THE WRITING LIFE – For the Sandwich Generation

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay
Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

By Francine Paino

I’m a morning writer, and it’s morning.  Filled with energy, and inspiration, I grab the notes I’d scribbled on the post-it when ideas woke me during the night. Sharpen those pencils and dust off the keyboard. Coffee’s brewing, toast pops up. Ready, set, go.

Not   So   Fast

The phone rings. “Mom. Emergency. The sitter is sick. Can you take the baby for a few hours?”  I, the devoted grandmother, agree to help. When the baby naps, I’ll write.

The phone rings again. The nonagenarian is desperate to get to the supermarket.

Welcome to life in the sandwich generation. 

Here I am a piece of Swiss cheese firmly pressed between two slices of hearty Italian bread. On one side is my nonagenarian mother, a feisty old lady, who doesn’t look or act her age.  She is in great physical shape other than the fact that she can’t hear very well, can’t smell very well, and claims not to be able to walk very well. As for the walking, just give her a shopping cart in the supermarket and try to keep up with her. I’ve lost several pounds chasing her up and down the aisles.

On the other side are my grandchildren, normal little people going through the different stages of emotional, physical and intellectual growth. They provide the expected tests for the adult nervous system: conflict, espionage, and subterfuge. Put any one of them together with the nonagenarian who wishes to be a revered elder and a naughty child at the same time, and it’s like herding cats.  

And so, I pick up the 24-month-old and then the 95-year-old, and off to the supermarket we go!

The young one sits in the basket in front of me, and the old one is behind me zipping around with her cart and getting into as much mischief as possible, picking up candies and treats  she knows the 24 month-old is not allowed to eat.

The child’s radar, of course, locks onto the junk food. She tries to elongate her little arm to reach over me and receive the treat from her great-grandmother.

The powers of observation in both the toddler and the nonagenarian are impeccable; their timing the envy of any dance team. If I turned to a shelf on my left, the nonagenarian reaches over my right shoulder to give the toddler some forbidden sweet. Once that sweet is in the 24-month-old’s chubby little fist, I must employ all my powers of persuasion to get it away. After I succeed, I turn to scold the nonagenarian but she’s disappeared. I find myself talking to thin air. 

This continues up and down each aisle as the elder rises to the challenges of flexible movement and rapid deployment, accumulating as many different snacks as possible and passing them to her beloved great-grandchild before I can stop her.

The woman who cannot walk so well is able to dodge, feint and sidestep with incredible speed. She appears and disappears at key times while I actually try to gather items on the list.

At last, I make it to the check-out line where the naughty old child hands a candy bar to the determined young child. “Here, sweetie, take this,” but my antennae are up and my intercept quick.

I snatch the bar away before the little one captures it in her vice-like grip. Both the old and the young cry out in dismay. Finally, I have no choice but to appropriately discipline both, which nearly creates a riot at the register. It is my good fortune that no do-gooders are there to insist that I be reprimanded for reprimanding those in my charge. 

Bags packed, groceries paid for, I swiftly maneuver the nonagenarian and the toddler to the car and get them safely strapped into their seats, after which I load the shopping.

I drop the nonagenarian at home with her purchases. And now there is one. This is manageable.

As soon as I reach the safety of my home, I promptly put the toddler down for a nap. Ahh. Blessed relief. It’s quiet at last, and time to write. I smile and close my eyes for a moment of peace to gather my thoughts.

 The next time I open them, a little voice is calling, “Nonna.”  

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The original version of this, Supermarket Nightmare, appeared in the March 2015 edition of Funny Times.

I Love Research and Nolan Ryan!

by K.P. Gresham

Writing for me is both a compulsion and an exploration.  I know, I know, they say “write what you know”, but I’d add another clause on that. Write what you know and/or what you’d like to research.

The best book prompt that I know of is “What if?” For example, what if my heroine wants to become a professional baseball player?   (By the way, that is a cheap plug for my first novel, Three Days at Wrigley Field.) Even though I am an avid baseball fan, there’s no way I had enough baseball knowledge in my head to complete a novel on the subject.  More important than knowing that Nolan Ryan pitched seven no-hitters in his career (a record known by thousands of fans), I needed to know how he pitched those no-hitters. To that end, I purchased Nolan Ryan’s video on how he pitched. That information is integral to making the book work. (Side note: I’m nuts about Nolan Ryan. When I lived in Houston, I’d drive an hour to his hometown of Alvin just to get my hair cut. I kept hoping on the off-chance I would see this super-human walking down the street.)

Research for me is one of the most fun parts of creating a fictional piece.  For example, in my Pastor Matt Hayden Mystery Series, I do indeed write what I know. I grew up a PK–preacher’s kid (I prefer the term TO for ‘theological offspring’, but alas, that never caught on). I know a whole lot about what a preacher does, about how congregations work (or don’t work), about the ever present pitfalls for even the most devoted. But I didn’t know anything about the Federal Witness Protection Program or how to own and run a sports bar. (I hope that’s a tease–what is my series all about??)

