This last weekend, fellow filly, Linda Broday and I went to the movies to see the Hank Williams Story I Saw the Light. It is a great movie, but after I got home I realized just how many Texisums and truly southern figurative speech and words were used. I thought it’d be fun to share some phrases and words we all use in this part of the country that wasn’t even used in the movie, but are normal for us. While you read this, if you’d like, please jot down some of your favorite terms be it from around this part of the country or your neck of the woods. I am giving away a Bath and Body Works gift certificate to a reader who leaves a comment with a special jargon and its explanation.
In extrapolating information that I’ve gathered over the years, I came across an explanation of a much used southern term that is wrong … in my opinion. I’m paraphrasing part of this. The term is Y’all and the writer’s point was “It must, must MUST always refer to more than one person.” Oh man, how wrong can a non-Texan be. Okay, here’s the way us Texan’s use it.
You all does not necessarily “must refer” to more than one person; but it is both singular and plural, as well as plural possessive. Y’all come back, you hear. First off “you hear” isn’t a question … it’s a statement. Agreed Y’all can refer to one or more; however, all you all is definitely the proper way to address a group of people.
A true Texan knows the difference between a hissie fit and a conniption fit. And, a term I use verbally so much that it’s been banned by my critique partners, is catawampus.
A truly southern phrase is “Bless your heart”.
Coke in my day could be a root beer, Dr. Pepper or 7Up. It still is.
Rode hard and put away wet, is a fairly normal negative comment, especially if it’s about a person.
One I use a lot is “ugly as the north end of a southbound horse”.
Everyone, I think, uses “tooth and toe”, but I’ve always heard and used “tooth and toenail”.
I think this is probably a pretty much regularly used term, “that dog won’t hunt” meaning it ain’t gonna happen”.
I believe “happier than a pig in slop” may not be a true Texasium, but it’s used a lot.
Here’s just a short list:
Dumber than dirt. Dumb as a stump.
Snowball’s chance in hell.
Ugly as the day is long.
And, the most important, all Texans younger than the person they are speaking with always use the words “ma’am and sir”.
Okay, I’m fixin’ to get the fixin’s out of the frig, so I can fix some supper for my darling hubby and me.
Harper Lee, the elusive novelist who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, a novel that was written from a child’s-eye whose view reflected racial prejudices in a small Southern town recently died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 89, in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama.
Although I read a dozen articles about her death, they were about the same through the eyes of the Associated Press. The information that I found the most intriguing was in her biography.
One thing of interest was that her full name was Nelle Harper Lee. Her first name was her grandmother’s name spelled backwards. Lee dropped the Nelle because she didn’t want people to mispronounce it. Her father was a lawyer, a member of the Alabama state legislature and part owner of the local newspaper. For most of Lee’s life, her mother suffered from mental illness and rarely left the house. It was believed that she may have had bipolar disorder.
Although Lee was the youngest of four children, she was scrappy as any of her brothers. Not to mention she was brilliant.
One of her best friends, and who as authors today we’d call a critique partner, was Truman Capote, then known as Truman Persons. Lee often stepped up to serve as Truman’s protector. Truman, who shared few interest with boys his age, was picked on for being sensitive and for the fancy clothes he wore. While the two friends were very different, they both had difficult homes lives. Truman lived with his mother’s relative after largely being abandoned by his own parents.
“The world knows Harper Lee was a brilliant writer but what many don’t know is that she was an extraordinary woman of great joyfulness, humility and kindness. She lived her life the way she wanted to– in private – surrounded by books and the people who loved her,” Michael Morrison, head of HarperCollins U.S. general books group, said.
To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960, a little over a half a century ago, quickly became a best-seller, won the Pulitzer Prize and was made into a memorable movie in 1962, with Gregory Peck winning an Oscar for his portrayal of Atticus, plus the movie winning three Oscars. As the civil rights movement grew, the novel inspired a generation of young lawyers.
By 2015, its sales were reported to be more than 40 million worldwide, making it one of the most widely read American novels of the 20th century. When the Library of Congress did a survey in 1991 on books that have affected people’s lives, I was second only to the Bible.
Lee herself became more mysterious as her book became more famous. At first, she dutifully promoted her work. She spoke frequently to the press, wrote about herself and gave speeches..
