Thursday, March 28, 2013

Warning: I Cry at the Weddings of Strangers

A wedding to take place just beyond our hotel room's balcony!

I'm the designated cryer of happy tears at weddings, graduations, christenings or brises. Hey, in every group, individuals have roles: leader, follower, prankster, peace-keeper, slacker, worker bee, and so on.  A cryer isn't called upon often, but I'm there when needed.

Earlier this week, Hubs and I fled Houston for two days on Lake Travis. Our room had a balcony overlooking water, and when we stepped outside to admire the view, we spied the set-up for a wedding. Hooray! For me, a wedding ranks much higher, amenity-wise, than HBO and fancy toiletries. We settled into deck chairs and prepared to watch the ceremony. I did not, however, grab tissues. This was, after all, the wedding of strangers. I had no memories of the bride and groom as toddlers, sulky teenagers, or young adults with their first full-time jobs. Someone else would weep on cue.

Wouldn't you know my eyes filled long before the bride appeared. The flower girl, who'd been skipping across the lawn moments earlier, froze when it came time for her to walk the aisle. Her daddy had to carry her plus her tiny basket of rose petals. The task of scattering the petals also fell to him since his daughter had wound her arms around his neck and buried her head between his neck and shoulder. 

Next, the mothers of the bride and groom walked the aisle to the tune of Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge over Troubled Water."

It's not a typical processional, and I couldn't remember all the lyrics, but what I recalled told me these two moms had been there, really been there, for their kids. I saluted them with tears. 

"I'll take your part
When darkness comes
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down."

Later in the ceremony, the moms stood beside the bride and groom. His arm looped over his mother's shoulder, and the bride held her mom's hand. I sniffled.

Throughout the ceremony, the writer in me made up stories. One of them may inspire a novel.

My take-away: 1. Weddings, no matter where, no matter whose, are magical. 2. Tears function as a canary in the coal mine--an early-warning system that indicates emotion is bubbling under the surface. As a writer, I want to tap that emotion. 3. Story ideas materialize in the most unexpected places. 

Do you cry at weddings? Make up stories about strangers? Arrive early to pick up friends and family at the airport so you can watch the people milling around baggage claim? 

Superlative news: Lark Howard, who started this blog and had to quit it due to her day-job responsibilities and evening writing schedule, made the finals of the Golden Heart, Romance Writers of America's prestigious contest for unpublished writers.  Yay, Lark!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Weed and Feed: What Gardeners and Writers Know

Spring arrived yesterday. She was all, "Don't fuss. I'm fine as I am. Oh, but a glass of water would be nice. Poland Spring if you've got it. Ice and a slice of lemon, please. "

Hello, high-maintenance season!

Why do we trip over ourselves to welcome her? She's capricious. One day dawns sunny and clear and the next churns with storm clouds. Temperatures reach for the eighties and dive bomb into the thirties. She'll threaten drought and send twelve straight hours of rain. And she never stops tinkering with humidity levels. 

Ah, but she doles out delicious rewards. In Houston (that's zone 9b, aka "humid, subtropical" to you) redbuds are in bloom, azaleas have morphed into living, oxygenating pom-poms of pink, purple, and white, and bluebonnets dot highway medians.

In return for this bounty, all spring asks is that we weed, work compost into the soil, fertilize, mulch, prune, trim, bundle, haul off, apply fungicide, check for scale, dream of lushness, and gird ourselves for disappointment.

Gardening and writing have a lot in common. All writing asks is that we bring experience and imagination to the table, ruthlessly cut flabby sentences and paragraphs, feed the muse, edit some more, guard against self-indulgent passages, keep distractions to a minimum/welcome distractions as fodder, dream of bestsellerdom and gird ourselves for rejection.

Writing beats spring in the capricious department. One day, we have so many ideas, we pick and choose among them. The next, we rewrite the same paragraph too many times to count, making it worse with each revision.

Seeds, like ideas, must germinate. Some get optimum growing conditions yet fail. Others flourish despite poor soil, parching wind, and pests. 

Gardeners prepare the soil. Writers plot.  Both supplement as needed.

Drought is gardening's equivalent to writer's block. 

Almost every growing season, one plant succeeds dramatically. A gardener may rejoice in its blossoming or see it as a bully determined to choke out the others. He'll give it free rein or cut it down to size, and that decision determines how his garden grows. So it is with stories. Will a writer allow one character to dominate or insist on an ensemble piece? Will what was envisioned as romantic suspense be permitted to tilt toward pure suspense? The writer decides, and that decision may shape a career.

