could hardly type in there. Second, I was running out of file space, even with an embarrassing number of file drawers. Third – and most important – I was trying not to obsess about my upcoming book launch. Not to obsess, not to google the book title repeatedly, not to bother my wonderful publicist (who just might be getting a little annoyed with me).

I’m only half done, but the job is pretty much what I expected. I’m throwing away a lot, recycling a lot, donating a lot (someone might want those three-ring binders, right?) I’m not very sentimental about stuff, but I do have filled a box labeled “Stuff I don’t need, never use, and can’t bear to throw away.”

The most interesting finds are the notebooks. When I started writing fiction fifteen years ago, people told me to always carry a notebook to jot down thoughts and observations and ideas. I rarely write more than a paragraph by hand; I much prefer working on the computer, but still I took that advice to heart. So as part of the clean-up, I gathered those notebooks. There are nineteen of them ranging from big to tiny. Thumbing through them, I found sentences that ended up in a published novel or story, intact, like my friend Irene’s observation years ago – “I didn’t take the interstate for a whole year. I couldn’t merge.” – which a character says in my first novel. I also found terrible sentences, and some interesting advice to myself, like “Too sappy; dark is better.”

I also found twelve new notebooks, mostly presents from friends and family. That is particularly generous, since they know that my always carrying a notebook means it’s even more likely that they’ll end up in a story.  Read More 
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Taking a break

People assume I’m retired. After all, my hair is graying and I no longer get in my car every morning and drive to the children’s hospital where I worked as a nurse practitioner. I no longer dress like a professional, although I was never so good at that part. Instead, I get up every morning – including weekends – and write, usually in my pajamas or workout clothes, mug of coffee at my elbow.

“I’m not retired,” I correct them. “I write every day. Writing is my job, my work.”

The problem with the “job” of writing fiction is that before now, I never took a break. My characters accompanied me on every trip away. Beach vacation or mountains, road trip or writing conference, they came along. When my laptop wasn’t handy, my notebook was right there.

But this week is different. I’m at a natural breathing spot. My second novel, ON HURRICANE ISLAND, is in production, for publication early in 2015. The third manuscript is with my agent, awaiting her brilliant editing attention. The fourth is well into the third trimester of internal gestation, but not quite ready for the page. The essay I’ve been working on is finished too, and sent off to find its way in the world.

The setting is right for a break as well. I’m in Brooklyn, helping out during school vacation week. My granddaughter is six; her brother is almost two. They are delightful and exhausting. Like all the other graying grandparents, I’m hanging out at multiple playgrounds, lugging scooters and snacks, reading Ivy & Bean, negotiating play dates, and drawing pictures with 36 fine point markers.

Do I miss my characters this week? Nope. Not even a little.  Read More 
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Books and imaginary friends

Like many of you, I read a lot – several books a week. I choose them for different reasons. Some to admire and learn from. Some because of commitments to my two book groups, including the group I lead at the Odyssey Bookshop. Some because the author is a friend, or perhaps a Facebook friend. I read advanced reading copies (ARCs) as a member of the First Edition Club selection committee at the bookstore. I love novels that tackle big political/ethical/moral dilemmas and I look for those, but sometimes a totally different kind of book will choose me and surprise me.

That’s what happened with Matthew Dicks’ Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, which I picked up from the wobbling piles of ARCs on the kitchen table at the bookstore. I met Matthew last year when we were both invited to participate in the wonderful Books on the Nightstand readers’ retreat in Manchester Center, Vermont.  Read More 
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