But she began declining interviews in the late 1960s and, until late in her life, firmly avoided making any public comment at all about her novel or her career. Other than a few magazine pieces for Vogue and McCall’s in the 1960s and a review of a 19th-century Alabama history book in 1983, she published no other book until stunning the world in 2015 by permitting Go Set a Watchman to be released.
”Watchman” was written before “Mockingbird” but was set 20 years later, using the same location and many of the same characters. Readers and reviewers were disheartened to find an Atticus who seemed nothing like the hero of the earlier book. But despite unenthusiastic reviews and questions whether Lee was well enough to approve the publication, “Watchman” jumped to the top of best-seller lists within a day of its announcement and remained there for months.
Much of Lee’s story is the story of “Mockingbird,” and how she responded to it. She wasn’t a bragger or a drinker like many authors of her time. She was not a recluse or eccentric. By the accounts of friends and Monroeville townsfolk, she was a warm, vibrant and witty woman who enjoyed life, played golf, read voraciously and enjoyed plays and concerts. She just didn’t want to talk about it before an audience.
One of the most interesting things I found about her life really doesn’t differ a great deal from today’s readers. Although eventually To Kill a Mockingbird was released as an e-Book, she wasn’t all that pleased with the decision. In her words, like many of ours, she said, “I’m still old-fashioned. I love dusty old books and libraries. I am amazed and humbled that ‘Mockingbird’ has survived this long ….”
As most students who grew up in my era, To Kill a Mockingbird was required school reading. However, I read mostly Granny’s True Confession mags she hid under the bed in the room I stayed in every weekend, plus of course, required class reading.
When I got older, the first real romance novel I read and it’ll always be my favorite is The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss. After I got caught up on her older books, I turned to LaVyrle Spencer. There are so many to choose from but my favorite of all is The Hellion and later Hummingbird. For me, as I remember, The Hellion, was the first truly bad-boy hero I’d ever read. Just writing about it today makes me want to find my copy and read it again, but since I’ve got to get the second book in the Kasota Springs series finished for Kensington, I guess I’d best save the reading of The Hellion and The Flame and the Flower until it’s winter and I can curl up with hot tea in front of the fireplace and read.
My question to you all … what is the book you literally “cut your teeth on” when you began reading historical romances?
Being the first day of March, I can truly smell all the freshness of spring here in Texas. To one lucky winner I will give you an e-Book of the first book in the Kasota Springs series, The Troubled Texan.
This was a fun shot at Barnes and Nobles and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to take a picture. To Kill a Mockingbird, Filly Linda Broday’s Texas Mail Order Bride, and the Valentine’s short story collection from Prairie Rose Publications, Hearts and Spurs which features P&P Fillies Linda Broday, Tracy Garrett, Cheryl Pierson, Kathleen Rice Adams, Tanya Hansen, and Phyliss Miranda.
Sometimes I like to veer from my regular format for a blog. Today is one of those days. Since many of the P&P followers are writers, thus business folks just like our regular readers, I thought I’d share with you the legend of the Geese flying in the “V” formation. Whether you are writing, in a office setting, a Scout leader or the monarch of the family you have to work together. I believe this is just a great example of what we can learn from nature.
I certainly want to thank Grace Ford for sharing this wisdom from our feathered friends about the importance of good team work.
I. As each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for others behind him. This is 71 percent more flying range in V-formation than flying alone. People who share a common direction and sense of common purpose can get there quicker.
II. Whenever a goose flies out of formation, it quickly feels the drag and tries to get back in position. It’s harder to do something alone than together.
III. When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies at the head. Shared leadership and interdependence give us each a chance to lead as well as opportunities to rest.
IV. The geese in formation honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed. We need to make sure our honking is encouraging and not discouraging.
V. When a goose gets sick or wounded and falls, two geese fall out and stay with it until it revives or dies. Stand by your colleagues in difficult times as well as in good.
Now, wouldn’t it be wonderful if every group who worked together lived by the lesson of the geese?
My question to you all is simply have you ever used a lesson of nature to help you through your life’s path or an others?
Here’s a sneak preview of the cover of my newest book in the Kasota Springs Series Out of a Texas Night which will be out late this summer or early fall.
To one lucky winner today who leaves a comment, I will give you an eBook of the first Kasota Springs Romance series, The Troubled Texan.
