UCDSAN (Unrealized Characters Demanding Story Adventure Now)!

Idled story characters at the beach in Finland

Idled story characters at the beach in Finland

Some time ago, a boss was comparing me with my coworker as the three of us met in the boss’s office. Specifically, this boss was reacting to a complaint my coworker made about a work problem that the boss had not taken care of.

At the time, I thought that maybe my coworker had the right idea. That it was better to be the squeaky wheel. That even my boss, who was quite the squeaky wheel herself, would find me lacking in the gumption department. In fact, this particular boss had an energy for squeakiness that I found admirable, though wearing. She was a tiny spitfire of a woman with glinting eyes who had an admirable grasp of office politics and hidden powers of influence.

She could also be quite scary when things weren’t going her way.

“You need to be more like Susan,” the boss said to my coworker. “She does her research, presents me with the issue, then waits, patiently.” She smiled at me and my coworker slumped back in her chair, scolded. I know she meant this as a compliment. She was saying that in due time the issue would be dispatched, but trying to get things done faster, on one’s particular schedule, punctuated with much nagging, simply doesn’t help one’s case. She even may have suggested that she herself would be better off with a bit more of my patience.

I don’t know.

One of my best friends from high school signed my yearbook “To the calmest person I know.” I learned what this meant years later, long after we’d lost touch and then met for lunch near our workplaces. By then, she was a scary thin chain smoker, a not much recovered drug addict. She was quivering as if her body was a dragonfly wing, barely settled, as if even the most innocuous comment would send her flitting away. A calm personality might have saved her from some of her troubles, and when she looked at me, perhaps she saw in me what she lacked.

I don’t know. Here’s how impatience lives in this writer, who appears to be all patient and calm on the exterior.

 There are all of the little stories huddled inside of me, bored children demanding their next adventure. “What are we doing next?” they whine, these unborn characters from tales I have yet to tell.

“Hush,” I say. “Be patient.”

“Why?” They chorus.

“Any number of reasons. Isn’t it obvious?” (The dog is impatiently barking for attention, the sink is full of dirty dishes, and I’m getting over a recurrent bug, and, by the way, I have a day job? etc.).

And so they settle down, my little unborn story children and other story people who have been paused, mid-story, sometimes for several years.

Their patience with me will be rewarded at some point down the line, I say, just like my boss said, years back. But that was more for her own benefit, right? And my friend who wished she was someone other than who she was? They were both reflecting on what they saw as their own failings, dreaming in my character a strength they wished they possessed.

I don’t know.

I may be far too patient for my own good, writing-wise. Too accommodating to the demands of the real world.

I’m secretly hoping that a squeaky wheel amongst those hibernating story characters might stand up for all of us and make a fuss that it isn’t right for them to be lying about, un-imagined. Un-realized.

Maybe they will organize and spill themselves out of there and onto the page, an unstoppable force that no amount of real life or so-called patience can deny.

One, Two, Three – On The Way

 

Click the elephant. I dare you.

Now that life has settled down a bit from the whirlwind that was college selection, graduation, open house, and extremely overwhelming work days (nights, weekends, dreams, etc.), I wanted to tell you about a few, exciting, upcoming bookish things.

Not zero, not one, not even two, but YES, THREE  stories are being published this September:

(1) “Everlasting Light,” Talking Stick 23 (Jackpine Writers Bloc, 2014) – September 2014
(2) “Gift Wrapped,” 2015 Saint Paul Almanac – September 2014
(3) “Iced,” Festival of Crime Anthology, Nodin Press – September 2014

Unknown-1Here’s the cool cover for #3.  This well-crafted anthology has great advance praise.  The collection will be launched at our famous local bookstore, Once Upon a Crime, on Thursday, September 11 at 7 P.M. It will be available where fine mysteries are sold, but I hope local folks can make it over to OUAC where I’ll be signing along with the other story authors. Foreword by the ever fabulous, Erin Hart.

#2 events are yet to be scheduled, but I will totally be there for the launch party late summer, and plan on reading at one or more of their events.

#1 will be launched in Northern Minnesota. Not sure yet whether I will make that party, but the Jackpine Writers are known for throwing a great event and crafting a wonderful collection of writing by Minnesota writers.

While you are all eagerly anticipating these stories, go ahead and click on the elephant above, and read my story that appeared in a previous Saint Paul Almanac. Another appearance in the works for the Minnesota State Fair. I’ll get my events page updated soon!

 

My CURMUGN Dad Knew How to Get Results

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

His license plate said it all. CURMUGN.

We knew that my Dad wrote many letters to the editor of the Pioneer Press over the years. But we never guessed the true extent of his cranky correspondence. He was passionate about his opinions, but he got results. Click the link to read the article I wrote about him this time last year.

