Friday, November 2, 2012

The Writing Life: The Dangers of Exercise

Okay, yesterday was the first day of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and tens of thousands of people worldwide are participating in the annual challenge to write a 50,000 word novel by the end of the month. I am one of those who join the insanity. It is an intense, fun, frustrating, and ultimately fulfilling things you can do as a writer -- especially if you are just starting out. Between the NaNoWriMo website and the Facebook pages that support it, the writer has a huge pool of support. The writers chat, challenge one another, and help out when one is stumped with a problem. It opens the channels of creativity. Sometimes with startling results.

This afternoon I took a break for a nap and exercise. The nap was solid and I awoke refreshed and ready to exercise. As my blood flow began to increase, so did my brain activity. Naturally, my thoughts turned to thoughts of my book and how it was taking on a whole different patina than it had in my notes. Not out of character for me, but actually falling into a more familiar, more appropriate one -- one that guarantees that it will be a unique, one-of-a-kind novel.

From there my brain went a bit crazy and before I was finished with my exercises, I had seven additional solid book ideas. And every single one of them funnier than the last. Several of them were inspired by my newborn great niece, Bethany. I had to race to the computer and write them all down.

I can't wait to see what I am going to do with The Extra Large Medium.

Last week the exercise had released a crazy wonderful idea for the description of one of my main character's ex-boyfriends. 

No telling what tomorrow's exercise will bring, it is this way that danger lies. I could end up deluged with more ideas than I can handle, but I'm ready -- I think. I hope. When it comes to ideas -- I'm taking all comers. It must be something in the physical activity that really gets the gray matter mattering!

Perhaps I will be able to exercise my way to fame and fortune.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Writing Life: The Professional Student

I hated school. With a passion. Huge passion. Oddly enough, about the same time that I really started to hate school was when I decided that I wanted to be a writer. The irony of this is that once you are a writer you are also a student for life. Fortunately, school has little to so with being a student. It  has more to do with being a pupil.

A pupil is a mere reflection of the teacher and is expected to return what has been given.  A student, or scholar, has a need and yearning for information and does not want to be limited by authority or institution. The scholar will continue learning without limitation and without conscious intention. He or she attends the school of life.

As a writer I am permanently enrolled and educated by every passing moment or bit of knowledge. Questions may lead to answers, but more often than not both lead to even more questions. I write because I am and I learn because I write.


Writers, be they writers of fiction or nonfiction, are in a constant search for just the right bits of information to assist in the accomplishment of their craft. Without new information, there is no inspiration, everything becomes flat and trite, and little bears the passion of reality.

While I hated school, I loved learning. So, like most writers, I am also an avid reader. I ask questions and pry into the lives of the people around me. How else can I make my characters as real as "real" people? I don't write about the details of their lives, I study their emotions, reactions, the tinier details that give richness to stories. My character may have a cup of tea, but is there importance as to whether he or she is drinking Earl Gray or Celestial Seasonings? Absolutely. Each type of tea can underscore either the essence of the character or the essence of the moment the character is experiencing. Would I know that it makes a difference if I did not know the difference between the teas? This is not from personal experience -- I don't drink tea. If it was limited to my own experience, none of my characters would drink tea -- or coffee for that matter.

So I study. Constantly. Observing the seemingly innocent gesture for subtext. Dissecting subtleties of conversation that reveal the second agenda.

The biggest question of all is "what if?" This is what leads the writer down the rabbit hole. It is a trait that writer's share with scientists. Where they try to prove or disprove it, writers will go there and glory in the twists and turns of possibility. We don't need to prove it. We just need to have the literary sleight of hand to make it believable, make the journey, and then bring it to a climax of troubled but ultimately glorious success or dismal failure.

We must be able to rewrite or fake logic, but to be believable we must understand the subject. If I were going to write about wolves, as several of my writer friends do, I would want to study wolves. I would need to understand their natural behavior, their habitat, hunting traits, interactions, and so on. Now many of my readers are likely to know little or nothing about wolves -- they "would never know." As a writer, I would know I had cheated my audience. As a reader something, somewhere, would strike a false note to me. With the Internet inches away, I am likely to check up on you.

So I study. I am constantly researching. With my day job writing for a pet website I must spend a part of everyday intentionally researching animals. I realized a couple of days ago that I may become difficult to talk with when the subject of animals comes up. A friend of mine, who likes to be the one who knows more that I do, will bring up a topic in animal news to tell me. Since her computer is out of commission and she therefore does not read the website. I will then inform her that I wrote an article on the story and then expand upon it. It kind of kills the conversation. I try to make up for it in areas I don't write about.

My next book, to be written next month in marathon fashion for National Novel Writing Month, will be a novel about reincarnation. I have done years of research on the subject. Still, I know that I will need to stop and look up information as I go. The reason? It isn't just about reincarnation -- it is also about all the historical time periods that will be touched upon over hundreds of years. There will be something I missed somewhere. If I can't fill it in I will have my main character have a memory lapse, but there would be no book at all without research.

To paraphrase: I write, therefore I study.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Writing Life -- Determining Your Fate

I decided to become a writer at the tender age of seven or eight. It was something I didn't have a lot of support in -- ever. It was up to me to find that place inside that knew that I could and would do this -- no matter what.

Teachers, those supposed guides to education and possibility, were often hopelessly worthless, if not actively obstructive in my pursuit of writing. I had at least two grade school teachers who were positive that I was stupid and couldn't figure it out when I did not act accordingly. The two that come to mind were also abusive, but I won't go into that. Suffice it to say, they probably didn't belong in the field.

My high school creative writing teacher said my stuff was hackneyed and cliched, and that I would never amount to anything as a writer. I had a college English professor who literally backed me into a corner over my improper use of commas. After bawling me out she never did give me any hints as to the proper use of the comma. I learned that later through a correspondence course that was a far better teacher than she was.

The one glowing exception to this parade of dismal teachers was my junior high school English teacher and writing mentor, Frank Reno. For three years he encouraged me to write and after school he would read what I was writing and try hard not to laugh himself to death. I am sure that what I was writing at that age was not exactly Pulitzer material. Still, he encouraged me. Of all the English teachers I have had over the years, he is the only one who became an accomplished author in his own right. He has researches and written several books on the historical King Arthur.

When I was a teenager my mother took me to see a psychic. The woman devastated me by saying that I would only ever write for myself. It was like telling me that my life would never amount to anything. After a great deal of soul searching I determined two things. One was that the woman was all too human for all her psychic abilities and she had allowed herself to be swayed by my appearance -- the fat girl with glasses. We weren't supposed to succeed. The second was that she was flat out wrong.

My father was very negative about my writing and tried to sway me away from it. I often commented that he would be fine with it once it came with a dollar sign attached to it. Truer words I have never spoken. I understand that it was part of his make up since he was coming of age during the Depression, but he was oddly lacking in support for the things that interested me.

During college, my stepmother was cleaning my room at home and apparently went through a bunch of my stories. She pushed me to admit that I was just playing at being a writer because none of these stories had endings. I stubbornly insisted that I was a writer. Again one more person who didn't believe.