Am I the only one whose family traditions center around food? Pick a holiday—any holiday—and I guarantee my family spends most of the time preparing food, consuming food, and talking about food. It’s too bad the Olympic Games don’t include food sports, because we’d have a lock on every medal.
Much as Thanksgiving is Turkey Day, Christmas is Prime Rib Day, and July 4 is Hamburger Day, Easter is the day devoted to ham. One year, in a stark departure from tradition, an out-of-season prime rib roast sneaked onto the menu. Because the weather was nice and the men in the family had been pining to barbecue all winter, they decided the roast would be delicious cooked on a spit over charcoal. In another stark break with tradition, the women acquiesced.
We would live to rue the concession.
While the women slaved away in the kitchen to get the rest of the meal ready, the men… Well, heaven knows what they were doing, but they weren’t watching the roast. The next thing we knew, flames were licking around the closed top of the grill and the heretofore succulent beef had become a charred lump.
We regrouped, moved July’s tradition up by a couple of months, and ate hamburgers…with scalloped potatoes, green beans almondine, and homemade bread (in addition to hamburger buns). At least the men got to grill something.
No matter what other part of a holiday meal took a turn for the strange, the desserts have always been scrumptious (probably because baking seldom requires charcoal).
One of my favorite Easter desserts is lemon bites: a shortbread-like crust filled with tart, sticky goodness that forms a crackly surface as it bakes. This is the recipe my family has used for as long as I can remember.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/4 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. grated lemon peel (optional)
4 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
4-6 drops yellow food coloring (optional)
Powdered sugar for dusting the top after baking (optional)
Heat oven to 350° F.
Mix flour, butter or margarine, and powdered sugar. Press into bottom and 1/2-inch up the sides of an ungreased 8x8x2 or 9x9x2 pan. Bake crust 20 minutes.
Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat granulated sugar, lemon peel (if using), lemon juice, baking powder, salt, eggs, and food coloring (if using) until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Pour onto crust. (No need to let crust cool.)
Bake 25-30 minutes or until the center is firm when pressed lightly with a fingertip.
Cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar. Cut into 2-inch squares.
Don’t double the recipe and bake in a 9×13 pan. The bigger pan requires a longer baking time, and the crust will burn on the bottom.
I used four drops of food coloring to attain the lemon color in the photo.
I hope everyone will forgive me for not writing about western history this month — at least not specifically. Every so often, though, even those of us devoted to the history of the Old West must take a look even farther into the past, and sometimes much closer to the present, in order to develop a broader perspective about the era in which our imagination spends so much time. This is one of those occasions.
March is Women’s History Month. While I appreciate the increased emphasis on remembering women’s contributions to science, art, philosophy, and society in general, I’ve always considered it a bit odd that we need reminding women have contributed. Designating a specific month during which to focus on women’s history implies that for the rest of the year, everyone thinks of women as secondary characters in their own life stories.
Women don’t sit around waiting for men to make all the great discoveries, think all the great thoughts, and fight all the dragons. They never have. Throughout history, as many women as men have explored the unexplored, cured the previously incurable, and given voices to those unable to speak for themselves. And, as has been famously stated, they did it all dancing backward in high heels.
“It would be ridiculous to talk of male and female atmospheres, male and female springs or rains, male and female sunshine…,” women’s rights pioneers Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote in one of their suffrage pamphlets. “[H]ow much more ridiculous is it in relation to mind, to soul, to thought…?”
Anthony and Stanton often railed against inequality between the genders and the resulting injustices visited upon the distaff side of humanity — lack of access to education and discriminatory civil laws, for example. Today, the philosophy they espoused is, or should be, de rigueur, but until the mid-20th Century, speaking such thoughts in public in many societies carried significant risk to life and liberty. In some societies, it still does.
For precisely that reason, historical romance novels can be important beyond the obvious entertainment. Unlike much literature written in previous ages, primarily by men, romance novels written during the past twenty to thirty years, primarily by women, portray heroines and female villains with courage, determination, and strength equal to the hero’s. Call me a man-bashing feminist if you must, but I believe it is crucial for readers, particularly younger ones, to be presented with female characters who are much more than decorative pedestal dwellers.
