Why I Write

The first novel I started resides now in a filing cabinet in my office alongside much more recent works. The working title is The Hanging Tree – but it isn’t a Western. I outlined it, created a cast of characters, and wrote several chapters before putting it away temporarily so I could go to college. I was twenty-eight.

That was over thirty years ago. I always meant to come back and finish it, but when I finally began to write again in earnest there were too many other things I wanted to do – and so it languishes there, waiting for me. It may be waiting forever.

Then again, I might take it back up any time now. read more

Scars

Shortly after I learned to walk I learned to run. This is important to know. My parents had been trying for about thirteen years to have a baby, and were, understandably, thrilled with me. Daddy loved children, enjoyed getting down in the floor and playing with them. Thus when I came along, I became his favorite playmate.

Back in ’49-50…Doesn’t that sound like a real old-timer talking?… raising kids wasn’t quite so simple. Diapers were real cloth and had to be scrubbed clean and boiled for sanitization. Bottles were glass and could really break.

I was a disaster waiting to happen. read more

My Mother & the Fouke Monster

This began as my attempt to write a story that consisted of a lie. I thought I’d start with the truth and segue into the lie, but I never got to a good place to change over. So what you see is what you get. Enjoy!

I live in the country – have for most of my life. I live a few miles outside the small southwest Arkansas town of Fouke. You might have heard of Fouke somewhere down the line. Our major claim to fame is a movie made back in the early 1970s about one of our residents. He’s known in some circles as Sasquatch, or the Abominable Snowman. Around here he’s known simply as the Fouke Monster. The movie was Charles B. Pierce’s The Legend of Boggy Creek.

The film is cheesy, funny, and made on the cheap, but it’s become a cult classic, sort of like Rocky Horror Picture Show, except people don’t usually throw things when they watch “our” film. Have any of you seen it? It’s really a hoot. Let me tell you about our famous resident. read more

Proust’s 35 Personality Trait Questions

Marcel Proust (1871-1922) was a French novelist who excelled in essays, psychological writing and the use of allegory. Proust is known for many inspiring words that are still quoted today. One of the most common is one I think particularly appropriate for the My 500 Words group. Here is the way it’s usually stated:

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

The literal translation is much more complex, but I thought you might enjoy it, too:

The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them is.
-Ch. II: “The Verdurins Quarrel with M. de Charlus”

One of the members of our My 500 Word group was asking for ideas recently about how to develop your characters more fully. I apologize to her, because I didn’t make a note of her name at the time, and our posts have been going so fast I have no idea if those a week old or more are still there, perhaps archived, perhaps just way back if you had the time and energy to do the scrolling. Those who understand FB better than I can perhaps answer that question.

I suggested Proust’s 35 Questions, something I use regularly. When I put myself in my character’s place, with everything I know about him/her already, I find myself lost in the zone and answering in completely different voices from my own. I’m not observing them from outside but calling up from deep within what I feel them saying in response. I urge you all to try it! It’s been very enlightening to me. 

In the late 19th century, parlor games of all sorts were hugely popular. You may recall hearing or reading about the study of phrenology, reading the bumps on people’s heads. That was popular for a while, but apparently didn’t interest Proust so much, because when a friend asked him how one could learn more about their inner selves, he wrote out these 35 questions. They’ve remained popular through the years, and author Joe Bunting pointed out they can be very useful in getting to know the people in your novels.

And so, herewith are Proust’s 35 Questions on Personality Traits. I’d love to hear your results if you give this a try.
1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
2. What is your greatest fear?
3. What trait do you like least in yourself?
4. What trait do you hate most in others?
5. What living person do you most admire?
6. What is your greatest extravagance?
7. What is your current state of mind?
8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
9. When, for what reasons, do you lie?
10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?
11. Which living person do you most despise?
12. What quality do you most admire in a man?
13. What quality do you most admire in a woman?
14. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
15. What words or phrases do you most overuse?
16. When and where were you happiest?
17. What talent would you most like to have?
18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
19. What is/has been yoour greatest achievement?
20. If you died and came back as a person or thing, what would you be?
21. Where would you most like to live?
22. What is your most treasured possession?
23. What would you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
24. What would be your favorite occupation?
25. What is your most marked characteristic??
26. What do you most value in my friends?
27. Who are your favorite writers?
28. Who is your favorite fictional hero?
29. What historical figure do you most identify with?
30. Who is/are your hero(es) in real life?
31. What are your favorite names (both male and female)
32. What do you most dislike?
33. What is your greatest regret?
34. How would you like to die?
35. What is your motto?
* For my own use, I changed all the “you” and “yours” to “I” questions so it was easier to maintain my character’s persona.