My mother, bless her, vacillated between being supportive and not. I finally figured out that she just wasn't all that good at giving constructive criticism back then. Thankfully she learned how over the years through her own writing endeavors. She is now my biggest fan.

The point of all this is that YOU determine whether or not you can write. Once you determine that it is up to you to break your path. I kept writing. Lots -- most -- of it was crap. A lot of what I write now is crap. That is how you find out what works and what doesn't. Obviously I figured out how to get to the end of my stories. I learned to write wonderful poetry. I discovered that I could be really funny when I write. I found a talent for writing essays. When I started working for a newspaper I took a leap into the  void and talked myself into writing articles.

I proved all of those people wrong. I stayed true to my goal. Granted that when I was seven years old I was expecting to write books, but as I grew older my dreams grew too and I knew that there were many ways to write. I have written a book and it is still in the works.

In the meantime I am working as a freelance journalist now and I am loving it. The book will happen eventually. The plans for a second book is in the works. I am doing what I was meant to do and there is nothing else quite so rewarding.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

How I Became a Paid Writer

I was sitting at the counter in a drugstore having a soda, minding my own business when an editor came up to me and said, "Hey, you look like a writer! How about a job?" Suddenly I was a writer!

Yeah, right.

I was seven years old when I decided I wanted to be a writer. I may have had momentary dalliances with ideas of being an actress, a nurse, or a rock star, but the desire to be a writer remain in my heart above all else. So I wrote. bits and pieces of things, ideas, poems, whatever. When I was 11 I started writing a book that I never finished. It was the best activity EVER.

I spent years sending stuff out to magazines, major and literary. I sold the occasional poem or story to little literary journals. I sold a filler to Women's Day. I basically was not advancing much as a writer. I did not study journalism. I didn't get a degree in writing or English. In fact, I studied criminal justice in college  I chose it to broaden my experiences and world view as a writer. That, and to piss off my dad. I knew that I would be a writer eventually, even though a psychic my mother once took me to said I would never succeed at  it, that I would only write to please myself -- like a hobby. There was one thing I knew that she didn't -- I knew she was WRONG!.

For several years I set about writing poems about and for the people around me. I gave them to each person they were about. I would also dabble around with the occasional story. I took a couple of continuing education classes at the University of  Colorado that were taught by writers instead of teachers. My skills progressed immensely.  Then I won a poetry contest that my mother insisted that I enter. I was elated. I joined the Poetry Society of Colorado and began really working at poetry. I entered the slate of annual contests every year and began winning a great deal. This really honed my writing skills into saying exactly what I meant succinctly and clearly.

During these years life managed to take me in the right direction. I managed to land a job at the Colorado Daily newspaper as a marketing assistant. I finagled my way into writing letters for a few marketing campaigns to garner new advertisers. Before long they were laying me off. It was a quirky newspaper that all but shut down publishing during the summers. Fate took a hand and the editorial department hired me as their calendar editor instead.

During the summers most of the writers were laid off until September. One day a press release crossed my desk. It was for an art showing for work by my neighbor across the street. After 20 or 30 minutes of getting my courage up, I walked into the editor's office and pitched my article idea. It felt something like throwing myself off a cliff. To my great joy, the editor agreed. Now I had to write something well enough to prove that I was worth taking a chance on. It worked and I began writing articles more regularly. This was in addition to my job, so I was considered a freelancer. Just like that I was suddenly a paid writer.

One of my early articles was about my junior high English teacher, Frank Reno, and the book he had written about the historic King Arthur. He had been my biggest mentor in wanting to become a writer. Back in the day he would read and comment on my scribblings when I would bring them to him after school. It was delightful to interview him and to let him know that his extra support had been worthwhile.

It didn't last. The next summer I was one of the people laid off. From there I went on to write, edit and publish the newsletter for the Poetry Society of Colorado. It was unpaid, but it kept my hand in the field.

At my most recent job I wrote newsletters for homeowners associations. A bit on the boring side since I wrote mostly about lawn care, rules, water conservation, and snow shoveling, but at least I was writing. It was during this job that I started seeing a new way to do things.

I joined Facebook just to be able to see some family photos. Then I began reconnecting with old friends, my coworkers and others. I started looking at the blog of one coworker and it dawned on my that I needed to blog. So I created this blog and started putting EVERYTHING on it. I was putting all of my writing out there. I wasn't entirely sure what I was doing with it yet. Eventually it turned into this writing blog, as well as a link to writing samples for potential writing jobs.

That helped lead me to getting a paid writing gig with and the potential for another that looks like it will start sometime late in June or early July. For that website I would have a column writing local business trends and news. I found these opportunities on Craig's List. I'm supposed to be looking for a "job" right now. Oddly, I am getting more bites to freelance. Somehow I don't mind.

So basically, I became a paid writer by putting myself out there and by not letting anyone tell me that I can't write. I also didn't sit back and wait for it to come to me. I know I can write. You know you can write. So keep writing. I'm going to.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Avoiding Thesaurus Abuse

In one episode of M*A*S*H, Radar, the company clerk, has decided to improve himself by becoming a writer. He signs up for a highly questionable writing course by mail and proceeds to try his hand at writing. When he starts to attempt to exercise his new vocabulary he met with disastrous results. He offends someone by saying "provocative anecdote." In his daily reports he writes that Corporal Klinger was going about his crepuscular rounds. Later Klinger took off with a nifty nonchalance, only to return with his "nonchalantness" not so nifty. Colonel Potter advised Radar to write what he knows. Always good advice -- well, sort of.

What was really at issue here was not so much writing what you know, but writing as yourself. People just don't use words like "crepuscular" in ordinary conversation. Guys like Radar do not discuss provocative anecdotes. There are times when you might use such verbiage, such as when you are writing a television script about a simple guy trying too hard to not be quite so simple. But for the most part you don't want to go there.

Writing the way you speak is far more accessible to your audience. That is unless people tend to nod off whenever you open your mouth.  The way you speak is contemporary and designed to communicate thoughts and ideas easily to the listener. You may need to change the contemporary part somewhat for historical pieces, but you don't want to vary too far off modern speech or you may lose your audience.

Putting distracting words into your work detracts from it. Did anyone hesitate, even briefly at my use of verbiage above? You should have. I could have just used "words" and done just as well. Anything that stops your reader in the flow of the story is a bit of bad writing. You want the reader to stay totally engaged. I used to love reading Judith Krantz novels, for which she was paid many millions of dollars. The one thing about her writing that drove me absolutely nuts was her insistence on placing smatterings of French into her dialog. Without translating it or alluding to the meaning somewhere nearby. This always pulled me out of the story since I don't speak French much beyond "oui," "non," and "merci." I can usually manage better with German and Spanish, but, not being fluent, I still have to stop and translate.

It can be difficult to find just the right word, and a thesaurus is a great tool to have handy for any writer. The problem is giving into the temptation to indulge in flashy language. It is so easy to want to make yourself smart. That alternate word may seem so cool. You can find yourself going to the thesaurus more and more often to keep it up. This is thesaurus abuse.

