Sunday, December 20, 2009


I’ve known Carole since 1986. By now she has several years of development behind her. Going through my notes recently I found her in tears a lot, seeking sympathy, being misunderstood or not heard. Geez, I thought, what a whiner. Who’d want to read about her? I could hardly stand to be around her myself for the months, years it takes to write a novel. Fortunately, through the accumulation of notes, she has grown and developed – through situations that will never make it into the novel – as surely as if she had lived them. She is older now, with the concerns and problems of a more mature woman. I did not create her this way – it is as if in those years in the file cabinet, while I was doing other things, she grew up on her own.

As I guide Carole through each scenario, I come to know her better, which means I can show more of her. That doesn’t mean I know everything about her. She surprises me sometimes. I can tweak her personality, fine tune her actions, but I certainly don’t know her well enough to control her. She is what she is.

Youngest of three siblings, Carole has a good relationship with her brother, Ben. They were a pair often joined in opposition to their eldest sister Melissa, and remain close. She is a disappointment to her mother, Lila, who believed her daughter to be a musical prodigy and still thinks Carole turned her back on a promising career as – maybe a pianist; I’m not sure yet. Maybe the instrument she plays will never matter. In my head, just now, it came to me that Lila has taken to referring to Diana Krall, as if to remind Carole of what she might have become. Carole was closer to her father than her siblings were – she was more like him in nature, and though she did not share his passion for clocks and cameras she pretended an interest as a way of being close to him. Last of the main characters is cousin Nomi with whom Carole has a rocky relationship. The basis of Nomi’s difficult, even toxic, personality came as another shock to me recently. It seems Nomi was molested. Ssh. Carole doesn’t know anything about this yet.

As you can see, Carole has an extensive back story with a different relationship with each of her family members. (More on back story later.)

The older sister, Melissa, was at odds with Carole from the moment she was born. As a teenager she maintained the image of the “perfect” child thanks to little sister Carole who was always covering for her. She is still maintaining an image, married to a doctor, living the “perfect” life of a stay-at-home mom of four little boys. Fulfilling Lila’s expectations of the perfect daughter. Except for the alcohol.

Ben, the middle child, developed more slowly as a character. He and Carole were always close. But it was a long time before I realized he was gay. And out of that came one of the key plot points.

Lila their mother, is the wife of a famous photojournalist. She is currently writing a memoir which describes a life that barely resembles what her children remember. Because what do children ever know of their parents’ personal hopes and dreams and disappointments?

A writer has to understand every one of her characters. Sometimes it is the action of a secondary character that creates problems for the main protagonist. If the situation is to be believable, his motives must be believable as well. So he must be just as well thought out as other characters.

Such is Joel, Carole’s soon-to-be ex-husband. He figures only in the first chapter or two, but is an important character in that something in their relationship had to fulfil two requirements: 1) It had to warrant Carole’s actions, and 2) it had to precipitate divorce in what had seemed a solid marriage. I have some familiarity with the Jehovah’s Witnesses through a close friend. The little I’ve ever seen about them – in movies, never in a book – was both misinformed and cliche. And I’ve always wanted to factor some of the truth about their beliefs and lifestyle into my fiction. Nothing distasteful (why is it everyone always wants to make fun without even trying to understand?), but simply to put an unusual twist on an already shocking reason for divorce. I let a number of possibilities simmer on the back burner until I decided it would have to do with something between Joel and Ben. Perhaps Joel’s inability to accept Carole’s continued closeness with her gay brother? But I wasn’t happy with this either. So I left it alone, worked around it – not real writing at this point, only notes. Then just last year, when I got to work in earnest, I turned out the lights one night – I wasn’t thinking about the novel at all – and the solution popped up from – well, who knows where these things come from. What I found scribbled on my notepad in the morning not only made sense in the clear light of day, but solidified a crucial element of the plot and helped clarify these two male characters.

