The Secret to Great Writing

I'm fed up with all of the writing rules and tips people post all over Facebook, Twitter, and the web in general. It's art. It's craft. It's personal expression. It's called INDIVIDUALITY. When that 30-Something is me and has walked in my shoes (or even their own, for that matter) for six decades, maybe I'll listen. Until then, I'll write my way, according to my rules and my own internal prompts. The magic key is a myth, people. There is no secret formula, no rule or ritual that will make you a great writer. Quit allowing these would-be geniuses to make you feel like you're not "doing it right" and just frickin' write. That's the only advice you should listen to: "Just write."


When Old Farts Marry

I've been married twice before. Once when I was 18 (which ended with my being widowed eight months later) and once when I was 23 (which ended in divorce after three and a half years). Since 1977 I've shied away from marriage; the cruel realities of it had visited themselves rather harshly on me far too early in life. When I met Lynette marriage just wasn't in the realm of possibility so I never even considered it. I never needed that "piece of paper" to strengthen my commitment to her and our blended family, or to ourselves as a couple and our life together. In 2001 we had a Holy Union ceremony and that was good enough for me. It had to be. Then, earlier this month, Marriage Equality was passed in our state and we decided to take the plunge. We already felt married, but making it legal would grant us all the privileges and protections other couples take for granted as their inherent rights. I know. I did too when I was younger. It wasn't until I realized I'd forfeit my equality that I appreciated all that was wasn't open to me anymore. So two weeks ago we began planning a wedding ceremony to be performed here at Bookends Cottage in the presence of our closest friends and family members.

I don't care what anyone tells you. To plan and prepare an in-home wedding and reception is hard work and it's expensive. Unless you're under 50 and can afford food caterers and a team of people to come in and clean, rearrange furniture, decorate, and then undo everything afterward, my advice is DON'T DO IT. If you can afford a catered affair at a restaurant, a hotel, or some other place, do that instead. But that wasn't practical in our situation. We simply couldn't afford it. Instead, I did all the cleaning, Lynette decorated and did most of the errand-running, and we had a friend who volunteered to help with the food, including the gorgeous cupcakes she and her daughter made. But there was furniture to move, clutter to remove (books, plants, dog toys, etc.), and the house to clean from top to bottom.

On Friday morning we went to the courthouse to get our marriage license and on the way up the sidewalk I tripped and fell flat on my face. I mean, on my actual face. I had scuff marks on my nose and chin, my hands were bloody and I wrenched my right shoulder, but I was damned lucky. Lying face-down on the sidewalk in shock, all I could think was, "Oh, man, I hope I didn't break a hip or something and we'll have to hold the wedding in the hospital..." Lynette helped me up and, fortunately, everything except my dignity seemed to be intact. Makeup covered the scuff marks, some bandage took care of my hands and, later, champagne took care of the rest and everyone had a wonderful time. Until the next morning when I could hardly move and I knew there was no way the house was going to get put back in order anytime soon. Then, while moving the TV into the bedroom and plugging it in, Lynette gave herself a mild concussion. What a pair! She was dizzy all day and I hurt all over. Still, we had a restful, enjoyable day napping, nibbling on leftover party food and drinking champagne. In fact, we spent the entire weekend in bed, but oh, how these things change when age sets in.

The house is somewhat normal now, but moving the furniture back, hauling boxes in and out of the garage, vacuuming, and putting all the gifts away is going to have to wait until my shoulder is better. Honeymoon? What's that? When old farts marry the closest we get to a honeymoon is rubbing Icy Hot on each other while cooing, "Don't worry, sweetheart. We need to conserve our strength for the cleanup."


It's All About.Me

Unlike almost everyone I know, it took me a while to warm up to most of the social networks I now use. Twitter especially made me scratch my head. I'm still not sure I get it, but I spend a little time there every day, although I feel sort of alone and isolated, like I'm standing on a mountain top shouting only to receive echos in return. This weekend, however, I discovered a new one that I'm really enjoying, although I don't really know why. There's no chat, no feeds and no status updates, no games, no photo albums and no 20 gazillion birthday greetings to read and respond to.