When I wrote for the Colorado Daily I was limited on the size of my articles by character count, not by word count, since the articles had to fit into a certain amount of space. I would write my article, check the character count, and then go over my work with a fine tooth comb to carve down the number of characters without losing the meaning of the story. The fancier words had to go, for they tended to be much longer. Anecdote has eight characters where story is only five. It was one of many ways that writing for print news helped sharpen my writing skills immeasurably. To save characters I would also end up rearranging sentences to make them more compact.

Don't write a provocative anecdote, write a great story. If people have too much trouble understanding you, they aren't going to bother reading your work. Save the flowery language for that one particular character that no one is supposed to understand -- the pompous scientist, for example. You don't want the best of your work to get lost in translation.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Branding: By Any Other Name

Should you write under your own name or select a pseudonym? If you do choose to go with a pen name, why? It can be personal, or it can be part of your marketing strategy.

 Making the choice is an age-old dilemma. The Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, jointly published a volume of poetry in 1846 under the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. One of the reported reasons for this decision was the concern that no one would buy the book as penned by women. A similar decision was faced by Mary Anne Evans who wrote under the pen name George Eliot around the same time as the Brontes. Some women did write under their own names, but were not taken seriously and it was assumed that they could only write lighthearted romances. Eliot wanted to be taken seriously as a novelist. Fortunately, that is not the case any longer. Or is it?

Many male authors who write romance novels will do so under a female name. The perception of the book-buying public is strongly biased in favor of women writing romance. This is a similar sentiment that is still going strong more than 100 years later.

The choice can depend on what you write, but not necessarily for reasons of gender bias. Some writers will choose to use their real name for one genre of writing and a pseudonym for another. This is basically what is known as branding in the marketing world. You choose one name to become synonymous with one product, in this case, books, short stories, essays, or even articles. Perhaps you  write mysteries under your own name, but you also write science fiction. To keep you mystery "brand" solid, so that readers everywhere associate your name only with mysteries, you then select a pen name for your science fiction work to give that body of work its own brand.

Another possibility is that you write somewhat graphically explicit books and stories. In such a case you may want to use a pseudonym for reasons of propriety. This may be to shield your children until they are old enough to understand. Or maybe you don't want other relatives weighing in judgmentally on how you are making a living.

When I was younger I toyed with using a pseudonym. I think that at that point I was just enchanted with the idea of being someone else. After several years and a very short stint being published as Skye Meredith, I decided that I wanted to just be me and be known by my real name. Then I chose to also use my middle name. As a child I was actually called Laurie Kay, like Mary Kay, but outside the family it never took. This has caused some unwanted opinions from some family members who thought I shouldn't use it, but I stuck to my guns. Somewhere along the lines I found a great reason for using my middle name. My mother's name is Dawson, a sept name for the Davidson clan in Scotland and I discovered that Kay is also a sept of Davidson. By using my middle name I honor both sides of my family, father and mother. A side benefit of this is that when people google my writing name, I am Laurie Kay Olson. I am the only Laurie Kay Olson with books on There are tons of Laurie Olsons out there. There is only one me. It is my brand as well.

I recently started writing as a paid blogger for a website. The people running the website liked my work well enough that they gave me a second beat to write. So they wanted me to come up with a pen name for the second beat to keep the beats separate as to what I am writing. So now I write animal news under my own name and under the name Kitty Devine to review cool animal-themed stuff. For this my pen name is purposely tongue-in-cheek due to the more lighthearted nature of the beat. Kitty probably won't live forever, but that's okay. It's a limited-time only brand.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Write On: Getting Past Writer's Block

To be honest, this is not usually a big problem for me. Indeed, I have trouble shutting my brain down and letting the ideas stop for the moment. However, it does happen. Sometimes it is that excessive flow that caused the block -- much like a log jam on a river. Here are some of the ways I have found to move beyond the block:

Blank Page Syndrome: I love the blank page. It is so ripe with possibilities. Because of that it is easy to get intimidated. What to do? Where to start? Basically this is similar to the fear of failure. You always want to write your very best and looking at that blank page reminds you of this. Keep in mind that you will write crap. Lots of it -- and it doesn't matter. The blank page is there for you to explore all of the possibilities it can hold. Mess with it. Write anything at all. I knew an English teacher once who had his students do "jottings." This was an exercise to connect them with their right brain and let the words flow. To get going it doesn't have to be on what you are planning to write, just write. Prime the pump. Once you have the words working, then you can turn to your story. Nothing has to be perfect on that blank page once you get to your story. Just get it down. You can fuss over it and tweak it later during editing and rewriting. You may find that what you thought was the beginning is really somewhere in the middle. That's okay. It's all okay.

Where Do I Go Now Disease: One of the problems with being a writer is that we see a great many possibilities for every action. We can easily get stymied by which course of action that our character  should take next. We can lose ourselves considering our options. What if? What if? What if? You need to get out of this loop. Get up and walk away. Do something else for a bit. Preferably something that gets your hands working and not your brain. No TV, no music, no reading. During the warmer months I garden and I get a great deal resolved while working with the soil and the plants. Ideas and resolutions abound out there. During the colder months I will knit, crochet, or do cross-stitch -- nothing complicated. Somehow keeping the hands moving does something to the brain making it work better. I discovered in high school that working on my home ec crocheting under the desk in history class made me remember the teacher's lecture extremely well. It is a shame that the standard school system frowns on multitasking or we would have a larger bunch of kids who are far more well-educated. Find your Zen activity and make use of it. If all else fails I resort to actually cleaning the house.

The Road Block Condition: You've been racing along with your latest manuscript and all of a sudden you are stopped in your tracks. Traffic is at a standstill. You don't know for sure if there is a wreck ahead or if there is just a family of skunks crossing the road. Whatever the block here is, you need to get things moving. This is a great time for brainstorming. There are many techniques out there that have you drawing lines and making circles and such. I just make lists. If there is a specific topic I need to write to for an assignment I start with that topic. You can start with whatever it is you are needing. For example, say I need to write about cowboys. What do I think of when I think of cowboys? Horses, bridles, reins, hats, chaps, jeans, lasso, Roy Rogers, cowboy songs, Bonanza, Ponderosa, the wide-open range, tumble weeds, boots. . . Invariably something in the brain starts to move. I go from single words to phrases, to ideas. The progression eventually takes me into actual ideas of where to go with my subject. I used this method to write many cowboy poems when that wasn't my sort of things. Though this method I managed to pair the idea of the armchair quarterback with cowboys and wrote a series of three poems about The Armchair Cowboy, all dedicated to my father.

The No Clue Infection: For most writers who stick to fiction, this is rarely a problem. Most of the fiction writers I know have more trouble turning the idea machine off rather than trying to get it moving. If you write articles, blogs, columns or essays, you can sometimes be coming up empty. When I wrote for the Colorado Daily newspaper I would occasionally resort to browsing the yellow pages in the phone book. Usually not the big ads, but the tiny little entries that no one notices. This led me to finding a school for Santa Clauses and a great seasonal article. That was back in the days before I had regular Internet access. More recently I have stumbled across some great ideas while surfing the web. Did you know that a Jewish dog can have a Bark Mitzvah or that you can adopt a bee? Taking some time to just wander can provide some great material. It is up to you to find your own angle if it is a subject that is popular. Find one that isn't so popular is a true gem to add to your writing resume.