The whole exercise of Joel’s back story would have been easy to avoid. I could have settled for a typical divorce story. It is a small point, and would not have affected the main plot. But if I had let it go, if I hadn’t stuck with Joel, working to give him more depth even though we would hardly see him, I wouldn’t have come up with something that is going to be (I hope) unique. Maybe even daring.

Dalton is a secondary character, even though he is dead before we meet him. That choice was very personal. He was to have been alive, but after my dad passed away there were things I needed to write about – part of the grieving process, I guess. But with just a little reworking of the original idea, Dalton does come to life in family memories.

And then there is Nomi. But this character deserves a page all her own.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Years ago, I read something about the importance of names, how success or failure, or even occupation, is sometimes indicated in what our parents decide to call us. Sometimes they decide in advance and when the baby arrives they take one look at the infant and go with a name they had not even considered before. The name they had chosen just was not right for this child.

Can I drop a name? Please let me drop a name. Alistair MacLeod (No Great Mischief) once complimented me on my ability to draw completely different characters in the same story with psychological insight.

For me, this begins with the name. I can’t just hang a name on a character because I like it. It has to suit them – in my mind. To have the action and dialogue remain true to that individual character it helps to keep in mind an image of a whole person as I write.

I have my own theory on names. I’ve noticed that you can often find a commonality between people with the same first name. “Name” in this case meaning not the name on a birth certificate, necessarily, but the name s/he is commonly called. So David is different from Dave is different from Davie, etc.

Every boy or man I’ve ever known called Dave, for example, has been affable, easy-going, quick to smile. Now there is no psychological insight involved here – there might be other mean Daves in prison for armed robbery just as likely as celebate Daves who will one day qualify for sainthood. I’m just saying the Daves I, personally, have known have those personality traits in common. And so, if I had a character named Dave, even if he was a convict or a priest, you can pretty much bet he would use his charm -- whether for good or ill.

What do you call someone, when it’s up to you to name them? Usually, it’s more obvious what not  to call them. You’re not going to name a big burly chef at a lumber camp “Tiffany?” (Although that does make for interesting possibilities ...)

Sometimes the character has a name when s/he introduces him/herself. Sometimes it’s so long since I had the idea for the story or met the character that I don’t remember how I came up with their name in the first place.

I’d forgotten until the other day when I came upon the original short story,Current Events, that Carole was first called Caitlin. I do remember I was working at the time with a guy whose wife was named Carole, spelled with an e, and I liked that. In spite of many changes in her character development that have occurred through my notes, she has kept that name.

Melissa was always Melissa. Ben started out as Bernie. But I later used Bernie in a different short story, so I had to change it. Well, I guess I didn’t have to – but I am trying to use different names across my body of work (that sounds so pretentious!) for the more prominent characters. In part it's so as not to confuse myself.

Matti is Ben's significant other. He is rather a latecomer to the novel and is still in development. His name came from a website where I was looking for ethnic variations on "Matthew." But then his background and occupation began to seem too close to a friend's and I didn't want a comparison drawn, so I'm thinking I will make him Euorpean, maybe Czech. And I may yet change the name.

I  had some trouble with Joel. To tell the truth, I didn’t want to waste a name I thought I might want to use at another time. I’m not sure what that was about. A reflection on the character, or on the name itself? But then Melissa’s husband is pretty much a throw-away character, hardly figures in the story, even as a background character, yet I gave him the name “Kyle," which I like, and could see myself using for a key character in some other project. He is such a minor figure here, maybe that wouldn’t keep me from using it again.

Carole’s parents’ names – Lila and Dalton – were sourced from applications for seniors’ housing that I happened to be reviewing as part of my job. Some of the names struck me as lovely, old-fashioned pairings. I jotted down a few of them for future reference, without any specific project in mind. If you had relatives, Lila and Dalton Kemp, who had applied to a seniors’ co-op near Ottawa in the mid-eighties, they may very well be the namesakes of these characters. I never met the real couple, and knew absolutely nothing about them except a few vital statistics and their current living situation at the time – all long forgotten. (You’ll read later why I make this disclaimer.)