It's called About.Me and you can check it out by clicking the ME button over there on top of the left sidebar. I think what I like about it is that it's so uncomplicated. Big background photo, bio, links, and linked screen captures of all the other MEs who like your page and whose pages you like for whatever reason. I admit I kind of wish it could be customized a little more, but they may get around to that in time. Its purpose? It's a place for people who don't want to be bothered with the labor, knowledge, and expense of either building their own site, or contracting a web developer.

We'll see what happens with About.Me. I like getting in on the ground floor of things like this if only to witness either their success or their demise. I remember BBS, Qlink, AOL, Prodigy, Compuserve and MySpace. I can't remember the names of all the SNs I've tried. Will About,Me make it? I don't know. These days, people look for the next Facebook like people in the Seventies looked for the next Beatles. I don't think About.Me is it, but it seems to be gaining popularity very quickly.


Making the Cut

Sometimes, you just have to make a change. I've been a particular person—perhaps I should say I've been in a particular phase—for the past five years or so, one during which I saw my 50s sliding away, taking middle age with them and forcing me to look my senior years in the face without flinching. This isn't easy for some people. It wasn't terrible for me, but I did have a hard time adjusting to no longer being attractive in a younger woman sort of way. I'm quick to add, however, that when the five year phase began I was seriously ill and my creativity had been dried up for well on 15 years. Hanging onto my youth was all I had left. Fortunately, over time, a combination of writing and taking the right meds fixed me up, an improved physical and mental state that really took hold just the past year.

With that emergence from my dark period came a new sense of self-esteem and turning 63 last month was a breeze. A celebration. Still, I needed a physical change to commemorate that emergence. Being "attractive in a younger woman sort of way" gave way to simply wanting my physical appearance to match the changes I've come through, the strides I've made, and my newly discovered sense of self. So today I had my waist-length hair cut off.

Hairstylists love to see people like me walk in their doors. They live to cut off long hair. Today, as I sat in the chair the stylist at the next station said to my stylist, "You got the fun cut today!" She then apologized to her client, saying she didn't mean her cut and style wasn't fun.

Life is changing all of a sudden and I find myself standing on the brink of an exciting new future. Don't let anyone tell you getting older sucks. Even with health issues it's what we make of it.


Don't Lift the Lid

At some point over the summer I came to the conclusion that blogging about my personal writing process wasn't really all that interesting to people. I don't mean the cool things about writing—the source of inspiration, the origin of characters, et cetera—I mean the nuts and bolts of my current project. This would be entirely different if I were a famous author like, say Rowling or Gaiman, but let's face it. Until one reaches that level of popularity in this celebrity driven world, nobody really cares. One still has to prove one's writing as interesting enough to attract the curiosity of readers who ask, "What made her write that?" and "I want to do that. What's her secret?" I have a long way to go.

Every writer I know wants to be taken seriously, to be fascinating and to draw readers to their blog. We write to be understood, after all, and it's completely natural that we should want our blog to be the vestibule to our house of creativity. The problem is, I can sometimes get so focused on decorating my front steps that I neglect my parlor. Pretty welcome mat, dark and untidy  living room.

Many years ago, in 1971, when I was a professional Hollywood musician performing in concerts and television, I came up with a great idea for an album. It was a new idea at the time, one that Linda Rondstadt's people came up with a few years later: an album made up entirely of covers from the late Fifties and early Sixties. There was nothing like that out there yet; people were still creating new stuff and no one was looking backward at any kind of glory days. There were no glory days, they were still being made. I went to my manager and began to tell him about it.

"I've had a a great idea! I want to make an album of nothing but old songs from—"
"Don't tell me about it, just do it."
"Show me."

At the time, this came across as rude non-interest (maybe it was), and it shook me up a bit. Being of a sensitive, self-conscious disposition in those early years, I took it to mean that it was a bad idea, so I dropped it. Enter Rondstadt with Tracks Of My Tears (1975), That'll Be The Day (1976), Ooh, Baby Baby and Just One Look (1978), and string of other Oldies. I missed out on a great opportunity because what I really wanted was his validation for my idea and his praise for having come up with it in the first place. Instant gratification. Instead, I should have given him a proposal complete with budget, desired musicians and suggested cover art. But it was a different world back then. The record industry wasn't yet the corporate monster it is now. We had managers, not lawyers and accountants. And I was just a baby with no one to teach me the ropes.