Writing bills itself as low-maintenance. All a person really needs is a pencil and paper, right? Ah but a laptop's a time-saver, and a netbook's nice for travel. Conferences are essential for networking, and membership in at least one writers' group is oh-so-helpful. WiFi's a must because we must connect to the wider world. Then there are the rituals: a lighted candle for some, a playlist on the iPod for others. Some of us take coffee in our "lucky" mug, and others require a tall glass of Poland Spring water, with ice and lemon, please.  

Gardeners put in extra-long hours in springtime, but the work continues all year. Likewise, a writer's job is never done. Admit it, gardeners and writers, we like it that way.

Me, I've got to write a scene in the work-in-progress. Afterwards, I'll weed like crazy. Oh, and I have pruning to do and must carve out quality time for compost. 

What about you? Do you see parallels between gardening and writing? What are you planting or plotting at the moment?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Keep Calm and Carry Water

Last Saturday morning, I trimmed the ivy on the front of my house, went to Zumba, and walked two miles at the nearby park. That afternoon, I finished writing a chapter and emailed it to my critique partners. Then I cooked. That evening, Hubs and I watched an episode of Homeland via Netflix. It was an everyday, average Saturday. 

On Sunday, I woke up before dawn because my insides boiled and bubbled. Ow! Ow! Ow!

Dr. Google, who's always at the office, seemed to think I'd contracted the Norovirus and advised drinking lots of water. He/She promised the worst would be over in 24 to 48 hours.

Who can't manage a rambunctious stomach for 24 hours? (I conveniently disregarded the number 48.) I resolved to do the stiff upper lip thing and tough it out. Mercifully, I slept a lot, and who's not resolute in sleep? Alas, at nine or ten p.m. that night the worst round of vomiting defeated me. I curled into the fetal position on the bathroom floor, and mumbled, "Help me. Please Help me."

I looked up, and there stood my husband, scared out of his wits.

Notes to self: 1.) The "Keep Calm and Carry On" routine works best when one does, in fact, keep calm and carry on. 2.) If there's a next time for this stomach virus (and I pray there isn't), I'll drop more hints alluding to misery. Apparently, the many naps, multiple trips to the bathroom, and sweater on/sweater off routine didn't do the trick. 

Happily, the old saying "The darkest hour is just before dawn" proved true, even on what was the second day of daylight-savings time 2013. Speaking of which, I like to think the clock change shortened my ordeal to 23 hours. (Don't try to convince me otherwise; I need to believe.)

I'd pronounced myself cured days ago, but last night at dinner, my husband mentioned he'd had a Reuben sandwich for lunch.

Sauerkraut. Corned beef. Swiss cheese. 

My stomach churned. What to do? What to do?

I thought of England. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Something Good

I'm going to tell you something good. ME BEFORE YOU, an unconventional love story about a quadriplegic and his caregiver, is life-affirming rather than depressing. At its end, you won't be thinking about updating your will; you'll be adding adventures to your bucket list.  

Louisa Clark is content with her small life: a waitress job at the Buttered Bun, a boyfriend who's more interested in training for a marathon than spending time with her, and parents who put her younger sister first.

Will Traynor is a business mogul who enjoys extreme sports, far-flung travel, and his pick of beautiful women. He lives large until a motorcyclist runs him down, leaving a man who once scaled Kilimanjaro unable to feed himself.

The Buttered Bun closes its doors and puts Lou out of work. When she's hired to be Will's "carer" and work alongside his medical assistant for six months, she's squeamish, but the pay's too good to refuse. After all, she and her Dad are the family's chief wage-earners, and his job could disappear at any moment. 

Will's bitter and sarcastic. Lou, a people-person, is talkative and says what she thinks, at least to him.

When Lou realizes Will has given up on life, she devises outings and activities to entertain him. Will, in turn, plays Pygmalion and browbeats her into an interest in books and music. 

Although each tries to change the other in some way, Will appreciates Lou's quirkiness, and she gets his humor. He's the one who helps her come to terms with a long-ago event that cost her her fearlessness. She helps him face the wedding of the woman he loved. 

But Lou's contract is set to expire at the end of six months for a reason, and that reason will test her and her newfound fearlessness. She'll have to decide what she can and can't do for love.

If tough work weeks make you crave escapist reads, know I understand. Right now, though, I am nurturing joy (the best escape!) for the bigger life that awaits Lou. By the book's end, I believe you will, too.