Quite often in my notes I will come across a half-dozen names for the same character, trying them on like shoes. Nomi was like that. There is a real Nomi – let’s call her Mary. I started by calling the character by Mary’s middle name, which would have suited her just fine, but I knew that was temporary. Mary, much like her fictional alter-ego, would be exceedingly upset, not to mention vengeful, at having been represented in a negative light. (Mary is, after all, perfect.) She was Heather for a time, then Wendy – both of these I have since used in other projects. And then – in an attempt to soften her a bit – I looked for something childlike, an adolescent nickname, kind of ridiculous or pathetic. “Nomi” is, in my mind, what her two little brothers called her when they could not quite enunciate her real name, Naomi. I don’t know (yet) why Nomi kept this nickname into adulthood, but it does seems to be rather telling. Nor have I decided whether I will reveal her actual name or let it remain back story.

In one of my shelved novels I have a character named “Lydia.” My friend Mary-Louise (wife of one of the affable Daves) nagged me to change it because she didn’t like it. I tried to explain – unsuccessfully – that I didn’t particularly like it either. What mattered was that the name suited the character in my own mind. “Lydia,” for some reason, reminded me of the real person on whom Lydia was based. (Mary-Louise had never met her.)

When do I know a name is right? When it brings up certain impressions of the character as I write, impressions that are consistent, and strong enough to be sustained through months – even years – of a project’s life. Whether anyone else gets the same vibe from the name is irrelevant. It is merely a device – albeit an important one – to help me guide the character through decisions, actions and dialogue so as to remain true to the heart and soul of . . . well, of herself.

Friday, October 30, 2009


It occurs to me that I might be revealing more about myself than I had intended. And in doing so I have also demonstrated something about how I create a fictional character. I don’t describe or define so much as provide bits of raw material from which the reader can build a “person.” The person I think I am “building” may be nothing like the person the reader creates in her own mind as she reads. Just as the person you are building from this blog may be nothing at all like me.

Interviewers of novelists often ask – not of me; I’ve never been interviewed – how did you create this character? If the time should come when I am interviewed and this question is put to me, I will smile and think to myself, If you knew anything about writers and writing you would know what a lazy, uninformed question that is. What I will say aloud is: The best characters are not created. They simply exist. They present themselves to me fully formed, like a stranger walking through a door. I look up and there they are. I don’t know them immediately; all I have is a first impression of a real person – but then that can say a lot. And just like real people a character can fool me. Sometimes it’s my fault for misunderstanding; sometimes they are scamming me.

An informed interviewer would already know that the role of the writer as Creator usually depends on whether the novel is plot-driven or character-driven.

When the story is plot-driven – as most genre fiction is; a murder mystery is a good example – the writer may need certain characters to say, do, or even be something specific in order for the plot to play itself out to a specific conclusion, which involves, among other things, leaving clues, providing red herrings and, ultimately, solving the crime. In this case, the interviewer’s question may be valid, even for the main protagonist. Which is in no way a criticism. I enjoy (good) genre fiction.

On the other hand, in a character-driven novel, the protagonist is often given free rein. As a Writer this makes things interesting because, just like the future reader, I am curious to find out where s/he is going to take me.

In the aforementioned dairy novel, I have two secondary characters, middle aged women. Y is somewhat liberated for the day – the time is 1942 – and pulls C, a banker’s wife, to frolic in the surf. Afterward, C is exhilarated but embarrassed over her childish public display. Y assures her this kind of joy is wasted on children, who have no appreciation for such moments. “We are just the right age,” she says.

In that moment, with those words, I, the Writer “creating” this scene, found myself in tears. She’s dying! I knew it with such a certainty and intensity that it was as if Y were one of my closest friends, as if she had just shared this horrifying prognosis. Note: I did not assign this to her; I had no idea it was coming! She told me. I created the scene, yes, to show a light-hearted side to C, as part of her character development. But I did not create this factor of Y’s life; she revealed it to me. And I was truly shocked. And yet, it played perfectly into the plot, explaining things I’d already written, and also setting the stage beautifully for events I did not even imagine at the time.

