Archives for the month of: October, 2011

This has gotta be short and sweet as the hot breath of a novel deadline is on the back of my neck, and I’m also supposed to be gathering things together for a long weekend trip out of town. At first I thought I’d do a sort of ‘Show, don’t Tell’ kind of thing, and interview various family members with the question: “How do you feel about living with a creative person?” (Notice I didn’t use the term ‘Creative Lunatic.’) This was to be a strictly journalistic approach that would prove my belief that it’s, in one word, fabulous.

But that went by the wayside when I began by asking my 13-year-old, Sam, newly out of school for the summer, and he responded quickly, “Well, they kinda make up back-stories about everyone they see.”

I brightened, because to me that sounded like fun. I take great delight in making up folks’ backstories, and also playing the so-called What If? game as I go along through my daily life. It’s a great way to come up with plot ideas. “Well, don’t you like that?” I prompted Sam as he lolled in his underwear on the sofa adjacent to my writing desk.

“Not really,” Sam sighed. “It’s gets annoying.” Then he continued with this long diatribe on why the demands and temperament of a writer-in-residence are wearying and unfair. I will not record them here, because I know all too well that words have power and I would like to forget them.

It hurt to hear this coming from my baby! The child I bore in my old age, and have nurtured lovingly till now! That’s when I realized I would no longer conduct my survey. I knew my ego could not handle asking my analytical, rational left-brained husband this same question. He’s the business-type who gets furious about erratic (let’s face it, sometimes non-existent) writing paychecks, long, odd hours of work, and a frenzy of anxious marketing after each book is launched. The one family member I figured I could count on for a gratifying answer was my 20-year-old son, Gus, the middle-child, but he was still asleep at 3:00 P.M. and my eldest, Iris, was journeying home from a rock concert and had no time for questions.

Yes, it took me a while to lick my wounds, but now I’m back.

Wouldn’t you think writers would be the most well-adjusted people there are? I mean, we can purge our mental demons by killing off evil characters in our writing, right? And on the flip side, we get to reward the good ones lavishly. Doesn’t that make for good, calm psyches? Speaking of well-adjusted, we also get to live out our fantasies in the fictional world of our novels. In my current novel, TWANG, I’m fulfilling a life-long dream as a country music diva living in Nashville, Tennessee, belting out hits from the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.

Another plus for having a writer/wife/mom in the family – we usually work from home, which means the house is spotless and the ground beef for supper is thawing on the kitchen counter well before noon. Right?

Also, working from home means we’re there when our kids get off the schoolbus, heaping attention onto them in their formative years. Isn’t that great?

Well, I made a pact with myself to tell the truth in today’s blog. I’m home, yes, but not really. I’m living in two, perhaps three, concurrent worlds. More often than not supper plans are made after 6 P.M. and amidst much consternation. Cobwebs dangle, dust gathers, and roaches remain in the spot where they perished days ago. When Tom or Sam or Gus or Iris calls my name, I often holler “Just a minute!” because my characters have their own agendas. You may be wondering where the third concurrent world comes from. Well, I teach a memoir-writing class (for one of those ‘other income-streams’ writers need) and when that’s happening, I’m in my students’ creative worlds as well as my own. Of course, there’s the real world, too, the one most folks live and breathe in. It’s hard for me, I admit, but there are times when I do strive to be in the moment. To live in the temporal world. I try to shut out the voices of fiction and connect. In fact, this weekend my beloved and I are leaving the boys here in Watkinsville, Georgia, and going off on an all-expenses paid trip to Nashville, Tennessee, courtesy of my writing career.

While I’m meeting my new editor, Tom will be off looking for car-shows. While I’m touring the Grand Ole Opry, he’ll be hunting pulled-pork barbecue. But together we’re going to hear a concert featuring Vince Gill and Josh Turner. Yes, I’ll have my spiral-bound notebook and my Bic pen along with me, furiously scribbling down things under headings that read; Hear, See, Smell, Taste, Touch, and trying to record bits of conversation I overhear, but still . . .

While I realize the question posed at the beginning of this blog has not exactly been answered, please know that I also realize it’s not always a picnic to live with a creative soul, and I feel absolutely blessed to be surrounded by people who have both feet securely planted in this world, and yet who support and encourage me in my crazy passion for story-telling.

In 1978 when I turned 16, I donned a lime green polyester uniform and began asking customers who walked into the local McDonalds; “Would you like fries with that?” Since that time, I’ve had a variety of positions in the food-service industry; from salad bar refresher at the Pizza Hut on Hilton Head Island, to sandwich preparer at Yogurt’s Last Stand, where I marveled over seeing my first piece of pita bread. I worked as a camp counselor for spoiled children one eye-opening summer. From there I moved to several illustrious positions in telemarketing; selling portrait packages for Olan Mills, then magazines for DialAmerica Marketing. It broke my heart when I’d get caught on the phone with some lonely old person who wanted to chat for a long time. I’ve sold cosmetics at Eckerd Drugs, advertising space in a local newspaper, done down-and-dirty garden nursery work, graded essays from grade-school to high-school for the state of Georgia, painted cheerful little pink and green floral designs (which made me nauseous after five thousand) all over picture frames for a mail order decorating company, sold lingerie at a shop called The Bare Essentials, and on and on and on.

Most of these were before I graduated from the University of Georgia in 1985 with a degree in Journalism (emphasis in Advertising). With diploma in hand, my career dreams led me to the big city of Atlanta where I shared an apartment with another recent graduate. We set out with our portfolios underneath our arms and big aspirations in our hearts. Sadly, I didn’t land that dream advertising job and had to take yet another telemarketing position to pay the bills. Eventually, I returned home to Athens, Georgia and began to sell printing for a large commercial printer. So much for that bachelor’s degree.

After marriage, then came the baby carriage. Three of them. While I was chasing children, I was designing greeting cards and selling printing for my husband’s print shop. Looking back at the string of sales jobs in my past strikes me as ridiculously funny because I’m absolutely NOT the salesperson type.

There was one constant in and among this hodge podge of positions. I have an obsession, maybe affliction is a better word, and am forever scribbling stories. Since I could string words together, I’ve been writing – on looseleaf paper, in journals, in spiral notebooks, on the backs of bank deposit slips. I can write anywhere, everywhere. While working on one novel, one short story, or one poem, I am already planning, taking notes, and collecting metaphors for the next.

Mama says I was born telling stories, and writing them is a compulsion I can no more escape than my shadow. It is a fire burning in my bones, and about ten years ago, by the grace of God in one of those situations I couldn’t have dreamed up, a publisher decided to publish one of my novels. Currently I am writing like crazy to meet an April first deadline for my sixth novel, TWANG, set to come out this fall.

I love writing, but there is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that goes with this career. The paychecks are erratic, I work for the most part in virtual isolation, and I’m constantly plagued with anxiety over whether I’m doing what I ought to promote myself and my books. Why in heaven’s name do I keep on allowing myself to write novels? To stay in a business which regularly does a number on a person’s self-esteem?

I sometimes think about running away from this urge to write. Of giving it all up and going after something with security, some fellow employees. To supplement my income, I teach writer’s workshops and I have to admit, I love certain aspects of this. I love teaching and encouraging and working with aspiring writers. This makes me wonder if I ought to follow in my Daddy’s shoes and become a professor. The hours look good, the steady pay even better. There are benefits and retirement and fellow-professors to hang out with. So, I guess the job I covet besides being a writer is being a professor of creative writing.