The Hybrid Animal

I have been waiting – and trembling in secret anticipation – for acceptance to nursing school. This week, sweet word came in the form of a short email: Congratulations! You’ve done it! You have sold the next two years of your life to unforgiving schedules and stress.


I, of course, knew what I was signing up for. I am even elated by the challenge. Silly as it sounds, I have always found adversity to be character building. I march forward assuredly, prepared for a brilliant fight.

But what about my writing?

I have wished, as every writer has, to be left out to weather; to be able to write freely in an untethered realm of surrendered beauty and reluctant sound. At one time I believed that I did not belong to this world. I daydream too much, I thought. In my freshman year of high school, we read “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” as a class. I sunk low in my plastic orange chair. Oh, God, I realized in shame, this is me. I’m Walter Mitty.

No writer can exist in the lovely bubble. The creative haven is a port, but not a home. We have to go out to sea again and again. To our jobs, to school, to attend to our children and domestic duties. If we were to just writer, untangled and unabated, what would inspire us? The white-hot center from which we create would be tapped and exposed. It would cool and mellow, and so would the stories we plait in spite of all the reasons we should not.

And so, onward I march. As a hybrid animal: The writer/nurse. And may the experience – the raw material – surfeit, and never fail me.

“Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.”
C. S. Lewis

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NaNoWriMo: The Joy That Kills

Was it the desperate search for direction? As a writer, you’re always a sentence away from desertion. Was it the regretful qualm that external motivation surpasses internal drive? Or maybe, misguidedly, I sought again the comfort of knowing that there are others out there… putting pen to paper, caring of little else. Surly there must me a glorious reason for dedicating 30 days of my life to churning out 50,000 words for National Novel Writing Month.

Yes, November is deemed by a power higher than my own to be such a month. When, just last week, I discovered the event via writer Viansa Blake’s blog, I nearly immediately decided against it. First of all, to splutter out a 175-page novel in 30 days is a heavy undertaking, though ambitiously achievable. But it would be pure dreck, and utterly unreadable. Second, I am in the midst of writing a wonderful story, with which I plan to do more than win a witless penrace. So, no, I decided, and went back to my knitting.

However, in spite of myself, I began to wonder almost feverishly… What would come of it? 50,000 words from scratch. 30 days. I wondered… I thought of the characters that might be born. Where might they go? Who might they become? I could not ignore the lure that was coming over me post-dismissal. As I  carefully peeled back the pages of the website, I already knew. I signed up with shameful haste.

It is a terrible idea, but I’m committed to it. I am giving way to curiosity. Beginning November 1 I will be stationed  on a green couch in my purple-walled office, sleepily meeting my self-imposed quota. It is a strange and elusive comfort that tens of thousands of other writers have taken the exact same plunge.

I fear, as I should, that I will damage the capabilities I have been meticulously weaving. Writing from the unconscious – from where you dream –  is not a feat lightly achieved. Still I fight the urged to think, to impose my ideas on my characters, as if I knew better than they. The enemies of perfectly feathered fiction are summary and analysis, and I fear an arbitrary deadline will coax me back into bad habits. It will have to be me that decides if the experience is worth its injuries.

Despite my obvious hesitation, the excitement mounts! Just 12 days left of sanity and clean hair.

If you are interested in participating in NaNoWriMo, please let me know! You can visit the official website to sign up.

Happy Novel Writing.

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Book-Slut: A Guide to Literary Promiscuity

Apparently, the best route to becoming well-read is to spread it around.

Jane Mallison, author of the 2007 guide Book Smart: Your Essential Reading List for Becoming a Literary Genius in 365 Days, assembles a list of 120 books that will rock your world, even if it’s your second time around. When I first laid eyes on the cover, I was miffed by the words “Literary Genius.” I assumed the contents would include the likes of Tolstoy, Thoreau, Hemingway, Shakespeare, and Austen; and I thought it likely that I would have most of it under my belt. And, though not a genius by any stretch, I precociously considered myself to be quite the fastidious literary junkie.