My stories tend to be character-driven. What this means, in terms of my process, is that my protagonists appear not as a result of planning out the plot so much as making an appearance. Not in the novel. In my head.

Caitlin, of the short story also titled Current Events, popped up in my writerly mind as fully formed as a real, live human being, and like a real live human being she came with complexities and baggage and secrets which were no more evident to me in that moment than if she were a stranger I had exchanged a few words with at a party. I suspected she was leaving her husband, but not why. Depending on my first impression of her, I might just as easily have had sympathy for what she’d been through and respected her for her decision, or disliked her for the way she looked, or for some remark she made, or for no reason at all. Just like a real person, she might have proven herself later to be exactly what she seemed, or I might have been fooled by that first impression. Temporarily, at least. Because slowly, over time, I do come to know their secrets. And they do not necessarily come out of the plot.

In such novels there is more depth of the personality, there is a development of the protagonist’s character over the course of the novel, and plot serves character rather than vice versa. This is usually what separates a literary work from genre fiction. Though I am not a literary snob; I will read anything – well, I do draw the line at Danielle Steele. Of course this is a crass generalization. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, however, they often are. And that is basically what continues to give genre fiction a bad rep. Well, that and bad writing. And it doesn't have anything to do with how successful the author is. Just read something by Robert Parker sometimes. No don't.

A Wannabe tries too hard; thinks he must “create.” In other words he attempts to be Master, to keep control at all times.

I have had experiences where I have written and rewritten and rewritten again to try to control a character, to get him to do something because I need him to go where I need the plot to go. But the only way to get him there is to make him do something out of character, and he resists. The writing becomes work; I struggle with it. And maybe end up writing in a loop, where the dialogue or the action keep bringing the narrative back to the same point. Or else, he takes me off in another direction entirely when I’m not paying attention – giving me material that I cannot use. And it’s a good thing he does. Because that illusion of control in a writer is the recipe for the cardboard, the cliche, the archetype.

The Writer lets go, and channels something from deep inside. And I believe this is what separates a Writer from a Wannabe – the frequence of such moments as these, the moments when the character takes over and the Writer is no more than a vessel of communication.

Which is not to say Wannabes do not get published and make millions. Aye, there’s the rub.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. Trying to write is more accurate. I have the requisite sheaf of poetry filled with teenaged angst. In my twenties I finished a few short stories. In my thirties I was a regular contributor to my employer’s newsletter. But I always really wanted to write novels. A novel.

Throughout these years I had this misguided notion that before I even put my pen to the blank page I needed this big important concept, and a basic but complete story line. Yes, pen to page, literally. This was years before anyone imagined we would be keyboarding blogs on our laps between commercial breaks of summer reruns.

It was only after I got over this terrible misconception that I began to write in earnest. In the meantime I made lots of notes, virtually every idea that popped into my head for a story, a scene, a character, a bit of dialogue – whatever. And whatever I wrote, I kept. Thank you, Linda Jaeys, who taught me a writer should NEVER throw anything out. Notes scribbled on the backs of bills, on pages torn out of coil notebooks, on sticky post-its. Never on napkins or toilet paper though.

Eventually, ideas seemed to group themselves of their own accord around some vague central concept. Nothing you could call a story line. Eventually a few of these wobbly groupings began to solidify, and a working title attached itself. At this point I removed those notes to its own file.

I continue this practice even now. Something pops into my head, and I think, where would that fit? If it fits with something I already have on file I slot it in there. Four files have grown to the thickness of small manuscripts. Though in fact there might be only a few lines on a page. Current Events is one of these.

