Archive for the ‘writing’ Category


The House NEVER Loses

The most fun about writing a novel isn’t writing it but researching it.  Sadly, right now it’s not possible to just jump in a car and dash off to see, hear, touch, smell, and if it’s a restaurant, taste, a place you’re writing about. Everything’s closed. Unless you happen to be writing about a casino.  On Native American land.  Because a federally recognized tribe has the right to regulate activities on its land independently of state control.  Bingo!

And since the tribes don’t have to pander to Republican politics, they’re free to follow scientific guidelines for Covid.  Temperature checks at the door, enforced social distancing everywhere and any self-obsessed cretin who refuses to wear a mask will find himself escorted off the reservation by large, intimidating Native security guards. Wearing masks. Nirvana.

Luckily, my book-in-progress (a third Blue McCarron mystery) has a scene in a casino owned by the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, so yesterday we drove up there so I could get the details right. It’s just one scene, a flashy pop concert, but I’ve never been to a concert or anything else at a casino and wanted to get the descriptive fine points.  You know, like the walls, the lighting, the carpet?  And I could not make this carpet up!


The Carpet

Walking on it, Blue will be forced to think of neural pathways invaded by a dark cloud of tiny flying saucers or fried eggs with blue yolks, a thought with no connection whatever to the story but that carpet is too interesting to leave out.

IMG_1233 (3)

Glass Feathers

As are the glass feathers framed in the lobby.  More pointless interior monologue about fragile, shattered feathers as a metaphor for something?  Sure. But the most interesting aspect of this foray happened in a conversation with a drop-dead gorgeous descendant of the indigenous Puerto Rican Taino that provided enough information for 2 or 3 other novels. This is a problem with research.  I got the carpet and feathers but also a wealth of information I wasn’t looking for!

At first Jasmene and I discussed her adult daughter’s seeming addiction to Q-Anon.  The daughter has a master’s degree, shattering my assumption that educated folk automatically dismiss reports of satanic democrats kidnapping, raping and dismembering children as the production of some sick creep who’s paid handsomely to poison the minds of the not-too-bright. But this daughter is a smart, educated woman with a smart, educated mother, and she’s still terrified to take her small children out in public alone.  She’s convinced that Satanist democrats will steal, defile and then slaughter them for salable organs. Jasmene’s rational arguments have no effect on her daughter, and I kept thinking this would make an interesting novel.

But then she told me about a Native activist group, No More Stolen Sisters, with which she’s involved.  In Canada the sexual abuse and slaughter of First Nations women is recognized as an epidemic. In the U.S. the same epidemic quietly kills Native women and children who live anywhere near oil industry “man camps,” large tracts of rural temporary or permanent modular structures built to house the thousands of men who construct and maintain more than 190,000 miles of oil pipelines crossing the country. The carnage is particularly ghastly in remote areas of Montana and North and South Dakota where oil money rules, law enforcement jurisdictions are vague and investigations take so long that bodies decompose and vanish long before they can be found.  It’s Ciudad Juárez all over again.


Activist Native women fighting to end this slaughter wear a red, painted hand over their mouths, symbol of both the official silence surrounding their missing numbers and their refusal to remain silent.

So a lighthearted trip to photograph a carpet, just something interesting to do during a pandemic characterized of necessity by boredom, changed the story I thought I was writing in a matter of minutes.  Satanist democrats aren’t raping and killing children; that’s just sick QAnon propaganda. But Native women and children are being raped and killed. San Diego isn’t in North Dakota and the local Kumeyaay are running luxury casinos, not barely surviving in pitiless wastelands and subject to vicious exploitation by oil workers.  But not all of them.

Across an artificial “Mexican” border thrown down by various warring European invaders, descendants of the same Kumeyaay ancestors struggle to survive in nearly inaccessible communities surrounding Tijuana and Tecate.  With little water and acorns as a principal resource, most migrate to the nearby cities where they can find sporadic manual labor jobs. Illiterate and ill-equipped for success in a hi-tech 21st century, Kumeyaay women and girls in Mexico are easy prey for human traffickers engaged in the thriving border flesh industry.

That border is only 30 miles from my front door.  Now all I need is a title for the book.  It has to include the word, “Blue” and suggest some connection to Mexico or Native Americans or deserts.  Suggestions welcome!

Read Full Post »

A New Yorker Reject!

I read “Shouts and Murmurs” in the New Yorker online every day, admit that some border on the incomprehensible, but nonetheless enjoy their characteristic quirky wit.  Thus inspired, I decided to write one.  Yesterday, three months after I’d forgotten I submitted it, I received the typical one-sentence rejection.  Not a problem, I’ll just put it up on the blog, with which I am criminally negligent.

Those who have taught adult ed. writing classes are likely to relate.  😉

Adult Ed. Creative Writing 100


Class time has been changed from 7:00 to 7:16 to accommodate Ms. Mallinkrodt’s propensity to an allergic reaction triggered by the minutes between 7:00 and 7:15.

The malady has persisted despite, as you may have noticed, her practice of wearing full hazmat gear and horse blinders since Arbor Day.  Clearly, sensitivity demands that the other 14 members of the class reschedule cocktails, child care and the length of time it takes to get to our classroom from the parking lot before the lights go out and that maintenance guy in clown makeup starts reciting haiku about killing his mother.