Just remember that writing can be extra difficult if you aren't feeling well. Take care of yourself and get plenty of rest and fluids. Don't forget to exercise. That is a great Zen for getting your brain working.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Characterization: By Any Other Name

Naming your character is just as important a part of creating your character as any other. Shakespeare claimed that "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet," but would it really? He penned this phrase centuries before psychologists began to study the perceptions of the human brain. Would a rose still smell as sweet to us if we called it skunk cabbage? I say it would not.

Your name and the names of your characters can affect how they are treated, which is a strong part of who they are. References such as The Name Book by Pierre Le Rouzic lists names with their associated personality traits. This is often amazingly accurate. It can be scary, but I digress.

The sounds of hard and soft consonants tend to fall differently upon the ear and therefore the psyche. Hard consonants are edgy, outspoken and strong. Soft consonants are smooth, gentle and unobtrusive. This is something that I discovered in my years of writing poetry, but it can translate into writing prose as well.

Take the similar names Kiki and Cici. Kiki has an edgier sound, like this person would be outspoken, extroverted, and even shocking. Cici on the other hand has a gentler, more forgiving sound, so the character may be shyer and more caring. Names that mix these sounds can fill in the spectrum between the two.

There are also our cultural perceptions that go into a name. Someone named Edna is not a super model, but may be a stern spinsterish librarian. Roxanne on the other hand is the super model sort of name, but highly unlikely to be a librarian. The cop on the beat is more likely to be Bud or Joe, but would get his ass kicked routinely if his name were Chauncey. However, here is where you can have a little fun. Chauncey could have the nickname Chance and keep the truth quiet. That can also add to who the character is.

Would Marilyn Monroe have been the same bombshell if she had remained Norma Jean? Would Morgan Fairchild had become a vixen as Patsy? Would John Wayne have such a tough-guy image as Marion? I think not. You get my point.

The other thing to keep in mind is the time frame in which you are writing and how appropriate it sounds for that moment in history. A character in the 19th century would not be named something very frivolous. The Victorian Age was more down to earth and you would be more likely to find a slew of Janes and Marys, but to go a bit further out from dead center, you would find Pearl, Ida, and Hazel. Author Suzanne Collins does an admirable job with this in The Hunger Games by making the names of the future sound like a natural evolution of current names. So that the irascible Haymitch may have once been the name Hamish.

You may also want to steer clear of trite names. Using Shirley for the wise-cracking, gum-popping waitress at the diner is as old as the hills. Does that actually fit your story? Maybe that waitress would be better as a Phoebe, the seemingly flaky, over-worked grad student trying to finish her thesis. The girl who is called Willie because daddy wanted a boy has been done to death. Put a spin on it. She was named Willie, not because she wasn't the desired boy, but because mama went into labor at the ball park when Willie Montoya was pitching a no-hitter.

I am blessed, or cursed, with the gift of synesthesia, whereby letters and numbers take on colors. So this plays a strong part in how I select names for my characters. Julie is a lovely purple and green, where Edna comes across as a dull blue-gray. Andrea is a pale harvest yellow. I have to take this into account when I name characters, because this has an even deeper effect on how I perceive them. Hazel, while a dandy name, is shades of brown and black to me and I would need to assign it properly to be able to use it.

So, what's in a name? An awful lot apparently.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Kindred Spirits: The Importance of Fellow Writers

Yesterday afternoon I was able to spend some time in conversation with playwright, filmmaker and cartoonist, Jane Shepard. We had gone to junior high and high school together and had gotten to know each other when we were in the school play together. There is something refreshing and energizing about communing with kindred spirits of the quill.

Only another writer really knows what you are going through when you suffer for your art. (Excuse me while I put the back of one hand to my forehead and swoon.) There is nothing romantic or dramatic about our "suffering" It is one of frustration when our characters won't do what we were expecting them to do. No matter how many times it happens, it is always a bit startling when your characters take on a life of their own. Suddenly you find that your are no longer writing what you thought you were. Only another writer can understand and truly empathize with this experience. Non-writers are baffled by this phenomenon, truly believing that we writers are a form of literary god who can make the characters do whatever we want. Ah, if only it were so easy.

There is little about writing that can truly be classified as "easy." I had a friend who once commented that she wished she could write well so easily. My response was something to the effect of , "Yeah, if you consider sweating blood easy."

We don't write because it is easy. Few of us find it all that easy. What we do find is that it is a  worthwhile and compelling effort. We get something intangible back from it, like the fight well fought. Through it we gain a larger understanding of the world around us.

We need to find ways to connect with other writers, if for no other reason to know that we are not alone and not crazy. Other writers know how to talk us down off of the ledge when we are ready to jump. Other writers are the ones who understand why writing has driven many authors throughout history to become raging alcoholics and suffer from depression.

I am most fortunate that I am surrounded by writers now. My next door neighbor is a writer and we chat often about writing. There is the aforementioned Jane, who has recently resurfaced in my life thanks to Facebook. Then on Facebook I belong to a number of writing chat groups. Here we connect, commiserate, complain, and contemplate. We are there for each other for the good and the bad, and everything in between. We have supportive and caring conversations, disagreements, and completely inane conversations. These discussion threads would often make little sense to non-writers. It gives us community in what is a very solitary vocation (or avocation).

If you are unable to find a support group to meet with in person, find one online. Take a class on writing. Find a cafe that has an open mike night for poets. If not writers, then artists and musicians will do nicely. The creative process is the same, if not the actual act in how you manifest it. Go -- find your kindred!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Motivation - The Write Stuff

Why do you write? What makes you get out of bed to face the blank page every day? What drives you to rewrite, edit, and edit some more? What makes you strive to find a publisher or self-publish?

If you are in it for the money, stop writing and focus on your day job. Money, in shrink-talk is a "negative and non-sustaining motivation." Oh, sure, we all need and want money, but if that is your sole or main motivation, you are headed for a world of hurt.

You need positive and sustaining motivations to write to keep you writing.

I write because, like breathing, I will die without it. It is as essential to my being as my heart and lungs.. I have found that when I don't write I am more prone to depression, restlessness, and listlessness. Ever since I decided to be a writer at the age of eight, it has been a part of me. Perhaps it was always a part of me and it just took until I was eight for it to become incorporated into my awareness. Until then it took the form of my being a voracious reader at an early age. I remember sitting in my little reading group in first grade and the teacher was asking if anyone could read the one word on the first page of the reader. I looked quickly around the group. What was the big deal? Couldn't they all read it? All it said was Tip. I had already taught myself to read as my parents had read to me. I could already sign my name because I had had a savings account for college for more than a year.

Years ago I realized that my need to write was my "calling." Just as serious as though God had called me to become a nun. Since I am not Catholic, I did not go running off to the nearest convent. I was raised Presbyterian and later veered off into the New Age. So my "service" to God is to do what he provided me the talent to do. To speak to everyone with my writing. Later on I discovered that I have a talent for writing humor, the strongest medicine in the world.