I am not a disciplined, organized person. Which means I don’t necessarily work on one of those project files. The last novel I completed – you know, the one with the dairy cows that received four complimentary rejections – came out of nowhere. You could say that was a distraction. A fresh idea that came out of a more recent experience and a place I knew well as a child. And yet that was the one I chose to work on. No, I didn’t really choose. It was my writerly mind latching onto something new. Once started though, the ideas kept coming for that one project, keeping me working on it. That is really the deciding factor as to what I work on – what ideas are popping up for which project at any given moment.

Although I had been amassing notes in the Current Events file since as far back as 1986, you could call it another distraction. I really only got serious about it because I kept getting bogged down with work on one of the other novel files. Well, to be honest ... that, and because my grant applications for that one kept getting refused.

Current Events has had better luck with funding. It follows that it will have a better chance of being completed. Nothing like a commitment and a deadline to focus my attention. And okay, so maybe the writerly mind can be bought. As flaky as I may sound, what with all these distractions and lack of discipline, I have never shirked on a commitment or missed a deadline. Though I may procrastinate right up to a shrieking halt with the proverbial ink still wet. The current (no pun intended) commitment is to complete a first draft within the next year. And here I am finding yet another way to procrastinate. I wonder if I shouldn’t have applied for a grant to write a blog?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Pardon me if I don’t trust you. But I don’t know you, right? So I’m not about to divulge the whole plot. I’d like to give you the synopsis so you can follow along more easily. But even that – how do I know you’re not going to take my idea, get to a publisher first. Then I’m the one accused of plagiarism. Don’t laugh. It could happen.

In any case, at this point I don’t know the whole plot. I do have a 2-page synopsis that outlines a plot, but it very likely won’t be the plot.

I should preface this by stating, I’ve always been a little fuzzy about the elements of a story. So the definitions that follow are my own take on them.

What is a synopsis? Basically a brief (2-3 page) summary of what the finished novel will be, a proposal, if you will. It usually outlines the plot and the main protagonists. But it can also be “high concept” in whole or in part. Meaning, rather than lay out each step of the plot, you lay out the concept that drives it. Theme. If plot is the skeleton on which the novel is built, then theme is the soul. The theme is usually high concept. It isn’t what you write into the work of fiction, it is what you hope the reader gets out of it. Generally a synopsis is written for a purpose that has nothing to do with the actual writing of the novel. Like applying for a grant or to accompany a query to a publisher.

For me, the synopsis is the most difficult thing to write. I rely heavily on my subconscious to work out a story, so I can let things sit on the back burner for months. I generally have a direction, and a sense of whether I want a positive or poignant or tragic ending. But I usually don’t know how things are going to turn out, or how things or people will connect. The most bizarre and shocking and even beautiful (if I may say) bits of my work come out of that. My Muse, I suppose. The synopsis doesn’t leave room for that – time and space being limited. I am usually working to a deadline to get a submission in the mail, and I just need to tie up my vague ideas with a neat bow for someone else to look at. Not that easy. It has to have the basic elements of the novel - a beginning, a middle and an end. It has to introduce the main characters, indicate the crisis point. It has to make some kind of sense. It would be easier to write – that is, create – a new story in 2 to 3 pages. The problem is, by the time I am writing a synopsis I already know it is going to be a novel, and I probably have much of it worked out whether written in draft form or just in my notes, and it is much more difficult to scale it down without it feeling dead. Whereas I would like to retain some of the artistic quality that I hope to capture in the finished novel. And most of all it has to prove itself to be a worthwhile project; that is, to be interesting enough to make the reader of the synopsis want to invest in the finished work. Invest being the key word, as here this generally involves someone who will eventually pay me.

Some writers use an outline. Which calls up Paul Simon: “when I look back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.” Teachers drilled this into us, the necessity of the outline. I can still remember agonizing over composition assignments at age thirteen, grade 8, when we had to turn in an outline. This misconception - that an outline is necessary - quite literally held me back from attempting a novel until I was well into my thirties. For one thing, I can’t stick with an outline. I have ideas popping up all over the place, some that connect threads that run throughout the story in a way I am not even aware of as I am writing them individually. These ideas are uncontrollable; they are little sparkling gems that come out of nowhere and throw out wonderful new threads that have to be woven in. They sometimes involve substantial reworking, but not substantial change of plot or character – it’s more a matter of structure – order of chapters or scenes, for example – and of adding detail and depth.

