The Good Writer

April 27, 2012

I am not a good writer.  Yes, my fiction and nonfiction pieces have won awards and a few have been published.  But that does not make me a Good Writer.  Yes, my stories have had occasional bursts of originality, humor, and even a bit of profundity at times.  But all of that does not add up to being a Good Writer.

You see, the Good Writer drops his or her butt in the chair in the wee hours and writes the whole day through, or at least until that chapter or article is complete.  The Good Writer, we have been told by many credible speakers at conferences and gatherings, has a work ethic that requires daily progress.  Don’t worry about the quality of the first pass writing, these credible speakers urge.  You can always go back and clean the mess up once your ideas have flowed down your arms and onto paper (or more accurately these days – into your laptop memory).  How are you ever going to write if you don’t – you know – WRITE?

This advice has posed a psychological dilemma for me.  I consider myself a writer, and I associate with talented, published writers who think I am a writer.  Some are convinced I am a good writer.  But my writing habits do not conform to the Good Writer I frequently hear about .  You know, Good as in, “Be a Good Boy and eat your peas”.

Sometimes I sleep in, enjoying the liberty of my vivid early morning dreams.  Often, I attend to other matters that the non-writing world considers “life”.  I spend too much of my time in my large garden, listening to my musical chimes sing in the wind, pulling weeds rather than spraying, lugging large quantities of homemade compost to the planting beds.  And then there is my family, both furred and non-furred.  All require my attention, it seems far more insistently than my writing muse – uh, named herbert, or sherbert, something like that. My hearing fails me sometimes, but he speaks in such hushed tones as well.

Why am I confessing to the fact that I am not a Good Writer?  Because I feel guilty about it, yes I do.  But also because I suspect I am not the only writer in this big writing community that feels guilty about less than ideal writing habits.

I need to feel inspired by a thought, idea, or theme to write.  I have tried to plop my butt into the writing chair at 6 A.M.  All I do is a lot of staring.  My mind at that time of day is as creative as a rusty water pump.  The ideal of the Good Writer does not work for me.  Am I the only one?  Let me know that there is still hope for me nonetheless.

Earth Day

April 22, 2012

My Muse, and wannabe conscience, Moussaka, shouts me out of bed today.  It’s Earth Day, she rants.  Since you are a passenger on this Space Ship Earth, Moussaka yells, you must do something extraordinarily positive for her today.

Okay, Okay, Moussaka, I whine as I climb out of my sucks-the-life-force-out-of-you-while-you-sleep Tempur-Pedic bed.  I’m up, and I’m moving, slowly, but moving.  But first, a cup of tea, and some email.

When I finish brewing my cup of Lipton’s, I drop the used tea bag into the compost recycle bin.  That doesn’t count, Moussaka yells in my ear.  You do that everyday.  Susan, you have got to do better.

I stumble in to my office, and, without turning on any lights since it is bright outdoors, switch on my laptop.  (Yes, I know I’m supposed to say “boot up” but I like the terms “off” and “on” better.  At least I know what that means.)  No lights?  That hardly counts as an earth-friendly gesture, Moussaka nags.  I ignore her.

Here are emails time-stamped 4:35 A.M.  Who gets up at 4:30, AND sends emails?  Don’t people know they can sleep until, I don’t know, dawn?

Time to get dressed.  Since the weather here in Northern California is unseasonably hot, I dig through my old San Marcos Academy trunk where I keep some of my out-of-season clothes.  I fish out a pair of last summer’s shorts.  Wrinkled.  Do I press them?  That means I’ll have to clean the cobwebs off the iron.  Do I toss the shorts into the drier to shake the wrinkles out?  No, shouts Moussaka, uses too much energy.  I slide into them, wrinkles and all.

Now a tee shirt.  Do I wear the Pueblo Bonito shirt I won playing Texas Hold ‘Em in Mazatlan this last Christmas?  Or, do I wear my “Eyes of Texas” shirt I bought at a thrift shop off the $2.00 rack?  Not a lot of interest in University of Texas here in California.  I opted for the P.B. shirt.  It’s white, reflects the sun better than the U.T. orange, and it was free.  Moussaka almost smiles.

Moussaka wants me to do yard work.  Pull up those nutrient, sucking weeds.  Plant the Cosmo seeds you have in your kitchen junk drawer.  You know for sure they’ll grow in this accursed Moraga clay.  Put the umbrella into the stand, and shade that poor easily sunburned camellia.

But, Moussaka, it’s already hot out there, I argue.  You know my dermatologist told me to stay out of the sun.  But, Mous replies, you spend weeks lolling on the beaches in Mazatlan, right?  Sun hats are in the coat closet, and you have more different kinds and levels of SPF sun block than the CVS drugstores.