I also write because I love the places I can go, the worlds I can explore, the different people I can be. It does leave me living primarily in my head. Not a bad place on the whole. I am entertained and consumed at the same time. It is living life on an intense level since I try to put myself in everyone else's  shoes. It makes me a more compassionate human being because of this.

I am, therefore I write. And yes, I do make some money writing, but that is a nice side benefit. I am hoping that the old saying "Do what you love and the money will follow," is true.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Writing Profile: Finding Myself

Every now and then I take the time to search for myself online. This may sound like a bit of an ego trip, and while I am loathe to admit that I actually have an ego, it really isn't really about my ego. It's about marketing. Checking myself online is more like taking the temperature of my writing, finding out how hot I am on line. Can people find my work easily? Do I need to add tags to something I want to have be more accessible? What can I do to boost sales?

Sometimes I find something surprising. For many years if you googled "Laurie Kay Olson" the first item that would come up was a pregnancy and childbirth website. It was a strange connection for an old, childless spinster. The website had selected to quote me from one of the columns I wrote for the Colorado Daily newspaper back in 1997. It was a humorous observation of why men felt pressured to invent the epidural. In the past few weeks, this entry has disappeared.

There was a time when your work as a journalist lasted about a day, just until the next edition was on the street and the old one was lining the bottom of a birdcage or was put down for the dog to make his editorial comments. Now, with the advent of the Internet, writing has a much longer shelf-life. So, on a whim I added Colorado Daily after my name and found a few interesting items from the long past.

1. Yesterday's Junk Becomes Tomorrow's Office Building
2. The review of the book The Soul Unearthed on the publisher's site
3. One of my columns re-posted by a fan - Look What I Writ for International Literacy Day

So my past journalistic endeavors have not completely disappeared into the morgue at the Colorado Daily, bound up in some dusty volume, or, more likely, on a forgotten roll of microfilm.

There is an old Hungarian folk tale that says that when you die, if you have created something that outlives you, you go on to live in a special place for as long as your work is still around. I've always liked that story. I'd like to think that all of us who write would have a long and healthy life in that place. Words can be eternal.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Writing Down the Past: An Examination of the Geek Life

Years ago I went to my 20th high school reunion. It took a lot for me to do this since school had not been good to me and I had faced a fair amount of bullying. I was working for the paper at that time and I convinced my boss that I would be able to get an interview with Rick Reilly, then of Sports Illustrated fame and now with ESPN. My editor had serious doubts about this since Rick hadn't given him an interview. However, being armed with a professional task gave me some level of comfort. If things got uncomfortable, I would be able to retreat behind the professional mantle of reporter. It also meant that I had a photographer with me and wouldn't be standing around alone.

Despite my discomfort over facing the past, I ended up having a great time. The drama of high school had fallen away and everyone was just friendly. I had been the Queen of the sci fi geeks back then -- okay, I was president of the science fiction club senior year. I was surprised by how many people had known me and remembered me. True to what my sister had told me had happened to her at her reunion, I spent most of my time talking with the people I had also known in Junior High.

In a most surprising conversation, one of the girls told me about how much she had hated high school. I was astounded. For the sake of this post I shall call her Lisa. Lisa had had it all in high school - the popularity, the boys, the cheerleading. She had had the high school experience that could have made her a Norman Rockwell poster girl. Where she had been in the full flow of the experience, I had been marginalized to the world of freaks and geeks. My senior year of high school was one of the happiest years of my life.

When I had first started high school, I had tried to go the traditional route. I had joined the pep club and hung out around the cheerleaders, the jocks, and the popular kids. I was absolutely miserable. As time went on I gravitated away from them and towards those who were into science fiction and Star Trek. My junior year we geeks had coalesced into our own clique - the uncliquiest clique ever. Some of my sci friends were also writers in the making, so we had a lot in common. We had a great time embracing the silly, the odd, and the absurd. No doubt are parents were rather taken aback that they were raising Trekkies. On the other hand, if we were going to be addicted to something, this was pretty tame.

It has taken years of ruminating on this to begin to get a handle on it. Perhaps Lisa had been just as miserable as I had been doing the whole pep-club-cheerleader-jocks standard high school experience. Where I had taken a sudden left turn into geekiness, she had tread the straight and narrow of what was expected of a high school girl. Without trying, I had been drawn to my truth. Perhaps Lisa hadn't even known what her truth was at that time. I'm not saying that Lisa was a closet Trekkie and would have been happier with my crowd, but there may have been a happier place somewhere in the high school hierarchy for her. Peer and parental pressures may have come to bear to help keep her in an unhappy place.

Unlikely as it seems, perhaps the geeks and the nerds are happier with their lot than the popular kids. We didn't spend as much time trying to fit in with the right clothes, make up, and gear. We didn't have to be in the right relationship with the right, socially acceptable person.

Lisa and I both ended up as writers. She has been much happier post-high school. I've had some difficult times, but I am much happier post-Prozac. At least one of my old Trek posse has also become a writer. And as far as I know, not one of us is living in our parent's basement. Being a geek has probably helped me in my writing life. At the very least, my first published short story was science fiction. It played a part in other things as well. One of the characters in the novel I am putting finishing touches on was abducted by aliens. Yep. I love the writing life.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Leaping Into the Void

In the last week I have embarked on a new venture. I was looking for a regular 9-5 job on Craig's List when I found an ad seeking writers. On a whim I took a chance and followed up to see if the post seemed to be legit. I included my resume, which shows my newspaper work, and a link to this blog. In short order I received a reply from

To begin with them I was to write three blog posts as a Guest Blogger. This would allow us to work out how we would work together, my understanding on submitting, and what they are looking for. They had especially liked what they had found under "This is a Life?" So they wanted news stories with a humorous slant on pets and animals. Great! I can do that. No problem!

One problem. I am no longer all that used to writing to someone else's specifications. How do I do that again?

I selected a topic -- the dogs who were passengers on the Titanic for the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the ship. Nice, topical, trendy. Yep. I can do this. Wait. How do I make this funny? It was an enormous tragedy. So I set about surfing the web for everything I could find out about the dogs who sailed. There I finally found the answer. The ship's cat, who had boarded in Ireland, had left the ship in England before the start of the actual voyage, taking her litter of kittens with her. Yes! A conspiracy theory of the first order! The first post was good.

The second blog post would center on transgendered chickens. My neighbor, Isabel, had set up her tiny urban farm with nine hens to supply her large family with a steady supply of eggs. Then one of them switched sides and turned rooster. I did a little web research and found more information on this phenomenon. This was a tricky subject to treat with humor. I had to be careful about passing opinion. I wasn't out to create any more controversy than already existed on the topic. I think I did well. They published it.

The third was giving me fits. What to write about now. All I could think of was some of the strange encounters I had had with animals. They were very funny, but not exactly news. So I tried the exotic pets angle. Don't have a raccoon as a pet, no matter how much they want to volunteer for it. I added my mum's experience with raccoons in the house and my experiences with them in the neighborhood. I added in a recent news report of raccoon attacks in public parks. Okay. It seemed to work. They published it. Then I received an email reiterating that they wanted more of a "news" story to improve their website's progile. They asked if I thought I could really handle that part. I quickly responded that I could handle both the news stories and the softer personal pieces.