Now that I’m older and wiser, I understand that I am not a linear thinker. That I don’t have to be. And that these seemingly undisciplined thoughts are much more necessary to my process than sticking to an outline or a pre-existing synopsis. It’s simply how I work.

And yet ... editors do want to see an outline. When the time comes, how do I explain non-linear thinking to them? Hmm....

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Title and Theme

Note to self: and tip to up-and-coming writers: do not rely on Spellcheck. Otherwise you may end up keeping a dairy, as I apparently do. And I know nothing at all about cows. Though I did quite a bit of research on this for my last novel, which you will hear more about as we go.

If there is not a Murphy’s Law for writers, there should be. And it would state: Much like invisible ink, certain mistakes will not appear until after it’s too late to change it. Corollary: such mistakes will be an embarrassment.

Not that I would be embarrassed to say I keep a dairy. If I did. What embarrasses me is that I am a stickler for typos that slip unnoticed into professional work, from business letters to publications. I’m the one who will email a website to point one out.

But I digress.


The working title of my novel is Current Events, because originally each of the main protagonist’s family members were employed in one way or another with news or the media. That has changed, and so will the title – I already know that. But I’m sticking with it for now.

Here is how the storyline came about. Some years ago I went through a stressful, even traumatic, work-related situation that caused me to quit my job. Each time I spoke about it, it became clear to me that no one – not family or close friends – really understood. Tea and sympathy didn’t cut it. At one point I remember following my aunt around a shopping mall trying to tell her about it, just needing someone to listen, but she kept moving away from me, from one store display to another. I didn’t see it at the time, but later I realized either she really was more interested in men’s socks, or else she was choosing not to involve herself in her niece’s private business. And there I was, following her around, practically picking up my tale in mid-sentence each time she moved away. Aware of what I was doing, i.e., talking to a wall. But so in need – not of sympathy, but of making a connection. Of feeling that I was being heard.

Out of that experience came an awareness which proved itself again and again over the years. How the people who profess to know us best, often don’t know us at all, and don’t even want to. How they are not all that interested in knowing us. Easier to assume we are still the same child who pushed her cousin into the lake (brat) or spoke out of turn (know-it-all). The family dynamic is set when we are that age; in their eyes we never grow up.

When this work incident was still fresh in my mind, I began a short story about Caitlin, a woman who returns to her parents’ home, needing, as Dr. Phil calls it, a soft place to fall. She has just gone through something like I did. Note: beyond this, there is no parallel here to my own experience. Caitlin spends a week trying to get her family to understand why she had to quit her job, why she is moving, why she is having such a hard time. In the short story it is her mother she follows around a store because she cannot pin her down at home, cannot get her to sit still for half an hour and do something so simple: just listen. Like so many mothers of that generation, hers didn’t know how to listen. She only knew how to talk.

I never finished the short story. I could never bring it to a satisfying conclusion. But the idea of working with that family dynamic stayed with me.

That became the core of the novel, the theme, the central concept around which the plot hangs. The core, the theme, isn’t always obvious to me while I am writing. Sometimes I need to put some distance between me and the finished piece before I can say what it is about. I could tell you the plot. But when a person says, “What’s that novel about?” I never know how to answer. Is it about a boy from a dairy farm who goes away to find himself, only to wind up back on the farm? (Plot) Or, is it a cross-generational exploration of the different ways a man can value a piece of property. (Theme) Both happen to be true of my novel with the cows – the one with the four close calls.

Sometimes it takes someone else to point out your theme. Sometimes when that happens I think they are out to lunch. That’s okay; I don’t have to agree. And I don’t really care if a person gets something else out of my work – it’s a compliment, in fact. When there is more than one way to view something it can imply a depth – and that is a good thing. I only have problems when that person tries to tell me (and it has happened) that theirs is the only interpretation.