In the coming blogs, I’m going to talk about how and/or where I do my research.  A writer may write in a bubble, but IMO they certainly can’t research in a bubble. She has to join groups, go to conferences, hit the bars J, and talk to experts in the field. (Hence why I had to hit the bar.) She has to get the facts right, or she risks losing the trust of the reader. Why is this important? A “This is bogus!” reaction from the reader means they’re slamming the book shut never to pick it up again, and, worst of all, telling others not to read it.

Research is necessary, but fun! I hope you’ll enjoy my escapades into research that I’ll share with you in coming blogs.

On Podcasts and the Creative Process

By Laura Oles

As writers, we often contend with voices inside our heads. It’s not just me, is it?  As much as I love these characters who demand to be heard, there are moments when I need a break.  I need someone else’s voice inside my head. Someone to inspire me or to teach me something interesting that could also prove useful in a future scene or novel. 

That’s where podcasts come in.  I’ve long been a fan of podcasts, and the quality of what’s currently available is a true treasure trove for those tuning in. There’s something for every interest, and almost any topic can be found by doing a simple search in your podcast app. 

Here are a few of my favorites:

Reply All:  This podcast explores how technology and culture collide, often in interesting or unexpected ways.  Want to learn how someone can steal your Instagram account? And why would they want it? Or maybe a profile about how a software designer turned his skills to building an illegal empire online?  The quality of the reporting and narration are top notch, and this is the one podcast I anxiously wait for each time a new episode drops.  

Murder Book with Michael Connelly:  This passion project created by powerhouse author Michael Connelly is a new release and one that quickly captured my attention.  Connelly explores an unsolved thirty-year-old homicide case that “tests the limits of the American criminal justice system.” 

Hidden Brain:  “Shankar Vedantam uses science and storytelling to reveal the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, shape our choices and direct our relationships.”  Vedantam is a skilled narrator and the topics are fascinating, ranging from how to move past a life-altering injury to the psychology of surprise endings (an excellent episode for writers).  

This American Life:  Produced by NPR, this podcast never disappoints (me).  Each week involves a certain theme, and the reporting ties several stories to that theme.  The storytelling focuses on compelling people, difficult dynamics and big questions that don’t always have an answer.  Thought-provoking and beautifully produced, this one is worth a listen.

Here’s The Thing with Alec Baldwin: Alex Baldwin’s personal antics can be up for debate, but you can’t argue with the man’s interviewing skills.  This one surprised me in all the best ways.  He’s interviewed everyone from Billy Joel and Carly Simon to Cameron Crowe and Kyle MacLachlan.  Alec’s questions dig down deep into the topic of the creation of art of all kinds and how those pursuits impact personal relationships.  The episode with Jerry Seinfeld is one of my favorites because he shares how to make time to write–and how he did it during the Seinfeld years. His answers may surprise you. For those curious about the inside-baseball elements of writing, acting, and other creative endeavors, this public radio podcast pulls strong. 

Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me:  Sometimes, after a long writing session,  I need a good laugh. A quiz program with a rotating panel including  comedic talents Mo Rocca, Paula Poundstone, Alonzo Bodden and several others, this show blends current events with fake news stories in an effort to discern what’s true and what’s not.  Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction on this show.  

When compiling this list, I realized that most of my recommendations came from podcasts created by public radio.  Just one more reason to support your local public radio station!

Do you listen to podcasts?  If so, which ones are your favorites?

Thank You, Lady Gaga

from Ink-Stained Wretch K.P. Gresham, a member of AMW

Ink-Stained Wretches

K.P. Gresham

by K.P. Gresham

I recently had the incredible honor of attending Lady Gaga’s Las Vegas Jazz Show. I say honor, because this woman is so talented. Not just at singing, or dancing or playing the piano.

This lady can write.

I write fiction. I like to say I kill people for a living. This incredible woman writes the language of the soul.

I was struck by one song in particular. I am in the final stages of putting out my next book, MURDER ON THE THIRD TRY.  The questions I ask myself are overwhelming, and all have a common theme: Is this book any good? I know this something most writers struggle with. Actually, Robert De Niro said it best. “The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing. Isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination and consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing and soul-crushing inadequacy. And…

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Sit Down, Shut Up, and . . . You’re Invited

Reblogged from Ink-Stained Wretches

 

 

 

by M. K. Waller

 

Friday evening David said, “Should I wake you at nine tomorrow?” and I said, “Why?” because I never know what day it is, and he said, “You’re going to Saturday writing practice at the Yarborough library,” and I said, “At the Yarborough,” and he said, “Yes, the Yarborough,” and I said, “The Yarborough, the Yarborough.

So the next morning I sat in the parking lot of the Twin Oaks library for nine minutes, until I knew it was open, because I didn’t want to wait outside and freeze, and at one minute after ten, I went inside and found the meeting rooms dimly lit and empty, and I said to myself, “The Yarborough.” . . .

There’s more! Click HERE to read the original post.