All of a sudden I fell into a funk of depression the likes of which I had not experienced in a long time. What was wrong? Was I doubting if I could really handle news? Perhaps. Was a wondering if this was an opportunity that I should pass on? Possibly, but I doubted that. I dealt with it in the old way -- a couple of Big Macs and large fries. Something was definitely bothering me. I hadn't eaten  a Big Mac in years. As I let the depression run its course I finally looked into a metaphorical mirror. That was hard. I realized that I was indeed having a reaction to writing to someone else's expectations. What it came right down to is that my ego was feeling a bit bruised. I knew the prescription for that -- GET OVER THYSELF, LAURIE!

You can't truly be professional writer or author without being able to set your ego aside and take in what your editor or publisher is asking of you. Compromise is not a dirty word. You need your editors and publishers to help you reach what you want -- a readership, and hopefully a decent amount of sales. I swallowed what my false pride and set out to work on more blogs for Happily so and with a full heart. After all this was a new chapter with a new adventure. This was a move in the right direction for what I wanted in life -- to support myself as a published writer. What could be better than that? Okay, suddenly finding myself with a Harry Potter, Twilight, or Hunger Games would be. Being a blogger was not going to make me rich, either. But you have to take the first steps on a journey to make it to your destination.

This morning I mailed my signed contract. There was a definite feeling that I was jumping off a new cliff straight into the cavernous unknown. I'm not the biggest risk taker, but if you don't try you will never know. Now I am getting excited about some of the ideas for blog posts that are coming my way. Most will be on the news beat, with the occasional personal experience piece. All with humor. Which, after all, is my milieu.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Not Another Diet!

Yes, but this one is a bit easier than trying to count calories, carbs, or fat. This is more of a portion control diet - for your manuscript. It is so easy to over write your story and lose the point and slow the tempo with too much verbiage. Trimming the excess from your work can create more immediacy of contact with your reader. You want to dazzle them with brilliance not make them hunt through a word search puzzle to find your meaning.

Many years ago I took classes in creative writing from children's author Barbara Steiner through the University of Colorado's department of continuing education. Taking classes from a published author rather than an academic did a great deal to hone my writing skills. Class assignments were very limited in word count, so you had to edit. It was from Barbara that I learned a number of tips on writing leaner, more direct writing. Here are some of the gems I still treasure:

When rewriting, you can usually cut at least one word from each sentence. I used this technique a lot when working for the newspaper because there space is everything. A subcategory under this heading would be word length. My newspaper articles were not limited by word count, but by the number of characters I was allotted. As I struggled to cut my character count, I found that my writing was improved by using shorter, simpler words. The streamlined result was sharp and to the point.

Use adjectives sparingly, lead the reader to that point without telling them outright. This is a tough one. It can be so easy to tell someone that something is lovely, friendly, adoringly, handsomely, than to add a bit of detail to take the reader there. In Barbara's class we had to write a short piece describing a scene without using any adjectives. It was sheer torture! And one of the best lessons of my life. I described a moment of fresh snow. Without adjectives I had to really move into the visual of the scene and added detail that I might never have though of otherwise.

Avoid thesaurus abuse.  There are times when you want to find just the right word with just the right nuance to enhance your story. Some writers will fall into the trap of using far flung language to make them sound more educated, more intelligent, or worse, show off a high-highfalutin vocabulary. One thing you never want to do is stop your reader and remove them from the flow of your story. If they have to keep running for the dictionary every other sentence. This doesn't mean you need to write down to them, just speak to them as though they were there in the room with you.

Cut out the cliche. This can be as fun as a barrel full of . . . well, you know. That's the problem. Everyone knows. Why should they read what you have to say if it has already been said? I once went to the local theater to see a revival of Dracula. It was the funniest thing and the audience roared with laughter. The problem? It was a drama. Every line in the play had been replayed so often over the decades since it first frightened theater-goers, that the original intent had been completely lost. Make your vampire totally unique if you insist on going down that well-trodden road. Maybe your vampire is anorexic, or your werewolf has split ends. You only need to take a step or two one direction or another to put your own stamp or originality on your work.

Don't regurgitate. Okay, that sounds disgusting, but the point is valid. Much of the writing we do in school is just regurgitating what we've learned there. The old "write what you know" can be easily misconstrued into various forms of regurgitation. I know all sorts of things, but just spitting that back out would be boring as hell. If it bores me to write it, I can be fairly certain that it will bore others to read it You can take a wild idea and build it out of what you know. I don't know a whacky small town in Arkansas filled with unique individuals who have unlikely experiences, but I can extrapolate what I know into that space. You know people and how they act, react and interact. You don't have to write those specific people, but you can draw on your knowledge of them to create amazingly real characters, even if they are wizards or aliens.

 Now, go forth and write. And don't be afraid to remind me of these things when it looks like I've forgotten them. We writers are all human after all, no matter how many times we dream of being something else.


Friday, March 30, 2012

Making Lemonade

Life has been a bit on the bitter side of late. Last week a dear friend said farewell to her father. Almost two weeks ago my stepmother's sister had a stroke and Wednesday she passed away. Last week I went to the emergency room with severe knee pain and a fever and was diagnosed with gout. On Monday my mother went to the emergency room by ambulance with severe asthma. While there her heart went a little crazy and they worked very hard to pull her through. She was in intensive care for a couple of days. Last night I went to bed and realized that my foot was hurting. In the middle of the night I was up trying to figure out why I was in so much pain and wondering if the gout had spread to my foot despite being on meds. I was massaging my foot to ease the pain when I discovered a strange, hard lump on the top of my big toe. I had never seen such a thing. I continued to check out my toe and found a bit of metal sticking out the under side of it. I grabbed a pair of scissors and used them as pliers to pull the offending bit out. It turned out to be a broken bit of an old embroidery needle that had somehow managed to get rammed in there so hard that it had almost gone entirely through my toe. Another eighth of an inch or less and it would have made it. I cleaned the wound carefully, dealt with the allergy attack I was by then having. With little sleep I was up again and off to the hospital to see Mum. She is doing better, but her asthma was not just asthma, but severe bronchitis. At the age of 83 this is a major crisis. She is settled into a room in the telemetry unit so that they can keep an eye on her breathing and her heart, which is great. However, they are remodeling a room two doors down and our conversation was interrupted every couple of minutes by the sound of drilling. In other news my cousin's cancer has recurred after 22 years. It is a tough time all the way around.

My next door neighbor is an astrologer by trade and she told me this evening that this is happening because Mars is in retrograde. So those of you out there who are also experiencing accidents and mishaps, and I know from reading your Facebook posts that you have been having them too, this is apparently the reason. She checked my chart and said that I need to be especially careful from April 7th through the 20th for my own safety.

