Inspiration All Around Us

The other day on my Facebook Author’s Page I shared a graphic from a great on-line group called Writers Write. Based in South Africa, this group offers writing courses, some of which sound so great it might be worth the expense of a trip to Johannesburg to attend. They also post inspiring quotes from writers, renowned and otherwise, for writers. Almost every day, one of those quotes makes me stop and think about my writing and my writing goals. Those quotes are affirming on so many levels.

Here’s one I shared recently on my Author’s page:

(c)Writers Write

(c)Writers Write

That struck a chord with me because I want to write more short stories, but I’m always lamenting that the things I draw inspiration from (current affairs, history, politics) lead to longer works. (Not complaining by the way; I love writing novels.) I keep a notebook with me at all times, but it’s distressingly empty lately. I live in a very interesting area of central Virginia, full of intriguing, odd, and refreshing characters and, so you’d think that notebook would be full of dialogue snippets, bon mots, and killer ideas for a raft of short stories.

Maybe I need to overcome the MYOB attitude imbued in me by my grandmother. “It’s not polite to listen in on others’ conversations,” she used to tell me. I paid attention to that because I probably didn’t know then I was going to be a writer. It just seems rude to write down what other people say; a southern thing, I suppose.

I do manage to overcome the reticence of jotting down what other people say on occasion. My one-act play, Yo’ Momma, started from a single phrase I overheard at a bar: “This here’s my new phone–I gots it for free.”

Recently, in my town two young men died within two days of each other, both at the age of twenty-six. One had mental and intellectual challenges; the other was an award-winning and brilliant cellist. One was murdered; the other died in his sleep of a heart defect. They both warmed the hearts of everyone they encountered. All that is rife with inspiration, but it will have to wait. It’s too fresh and raw.

I’ve long wanted to write a novel based on the lives of my father and my ex’s father–I even have a great title: Two Fathers. The ex (when he wasn’t my ex) and I discussed it, and I took a lot of notes on his father’s history. The ex and I haven’t been together for nine years, and even though I haven’t forgotten the idea, it is also too fresh, too fraught with emotions I’ve tried to put behind me. Someday, I’ll be in a place to write it.

Day in and day out, I encounter the oddest collection of characters in the most routine places: the barista at Starbucks whose laughter could damage eardrums; the couple who own a local business and have arguments in front of the customers; a bail bondsman who dresses as if he’s the east coast version of Dog the Bounty Hunter; a senior citizen who is always front and center of every Tea Party event with a sign which reads, “Keep the Government out of my Medicare!” (I fixed the spelling.) And so on.

There is the challenge, of course, of making someone too recognizable. I don’t have a problem doing that with public figures. In my series based on the Oklahoma City bombing, people will have no trouble figuring out on whom I’ve based President Randolph. However, I also have a family member who is pissed about how I characterized ¬†my step-grandfather (that family member’s grandfather) in a story which is based on a family event. Just goes to show, every story has two sides.

Even with the pitfalls, look around you. There is inspiration in everything and everyone. Use it wisely, but use it.

 

When You Have Non-Writers in Your Life

Let me start off by saying our first annual SWAG Writers Book Fair was fabulous! Great fun talking to local authors, and of course I blew any “profit” I made on book sales in buying their books. We’ll be doing it again next year, and I’ll post info in time for everyone to make vacation plans to attend. Just kidding. Not really. ūüėČ

One of the great things about the Internet and social media is finding writers from around the world or writing-inspiration web sites. One recent find is Writers Write¬†of South Africa and New Zealand. They offer online courses, but it’s their WordPress blog and Facebook page which provide amusing or downright hilarious sayings and cartoons about the writing life.¬†I saw one such offering over the weekend: “Top 10 Tips: How to Survive a Relationship with a Writer.”