Happy Father’s Day to the dearly departed CURMUGN, and all the dads everywhere.

 

 

With this note as a preface, may I just tell you that your verses have no style of their own

So begins Rainer Maria Rilke in his first of a series of letters to a young poet. Scary, brutal frankness to a 19 year-old from a young man not much older than he is (Rilke was only 27 when he wrote the first letter).  Rainer_Maria_Rilke,_1900

You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you – no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must”, then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.

There can be no better writing advice in all the world. I’ve reread Rilke’s letters from time-to-time, relearn that like any other condition, the desire to publish sometimes needs to perish before one can learn to write.

And to learn to write, one must simply write. And write again. And keep at it because you can do nothing else to express that peculiar art you have been condemned to perform.

Turning the Tables on Mother’s Day

While today celebrates mothers, I owe it to the three people who made me the mother I am, so I’m celebrating them today, whether they like it or not.

That’s parenting for you – parents do things that are good for their children, even when their children don’t think these things are so good. This is never more the case when parental actions are an embarrassment to the young ‘uns.

But it’s my day, so I’ll embarrass my children, as that is my right.

Here’s to you!

Ryan baby#1 – 29. Lover of what makes language tick and things Celtic (probably in his blood). I knew he’d be a redhead, somehow I knew when I was pregnant with him. When he was very young, I could swear he’d read my thoughts, as sometimes he spoke exactly what I was thinkRyan Helsinkiing. Completely comfortable in his skin and quite the inspiration because of it.

 

Libby Mom#2 -18. Lover of all animals, smart and quiet, with a hidden fieriness that I think is sometimes so deeply hidden she is not aware of it. But it’s there and it is her strength. An air sign, like her mother, and of course fire can only exist because of air. Say no more and watch out.Libby Now

 

 

Sam#3 – 16. Like his father, quiet, and the moment you think he’s lost in his own world, he makes a spot-on comment you never saw coming. Articulate, brainy, artistic, self-assured, and definitely off the beaten path and doesn’t really care what others think about that. Still, he’ll always be my baby. Sam Now

What If Everyone Acted As If You Didn’t Exist?

tonerfacewebThat’s the premise of my novel-in-progress, Naming the Stars.

In Naming the Stars, 16-year-old Mary-Louise comes home from swimming lessons one day to find she is absent from family photographs, her bedroom has turned into a linen closet, and all of her possessions have disappeared. More troubling, her family goes on as if she never existed. The only person in town who can actually see her is a boy she calls Fish, a YMCA swimming instructor, but Fish is hiding from a troubled past and the person he sees is entirely different from who she thought she was.

What if everyone acted as if you didn’t exist?

With dreamlike realism and with a dash of cosmology, this coming-of-age story explores the important and often fragile connection between the roles we play in others’ lives—as siblings, children, friends, and partners—and the unique identity we must find in ourselves.

Coming someday soon (I HOPE!) to book places everywhere.

The Great Disconnect

IMG_1359This morning, I head off for one week of solitude at an inn with no television, no cell service, and no in-room telephone. This rare luxury coincides with the last week of my year as a McKnight Artist Fellow, and I’ll use it to revise the novel I wrote late last summer in San Francisco.

I’m grateful for the support of the McKnight Foundation in making this happen, but also to my husband who is going to be soloing at home (though he is also probably going to enjoy the rare luxury of time to devote to one of his hobbies – drumming), the coworkers who will pick up some duties at my full-time job, and to the company that provides me with vacation time, all of which allows me to basically do what the picture at right symbolizes.

My storyteller’s brain sees those bare tree branches stretching skyward and thinks they’re dreaming of buds, blossoms and leaves-the as yet unrealized possibility of spring.

In the north, where this winter is the longest we’ve had in ages, a day like yesterday (70′s, sunny, mild) isn’t taken for granted. It’s best to spend every moment you can outdoors, drinking up the sunshine and the fresh air. As it was Easter Sunday and this involved conversation and a meal with the extended family, it meant that time was spend indoors cooking and gathered round the table, and at a certain age, one is expected to behave like a mature adult and linger at the table, chatting, while the younger ones escape outdoors to play frisbee or flop on the grass.

So I felt a little awkward and guilty when I slipped away, and flopped down on the grass outside, a reasonable distance from the family teens,  who wouldn’t have liked their over 50 auntie/mom-type to bust in on their conversation.  I wouldn’t have minded if some of the older folks joined me out there, but they felt more comfortable inside.

I felt a little out of place, out there on the lawn by myself, but maybe it was that writer’s brain of mine at work-that took the risk of feeling guilty and out of place for the reward of  a few quiet moments to imagine what the bare tree branches might be dreaming about.