They say that clouds like these have silver linings, that there is no great loss without some small gain. So what silver lining do I see here? What is my gain? Ah, as a writer I see a wealth within what is currently exhausting me. These experiences will be tucked away into the treasure trove of my brain. I hoard them as greedily as a miser. I will take these life lemons and make lemonade.

Without going through these emotional trials I would be unable to write with much pathos. These experiences will help me create realistic and sympathetic characters with whom readers will be able to identify. I now know what it is like to be removed from my mother's bedside so that an emergency team can have the room they need to be able to save her life, then sitting and chatting nervously with a nurse about every inane subject I can come up with while they do so. I know how the heart-stopping feel of being asked if you needed the chaplain to come. I know what it is like to sit alone in the darkened intensive care unit watching my mother being helped to breathe by a machine at one o'clock in the morning, tired beyond belief, but so thankful that all these wonderful people here are giving her the help she needs. I know what it is like to selfishly beg God to spare her because I can't face losing her just yet.

There is a flip side to this as well. Much of what I write is humor and even in all of this there is funny to be found. I was helping Mum by looking though her bag of personal effects to help find the necklace she had been wearing. A moment later laughing with my mother when we discovered that the hospital staff had stored her bra in a bag marked "bio-hazard." That is a story that will undoubtedly make its way into one of my books.

In the midst of all of this there was also good news in the family. It is something that I am not yet at liberty to divulge. Whatever else is happening, life goes on. It goes with the best wishes and support of family and friends far and near. And someday I will make use of it all.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Back Burner

A writer friend recently finished a story with a really cool concept. She decided that it wasn't quite what she wanted it to be, so she is going to let it sit for awhile and then come back to it. Maybe.

I would change that maybe to a definitely. No matter how long she lets it sit. I am currently rewriting a short story that I wrote almost twenty years ago. It was good back then, one of my writing group buddies read it aloud to the group and started crying in the middle of it, but I couldn't find a buyer. It was good enough that I received a handwritten note from one of the editors at Redbook attached to their form rejection - something almost unheard of in those days. So I eventually shelved the story.

The intervening years have broadened my experiences with life and enhanced my writing skills. I've spent significant time as a journalist, columnist, and poet. Recently I pulled out the story again with plans to publish it myself on Now, as I go over the story again I see that there is a lot of good to it and some things that need work. I've added a new part one, kept parts two and three with minor alterations and completely scrapped part four. I am now totally rewriting the last part.

What I discovered from those intervening years is that there was a progression that was happening early on in the story that I did not continue through the story. I had put too much of myself and my own ego into the final part of the story. So now, I am taking a step back and removing it from the personal. By adding a new part onto the front of the story I am making this progression more evident. The couple in the story now have a longer history to get them to the final stage of triumph.

There have been a few days where I wrote nothing at all on the story. I didn't exactly have writer's block because I have been able to write other things. After a couple of those days I realized that I was still working on the story, that it was simmering on the back burner in my mind. Then, yesterday, it was time for the story to begin to be written out fully again. I quickly finished the new part one. Planned the idea for an entirely new finale. I changed names, ages and events. Hell, I even changed races. The story has now started to come together on a more real level - as real as it can get for a story about reincarnation. Today and tomorrow should see the story finished and I will pass it on to someone else to go over it for me.

So my point is that not finishing your story right now is not an issue. You may not have lived long enough to get it quite right. Leave it on the back burner as long as you need to so that it will be fully cooked when the time is right. Some of the best recipes out there are better once they have had time to sit and let all the flavors come together. The same may be true of that story you aren't quite happy with for now. So let it sit. It may work out better later,

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Waiting for Harvest: The Issue of Goals and Deadlines

It seems to me that some writers get very caught up in how many words a day they can crank out. For the first draft of a book this is great, but how are you setting your goals beyond the number of words?

One of the greatest experiences I have had as a writer was the chance to work as a journalist. There was no time for writer's block. There was no time to hem and haw over every little detail. If your work had to be in by four o'clock so that the paper made it "to bed" on time then you did it, no excuses. This is because it still had to go through the copy editor, the editor, typesetting, and paste-up before it could go to print. In my case I also had to come up with the story, pitch it to the editor, and then take it on. Because of the space limitations of a print newspaper, the length of articles and columns were measured in characters, not words. So you work hand in hand with brevity, not just for the material, but for the words you use to convey the material.

Finding ideas was often easy for me because I was the calendar editor for the paper first and foremost. My writing was done on a freelance basis on my own time. So I received most of the press releases that came into the bullpen first. So I covered a lot of art, some theater, and a wide variety of one-off topics. When all else failed, I resorted to the yellow pages. This is one place where the internet phone book fails utterly. You can't page through them by hand and find strange little entries that catch the eye. That was how I came to do a story on a school for training Santa Clauses. I also wrote a biweekly column and had to find a way to be funny on a deadline. When it comes to deadlines, you can't wait for your muse to show up and start whispering in your ear.

Because of this experience I rarely have a problem with writer's block. I tend to write to the point and am brief about it. When I am having issues, it is more likely that I am trying to "over write" the subject, putting in too many details rather than getting to my point.

So now to my point - plan beyond word count. Have an overall goal mapped out. Plan for how you will rewrite and edit. Maybe a chapter a day. Maybe 2500 words a day. Give yourself deadlines and do your damnedest to meet them. Make them realistic though, or you will be one unhappy camper. Have a plan for what you will do with your work once it is done. If all you wanted was to write and complete, then bravo, but most of us bitten by the writing bug have a need to share. So, are you going to self-publish or go the traditional route. If you are going the traditional route, set deadlines for selecting agents and publishers that you will be approaching. Set a deadline for your query letter. Self-publishers should set goals for when and where the book will be available. Set goals and deadlines for marketing your work. Books don't sell themselves.

Finding a writer's support group can be a godsend in helping set and maintain goals. If you can't find one that suits you in your area, they abound online. I belong to at least half a dozen on Facebook alone. Connecting with other writers is especially helpful when the self-doubt sets in. Family and friends around writers can become great nay-sayers because you don't write just like their favorite author.

I face all of this everyday that I sit down at my computer. I am a world-class procrastinator, so it isn't easy. There is still a lot I am feeling around in the dark to figure out. Especially on the marketing end. I also give myself the occasional day off. There should always be room for yourself.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

There's Always Room for Jello

Today I had a visit from award-winning screenwriter Jane Shepard, Well, that is one way to look at it - another is that ol' Jane Shepard from junior high and high school stopped by. She came to borrow an easel for the independent film she is working on. She has been kind enough to share wonderful updates on Facebook and it looks like it is going to be great. I'm can't wait to see it.

She is trying to do this film with a very tiny budget. One of her updates was a wonderful video clip of her making homemade breakaway glass from sugar and breaking a plate of it over her own head. It was wonderfully funny and 100% Jane.

For those of you who have no idea who Jane is, she wrote the Showtime movie Freak City. She has also written the book Five Kickass Plays for Women (available on Jane and I got to know each other in the 9th grade when played Eleanor Roosevelt in Sunrise at Campobello and I played Franklin's secretary Missy LeHand. We have both pursued the passions that we had found early in life, her in theater and film, and I in writing (my books are also available on Amazon).