So often it is professed that the rights to being “book smart” are held within the covers of a select few tightly-bound, rough-covered books. I have read many of the classics, but also included in my list of favorites are books that some consider trifles. One of my most beloved books is Summer Sisters by Judy Blume. Another is Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding. I have read and reread (as previously mentioned) the Harry Potter series. And, a few years ago, I succumbed to the Twilight phenomenon. I delighted in it.

I have long since concluded that being “book smart” or a “literary genius” is not restricted to the classic novels that collect dust as trophies on our selves. Nor does it require you to read every title that finds its way to the New York Times Best-Seller Lists. Being well-read can include anything that delights you, that inspires you. Books are wonderful portals that expand our understanding of what it means to exist as humans. That’s a broad category.

Too often, I feel, people limit themselves; they seek to define themselves by what they read. It is wonderful when we find an author we love; it often leads to a genre we can dwell and thrive in. And, it goes without saying, that the Greats should never be neglected. So many authors are inspired by them; so many allusions will escape you if you are not intimate with some of fiction’s heavy-hitters. But why stop there? I say, read Twilight. Read a paranormal mystery romance novel. Read YA fiction in your forties. Read Khalil Gibran and Rilke and Rumi. Constantly revisit Shakespeare. Fall into The Bell Jar again. And reread every Jane Austen novel. Just keep covering new ground, too.

Mallison surprised me with her hearty list of recommendations. It is chock-full of titles you’ve heard of and probably should have read years ago. She has also succeeded in bringing some books out from obscurity. Her April list of “Top Girls: Strong Women, Admirably So and Otherwise” had me reeling with enthusiasm. She wisely disqualified Jane Austen and George Eliot, though Virginia Woolf makes an impressionable appearance here. Three of the ten recommendations were written by men, so it is not entirely feminist flair. The year-long list goes on to include other odd but incredible choices. My Dream of You by Nuala O’Faolain, Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov, and Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris are on my Next-to-Read List.

Mallison delves briefly into each book, giving some of the lesser known authors a chance to shine. I don’t know if I am any closer to being a “literary genius,” but I have found myself encouraged to swallow new horizons with less trepidation. Writers are almost always loners, even if reluctantly so. Thus it is a comfort to always be; a stranger in a strange land.

Keep your mind and eyes open. Spread it around. Be a book-slut.

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Harry Potter: A Love That Lasts a Lifetime

I have been reading Harry Potter since the age of 14, and have made a pilgrimage to every movie like I was spiritually bound to do so.

Part one of the final film installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is to premiere in 35 days. So, naturally, I saw fit to reread the 759 page book, to remember every nuance and detail. The first time I read each precious page, in 2007, I was overcome with searing empathy. I cried painfully; gripped the biding tightly for comfort. I delighted in each resolution, mourned each lose. I feel, though some disagree, that the saga could not have ended more exquisitely. How often have we reread our favorite books and wished there was more? That we could spend just one more moment with our beloved characters? But I feel a bizarre sense of relief and satisfaction when I think of Harry, Hermione, and Ron. They do live on, as does the vast and beautiful world that Rowling created.

It took just 3 days for me to relive the intricate tale of The Deathly Hallows, and on the last page I felt I should start all over again. Back to page one of book one. I had to promise myself that I would read a few other lonely books on my shelf before I retread the coffee-stained and worn pages of Harry Potter.

I am certain that I owe Ms. Rowling an awesome debt of gratitude. Though I don’t aspire to write fantasy fiction (though you never know), she has challenged me to grow; and I do. She wrote something that crossed so many genres and has touched the souls of many. Whatever it is you take away from her novels, it is for the better that you read them.

I can’t wait to see what they have done for the movie! Throughout the book I found myself thinking, “How on earth are they going to manage that?” I have enjoyed each film as an interpretation of the book on which it is based. I do think that the conclusion will leave us all awestruck and gasping.

Comments welcome!