I was very lucky that my most recent ex was not only an advocate for my writing, but he absolutely understood the need for me to have a notebook and plenty of pens or a laptop on vacations. He accepted the fact I needed writing time and never begrudged me that time. He’d even tell relatives not to bother me while I wrote. Of course, his eyes glazed over as I talked about whatever I worked on, but he never asked me to choose between him and writing. That was one of the things I loved about him and miss.

But we all have a significant other, a friend, a relative who just doesn’t get what we do or, in an attempt to look as if they’re being supportive, who do all the wrong things. Here, courtesy of Writers Write is a little primer (with some commentary from me) for those non-writers with whom we share our lives.

How to Survive a Relationship with a Writer

TOP TEN TIPS

1. Never ask when the book will be published.

Ah, yes, this is always a vexing query from someone who doesn’t understand traditional publishing. I think our best response could be, “It’s so good, it’s worth waiting for.”

2. Do not ask a writer if he/she wished he/she had written the latest best-seller.

This happens to me when a new Tom Clancy or Robert Ludlum comes out. Yes, I write thrillers, but I’d probably be less cranky if you’d compare me to John le Carre or Alan Furst.

3. Never say to a writer that you’re thinking of writing a book. Never say you’d also write a book if only you had the time.

The reason we don’t like the first statement is there’s usually a follow-on question: “Wouldn’t you like to have a look at it?” or the equally painful, “Why don’t you give it to your agent?” The second part of number three is vexing because the speaker implies that whatever it is they’re doing, it’s far more important than your writing–or that writing is so easy anyone could do it.

4. Don’t call the police if you happen to see a writer’s browsing history. The average writer is not planning to poison you, hire a hit-man, or move to Afghanistan. It’s simply research.

One day, several years ago, I happened to forget to put away multiple issues of “Soldier of Fortune” and gun magazines, which I’d used for research. That caused quite a stir with some church ladies who came over for tea. In a post-9/11 world, I’m concerned that researching bomb-making instructions and/or “how to weaponize” anthrax will get me a visit from DHS. Oh, wait, is that someone at the door?

5. Leave a writer alone when the writer is actually writing. You have no idea how difficult it is to enter the zone.

Sometimes when you vacation with family, you don’t always get a lot of privacy, but you do always get Uncle Bob or Cousin Shelly hovering in the doorway of whichever room you thought you could hide in. He or she observes you hunched over the laptop, your fingers flying, and they’ll inevitably ask, “Are you writing?”

6. Don’t pick unfair fights with a writer. Writers do get their revenge in print.

A couple of former colleagues and bosses will find themselves casualties in my stories and novels, as will a couple of neighbors who are being pretty obnoxious. What catharsis!

7. If you do want to fight, make it memorable. The writer is always looking for material.

A couple of former colleagues and bosses will find the stupid things they said/did/proposed in my stories and novels, as will a couple of neighbors who are being pretty obnoxious. What payback!

8. If your writer wanders off at a party, don’t panic. Writers love to inspect the host’s bookshelves and medicine cabinets.

Let’s face it, we piece our characters and settings together from people and places we know, and what better places to discover whom a person really is but his or her bookshelves and medicine cabinets? At least, that’s the excuse I’ll use if I’m caught.

9. Buy your writer notebooks and cute pens as gifts. Do not buy flowers. Chocolate is also acceptable.

Some of my favorite gifts from friends and family have been blank journals, especially the ones that fit in my purse. Oh, and the chocolate? I wholeheartedly agree, though for me, I’d never turn down Irish whiskey.

10. Leave your writer alone when a rejection letter arrives. After the deadly silence, screaming, crying, moaning, and muttering have subsided, offer your writer a cup of coffee or tea. And a cupcake. And a hug.

Best advice of all. Don’t get angry along with me. It’s my rejection; let me vent. Then, talk me down off the bridge. And the cupcake needs to be chocolate. The hug is mandatory.

If anything, sharing this with the non-writer in your life will result in either a tender moment of mutual laughter or one of those epic disagreements which will form the basis of your next novel. It’s a win-win!