I've since learned that people don't care about your ideas, really. I mean, friends may show a lukewarm tolerance for how much you go on about your book and other writers my seem interested, but until you have something to show, meh. They don't care that you've come up with the most romantic hero ever dreamed, or the most fascinating detective with the most absurd quirks. They want you to show them, not tell them. If the "show, don't tell" rule is true in the actual writing, it's certainly true in all other aspects of the craft.

But there's something in it for us, too. Our ideas, schemes, and the intricacies of creation are energy that's swirling around inside us. If we dissipate that energy—like lifting the lid on a pot of steaming rice—the real substance lessens. It loses something. that steam needs to be kept contained if we want to come up with a really tasty dish. In western paganism this is known as "building the magik" and that conical hat image is merely a symbol of how energy is built and stored and then, when it's reached its maximum power, is finally directed up the cone to a pressurized release through a tiny little hole, into the universe. That's much more powerful than being bareheaded and blasting off willy-nilly at the very first sign of steam. We must resist the need for a little appreciation if we want the applause of many. As I've said for many years, "I'm not settling for Hamburger Helper when I know there's a prime rib waiting."

So, unless I have something important to report to you about my latest book project, I won't be lifting the lid for anyone. No news is good news.

Throes of Creation by Leonid Pasternak


Let Freedom Ring

After 14 years of shacking up, Nettl and I are finally getting married.

When I first came out in 1976 I never even considered marriage as an option. It was so far out there (and I was still such a hippie), I never considered marriage to anyone, female or male. But at the end of the millennium I started reconsidering things. Marriage? Yes, I was ready for that whole pipe and slippers thing... well, not the pipe, you understand. But even the idea of marriage wasn't open to me. Never had been, never would be. It wasn't a deal, I just accepted it like I accept that I'll never be able to publicly smoke a hookah in Cairo. It didn't bother me, it's just the way it was. That changed, however as the 2000's progressed and now, guess what? Marriage equality has been passed in Oklahoma.

What? Me surprised? Hell, yeah!

We had a holy union ceremony at College Hill Presbyterian Church in Tulsa on May 25, 2001, officiated by an ordained minister and everything. Family, friends, flowers, cake, attendants, the whole deal. Problem was, the papers couldn't be filed because for some reason we were not as equal as other natural-born citizens. Funny. I'd been equal all my life, but that equality was suddenly revoked when I fell in love with the wrong person. We got over it. We paid our taxes and paid into the system, we raised our young and we buried our elderly, but we were never entitled to the rights and privileges other Americans received. We simply weren't "created equal" anymore. But all that changed today. We are at last honest-to-goodness Americans, by golly. For me, it's mostly about taking care of that 14 year-old paperwork; I couldn't feel any more married than I already do.

Do you see that little bulge in my cheek? That's my tongue.

Anyway, the point of this is to announce that we will be heading to the courthouse on October 24th, after which we will come back to Bookends Cottage for one hell of a reception! If you're not on Facebook (where we created an event page) and would like to attend, email me via my Contact page and I'll send you the particulars.

If your marriage suffers on October 24th I'm truly sorry, but really, we have nothing to do with it. If we had that much power don't you think we would have used it by now?

The Season Falling Around Me

Every Fall, I wish I had a shredder-bagger like my dad's. Next weekend begins the usual between the heat of summer and the cold of winter manual labor that has become a ritual at Bookends Cottage. We have 9 old trees that drop their leaves every year, one of them an oak that is nearly 100 years old. It is the greatest offender in autumn, but you know I love it and the shade and contemplation it lends me in the warmer months. Still, being a California native I'm not all that work brittle where raking leaves is concerned. Well, I should say my back doesn't appreciate the job.

The other major chore on the agenda is cleaning out the garage so that no one has to scrape their car windows early in the morning. I don't know how it happens, but things grow out there. A bag of clothes becomes a dresser, a birthday gift bag becomes a stockpile of seasonal wrapping—you know how it is. And I never did find my winter clothes last autumn, which forced me to endure one of our coldest winters with just one sweater and no bulky socks. I'm not going through that this year; I'll find that bag or else. I'm older now and my body doesn't respond well to the cold.

That reminds me. I need to buy two electric blankets, one for me and one for Joel, whose body also reacts badly to waking up cold. I've been doing a bit of online window shopping and I think I can get a couple of reliable blankets (some that won't short out, thus causing a house fire in the middle of the night) for a little over $100. Yes, I comb through reviews!

