My husband and I went driving through the hills of Palos Verdes last Sunday afternoon. He drives a too tiny for me sports car that he absolutely loves and that I find rather confining. It was a beautiful day outside. The California coastal skies were clear. The ocean waves were gentle and incredibly tempting. For October, it was surprising just how many people were still enjoying our ocean waters.
But the air was overly warm and all I really wanted to do that particular Sunday was to stay inside with a good book. I had just finished writing my latest book and was well into the editing process and I was pretty sick of the whole thing. I still had not come up with a title, although there were several roaming randomly throughout my brain.
As much as I knew that I had work to do, I had grown tired of correcting punctuation marks and hunting for run on sentences. And so, really and truly, the only thing I wanted to do was to read my copy of Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke – You Don’t Own Me. I had started it over a month ago and had just not found the time to get further into it. It had waited patiently for me on my desk for over a month.
So my husband convinced me that the best way to get my book fully edited was to take a ride, clear my head and find something else to think about. “You’ll be sharper after you spend some time away,” he said, not really caring about my head but more about having company on his ride past the beach and through the still green hills.
We started our journey off with me offering up potential titles for my book and him coming up with sillier versions to distract me. To my surprise, he also came up with a few good ones. I was just about to launch into a discussion of why I might actually like his last suggested title when a strange man in a most unusual white car drove into the lane next to us. Our car being a lower to the ground Pontiac Solstice, I found myself having to look upward at the driver. The man, apparently aware of my interest, pivoted his gaze down on me, tipped his hat, smiled and promptly drove off.
“What an interesting guy,” I said. “I love his fedora hat (it was a strange shade of blue), but what the heck is he driving?” I asked my husband, who is well versed in the automobile world and knows far more about cars than I could ever hope for.
“A Morris Minor. A 1950 something model, I think,” he said.
Hitting the gas, while hoping to avoid a P.V. cop or two, my husband took off after the beautifully polished white car. “It’s a British made car. Came out after the war. Think it’s named after the guy who designed it.” (See, I told you he knows a lot about cars!)
“That car is older than me!” I said. “And the guy driving it looked like he could be the original owner.” Okay, so maybe I exaggerated a little, but the gentleman did look really old and his style of dress did not speak of Southern California. I think he might even have been wearing tweed on a ninety degree day!
We followed the car and the interesting character chauffeuring it through the hills for a few more minutes before the man turned off on a side street and we lost him. But in that short time, the infamous Morris Minor driver was tattooed on my brain. My husband and I drove home and I raced to my computer to learn all I could about the car I’d just seen.
A few minutes later, my husband stuck his head in my office door and said, “You need to include that guy in one of your books. Stetson…”
“What about Stetson?” I asked.
“That’s what you should call him.”
And so I will. The man in the blue Fedora, wearing tweed and drive a 1950 something Morris Minor car. Hmm, can’t wait to start. And, of course, I’ll name him Stetson.
Last night I was what you might call, a frustrated night owl. I flattened the candle, hoping to finish the first draft of my latest book. I worked until my eyes refused to focus and my butt hurt from sitting so long and still I pushed on. Although I was fairly pleased with the results, my story remained sadly incomplete. Oh, I knew the ending I wanted to attain; I just wasn’t sure which road to take to get it there. Somewhere around midnight, I started questioning my sanity, something I do far too often when I’m struggling with my writing. Provocative thoughts like why hadn’t I ever thought of making this book into a series sprang to life. Was it too late? Did I need to start over? Expand my characters? Was this book going to be a thrilling finale, or a brilliant beginning?
And then it happened; I got stuck in my own head and couldn’t get out! I felt like all of my imaginative juices had inexplicably dried up and I started freaking out. I mean like walking the floors, talking to myself freaking out. I have been working on this one story for such a long time as a seed of an idea finally grew into an actual story with characters, a setting and a plot I really like a lot. So getting stuck now made no sense at all and struggling any further seemed pointless, so I did what every unsure writer does – I went to bed.
The next morning found me in a fog, no closer to finding the clarity I needed to continue and with little desire to get to work. My only option was to strap on my headphones and my tennis shoes and head out for a long walk. Trying to pump a dry well of creativity is futile and adding in fatigue from a restless night just made things worse. Listening to the strains of Vivaldi, my mind blank, I wandered up and down the hills in search of who knew what. And then I found what I hadn’t realized I’d even been looking for; a trigger of inspiration.
I saw the faded paper sign hanging off an old tree that was a ways off the walking trail and swimming in a sea of ivy and I almost walked right past it. Fortunately, something fateful drew me back to the tall Eucalyptus tree and the modeled piece of white paper tied around its trunk. The words Lost & Found were barely visible, written in faded black marker pen. Some of the letters were transparent, bleached by the sun or washed away by the heavy ocean dew, proof that the announcement had hung there for a while at least. What made the sign even more unusual was the pair of glasses, reading glasses I’d guess, sticking through two paper punched holes, just waiting for a passerby to notice.
At first, I walked away smiling at the strange sight. But my curiosity soon got the better of me and I found myself returning for a second peek. Looking at the tortoise shelled frames, I wondered, had an older gentleman dropped them? They looked like a man’s pair of glasses to me. How was he coping with the loss? Was his wife nagging him to stop complaining and go to the drugstore to pick up another pair or had he silently battled his inability to read without his plastic framed friends? And what lovely person had discovered the glasses and then gone to all the effort to create a sign, attach the glasses and post it where walkers might see?