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What’s in a Name

I spent the better part of a week doing research for the name of one of my characters. Not my main character, mind, which came to me long ago, from my deep unconscious. This character is that which rubs against the grain of my protagonist. Her perpendicular love. I deemed it crucial to chose a name that was perfect for the story and also historically accurate. Because he is on a pedestal, above her in her own mind, he needed to be steeped in authenticity.

I came upon, the Public Record Office of North Ireland. This allowed to look through common family names over the last century. I also looked at some family crests and trees.

Another interesting and powerfully helpful find was This was the zenith to the hunt. The censuses of 1901 and 1911 gave me an idea of which families resided in which regions at the beginning of the last century. I perused the towns of Ireland down to the most minuscule nooks and hallows. With this, coupled with Google Maps,  I was able to pinpoint the exact location where my character was born and raised.

I also looked into how children are traditionally named in Irish Catholic families. So, from the census of the family name I chose, I was able to let it cascade fictitiously to the present. Thus, I now have a character name that I love. I feared most that this process would only yield contrived results. That each time I wrote or read the name I would step through it like drying mud. Would I always wonder if I got it right? But, thankfully, I took enough time to do my research that the pieces came together organically.

Coming to you soon: The story of J.L. and D.K. 😉

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A House of Cards

Under the omnipotent direction of Robert Olen Butler, I have spent the last 20 hours etching out ‘scenes’ in a $1.27 composition book. These scenes are the matrix of the bones of my novel. I have had this story between my teeth and cheek for at least a year, maybe two. Mr. Butler’s instruction has finally brought it forward – pinched by my incisors – so I may begin to wrestle it. This method is brilliant, frankly. It gives me the freedom of not knowing coupled with the authority to govern what I already know. In short, I can now concretely press on paper that which has been clouding my irises like cataracts without any obligation to that which has not been revealed to me.

After some time – weeks according to Butler – these coming of scenes will dwindle. This is when I will write ever last quivering scene onto a 3×5 index card and begin to build.

For now, the pages read something like this:

– J. opens door to Hall

– J. sits in her chair to read book on her birthday

– H. enters apartment with S.

– D. meets J. on her doorstep when she’s coming home from birthday

I love that this is systematic, yet full of holes.

More scenes later. And, a further discussion of ROB.

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I stood still in the entryway. The hard linoleum in front of me was a lake; enough water had pooled that dirt swirled within it. Too many had come this way, escaping the rain that came down to burden, to harm. The passing hours had freed the windows of the sun, only a resistant glow hung above the buildings which were situated around the vast, green quad. The progressing hour permitted my stillness. I hesitated to step forward, presumably to avoid slipping. I searched the floor moving only my eyes, calculating how best to proceed. After less than a minute I stepped firmly into the puddle, tiring of my own contemplation and ready to be home.

The classrooms were empty and I could sense them sighing. Throughout the day they contained such bound knowledge and ambition that it seemed possible that the layers of brick might not contain them. Now these rooms could delight in their loneliness. I heard the tormented rain bearing down on the building in madness, I paid it little attention. I went as far as I could down one hallway, and was forced to make a right turn, resulting in a dimness of which I was accustomed. The path opened in to an atrium of walls that seemed to reach up to thinnest airs of the sky. Light came down from hanging crystals, not enough to conquer every shadow. The windows that began at my waist and ended somewhere in heaven had become black waterfalls. No lightning yet gave a spark of lucidity. I did not relent until I saw the glow of yellow that painted the floor and faded into the opposing wall.

I had left my car at the opposite end of this building; I had been late for my first class of the day. I never wanted to be late for that class. Though my professor was always kind, I could not tolerate his stare. Around his eyes was a sweetness, and a sadness; within them…I could not bear to implore to their depth.  The moment I walked through the door, if I were late, he could allow his words to slow and forget their pace. The class would hang on his deteriorating sentence. I would squish my features together in an effort to form an apologetic smile, and at the first empty seat you fold in to escape my blushing.

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