After she left I returned to my gardening and the early spring cleanup where it started to occur to me how many people in our high school graduating class are successful in artistic/literary endeavors. There is artist Briggs Geister, who creates incredible collage art. Rick Reilly is well-known among sports fans for his column in Sports Illustrated and now in his roll on ESPN, and has authored and co-authored ten books. Adam Eisenberg, a good pal in my senior year, now a Seattle DA, has written a book about police women. Eliza Cross, from both high school and church camp, has written four books on cooking and lifestyle. Gretchen Peters, whom I really knew only in passing, is Country Music Award winning songwriter and singer.

And I cannot forget the one I knew starting in grade school, punk rocker Jello Biafra of the erstwhile Dead Kennedys. Or as I knew him - Eric Boucher. In fifth and sixth grades he took great delight in teasing me.

I know that I have probably left out someone who is also accomplished in artistic endeavor. These are just those who ran across my mind in my musings this afternoon. What was it that brought about this level creativity? Was it that we were living in a unique city filled with diversity and open thinking? Was it the amazing teachers we shared? Was it in the water here?

Most of the people I speak with can't say that there was anyone well-known with whom they went to school. Somehow we seemed to have beaten the odds. Wouldn't it be wild if one day we could bring all this talent together in one big amazing project?

Thanks to Facebook I have been able to reconnect with some of these people after more than thirty years. Who are the fellow creators in your life and from your past?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Known Universe

By Laurie Kay Olson
Copyright ©2012 by Laurie Kay Olson

It is amazing some of the things you remember from childhood.
Mom and I sat on the back steps not long after the rain had stopped. She was helping me learn how to hold my fingers for the number three because when someone asks how old I was I would still hold up two fingers. My little fingers were struggling to learn the new position. She would show me with her fingers and then help me get my fingers into the right configuration.
“Free!” I exclaimed, holding up my hand. Two fingers were fully upright, but the third was still cramped over a bit. Mom had stopped paying attention to the task at hand. She was looking up and away.
“See the rainbow, Lilly?” she asked, but she didn’t turn back to me. “Isn’t it pretty?”
I looked up in the direction she was looking. I couldn’t see a bow. There was nothing out of the ordinary that I could tell.
“See, it is right up there!” Mom encouraged. She pointed up.
My eyes scanned the known universe. I still couldn’t see a bow.
“It has such pretty colors,” she said, pointing. Whatever she was seeing was making her happy. I wanted to see it too.
I scrunched my face in concentration. I kept looking for the bow. Was it tied to the telephone pole? Was it on one of the power lines? Perhaps tied on one of the branches in the hedge? I still couldn’t see it.
“Oh, look, now it is a double!” cried Mom enthusiastically.
I looked up at her questioningly. What was it that she could see that I couldn’t. Adults were strange creatures for sure.
“That means that there are two of them now,” Mom explained.
I turned my face upward again. Again I scanned the telephone poles, power lines, trees and hedges. Not a ribbon tied to anything that I could see.
“Can’t see it!” I was almost in tears with frustration.
Mom tried again, demonstrating with a wide sweep of her arm. I sidled closer to her and tried to look again. I still saw nothing. I wanted to see what she saw. I wanted to see the pretty ribbon tied in a bow, and now there were two of them and I still couldn’t see them. Unlike Daddy, Mommy was not one to tease me. If she said she saw something, then she saw something.
I strained to see what it was she was trying to show me, but it was no good. There were no ribbons tied to anything. It was time for a different tact – change the subject.
“Free!” I told her, holding up my fingers. This time all three were a little cramped, but it was the right number.
I didn’t completely understand the memory that stayed with me over the years. Obviously, I had misunderstood what a rainbow was, but I had not been able to see any pretty thing out there. Then one day, years later, my husband and I were lying in bed one morning with our daughter, Annie, tucked warmly between us. All of a sudden her hand shot out from under the covers and pointed up at the ceiling..
“Oh, look, there is a little wall up there!” she exclaimed in epiphany.
I also had an epiphany at that moment. That I had misunderstood what a rainbow was was not the only reason I had not been able to see it. It, like the ceiling, had existed outside of my known universe at that moment. I also realized that there was an awful lot that Annie could teach me. I committed myself in that moment to being a good student. I wanted to see all the rainbows she had to share and help to expand her known universe.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Snow Business

Copyright ©2012 by Laurie Kay Olson

Colorado was a beautiful place, thought Shirley, but she ached for Minnesota in her heart. The summer had been so dry that her skin had been parched with the dryness. Autumn was gorgeous with quaking aspen trees, but hardly the lakes and forests of home. The year 1953 was starting to draw toward its close. Finally, at long last, it was snowing! A white Thanksgiving was on the way.
Life as a newlywed never seemed to live up to the hype everyone had insisted giving it. There was only so much cleaning to do in the tiny basement apartment. That strange purple sink did nothing to make doing dishes any more entertaining.  She sat by the window watching the flakes falling. For just a moment here it felt more like she was back home. Caesar was curled up in her lap, happy to find a warm spot and an ear scratch. It would be better once she found a regular teaching job. The apartment was very empty when Ken was away at work all day.
When the snow had reached an appropriate depth, Shirley leapt to her feet, unceremoniously dumping Caesar to the floor. In a flash she was buttoning up her plaid wool coat, wrapping a muffler around her neck, donning a hat, and pulling on thick gloves. There was something new and yet familiar to do. Snow was here!
 As she went outside, she grabbed the snow shovel by the door. There was a narrow sidewalk between their door and the street that they are responsible for shoveling. Shirley paused for a moment to gaze at the frosty path for a long moment. The homesickness that she had been feeling for the past couple of weeks abated somewhat. She breathed in a deep breath of air. There was a piney tang in it that was different from home, but a nice, clean touch. It was exhilarating.
She dug into the snow with a right good will. Before she was a half dozen shovelfuls down the walk she was sweating. She unwound the muffler and fanned the cold air toward herself. Another three shovelfuls and she took off her hat and dropped it in the snow. What on earth was happening? A moment later the muffler was discarded in the snow. Then she unbuttoned her coat. The gloves were next. When she got to the end of the sidewalk she turned and looked back. It didn’t look quite right. It looked . . . wet. Dang! It was melting already. No wonder she was so hot! She had bundled up for a Minnesota snow storm. With the dry air and warmer temperatures all she would have needed was a jacket and light gloves.
She leaned on the shovel and pushed at her bangs. They were damp with the perspiration of exertion. There was more to getting used to life in Colorado than she had expected. She turned her face to the sky and let the flakes fall gently on her skin. Definitely not like Minnesota. The tiny flakes barely produced any moisture as they melted.
With a sigh she walked back up the wet concrete path, picking up pieces of discarded clothing as she went. At least it was a story that she could entertain Ken with at dinner tonight. Perhaps by then she would feel more like laughing over it. For now all she wanted to do was curl up on the couch under the cat.
Suddenly a though occurred to her. What would her mother think if she found out that moving to Colorado had turned her into a stripper?  Okay, there was the laugh.