Feb 03

On writing the (dreaded) synopsis

Love to write … hate to synopsize? You’ll have to stand in line behind me. I’m now at day ten in creating the perfect synopsis … just in case an agent or editor should request one. Here’s how I’m doing:

  1. I’ve filled my shredder twice.
  2. My brave and stalwart husband has taken refuge on the golf course.
  3. It’s dawned on me that there isn’t enough chocolate in the world to get me through this.
  4. Lily the Cat isn’t sure whether to comfort me or take to her bed.
  5. After ten days, I can identify only one good sentence.
  6. I think my hair is thinning.

Glory be, how a simple writing task can turn one into a simpering, sniveling child! But there is hope in the form of two books I can greatly recommend. The first is The Sell Your Novel Toolkit by Elizabeth Lyon. The second is Christopher Volger’s The Writer’s Journey.

I think that given enough time, some good instruction, a few glasses of wine, or at the very least, a strong antidepressant, and many, many hours experimenting with words and their effects, a reasonable synopsis will be born.

In the meantime, it’s off to my neighborhood Internet Cafe for another day of sobbing my woes into a Grande Latte and hoping for just one more lovely sentence.

Jan 22

Blue Monday

Today is Blue Monday – supposedly, the bluest day of the year. Defined by Dr. Cliff Arnall of Cardiff University, today is mathematically the day that factors in such depressors as the impact of post-Christmas fatigue, those New Year’s resolutions that have already fallen by the wayside, and the everlasting winter that makes springtime seem ages away. Even for the sunniest of us, today is figured to be our saddest day of the year. This feeling of blueness is supposed to last the entire week.

I take that as a challenge.

I fly in the face of an equation that tells me how I’m supposed to feel. Instead, I’ve made this the Monday when I mailed off 124 brilliant pages to my editor for her excellent and critical eye before I proceed further. I’ve made this the day that laundry got done and the house was tidied. It’s the day that I revisited the synopsis of my previous book in preparation of offering it to my future agent. Blue Monday is the day I noticed how handsome my husband has lately become, and the day I found time to play with Lily the Cat.

I’ve made a friend of Blue Monday.

Now if I can just make it all the way through Woebegone Wednesday, I’ll consider this week a wild success.

Jan 20

A birthday to write about

Yesterday was my birthday. I never expected I’d grow so old. Twelve and a half years ago, after a brain tumor nearly took my life, and at the very least, threatened to invalidate my legs and my speech, I’ve been a pretty lucky cookie. I lived. I learned to walk again, and my husband can attest to my quite excellent ability to talk … and talk. Life is good! Forget the Botox. Every new wrinkle is welcome. In fact, those lines can have their way with my face and the character they provide. Of course, I might have to put my foot down with those wispy little gray hairs that have suddenly threatened to invade my hair, but that’s what hairdressers are for.

The most tenuous and amazing thing to a brain tumor survivor, though, concerns our ability to think, reason, articulate. To communicate. For this writer, a 6.5 cm thingy squatting deep in the lower reaches of my brain was especially frightful. The very nature of a craniotomy with hands and tools reaching far into one’s brain is nearly more than can be accepted.

I remember, with tears in my eyes, asking the Neurosurgeon to please play beautiful, soothing music when he was inside my brain. The surgeon took hold of my shoulders and promised me he would fill the surgery with the most beautiful music he could find.

I think he must have.

For I’m one more bonus day now past yesterday’s birthday, and amazingly today on page 124 in the writing of my second novel. Life is most certainly good!

Jan 17

Snowless in Seattle?

I took a snow walk today. Actually, I went with my husband, our neighbors, and their two dogs, Dillon and Sammy. (I invited Lily the Cat, but she declined – something about needing to attend to her third beauty sleep in her daily series of twelve.) We threw snowballs and snapped pictures of each other dressed up in pants and sweaters and coats that made our arms stick out and our legs look fat. I regretted not dragging out my grandfather’s Flexible Flyer sled, if nothing more than to say that I did.

As we crunched our feet through the snow making footprints that may or may not last through the next day or two, it occurred to me how much writing is like a footprint in snow. I know if I don’t capture my ideas soon after they come to me, they quickly go away and don’t leave much more than a brown, slushy suggestion of thought. I remember once reading about a man who wrote all his little thoughts down during the day. He then tossed his captured ideas into a shoebox every night. At the end of a year, he pulled out all his scraps of paper, and the volume of his words were enough to complete a book. A clever man!

The snow will leave Seattle. My footprints are doomed.

Nevertheless, a cup of hot chocolate laced with a bit of Bailey’s after our walk helped me feel better about our disappearing footprints and all the thoughts I neglected to capture today. Sometimes to remember the urgency of words, a writer just has to take a day off and play in some improbable snow. Today I experienced life and truth and a snow walk with our friends and their doggies.

Tomorrow I write.

Jan 15

Drifting toward a story

Orthodoxy has never been my strong suit. Complex outlines and detailed character sketches, although vital for some, only serve to annoy me. Rather than a reasoned, calculated story approach, my writing takes more of a slash and burn course. I don’t spend much time in discussion with my muse. I simply turn off the “editor in my head” and let the words be what they will. This may not be the best approach, but it seems to end up consistently as the Auburn McCanta Theory of Words and Work.

In Natalie Goldberg’s grief-saving book for writers, Writing Down the Bones, she tells us that when our writing feels good, there is a vitality that sings and an honesty that makes her want to cry. I know what she means. For me, I need to let a story just come and sit down with me for a while. We need to become acquainted with each other. I allow my characters to approach me as they choose. No hurry, worry. I spend a lot of time just being with a story, its characters, its tone. Then, when the time is right, the story tells itself to me … and I write it down.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t spend hours upon hours researching, “Googling,” and considering various paths and structures. On the contrary! I’m a research dog and love the process. Still, when it comes time for telling the story, you’ll not find an outline on my desk.

Oh, there’s one other thing I should mention – I also spend a good deal of quality time at Starbucks with a Mocha in one hand and a dream in the other.

Sep 22


Sunday is my day to read, gather clouds, make wishes, light candles. It’s my Starbucks-Grandé Latte-No-Foam-Please day. It’s also my day to think. To rest my fingers from the other days of sitting at my keyboard tapping out strings of words that may or may not make the cut for my next book or treatise or corporate-commissioned bullet list. I guess it’s good to rest once a week. My cat, Lily, an improbable tortie, rests probably 23 hours a day. She needs her rest after spending her one awake hour a day snuggling on my lap during our morning coffee and paper reading event. It must be exhausting, poor thing.

For anyone who may happen across this page, I welcome you. If you want to comment, please feel free. Ask me questions if you wish. I’ll try to answer … or I’ll be honest and tell you that I don’t know. I’ll do my best to respond with comments on the process of writing, the missteps, the possibilities, the ah-hahs that come in the middle of the night. In the meantime, know that I think of you (whoever you are) as I’m writing my next book. I’ll confess, though, that I’m hardly a good source of knowledge. I’m just a simple person with a desire to write things.