In fact, when one studies history, it becomes impossible to consider the romantic notion of heroes on white chargers rescuing damsels in distress anything more than exactly that: a romantic notion. On any frontier in any age, toughness and capability are essential for survival, regardless of gender. Today’s well-researched historical fiction makes that abundantly clear — and like it or not, fiction resonates in contemporary culture, subtly but undeniably influencing attitudes on both sides of the gender divide. Art always has been both reactive and proactive in that way.
So, readers and writers of romance, don’t let anyone tell you you’re wasting your time with ludicrous, lowbrow “trash.” You’re not. You’re buttressing ramparts our foremothers built long ago. Could there be a more pleasant, if stealthy, way to celebrate Women’s History Month?
I thought it’d be fun today to talk about unusual town names in Texas. Of course, I selected Texas because that’s where I was born and raised.
That brings me to “born and raised” which is totally off the subject. I always was told I was born and raised here, but when I got a little older I found out I was “born and reared”. Corn is raised, children are reared. I absolutely hated it to the max, but when I did any type of a talk I’d use reared. My last copy editor changed my MS from reared to raised and said reared is antiquated. Guess that tells you how old I am. What’s you thoughts on born and raised vs. born and reared?
Now for how some of our towns got their names.
The community my parents lived in when I was born is Cactus, Texas. It’s one county over but I was actually born in Amarillo at St. Anthony’s Hospital.
Now for Cactus: The only living thing in sight — cactus — gave New York engineers their inspiration for naming the Cactus Ordinance Works. When a post office was established, the name was transferred. Early residents, which my family would fall under, remember how cactus and other prickly plants had to be cleared before the first housing units could be built in Cactus. From personal experience, although my family, including my grandparents, moved to Amarillo before my second sister was born, one of my aunts and uncles lived in Cactus, Texas, for years. Uncle Durward worked for the petroleum plant until he retired and he and Aunt Martha moved to Dumas, a few miles south-east of Cactus.
The next town we lived in for a very short time was Pantex, which was just east of Amarillo. The location of this town suggested the abbreviated compound of Panhandle of Texas. The post office was established to provide service for employees of the Pantex Ordance Plant, which loaded bombs with TNT for the Army from 1942 to 1945, but the town vanished after WWII. For me personally, it was the best kept non-secret I’ve ever seen. The workers weren’t allowed to tell anybody what they were working on in the underground bunkers. Some 75 years later, they are now dismantling the “secret” weapons and it’s on the front page of our newspaper regularly as they make progress. So, now you all know the non-secret that I grew up with. As I said, we didn’t live in the Pantex Village very long before moving to Amarillo.
Amarillo’s history is really long and although we are very young for this part of the country … settled in 1887. We are the largest of the five original towns settled in the Panhandle. We were the last to be officially established and that was due to the railroad and the route they ending up taking thanks to a group of merchants in Colorado City, Texas.
I moved here with my family when I could barely walk, but I had a lot of miles on me already. I plan to be buried here with my husband by my side.
Here’s some fun towns:
Bass Hollow: Sam Bass and his gang, notorious for their daring train and bank holdups during the 1870’s, once made their outlaw camp there.
Black Ankle: The San Augustine County town was so named after a local belle tore her silk stocking at the ankle before a dance and concealed the rip by painting her exposed skin black with soot. In Caldwell County, the deep, black, waxy soil literally created some black ankles after heavy rains.
My last town is one of my favorites. I’ve been to both towns. Now that outta make you wonder what I’m up to. Nacogdoches(nae-ke-‘do-‘cas)Texas: A legend has been composed for those who expected an explanation more romantic than the one that this oldest town in Texas was named for the Nacogdoche Indians, a Caddoan tribe and one of the nine major members of the Hasinai Confederacy. The tale also accounts for the similarity of the names of Nacogdoche, Texas, and of Natchitoches (nak-ki-tish), Louisiana. Here comes the answer to why I selected this town … my favorite of the two Natchitoches, Louisiana (notice the spelling difference). The towns are often mistaken for one another, or in my way of thinking, I thought they were one in the same for years.
Once upon a time, an old Indian chief had two sons: Natchitoches and Nacogdoches. When they grew to manhood, their father sent them out to make homes and establish tribes of their own. Natchitoches was to travel three days and three nights in the direction of the rising sun, and Nacogdoches was to travel three days and three nights into the setting sun. Thus, the Louisiana and Texas towns were established, linked by a route later followed by the Spaniards and name El Camino Real de los Tejas (the Royal Road but later English translated to the King’s Highway) running through Texas and into Louisiana.