In the case of Current Events, the novel, the theme has been strong from the beginning. Perhaps because I’ve been thinking about it for so long, and because I did work on it as a short story. So I find myself writing to the theme, aware of it at all times. My concern now is to not make that obvious.

So now we have a title: Current Events.
And a theme: how we are misperceived by those who should know us best - our families.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

An Intro

Ever wonder what goes on inside the deep dark recesses of a writer's mind? About the process I mean. Where it all comes from. How one idea leads to another, sometimes unleashing a flood. Or at other times, remains a solid wall of black.

When I wrote my first novel -- but wait, I'm getting way ahead of myself already. Get used to it. I do that.

A bit of background.

Yes, I am a published writer. What that means at this point is that I have had a few short stories published in Canadian literary magazines -- no small feat -- and a few other pieces, notably a children's story-poem, and essays in The Ottawa Citizen and Chatelaine magazine. Two of my stories have appeared in anthologies of short fiction. My work has risen to final judging in a couple of national competitions, and has been rewarded with a couple of grants for emerging writers. And as I write I actually have - Yay!! - a signed contract for my short story collection which is slated for a launch in spring 2010.

So I'm not, I think, without some credibility.

That said, I don't have a novel out -- yet. But we live in hope. My last effort garnered four very complimentary rejection letters. Two of them very close calls -- but still a "No" in the end. Two others sit in a drawer where they, no doubt, belong. Much like reincarnation, their bodies are beyond help, but there is yet a soul in each of them that could one day be worthy of resurrection.

At present I am working on a "new" novel -- something which has been percolating in there for a long time -- years. I have a few "chapters" written in a solid first draft, and a lot of "scenes," scenarios, and little bits.

See, I'm not one of those organized people who start at page one and know exactly what is going to happen. My process is more organic. I usually start with an open concept, a feeling almost, although it can evolve into something totally different. Especially characters. Because, as many writers will tell you, you don't create a character. A character emerges fully formed. Just like meeting a stranger, sometimes you feel you "know" this person immediately, and other times you know them for a long time and suddenly learn something shocking. But I find my plot and theme and anything else related to the work -- I don't like using these terms -- they are so rigid -- evolve as well.

So I will go back now and finish the statement I started with: When I wrote my first novel what really interested me was the process. Not as in write so many words a day, commit to writing for ten minutes, or start with an outline -- no, none of that. I am talking about the process of my own mind. How things bubble away on the back burner and come to the surface as if out of nowhere. Ideas that, when you read them later, are so good you cannot believe you wrote them. Ideas that come up like molten lava and it's all you can do to keep out of its way and let it flow.

Since then, I've started collecting notes for what I thought might one day become a book for writers. Because most of what I've read in that vein falls into one of two categories. Either is it about the Rules of Writing: Plot, Theme, Character, yada, yada, yada ... like we learned in school. (Am I dating myself? Do they even teach grammar in school anymore, let alone composition? You might as well know upfront -- chronologically I am 58 -- going on 25.) Or else it's someone's personal journey into the world of writing. There is merit in both of these approaches, certainly. But I felt that by paying attention to process, I had something else to offer, not the least of which is to give permission NOT to follow rules.

With this current novel I am doing something new. I have been keeping a dairy (sic) for a few months to keep track of my process with this project. And then last night, sitting in the theatre at Julie and Julia, I thought. Duh! Join the new millennium! Don't keep a diary, Dana, write a blog.

So here we are: Entry number 1.

Already this little intro contains a number of points that I can expand upon. Because while I hope to use the current novel as a springboard, I can already see that there is a part of me dying to share my thoughts on process in general. And I do intend to share some of my writing.

Two true confessions: 1) Dana is not my real name. Chalk that one up to life lessons. And 2) I am the world's second worst procrastinator. So don't look for daily entries.