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Funeral for a Hero

The following is a brief excerpt from my current WIP, Murder by Any Other Name. In our “My 500 Words” group today, we’ve been challenged to “show not tell,” in a piece of our writing. I’ve chosen the funeral scene from my story, and I’m looking forward to hearing from other group members. I do realize that I’m both showing and telling. 🙂

Richie’s funeral on Monday afternoon was as dramatic as I think a president’s would have been – the main difference being that there were no heads of state, no members of Congress, no celebrities in attendance. Just four hundred or so police officers from across the state and from surrounding states. Firefighters on their bright red trucks, EMTs driving a brightly colored mini-caravan of their own, and a DPS vehicle from every county in the state. Even with several officers riding in each vehicle, it made for a terribly long line of cars to wend their way from Justine and Richie’s church in Biloxi to the cemetery in Ocean Springs. I could only imagine what it looked like from above – a monstrous serpent swimming through the waters of the bay, shoving cars and people to left and right.

The service was as brief as it could have been, considering words were said by Richie’s commanding officer and a representative from the city, with Chief Sikes giving a brief eulogy. I don’t remember much of what he said, only the love and loss with which he said it.

Riding in the family car with Justine and Owen, and Mom and Dad, I felt so dreadfully alone. A year and a half ago Mark would have been here supporting me. I had asked him to ride with us today, but he insisted he drive his Escape. He was planning to drive me home afterward. I wondered how far away from me he was now, driving alone somewhere in this endless procession.

We crossed the two and a half mile long post-Katrina bridge and causeway over Biloxi Bay at just about three-thirty, and my eyes watered from the sparkling shards of sunlight on the gentle waves moving slowly out with the tide. All traffic stopped as our procession advanced: cars, delivery trucks, a limo from the Hard Rock, even a Greyhound bus. Peering out the darkened window of the “family car,” a shiny black limo, I saw many drivers outside their vehicles, hands over hearts in silent tribute. Looking to my right, I could see every single walker and jogger on the bridge’s footpath either in a similar pose or simply standing, hands at their sides, taking the time to show respect for a fallen officer.

Off to our right lay Front Beach, that unspoiled strip of sand where Richie and I had so often run. The beach always looked dismal when the tide was going out, despite the starkly beautiful homes that stood majestically on the bluffs across from the beach. Just to the right of the bridge was the Ocean Springs Yacht Club, with its squat square building propped on stilts so high there was hope it would survive any hurricane that attacked it. Its marine blue metal roof vied for attention with the waters of the bay, which could change from sea green to an almost midnight blue; today they had chosen blue, as a mark of respect for Richie, I thought dully.

As an officer killed in the line of duty, Richie received full military honors. Justine was given the flag which had been draped over his casket. I’d attended similar funerals but had never paid much attention to the precision with which the presentation of the flag had been carried out. As two of Richie’s fellow officers, Don Kingman and Joe Bledsoe, in dress uniforms of dark blue, and wearing white dress gloves, slowly and methodically removed the flag and made thirteen precise folds, tears streamed down my face, and when I looked around the circle of friends and co-workers surrounding us, I knew I wasn’t alone in my grief. Don made the final fold and tucked the last bit of flag inside, creating a neat triangular bundle to present to Justine.

Justine was a beautiful grieving widow; she was all in black, from her simple pumps to the black netting covering her head. Even though her face was shielded by the veil, I could see how pale her face was, how swollen her eyes, and I could see the trembling of her chin. Any crying was silent, however, just as mine was. Richie wouldn’t have been happy with an overt show of our grief, and we both knew it. Owen, bless him, held his mommy’s hand and patted her arm. The little guy seemed overwhelmed with all the flowers looking like a gigantic Hawaiian shirt, the American flag hugging the bronze casket, the mournful music. His eyes grew round and bright when the rifles fired; I don’t think any of us had thought to prepare him for that. When Justine turned to him and handed him the flag, he looked up at her with his solemn blue eyes so like his dad’s that it hurt my heart to look at him, and said in his whisper-soft four-year-old voice, “I’ll take care of you, Mommy.” It was the only time Justine sobbed aloud.

My own moment came when, after the plaintive skirl of bagpipes had drifted over the cemetery with the plaintive sounds of Amazing Grace, and after silence had fallen following the twenty-one gun salute, I heard Dispatch call over a nearby police car’s radio from Headquarters: “Dispatch to 2-5, come in 2-5… This is the last call for radio number 2-5. No response from Sgt. Richard McCallum. Radio number 2-5 is out of service. Rest in peace, our friend. The time is 3:45 p.m., June 8, 2013.” Richie’s number, being called for the last time, was just about more than I could bear. I buried my head in Daddy’s shoulder and sobbed quietly into his scratchy tweed jacket, as a single bugler off on a grassy hillock to one side played “Taps.”

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