Congratulations to Mr. Antrobus, whose short story nobody was able to read because it was in Uyghur, for nonetheless successfully publishing it in the online anthology, Voices of Diversity.  Apparently the story, مەنئى قىلىنعان, has something to do with sex slavery in the Dervish shoe industry.

And while on that topic, please continue to ignore Mrs. DeWitt’s spirited recitation of Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees” in response to any mention of sex in your narratives.

We appreciate Mrs. D’s cooperation after members of our Spiritual Freedom Caucus threatened to burn her car if she didn’t cease reciting the entirety of Leviticus every time one of your characters says or thinks the “f” word.  “Trees” is happily shorter than Leviticus.

And of course we all thank Mrs. DeWitt for her gift to the class of 400 cross-shaped bookmarks lovingly decorated in sparkly pastel acrylic yarn on plastic canvas.

In response to Father Dacri’s reaction to the bookmarks, a 7,000-word discourse on the Crucifixion in the Gospel of Luke (emailed to the entire class, the Pope and, for some reason, Leonardo DiCaprio), I think we’re all aware that 1st century Roman crosses were neither plastic, sparkly nor pink.  Shall we grant Mrs. DeWitt a bit of poetic license?

Let’s not forget what happened last week when Mr. Brandt objected to Ms. Satterthwaite’s incorrect use of the Pathetic Fallacy in chapter three of her experimental novel, The Anguish of Lawnmowers.

Fortunately, doctors are saying Mr. Brandt may regain at least partial use of his left eye within a year, and Ms. Satterthwaite has sent a note reminding us that flowers are seen as “totally lame” at the county jail, requesting gifts of clean underwear and vintage topographical maps of Finland instead.

Just a reminder that during the first hour of our next class, Mr. Shapiro, Mr. Blakely-Morris and Mrs. Coppinger will do a staged reading, in costume, of their work-in-progress about suicide among laboratory mice.

Due to the heartbreaking nature of the material, they have asked Dr. Farley for once not to blast Fauré’s Requiem from his iPhone in the coffee lounge during the break, as it invariably results in Ms. Conger sobbing and rending her garments over excessive use of the caesura in Emily Dickinson.  Apparently Exercise Wheel of Sorrow employs a great many caesuras and they fear Fauré may push Ms. Conger over the edge.

In the second hour we’ll critique Rabbi O’Malley’s humorous essay spoofing the evolution of the medieval tabard from the 13th century to its current popularity among school crossing guards.

It should be noted that Rabbi O’Malley credits Dr. Farley’s fictional biography of Jiminy Cricket (which, you will recall, we critiqued the evening Mrs. Farley dropped the class in outrage over the absence of Gyokuro tea in the lounge vending machine) as inspiration for his sudden obsession with costume of the Middle Ages.

We applaud both our class members’ creativity despite the facts that Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio wasn’t published until the late 19th century and thus has nothing to do with tabards or the Middle Ages, the cricket was unnamed in the original work and the adorable Disney character with which we are all familiar is actually a grasshopper.

This cross-pollination of ideas is the very essence of the creative writing class, and in celebration of our mutual receptivity I will ask each of you to imagine five possible dramatic plots inspired by the word, “century.”

Mrs. DeWitt has volunteered to sew a tiny Crusader’s tabard for Ms. Conger’s parrot, whose sporadic in-class squawking of Emmeline Pankhurst’s “Freedom or Death” speech we all enjoy, offering further evidence of reciprocal creativity in our dynamic class!

Read Full Post »

Writing About Doctors

Characters get sick, get shot, fall from cliffs. They imbibe interesting poisons, bathe with hairdryers and are pulled at the last second from disasters in abandoned factories, windmills and crypts. The list of ills to which characters are heir is limitless. But a few survive, necessitating scenes in which a doctor must say… something.

Then there are characters who actually are doctors, not infrequently created by writers who aren’t. These fictional docs require backstories, professional personæ and a halfway believable familiarity with the medical world.

In both instances we (non-medical) writers fall back on our own experiences with doctors for dialogue and presentation. This can be problematic if we’re writing a character’s last moments in an oncology unit (Will she finally disclose the name of the twins’ real father before she flatlines?) and our sole medical contact for the last eight years has been with a veterinarian. The character expiring in the oncology unit isn’t there because she didn’t take her heartworm pills, and our fictional doc can’t stand around with a syringe somberly suggesting euthanasia. Searching for anything resembling accurate information that’s also comprehensible, we may read novels about doctors by doctors (in which the renegade good doc invariably pits her/himself against the arrogant, alcoholic/drug-addicted, philandering, embezzler bad doc who happens to run the hospital) or biographies of doctors (“Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”) It’s all very time-consuming and rarely provides the sort of quick, authentic, insider detail that can give even a minor character legs. And who has time to do much research on minor characters, anyway?

Singular Intimacies But eureka. Through the usual strange set of circumstances, a Bellevue social worker named Kari Wolf recently insisted that I read a book called Singular Intimacies by a Bellevue doctor named Danielle Ofri. This surprisingly open chronicle of the doctor’s professional arc has been widely reviewed, and this is not a book review. This is a gasp of relief. Because Ofri’s book is a wry, realistic, sometimes-scary and/or heartbreaking but always honest Rosetta Stone for writers who need to write about doctors. Just think – one book!  And check out the link (in Blogroll) to Ofri’s NYT columns, also a goldmine of interesting and useful-to-writers information.

Read Full Post »