Month: February 2014


Over the weekend of February 21 to 23 I participated in the SCBWI Mid Winter Conference in New York City. There is a lot crammed into two and a half days, it is one event after another. This year they added craft for the writers. I’ve done the roundtable, and while it was an interesting experience, I don’t know that it gave me much to take away beyond what applied to the 200 words I brought with me. This year there was a daylong intensive on plot and structure with four presentations: Emma Dryden, Jill Santopolo, Jane Yolen and Elizabeth Wein, all on plot and structure.

While I feel pretty confident I can do plot [versus character] I do have a tendency to wind the plot into knots trying to make the red herrings more red and the obstacles more difficult. And the problem with that is it leaves me confused about what my character really wants to do, which parts of the plots are subplots and which part truly belong to the through line of the story arc.

The craft benefit of this intensive was not just the handouts, but the exercises. The fact that I learned how to identify not just the action [which is the part I dearly love] but also the emotional aspect of the action plot on my character. Now I can sit down and apply these exercises to each and every book I have. Oh, my!

I like my characters, I really do. But initially when I come up with a story I’m more interested in how the plot unfolds and what that means. Not quite theme, although that emerges when I realize where the book ends, but more what kind of scrapes and messes [that old saw–have your character run up a tree and then make them figure out how to get down] the character can get into, and how full of action and adventure they are.

I grew up with mystery books where the character really never changed, never grew, hardly aged. And, although I like books where the character grows up or becomes something other than what they were in the beginning of the story, it is not that huge for me. So the best part of this was not discussing the action plot, but the emotional plot, also called the heartline by one of the speakers. This is how the character goes from the beginning, maybe being cherished and coddled to frightened and in danger to solving the mystery, to the end, realizing he/she is now in charge of his/her own destiny.

When I think of it, I realize how my personal heartline changed from elementary school, through college, to adult hood and beyond. Every person has a heartline. That’s pretty cool!






My Time

I can remember, clearly, the first time I was able to talk about it being months since. I was being chastened, as always, on a trip home from my grandparent’s, or maybe it was my uncle’s house. Anyway, once again I had not behaved badly, but not behaved well enough to not to be lectured on the way home. As this was a fairly regular occurrence I was not as chastened as I should have been, and Mom probably knew that. Because she slipped up. I remember when Mom declared that once again I had embarrassed the relatives. I shot back that I hadn’t done that in months.  Ha! Months! I must have been about ten or eleven, and, yes, you may think me a little slow, not that I was, it’s just that I really didn’t pay attention to time. Unconscious! That’s what my mother used to say, I was unconscious. And, she was right.

It made for a splendid childhood and a young adult hood. A total disregard for the meaning of time and the impact of what time passing can mean, except.  I can remember turning forty and thinking I could never be that unconscious person, not necessarily unaware, because I was always aware. I read everything–magazines, newspapers, cereal boxes, books, encyclopedias. I was always into current events, mostly in politics because history was my great love. I could study the history of anything I used to tell my Dad–paper clips, mud, walking dolls, presidents–anything. But I realized at forty I could never be unconscious because now I had children, and responsibilities and a life. It is no longer days or weeks, months or even years, by forty you definitely have a life!

When Meghan was about six my boss at Bank of Boston retired. Eric was a gentleman in the tradition of the old Bostonian. An educated speaking voice, a mild manner, a love of story and an understanding of the gift of relationships. He and his wife Mary were at our house to pick up blueberry bushes. We had about one hundred fifty in our back yard. They had been planted with care so that they peaked in waves, the first row ripe in late May early June, and each succeeding row peaking three weeks later so we were picking blueberries through August. It was awesome. Eric wanted blueberry bushes for his place on Mere Point, near Brunswick, off the coast of Maine, that had not been open for new housing since the 1930s. The island’s main claim to fame was a huge rock with a plaque that commemorated the arrival of an army flight in 1924 that was supposed to land in Boston, but due to fog ended up on the coast of Maine. Mary’s brother or uncle, I forget which, guarded the plane while the aviators slept before taking off to Boston the next morning.

Anyway, back to Eric. We had the blueberry bushes all dug up and the roots covered in burlap. It was early November. Plenty of time for planting them at the cottage on Mere Point before winter, I should say WINTER, because it shouts in Maine, set in. We invited Eric and Mary into the house for a little wine and snack and talk. Eric and Meghan were sitting at the table next to each other and have a grand chat. Meghan, quite the conversationalist, loved talking to adults who took her seriously and Eric would never be so ungentlemanly as to not. Then Meghan excused herself and left for the basement and play. And Eric mentioned that he thought the circle was the best way to describe life because, in truth, he was sixty-six and Meghan was six and they had more in common that he had with lots of adults.

Now I am amazed at how I can talk about time, my time. I can think in terms of decades. The decade and a half we spent in Boston, the decade and a half we have been in North Carolina. The almost four decades married to Tom. Is he my soulmate? I have no idea, he’s the romantic in the family, not me. I do know that we laugh at the same things, he smiles when I yell back at the TV or the radio, we both like drives and ‘long cuts’ and that we have an amazing life together.

My time? Good time!