Dia(B)log

Stranger than fiction

We’ve all heard the cliché “stranger than fiction” but what happens to an author when people we’ve created or places we’ve dreamt up actually come to life? From my experience – it’s freaky weird.

I had three such incidents with my first manuscript – To Make You Mine. First, I named a major character Ben Thatcher, pulling the name out of the air. While I researched the location along the Cape Ann coastline, I wouldn’t know until I traveled there a year after writing the manuscript that the portion of a state route in which I situated the main setting is named Thatcher Road. Legit.

Another major character in the story is a building contractor named Rob. When I visited family during my research trip they were proud to give me a tour of their new home. Their contractor’s name? You guessed it.

Finally, when researching Boston and the probable placement of an orphanage I settled on Dorchester and made up the name, Thompson’s Orphanage. Guess what? One actually exists. In Dorchester.

Now before the skeptics jump all over me about how these facts could easily be located via the Internet, I’ll point out that the research for this book began in 2001. Back when dialup ruled the day just to log onto the Internet and before Google maps. Like the fledging Internet, I too was striking out on a new adventure. To this day, I look back on these revelations not with skepticism but hope. Hope that I’m on the right track as I work everyday to see that story (as well as my others) to publication.

How to get a job

Being a starving artist in search of part-time work I found myself interviewing at the local grocery store this past spring. The manager asked about my writing career/trek toward publication before getting to the mandatory canned questions.

First can out of the box: “Name a profession in which organization is key to the employee’s success.”

I thought for a moment then said, “A paramedic is the second job that came to mind. It’s my understanding the emergency vehicles must be strictly organized so they can reach for what they need without having to search while working on a patient.”

She nodded, jotting notes. “What was the first profession you thought of?”

“A serial killer,” I replied. “Because every mystery writer knows that a serial killer’s undoing results from when they become disorganized in their MO.”

The pen fell from her hand. “We have openings in the bakery. When can you start?”

Harper Lee’s GO SET A WATCHMAN

I think it the neatest testament to American literature that the publication announcement of Lee’s second (albeit written first) novel was released to the world just as I’m helping my son cut his high school annotation teeth on To Kill A Mockingbird.  He plans to add the hardcover to his library.

Breaking writer’s block

Any writer has been there. Your weekly page goal is 125, you’re on page 110. It’s Wednesday afternoon. Nothing is working.

Over the years I’ve used many methods to overcome this inevitable challenge such as “get moving” (walking my husky four miles for the second time that day) to “getting out” (watching two women get in a hair pulling match over Italian pumps at a Nordstrom sale when I was writing Inflatable Men). For what it’s worth, I’ve discovered something not often, or maybe ever mentioned that works for me when “journaling it”, “speaking it”, or even “dancing it out” fails to help:

Go out of your way to do something nice for someone when you’re supposed to be at your desk, working.

Then as the satisfaction flows from your efforts, do it again.

That’s right, don’t wait until seven o’clock, do it at ten a.m. Which goes against the discipline of most successful authors – carving out your writing time and guarding it like a man engrossed in his favorite app. Maybe it’s the breaking of the schedule, maybe it’s because you remove the focus from yourself and/or your pesky fictional friends who won’t cooperate. All I know is it’s effective and you’re doing something to brighten another’s day.

After all, being a writer is a solitary and strange job. If fiction is involved it can be downright weird at times (one of the reasons I like it). Sometimes when the words or ideas won’t come, instead of grasping harder at our subconscious, muse, divine intervention, or whatever you attribute your creativity to, we instead need to look outward to get the relief and inspiration we need to get to page 125. Finish book number seven. Or face the demonic first page of a new project.