Okay readers, which town would you liked to have lived in? Do you have a favorite town with an odd history behind its name?
To one reader who leaves a comment today, I will send you a gift certificate for your choice of one of my books from Amazon. To a second commenter, I’ll send you a Bath and Bodyworks Gift Card.
Watch for my next installment of the Kasota Springs Romance series “Out of the Texas Night” by eKensington coming out next spring.
I’ve given up on resolutions decades ago, because I never keep them. Although once I became a full time writer, I do have a couple of beginning-of-the-year rituals. First, I check off my goals for the ending year and see how many I met. I then come up with new writing goals, both attainable ones and blue sky. I type them up and tape them on the wall. I might say that one of my blue sky goals ever since I began writing was to become a USA Today and New York Times bestselling author. I met that goal in 2012 with A Texas Christmas. Now I’ll have to add another blue sky goal for 2013.
My second ritual is to clean my office, put away files, and even dust shelves, getting all ready for the new year. Since I have revisions due on a new eKensington contemporary by February 1st and a new book to write by April 1st, I won’t be able to tarry long with the cleaning part of my ritual … thank goodness!
I asked each of the Fillies for their resolutions and I have some to share with you all.
Margaret Brownley: My resolutions are the same every year.
Limit time spent on the open range. The www dot brand sure can waste a lot of time.
Lose the extra five pounds on my hips. From now on, I’ll pack only one gun instead of two.
Clean out closets. Nothing (or no one) should hang that doesn’t deserve to be hung.
And finally: Stop holding up shopping carts and forcing people to buy my book.
Victoria Bylin: My New Year’s Resolution is to write first thing in the morning. We’re talking 4:30 a.m. to 7 a.m., so I need an extra dose of will power. No late nights, at least until the book is finished!
Tanya Hanson: To thank God every day for our three beautiful new bathrooms! (I’d include “try to lose weight” but that annual resolution always crashes like the Titanic by January 15…)
Mary Connealy: Last year for the first time in a long time I made a New Years Resolution.
I resolved to do a better job of getting to my local RWA group meetings.
I love going but I always have an excuse not to hop in that car bright and early on a Saturday morning and take a 1 1/2 hour drive.
But I wanted to do better.
And I feel like I did well.
So I resolve to keep attending meetings.
Beyond that, I can think of a thousand things about myself to change but let’s face it, first and foremost would be ‘self-discipline’ and without that, none of the other’s is going to happen.
Renee Ryan: I’m not much for resolutions. Mainly because I never seem to be able to keep them. So, here are my new ones.
Have a heart for God,
A passion for His Word,
A hunger to know Him more,
A compassion for His people; and
A desire to serve Him.
I figure if I have those, everything else will fall into place.
Charlene Sands: My new year’s resolution is to keep my fingers on the keyboard, my hands out of the refrigerator and my legs on the elliptical trainer. Oh, and to spend EVEN more time with my little kidlets!
Elizabeth Lane: My NY resolution (a necessity). Kick my writing output up to 1,000 words a day and try to maintain my sanity while doing so.
Karen Witemeyer: Mine are usually similar each year.
Pursue deeper relationships with my Lord and my family.
Write the best book I possibly can.
Though if I had to pick, I’d steal Margaret’s. 🙂
Linda Broday: I want to complain less, write more and count my blessings every day.
After I read the other Fillies’ resolutions, I stole several of them, so I’d have some resolutions not just rituals.
First, Margaret’s, I need more than five pounds off my hips, so I’ll have to leave both of my Colts home, as well as my Winchester.
Also, thought Margaret’s idea about not holding up shopping carts and making the shopper buy my books is a wonderful resolution, but then I’d have to break resolution #1.
Lastly, since I’m on deadline, I briefly considered Vicky’s resolution, but the 4:30 a.m. knocked me off the block. Now I can handle the 7 a.m. and totally agree with the late nights. I think most writers when they are immerged into a story have the same problem about late nights; the characters are simply not on the same sleep schedule as we are and love to come out and play in the middle of the night. I can’t count the times I’ve jumped up and either jotted down something they said or actually came to my writing room, booted the computer, and wrote a while because of my characters’ insomnia which then creates the same problem for me.