Let’s compromise, I say.  I’ll set up a jug of water and tea bags to make sun tea on the back deck.  Then, I’ll go to the new produce market right here in Moraga using as little gasoline as possible.  I promise to buy only locally grown fruits and veggies.  And, I’ll even make sure to bring in and use one of the zillion shopping bags I have on the floor of the front seat of my car.  Tonight, I’ll barbecue chicken on the gas, not charcoal, grill.  Won’t use any electricity.

Moussaka crosses her arms, and taps her foot.

And, because I know it’s going to be hot today, I’ll turn on all the ceiling fans before I leave, and keep all the blinds closed.

Moussaka raises her eyebrows.  She is still not impressed.

And, I’ll turn the air conditioning setting so it won’t turn on until it is 78 degrees inside, instead of 76.

I get a Moussaka eye-roll.

Moussaka breathes over my shoulder as I unpack my shopping bag when I return.  A pineapple, she hisses in my ear.  That came from Hawaii.  What is the carbon footprint for that little buy?

But, it was on sale, I whine.  I’ll grill it along with the chicken and the corn on the cob, killing three birds with one stone.  You know I always cook too much, anyway.  We’ll have chicken, corn, and pineapple again for dinner tomorrow.  (Thank heavens my Darlin’ Bruce likes leftovers.)  Look, Moussaka, I won another tote bag, and this one is purple.

Oh, good, she said.  Are you going into the tote bag business?  Last time I looked into the trunk of your car, you had that enormous Jazzercize bag, the one that’s large enough to hold a dead body, full of folded paper and plastic bags.  That, in addition to that gaggle of totes inside the car.  Keep this up, Susan, and you’ll end up on a reality show for the tote-bag-obsessed.

I’m doing my best for Earth Day, I say as I pout.

Um, Moussaka, says as she looks down at the floor, I goofed.  You see, Earth Day isn’t until tomorrow, Sunday.

Pphhllltt.  I’m going back to bed.



Gratuious Sex, Gratuitous Violence, Gratuitous Dialogue?

April 21, 2012

I’ve noticed gratuitous sex and gratuitous violence in both visual media and in novels. Now, the new television show, Touch, has got me wondering is there such a thing as gratuitous dialogue? During a recent episode, I grew weary watching Kiefer Sutherland run after his mute son screaming, “Jake” because it was clear the kid wasn’t going to stop. In this same episode, Dad had to point out the obvious that the two women we’d just watched an adult afflicted with the same numbers “gift” following were going into the same building. I had the sense the screenwriters felt they needed to explain. And then there was the scene where the son looks at Dad and Sutherland announces that his dead wife’s friend must go after his son.

Rather than use dialogue, why not follow the age-old rule of thumb: Show don’t tell? I am still a fan of this show. I am still a big Kiefer Sutherland fan.  I love the well-written openings of each episode. But I wish they’d give viewers a little more credit and lose the gratuitous dialogue.


April 18, 2012

A nice woman from North Carolina sat next to me on a plane from San Francisco to Atlanta last week. After an hour or so of occasional small talk (newborn grand baby in Hawaii, daughter married to marine), she ventured to ask me what I thought of the politics out there in California. I rarely discuss politics, and never with strangers. But we were sitting inches apart so I had to come up with something. I said there will always be politics, and I mostly ignore it. California is beautiful, the people are nice, and the weather is great.  I love living there.  There’s something for everyone, and I can’t say anything bad about it.  And politics is mostly just noise. That expression seemed to surprise her but but she accepted it, with a shake of the head and a comment about it being crazy. Couldn’t really disagree with that.

And how is the real estate market in San Francisco?  I explained about the tech firms expanding and the cost of housing and rentals going up. Then I showed her the graphs in Time Magazine I had just finished looking at. Every state was shown indicating the severity and breadth of their taxes — corporate, individual, sales, property.  Of course, California was all red, indicating high on every line except property tax. While North Carolina was high on everything except corporate tax. I pulled it out to show her.

And what’s the latest exercise craze?  Well, running and biking are very big. Then there’s a new studio to vibrate the fat off. Oh, and there’s a new pole dancing studio by my office.

She stopped asking questions after that.

Yep, something for everyone in California. Land of the free. Home of the brave.

SCBWI Golden Gate Conference

April 1, 2012

At the beginning of March, I attended the Golden Gate Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) at the Asilomar in Pacific Grove, California. I went knowing that I would not be pitching my work since I had recently acquired an agent for my novel, Between Shadow’s Eyes (

I have attended SCBWI events in the past with the goal of meeting an agent or editor, but this time I had no agenda. It was great to sit back and listen to the speakers and absorb knowledge without the distraction of a scheduled critique or pitching session. I was free to take notes or browse the grounds if I wasn’t interested in a topic, whatever my heart desired.

On the last day of the conference, the editors in attendance announced what kind of books they were seeking. To my surprise, one of the editors seemed like a good match for my novel. A quick email to my agent, and viola! a query letter was submitted. Another fun outcome of the conference included a sidebar conversation with agent Josh Adams on blogging.  His advice- don’t blog if it takes you away from other writing projects.