Friday, April 26, 2013


My tastes in what a story should be are in flux lately. After writing for some twelve years or so...okay, maybe more like fifteen...I'm seeing some really basic "rules" of writing in a way that I never saw them before. The idea that every scene should contribute to the story, for example, means something new to me now than it used to.

Three months ago, my concept of a story was different. I don't use the term slice-of-life very often, but that must have been how I saw my work. My goal was to capture a time and place in an expansive way. Scenes were included if they were plausible and interesting. I was writing about chaos by being chaotic.

Now, I am more focused on forward momentum. I have stricter rules about what is allowed in a story. It's not enough to be plausible. It must move the story forward.  It feels very linear, not specifically in terms of timeline, but in terms of a singular story that is unfolding.

I find myself still obsessed with chaos, for better or for worse. Is that due to my age? I see the happenings of the world as being completely random, which in many ways keeps my uninspired when it comes to writing. But I also think it moves me to really search for something worth writing about. Given that, I am still attempting to evoke the realization of the world's chaos in my current story, but I'm channeling that through my characters instead of including the chaos as part of the structure of the book.

Here's some rough stuff I'm playing with, including a little nod to the dear Michelle Davidson Argyle. I can't decide if I hate the last couple of sentences.

Each morning, she walked from her apartment to the office, passing the Hotel de ville, crossing the green waters of the Seine at Rue d’Arcole and cutting diagonally across the uneven courtyard of the Parvis Notre-Dame to Rue du Petit Pont, the cobblestones sometimes submerged after rain or after snow. She walked by vendors roasting chestnuts. She walked by gypsies asking for money. She walked by tourists posing for photographs, imagining herself captured and nameless in thousands of photographs, in thousands of households, in thousands of cities. 

For The Spectacle she wrote stories about long lost twins reuniting after fifty-six years, about the migration of monarch butterflies, about grunions beaching themselves at high tide on the shores of Baja California. With each piece she attempted to pry open the face of the advancing world to uncover the machinery underneath, the interlocking gears, the work of steady, knowing hands. She looked for truth in coincidences, in patterns. She looked for truth in chaos.

I don't know why I feel this way at the moment, but I do. And I am realizing just this moment that it has to do with reading Moby Dick. There were things I did not like about that book that I see in my own writing, and it's making me respond by changing my direction. It helps that I've also been reading Murakami and Toibin, who somehow manage to make these beautiful emotions grow by just gradually letting stories unfold.

I guess it's a good thing that I'm reading this year.


1. You put a cuppa sugar in a pot.
2. You pour 1/4 cup of water down over it and, without mixing, let it set until all of the water has saturated the sugar.
3. You put it on medium heat, and,  still without stirring, you let all of the sugar melt and bubble and turn a beautiful golden color. (A little darker if you want more of that lovely bitter taste.)
4. You take it off the heat and slowly add 3/4 cup cream while whisking. Swoooosh! It will bubble and steam and be quite exciting! Don't panic.
5. Add in some butter (3? 3.5 tablespoons?)
6. Add in a teaspoon or so of sea salt. Do it.


I never made caramel before because I'm not a huge fan of it. But I love making things from scratch. And I apparently like the homemade stuff a lot more than I like the stuff from a store.

I drizzled it on top of vanilla ice cream with another sprinkle of sea salt.

What's Peanut eating? My gray Puma sock. It means he loves me.


  1. Once again, this is beautiful writing. I do think you should spend more time in your characters' internal worlds. That's where all of it happens: the chaos, the emotion, the story itself. It's all in the characters, inside the characters. Plot events only exist to allow us to see more about the characters' inner worlds. If you want the world to seem chaotic, show how it creates chaos in the life of a specific character. I like how much more you seem to be diving into the emotional life of Diane in this version. She was very much a scientific observer of life, even of her own life, in the version I read. That made for a very quiet story, which was fine and I enjoyed it, but I really like what you're doing here. You seem much more engaged with the soul.

  2. I'm focusing on the people now, instead of the world, if that makes sense. Not sure if that's "right" or "wrong" but I'm trying it out.

  3. I know what you mean about people vs the world. I'm sure there's no right or wrong about it. Sometimes I get too caught up in the characters and suddenly it seems like they're swimming around in the void, because I haven't given any life to the world. There are no perfect or universal solutions to all of these narrative problems. Once upon a time, I thought they were things you only had to figure out a single time and you could use the same technique forever. Now I see that you have to figure out this stuff almost sentence by sentence. Almost.

    I'm having a crisis over "Mona in the Desert," because I want it to start with a scene, but I don't know what scene could possibly start that book. I'll invent something, I'm sure. I just don't know what it's supposed to be. I have plans for a meeting between the author and his editor, maybe. Or between the author and a writer friend of his. Maybe. Or a family gathering, like a Thanksgiving dinner. Maybe maybe. Maybe not.

  4. The scene should involve cigarettes and cactus.

    I find myself spending much more time thinking about what the scene should be before I write each scene. I'll take three days just to think of the perfect situation and then a day to write it. I never worked this way before. Before, the writing would be exploratory.

  5. I don't know what I'm more excited about. Your caramel or your writing! I love both. (And thanks for the nod). I like what Scott says about focusing on the internal world of your characters. That's where I'm always the most "into" a story, when it does that well. I like plot just fine, but what I love most about writing is getting into the characters, the relationships, and how those relationships can send waves through another person's internal world. I write by scenes, and I'm very careful to include only those that will move the story forward plot-wise and internally. Like you, I spend a long time thinking about a scene before I actually write it.

  6. These thoughts - seeing your internal process - is so interesting. I think the blessing of writing for adults is that you can write so deeply.

    I love to eat caramel - but making it? that's another story.

  7. I left a comment but it disappeared so I'm trying again at the risk of it showing up double ...

    So, this is so interesting to me - to see a glimpse of your internal process with writing. I think the blessing of writing for adults is that you get to explore and think and write so deeply. It is beautiful but also daunting (at least it seems so to me).

    And I love the thought here of her being captured in random photographs. I have had the same thought myself in the past - one time I had a picture taken with a friend and, later, noticed another group of friends in the back posing for our picture. It made me wonder about their day, their life, their relationships and it made me think about how interrelated we all are.

  8. Hi everyone,
    Sorry I have been having to do comment moderation. It's annoying on both ends I'm sure. I was getting a lot of spam postings. But I've taken it off now. I think the filters are working better. We'll see!

  9. Hey pal! You are still here. ;-) I love the focus on your characters. You write well my friend. Emotion. It can be so hard to write. For what it's worth, I love the last two sentences.

    And I just snagged a recipe for caramel. Cannot wait to try it. Hopefully it will turn out. I never thought about actually making it. I guess I thought there was a caramel tree somewhere. *wink* Hugs my friend. *waves to Bailey Michelle, and Tess.*