What is your New Year’s resolution? And, do you typically keep them?
Saloons and beer are synonymous with Texas… but add a black bear and you got troubles that not even an old west sheriff could handle.
The much chronicled story begins in the 1890’s and takes place in Claude, Texas, a newly established small town along the Forth Worth and Denver Railroad about thirty miles east of Amarillo in the panhandle.
One of the saloon owners, Jim Scarborough, had an unusual pet and sometimes customer … a black bear rightfully name Blackie. A bear in itself would today be an oddity here, but a century ago there were many down in the Palo Duro Canyon.
According to the ol’ timers, Blackie was captured as a cub during a round-up in Ceta Canyon and taken to the Rush Creek Camp. Later he was adopted by Scarborough. The saloon keeper kept the animal on a long chain just outside the saloon door. Perfectly tame, Blackie furnished considerable entertainment for cowboys who stopped by for a slug. Frequently the bear would wander inside and beg for beer. A customer would usually buy him a little nip. Satisfied, Blackie would give the donor a grateful nudge before lumbering outside the saloon and resume his sentry duties.
Blackie sometimes caused a bit of commotion with dogs that ran loose through the dirt streets. They’d yap and snap at him when they passed the saloon. Needless to say, they annoyed the heck out of Blackie. It didn’t take long before the unusual saloon icon figured out a way to handle the suckers.
Knowing the length of his chain, he would allow the mutts to back him in a corner knowing full well the radius of a circle his chain allowed. Having plenty of chain length, he would then pounce, give the dogs a good whoopin’ and send them howling back home with their tails between their legs.
Every now and again, Blackie would manage to slip his chain and take a stroll through town. Although nobody was scared of him, he generally got into some kind of mischief when he went on the lamb.
Before he was fully grown, when roaming the streets, his favorite trick was to head for the hotel managed by a Mrs. Weaver. As was the custom in the day, she kept a rain barrel but hers was just outside the dining room window of the hotel.
One hot summer day while Mrs. Weaver was fixin’ the noonday meal she heard water splashing. Fairly certain it was Blackie, she grabbed up a broom and headed for the front porch. She clobbered the bear every time he raised his head above the rim of the rain barrel. Blackie finally managed to escape the barrel, the broom, and woman who was mad enough to peel the skin off a rattler with her bare hands.
But ol’ Blackie wasn’t about to let a woman get the better of him.
Seeing the front door open, he ran inside, down the hall, through the hotel’s dining room, leaving a dripping trail all the way. It didn’t say this in the account I read, but I’d imagine, like most furry animals, he shook and let water fly all over the place.
Blackie finally escaped — the hard way by jumping right through the dining room window … right into the rain barrel all over again!
Ol’ Blackie was a favorite of the whole town despite his many forays in Mrs. Weaver’s rain barrel; and I’m sure he was responsible for other mischief in the small Texas town.
I sometimes wonder if ol’ Blackie had something to do with the fact that for many years to come Armstrong County was dry … no liquor served or sold in the county, even today. What do you think?
To kick off the holiday season with Bloggin’ Tuesday, for one lucky person who leaves a comment, I’ll send them a signed copy of our anthology, A Texas Christmas.
I’m pleased to say that A Texas Christmas is a Rhapsody Book Club selection in their 2012 holiday catalogue in hardback, but it, along with our other five anthologies, are still available at BN.com and Amazon.com in both mass market and ebook formats.
Sometimes my mom will call me up and ask me for a recipe. At times I have it and will give it to her. At times, she has to deal with a bit of karma when I answer, “Well, I do this and put enough of this in to make it whatever, and bake it until it’s done, you know”. My mom has given me that answer plenty of times so it serves her right.
So here’s the thing. The way I cook vs. the way I bake is a lot like the way I write vs. the way I handle the non-writing part of my life.
When I’m baking, I follow a recipe. You have to worry about timing and proportions and things like leavening and consistency A LOT. So if I’m making cake or cookies or breads – anything with yeast, baking powder, baking soda, etc….I follow the recipe. But when I’m cooking a dinner dish – a casserole, something in the crockpot, roast, whatever…I usually don’t follow a recipe. I might sometimes use a guideline if it sounds good, but I often throw stuff together. Last week I thought the recipe for Turkey Meatball Chili needed to be saucier, so instead of 2 tbsp of tomato paste I put in the whole can. If I don’t have a certain veg I’ll throw another in – or add extra. Seasoning numbers? That’s a guideline only. Seriously. I wing it. A LOT.