MysteryPeople Interviews Helen Currie Foster

helen-currie-foster-hotxsincAMW member Helen Currie Foster was interviewed for the MysteryPeople blog by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery. Helen is the author of the  Alice MacDonald Greer mystery series: GHOST CAVE, GHOST DOG, GHOST LETTER, GHOST DAGGER, and THE GHOST NEXT DOOR.

Midwest Book Review calls the Alice MacDonald Greer mysteries a 2018-10-10-helen-currie-foster-gng-cover“simply outstanding mystery series.”

Read Helen’s interview with MysteryPeople here.

 

 

 

 

The Waiting Game

Austin Mystery Writer Helen Currie Foster describes how it feels the week AFTER she finishes a book.

Reblogged from Writing Wranglers and Warriors.

Writing Wranglers and Warriors

helen-currie-foster-hotxsinc Written by Helen Currie Foster

 The first week after the book is finished. Horrible. Finishing a book feels a bit like having a broken spring. A cartoon clock where the springs go SPROING out the back, twisting like Little Orphan Annie’s ringlets.

mcinnesPost-book dementia has been ignored by the scientific community. Yet it’s a known syndrome, leaving the writer desperate.

Symptoms? Apathy. Refusal to read headlines. Compulsive retreat into mysteries from the sixties—John MacDonald. Helen MacInnes. Waking at three a.m. and staring into darkness, lost without a plot tangle to unravel. Executive function area of brain on unauthorized vacation.

Cures? None known. One wise practitioner advises Tincture of Time. Thyme? What did he say?

Anodynes?

Hard runs, uphill both ways. Try to beat your own best thyme. Time?

Locate small child. Ask child about book plot for witch and wizard story, using “Yes And!” for action sequence.

Eat…

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Chicken Diapers, Pinterest and Research

Austin Mystery Writer KP Gresham on one of the joys of research . . .

Writing Wranglers and Warriors

K.P. Gresham Cropped Color Portrait  Written by Kathy Gresham


Sometimes my descriptions of a scene, idea, character, etc. can use a little pictorial help. For me, I find Pinterest can be a great resource to help me get the picture in my mind “just right”. Other times, I’ve used it to store ideas for future writing, motivate me when I need a new idea, and in a few cases, to prove a theory of a book I’m working on.

I have a couple of manuscripts in the drawer (that’s a writer’s way of talking about finished manuscripts that you haven’t sent out to any agents or editors YET}. Two of them are fun little murder mysteries that take place in a small Illinois town called Hardscrabble. The title on my Pinterest account for this series is Hardscrabble Homecoming. I have a Pinterest board for each of my series: “Chicago Cubs” supports my 2016 novel,

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I Love You, Peter Guillam…Thoughts on Point of View

AMW member Helen Foster Currie on John Le Carre’s use of point of view. Posted in Writing Wranglers and Warriors. Click the link to read her complete post.

Writing Wranglers and Warriors

helen-currie-foster-hotxsinc Written by Helen Currie Foster

2018-09-16 HELEN FOSTER WWW IMG_1910Okay, I’m addicted to John Le Carré. I’ve repeatedly re-read his “Smiley Trilogy.”  As you may know (but no spoilers), the seminal Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy tells us how George Smiley unmasked a mole in the British secret service (the “Circus”). Remember Alec Guinness as Smiley? Wonderful, but not as short and tubby as we imagine Smiley to be. When Smiley’s People was reissued, Le Carré wrote a preface referring to his completion of a trilogy: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974); The Honourable Schoolboy (1977), and Smiley’s People (1979). Was he done, then? We’d hear no more about finding the Circus mole and foiling the Russian mastermind Karla? Could Smiley retire to study German poetry, maybe retrieve his beautiful unfaithful Ann?

John Le Carré will be 87 on October 19. In 2017, with A Legacy of Spies, Le Carré reaches back before

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A Dick Francis Race to the Finish

Steeplechase jockey Dick Francis won over 350 races and wrote forty mystery thrillers–international bestsellers. Helen Currie Foster discusses why Francis’ books are perennial favorites.

Writing Wranglers and Warriors

helen-currie-foster-hotxsinc Written by Helen Currie Foster

 Dick Francis wrote over 40 international best-selling mystery thrillers touching the world of horse racing. He won celebrity status as a British jockey, even serving as the Queen Mother’s jockey. In World War II he served in the RAF, flying Spitfires and hurricanes.

2018-08-23 HELEN FOSTER WWW- WIKI - pd - Steeplechase_(1257926029)By Paul Holloway from Leeds, United Kingdom (Steeplechase) [CC BY-SA 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons Many fans will recognize that he often uses a particular formula. The formula includes a young male protagonist with an offbeat background and some sort of hole in his soul, who winds up solving a murder. Let’s take just three examples: foreign service officer Peter Darwin in Comeback, movie director Thomas Lyon in Wild Horses, and architect/restorer of old buildings Lee Morris in Decider.

Each book uses first-person narrative.

Each man worries about something missing in his life. The…

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