Within moments my synapses were on fire, creating a scenario for a story I couldn’t wait to get home and write. I was humming with excitement and ready to go. My creativity was back and I silently thanked the angel who had put that sign in my way. It took me another thirty minutes for me to walk home and without even realizing that I had, I created the conclusion for my other book, the one I had been struggling with before my morning walk. Those glasses clarified my options and offered me the vision I needed to complete my story without ever leaving the tree.
I think I’ll take a walk past the Eucalyptus tree tomorrow to see if anyone has claimed the lenses. Or better yet, I think I’ll start chapter two of my next story, The Sightless Stranger about a man who lost his way.
Stay Healthy and Happy!
I read this quote in Daily Inspirational Quotes the other day and it made me think…
Don’t write your name on the sand, waves will wash it away.
Don’t write your name in the sky, the wind may blow it away.
Write your name inside the hearts of people you come in touch with. That’s where it will stay.
Maybe that’s what we’re all hoping to do each time we write a blog, an article or a book. We hope that somehow our words might just touch the heart of someone new and lighten their load, spark a curiosity or bring a hint of laughter. But the words in this particular quote felt incomplete and left me wanting more, so I added my own line. Perhaps you’d like to add one too?
Here’s mine – Write down your thoughts in stories that inspire, intrigue, probe, caress or challenge – a subtle reminder that we’re all on the same road, searching for our own enlightened serenity.
During this whole quarantine thing, I’ve often found myself bored, impatient and maybe even not so nice to be around. I’ve never read so many books, watched so much TV, sent so many heartfelt cards and letters or written so many chapters for my latest book. That last part is actually a surprisingly good thing to come out of the virus.
Anyway, for the good of those around me, I decided I better get out of my own head and crawl inside someone else’s. Yes, reading is definitely a good way to do just that, but I somehow felt compelled to move my body off the couch, out of my writing chair and away from the kitchen table. I needed a new form of distraction that might also have the added side effect of expanding my mind.
While many of you are probably familiar with the eclectic world of podcasting, I was not until recently. I am proud to say that I am now. Almost every morning I have been getting up, lacing up my tennies and plugging into a different world; the podcasting world. I make it a point to choose topics I have no prior knowledge of and sometimes even no interest in. Why? To try to jar my brain back to life and it has turned out pretty well. So much so, that I’m now recommending it to the rest of the world or at least to my A Slice of Orange blog readers.
My morning walks or podwalks as I have taken to calling them, have turned out to be one of my favorite parts of my day. I’ve learned so many new and different things as I huff and puff through the hills where I live. I discovered the story of the paleontologist who actually coined the word “dinosaur. ” Now I’m not a real dinosaur fan, but this was one interesting and rather sad story of how ego can get in the way of success. I also enjoyed the tale about how the word “vaccine” was birthed. Both pieces were short, attention grabbing and informative stories from the FridayScience podcast; a site I highly recommend.
But wait, there’s more. I tuned through several other podcasts to learn about the fictional character, Dracula, how to make myself ten percent happier, the true meaning of the word imagination, how the brain adapts when learning a foreign language, techniques for taking a dress pattern from size ten to size fourteen, what happens when you have a heart attack and the value of including kale in your daily diet. I also listened to wonderful stories chronicling everything from mysteries to murders.
Not only did I learn a lot of new stuff, I also benefited in a couple of other ways. I found myself extending my walks for longer periods of time because I didn’t want to quit before the podcast was over. I was also introduced to new vocabulary and exciting strategies for expressing an idea—something every writer can benefit from. The word Crepuscular, a large or bulky body type, was just one of my discoveries and is sure to be a new character descriptor in my next book.
Okay, I admit there is a lot of weird stuff, out there . The number of programs about interestrial visitors is mind boggling. And some of the podcasts featuring famous murderers did nothing for my scaredy cat issues. The good thing is, with the touch of a finger, I can always flip to another topic. Oh, one more thing. I learned how to create my own podcast. Perhaps this could be my next endeavor?
Plug in and start your day with your own podwalk. I hope you find it as enjoyable as I have.
Happy May 20th!
I’ve heard it said that eyes are the window to the soul, but I’ve always been more of a total face person. I like to see smiles, dimples, scrunched up noses or puffed out cheeks. By getting a look at the total face, I think that it’s a whole heck of lot easier to predict what is going on in a person’s head and how to respond. When I’m creating a character, I never stop at just describing the eyes. I mean… do you?
So, what do you do when the only thing that isn’t covered by a mask is a pair of eyes? Unfortunately, during this pandemic, wearing a mask has become as common as wearing a t-shirt and getting to really “see” the person you are trying to communicate with can be uber challenging.
Lucky for me, I also take a lot of my cues from raised eye brows, crinkled crows feet, squinty eyes and furrowed brows. I’m far more comfortable with smiling eyes, bright eyes and even sleepy eyes than I am with angry or worried eyes. And it can really throw me off when those eyes are covered by thick or fringy bangs, glasses or the bill of a cap pulled taunt over a forehead. But if you practice real hard and pay close attention, I theorize that a pair of eyes, peeking out from behind a mask, can actually give you some clues to maneuver by. It’s sort of like learning a foreign language and I got a crash course while dropping by Costco the other day. Flashing, angry eyes mean – for your own good – get as far away as possible, as soon as possible. Sad eyes need a nod of support and happy eyes, well just enjoy those – they may be few and far between these tough days. One other clue to how a stranger might be feeling could be found in the mask they are wearing. I’ve included pictures of a few that I’ve made. How can you not feel happy when wearing something so whimsical?
So until the day comes when we can all greet each other with an upturned smile or a downturned frown, a hug, a giggle or a hoot—take care, be safe and stay home—then you won’t need to wear a mask!
It's 1924 and Daisy Gumm bands with friends to help Lily Bannister, whose abusive husband nearly killed her.More info →