When I’m not writing, my life is like a recipe. There is a schedule (writing is on it), and there is a list. Things are in a certain place and happen at a certain time. It’s very orderly and it works.
But when I’m writing, my process is like making chili. Or a better analogy – my Kitchen Sink Soup (recipe on my webpage). I start with a base – 2 characters with a goal, motivation and conflict and a happy ending by the last page. But everything else?
You got it. I’m what they call a pantser.
This wasn’t always easy to accept. I tried doing a synopsis ahead of time, or an outline. I tried doing up GMC charts. Tried writing to a three-act structure thinking it would make it easier when I got into trouble. Know what happened? I got into MORE trouble. Finally, finally, I came to accept that you know what? THIS IS MY PROCESS. And it works. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t get a tweak when it’s necessary – I totally think processes evolve with the writer. But I stopped fighting it. I embraced it. After I did that, I wrote faster and with less stress because I LEARNED TO TRUST IT.
Recently a friend was lamenting her word count compared to mine. I told her to stop. She has a certain process and it’s OKAY. She writes fabulous books, so what does it matter if it takes her a little longer, or if she has to have the front end of the book completely solid before moving on? You can’t judge yourself next to someone else’s process. And if yours works, why would you want to? Some people write a dirty draft and go back and do an overhaul. Some people write out of sequence. Some write a methodical word count every day and others strike when the iron’s hot. Some do extensive planning first and others “write into the mist” as Jo Beverley once said.
The key thing is to realize that your process is yours and it’s not right or wrong. It just is. I have learned that in every book there will come a time when a character surprises me. When a piece of dialogue or internal monologue will come out and be so powerful I will probably cry – and I haven’t planned it. That I COULDN’T plan it. That characters will take me in directions I never knew and make the book so much better than what I could have outlined. That is where the magic of my stories comes from. I know it will happen because it always does.
So if you’re a writer reading this – trust your process. Claim it, love it, embrace it. And I promise – things will be so much better when you decide to work WITH it rather than against it.
And if you’re a reader, you just got a glimpse into my rather twisted writer-mind. Meanwhile, in case my first analogy made you hungry, you can check out my recipes on my recipe page at http://www.donnaalward.com/recipecorner.htm
It seems impossible that it’s nearly Easter, but here we are, and life is just as crazy busy as ever. I stopped today to look at my planner, see what I’ve done this year and how many of those things were on my goals sheet. You have a goals sheet don’t you? During the year I often check back to see if I’m where I want to be. A lot of times when the excitement has drained from our writing or we’re bored with the tedium of work and responsibilities, it’s because we’ve forgotten our dreams.
There are mortgages to pay and kids to raise and groceries to buy and dinners to prepare. Besides that there are books to promote and cars that need oil changes and graduations and—fill in the blank. That’s life. But tucking away our aspirations at the expense of our personal well-being isn’t healthy. Eventually we resent the things that are “robbing” us, instead of enjoying each facet for the richness it brings. Certainly there is joy to be found in the dream of your own home and in the treasure of children, but sometimes we pause in the midst of all that busyness to wonder, “Is this all there is?” There has to be more, and we yearn to find fulfillment within ourselves. That’s most often the time to reprioritize our busy schedules.
Look at the goals you set for this year. If you missed the mark, just start over. Don’t beat yourself up over what you didn’t do; just start today and look forward. If you didn’t make a list, it’s not too late to get started. Take time now. Sit down and write five things you dream of doing. Divide them into categories if you like: Family, Professionally, Writing, Spiritually, or Just for Me. Now select one that you will devote yourself to work on before the end of summer. Make another list of the steps you will take to see that accomplishment come to pass.
Now take those steps. Recapture the joy. We need to be participants in our lives, not spectators. We need to be passionate about our dreams. Sometimes simply revisiting our dreams is the kick we need to change our thinking and get us out of a rut. So dream big and dream often.
All the photos are mine.
If you haven’t read Donnelly’s Promise yet, you can read it in its entirely here for free: