Monday, June 29, 2009

On thinking..

In 2001 I credited my dog, Patrick for keeping me sane during the days right after 9/11. He did a great job. Whatever else was going on in the world Patrick had to be walked, fed and played with. I suppose a child could have fit the bill but I didn't have one handy.

The incumbent, Max, (pictured here) has a much easier job description. He helps me think - sometimes about life, sometimes about a story, sometimes about why people with small dogs don't think they need to pick up the poop. But I digress.

Walking Max, grooming him or just canoodling on the bed - no surface is off-limits for our little prince, and public displays of affection are frequent and spontaneous - slows down time for me.
It's not unusual for me to go out for a stroll with Max and find a character, or a trait, or a motive.
Gardening does it for me, too. I rarely spend time in the hammock swinging back and forth and musing about a storyline but I have been known to end a particularly rigorous pruning session with an aha moment about how to dispatch one of my characters. (No worries, I haven't really chopped anyone up yet, although my next door neighbor doesn't know just how close I came last year on Norwegian Independance Day which is a very big deal to him.)

ROBERTA: Definitely walking Tonka is a help. Besides the canine simplicity that Ro describes so nicely, I think moving in general is good for stimulating thinking. I believe Jan said this a couple of weeks ago, but getting out in the field to the actual scene where a book is set can be wonderfully helpful too. I did this last week when I visited the police department in my town. I gleaned some fabulous details that my imagination was not going to discover.

HALLIE: For me it's cooking. Conjuring dishes from whatever happens to be in the refrigerator. If the fridge is bare, haul out the pasta maker -- there's nothing more zen-like than mixing up a batch of noodle dough, kneading it until it's elastic, letting it rest, and then running it, over and over through the machine's rollers so that a little 2-inch ball turns into a six-foot-long sheet of paper-thin pasta. (I find my best ideas come to me when I can't possibly write them down.) Fry up some sage leaves from the garden.

Boil the pasta for barely a minute or two and serve it piping hot and buttered, sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan and the fried sage leaves. Enjoy with a glass of robust Italian wine.

The perfect way to relax.

RO: I'll be right over..sounds yummy. I don't know anyone else who makes their own pasta. I remember an aunt making her own raviolis. Quite a production. Lots of time for wool gathering.

HANK: Sleeping? Well, not really sleeping, but the time just before going to sleep.

RO: I refuse to believe that you actually sleep. I've been convinced you are superhuman and don't need sleep like the rest of us mortals.

HANK: My brain just works like crazy then, in a very unstressed and openminded (!) way. I can do interviews in my head--taking roles as both me and the interviewee. And that's been incredibly helpful in my job as reporter--when I do ine interview for real, it's almost as if I've practiced. As for the books, whole scenes unfold--and it's as if I'm just watching them.
Tonight, though, I'll be thinking about PRIME TIME--the new MIRA version goes on sale Tuesday! (Look for it,okay?)

RO: Yippee!! Run, don't walk to your local bookstore for Prime Time, Hank's Agatha-winning First Novel. Come back for more PT news later on this week.

Janny, what about you?

JAN: Taking a shower. I've decided that first thing in the morning is a complete waste of a shower. It's much more productive after two or three difficult hours of writing. Then right in the middle of the shampoo -- or maybe it's the conditioner -- I have a Eureka moment.

Also driving. I've had my very best ideas on Route 95.

RO: My showers are strictly for singing. I put the ipod speakers on full tilt - impossible to think about anything but where in my brain all the song lyrics are stored. I'm totally with you on driving though, it's a great source of inspiration.

Other drivers...strange vanity plates, mismatched couples in other cars..all grist for the mill.

So what non-writing activity gets your creative juices flowing?


  1. I didn't manage to chime in on time as we had our two little granddaughters for the weekend--fun but exhausting. What with Marine Mammal sanctuary, swimming, making projects and movie night under the stars, there was no time to breathe.
    However I do most of my good thinking in the pool. When I'm swimming laps my mind calms down and I can think clearly. Also I overhear fabuloud tidbits of conversation when I'm swimming, such as once hearing a woman say, "Of course the gun belt weighs you down." Still wondering about that one.

  2. I meant to add that I was a guest blogger this weekend on The Lipstick Chronicles. My blog was on life lessons I have yet to learn.

  3. I agree with the moving thing. My daily walks on hilly Labor-in-Vain Road (really!) bring lots of ideas, to the extent that I'm going to have to start putting a little notebook and pen in my back pocket so I don't lose the thoughts.

  4. I enjoy reading and watching biographies on visual artists and writers that I respect. It's inspiring to consider their inspirations and determination.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  5. I use genealogy, which I find totally absorbing. There is so much material available now on the Internet, but you sometimes have to be sneaky to find it--trying different spellings, figuring out when a town changed its name or incorporated, wondering if mom lived out her last days with one of her kids and that's why you can't find her grave. It's all about tracking down clues and putting them together in a coherent picture. And it's rich with red herrings (some 19th-century idiot stated something with no factual basis, and it has been repeated as truth ever since) and dead ends. Sound familiar? A couple of days of that and writing a mystery seems easy! (And, yes, I do get some story ideas along the way.)

  6. Driving alone. I carry on conversations with characters to help define backstory, conflict, and resolution. New characters introduce themselves or a song on the radio will trigger a plot idea. I never leave home without a notebook and pen, though the new iPhone has a voice memo feature. I just haven't figured it out yet. Just like the video. I saw a deer hitch cover on a pickup Saturday. When the brake lights came on, the deer did the Macarena. Seriously. It was a great attention-getter. A mile later, after the pickup had turned off, I remembered video capabilities. *headdesk* The DH looked for the critter at Bass Pro Shop. I kid you not. I love my world. *gigglesnort* Luckily(?), Bass Pro didn't have any.

  7. The deer hitch did the macarena? For some reason that reminds me of the singing mounted fish in The Sopranos.."Take me to the ri-ver!"
    I may need to see one of these.

  8. Oh, yeah, it's the singing fish! I LOVE the singing fish. It's so embarrassing.
    I burst out laughing every time.
    So, I'm easy.

    (But NOT gimme that fish. Oh, dear, now I'm thinking about it.)

  9. Housecleaning. I actually love housecleaning, and often hear whole passages in my head like radio when I'm scrubbing the bathroom tile.

    I also flip through picture books of strange houses. Treehouses, playhouses, retro mobile homes & travel trailers, "tiny" houses --like these: Not sure why, but that always jumpstarts the work.

  10. Susannah,
    My husband would be SO HAPPY if I considered house cleaning a creative event.

    Although now that its gardening season, I've decided I like housework much better than gardening!

  11. a batch of good ideas about being creative. if anyone feels motivated to come and tell their stories about creative inspiration we'd love to have them. the site is it was created by mutual of omaha and is intended to be inspirational or motivation about things big and small.

    we'd love to see you


  12. A lot of my ideas come to me when I'm sleeping. I dream in "Technicolor," which is great if you are thinking about a love scene, but much different if you are running away from a rapist. (I don't control where the dreams go, unfortunately.) My husband can always tell if I have a dream where I am being pursued, because I wake him up with thrashing, running legs, and I wake up out of breath, near an asthma attack! (Hence, I prefer the love scenes!)

  13. Hi Karen -- Boy, I wish dreams served my writing. My normal state is to not remember many dreams; somehow they occur during my sleep cycle too far in or too far something for me to even remember dreaming when I wake up.

    But ... about a month or so ago I was deep in chapter revisions on a section of the (nonfiction) book I'm wrapping up with the publisher. Hard chapters with some new content about terrible situations in the search field, and I had nightmares the entire time I was revising those chapters. I don't think any of those bad dreams served my writing very much, except to make me desperate to be done with that section, and I had to go to Borders and write in bright light with a super sweet coffee drink just to get past all that.

    A month ago,I would have paid good coin to dream a love scene. Or even a benign scenario walking simply behind my dog in the park.

    With no dead bodies.

    Do you find your being pursued/running dreams influence the rest of your day much, or can you shake it off?

  14. I love it! I'll have to check it out. House cleaning doesn't work for me (on so many levels) but moving the furniture comes close. Some days I just have to move things around, whether it's the outdoor chairs or the little still lifes of stuff I have around the house. And that's a little like editing or orchestrating a scene.

  15. I do a lot of good thinking in the shower. Aha moments happen a lot there.

  16. Susannah-
    My being pursued/running dreams can spill over into my day, but rarely. I used to work the night shift at the Providence Journal (5:30pm-1:30am), and that's when the nuts are downtown the most. Luckily, I had many strong men walking me out to the parking lot at night. What's harder is when the love scenes spill over into reality, because it's hard to go back to reality then!

  17. No place is safe from me, I come up with ideas everywhere and lift overheard conversations verbatim. I write fast and try to get the mood, tone and inflections while they're fresh. This month I got 3 pages from observing two umpires in a parking lot before a high school summer league baseball game. Those two put on quite a pregame show. Oh, we lost the game with only 3 bad calls.

  18. Hi Sunnymay,
    I bet there are a lot of sports fans who would enjoy a good referee murder story!

    And Karen, I wish my dreams were remotely as useful as yours. Mine are more like a trash bin of the days events.

  19. Mary, yes. Shower. But then there's no way to write things down. Didn't someone invent a grease pencil thing you could use to write on shower walls? If not, you and I should make a busnees plan!

  20. And Elizabeth--yes, I agree, watching those bios is incredibly inspirational.

    Rhys, the gun belt line is priceless.

    And Labor-In-Vain road? Too funny. I love Jungle Red.

  21. Jan-
    Spoke too soon. Had one of those "chase and sexually assault me" nightmares at around 4am today. Woke up drenched in sweat, legs pumping like pistons, out of breath and thought I'd need my inhaler. Used in in my current piece I'm working on, while it was still fresh in my head. PTSD - some memories never die.