With the signs of the season all around me, I look out the window at the crisp sky, the vivid colors, and the gently floating leaves and I sigh, "Ugh."


Paul Revere's Midnight Ride

If you grew up in the USA during the Sixties, it was impossible for you not to know of Paul Revere & The Raiders. From 1966 to about 1970 their hits were a constant on the Billboard Top 100, but most of us enjoyed our first exposure while watching Dick Clark's Where The Action Is in the afternoons after school. They were impossible to miss. It was more than their modified Revolutionary War era costumes (ooh, Mark Lindsay in those tights!), though. It was their showmanship, their humor, and certainly their music, but it also was their stage act, orchestrated by leader Paul Revere with his broad smile and slapstick antics. Yesterday, Paul Revere lost his battle with cancer at the age of 76, which is fitting since the band's image so doggedly adhered to the 1776 theme. This had to be Paul's last laugh, I suspect, and it makes me smile.

Make no mistake about it. Paul Revere formed a well-oiled, professional band and as members came and went all the way through today, he knew what made that band successful: rock-solid musicians, polished stage routines, all-out entertainment value, and a tried-and-true professionalism that's been lacking for decades. Paul was known as a warm, affable, generous, and kind man, but I suspect he also reigned supreme from behind his keyboards. He was a true leader and members who left did so usually due to artistic differences. That's okay. To be a Raider meant that Mr. Revere led the show. Please sign here.
"Generous to a fault with your family, your friends and your band, there seemed to be no limit to your kindness. When you turned your attention towards someone, you made that person feel special and in your spotlight. You had a pet name for each person, and you never hesitated to tell them how exceptional they were. You appreciated the talent, beauty, skills and uniqueness you found in others, and you were never shy about telling them so. All the more reason for people to feel wonderful in your presence." Paul Revere & The Raiders Official Website
Until the advent of heavier music by Jimi Hendrix and Cream in 1967, the Raiders were the only group to pull me away from my blind and blinkered worship of the Beatles. The songs on their albums were a diverse mix that covered everything from novelty rock to biker blues and although some songs could be a little kitschy, there were plenty of rockers to keep me listening for hours while I did my homework or sunbathed in the backyard.

It's a peculiar kind of grief we feel when someone like Paul Revere dies. In most cases we've never met them, much less known them personally, and in a lot of cases we haven't listened to their albums in ages, so why do we mourn? Truth is, their death presents us with a startling reminder that we too are mortal and that our time of departure is creeping ever closer. I won't go any deeper than that, however much I like to wax philosophical here, but I will conjecture that it is for our innocence that we grieve and when such a solid building brick like Paul Revere leaves, we recognize that our foundation of life as a human, and its false sense of security, is really only built on sand. Youth is done, middle-age is ending, and we have entered the final phase of this life.

Ride on, Paul Revere. We'll catch you on the flip side!

Paul Revere 1938-2014


Into October

Usually, I find September a month of release. Probably because it's my birth month, I think of it as a time of new beginnings and a renewed sense of possibilities—my own personal new year. I think I had exactly six hours of that exhilaration this year. Then the doo-doo started hitting the fan and made the past two weeks a constant exercise in determination. But all is not lost. Most of the fires were successfully put out and the restrictions and setbacks seem to have fallen by the wayside. Enter October.

Not only was yesterday what would have been the 88th birthday of my maestro, but we spent the evening at the Wings of Hope  "Metamorphosis" fashion show, where Nettl modeled a great outfit. She rocked it! For the first time, I saw her past experience as a tea room model back in the '80s come to life. The audience loved her! Wings of Hope is a family crisis center that provides safety, hope, and empowerment to victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault. It also is where Nettl found a new and better job in August. Needless to say, we're both pleased and proud to be affiliated with them. (I include myself because they invited me to submit a website proposal; I'm now awaiting the outcome of that.)

Lynette rocks the leather!

What a great beginning to autumn! With a list full of projects that I'm enjoying and a head full of ideas for my current book, I'm looking forward to the season ahead. The darkening months are always creative for me and the idea of working while snuggled in sweaters and mukluks, the kettle always hot, excites me.

A New Direction, by Carol Francis