Damn! What a week!

IMG_2762I’m as bad as my students. I have no excuse for posting so late this week. I don’t even have a good excuse for a picture.  Mine is the photographic equivalent of opening up a can of tuna for dinner and only adding a fork. This was simply the last picture I took and it was for a Facebook comment I don’t even remember to.  (One book I actually read all the way through. Can you guess which one?) The point is now that the flush of the Fall semester is finally chillin out, the rest of my life is heating up in ways that are at the very least, interesting.  Yet believe it or not, it also means I’m finally getting some time to start writing again. Do you care? Only if you want to read my blather. Which of course if you’re reading this, you do.

More cogent commentary next week after I finally clean my rather dusty house, get a pedicure, and find out why John Boehner took a powder today.  I mean you do care, don’t you?

Plotting for plot

shopping_groceryWhere do story ideas come from? Do they drop like rain out of the sky, or sprout beneath our feet like crack-in-the-sidewalk weeds? Do they barrel into us like a runaway train, or slip into our consciousness like a movie’s product placement?  Fact is, all of the above are correct. You just never know when a great story idea is going to hit you. But it’s also true you can’t wait for the Book Pixies to drop one into you lap. Great ideas have to be mined,  and there are several places where you can start digging. For instance…

1. Look to History – This method is the easiest of all. Just pick up any history book, open a page and point, and there’s guaranteed to be a story in it. How many bestsellers have been written about World War II? The Civil War? (A certain radish-hurling Southern belle springs to mind.) Or the Napoleonic Wars and hello! the Regency period in England? Honesty, how many United States history books ever even mentioned the Prince Regent, “Prinny,” yet his era spawned a wildly popular American subgenre of romantic fiction. Imagine today forty years from now. Meet-cute on Tinder? Love it!

2. News Stories, slightly libeled – There used to be a popular movie trailer come-on that went, Ripped from today’s headlines! Which nowadays has been slightly altered to read, BASED ON A TRUE STORY. It’s the same thing, but honestly, that CNN home page or local newspaper (newspapers–remember them?) is still a great source for plots. In a further variation on the above history theme, don’t discount headlines of yesteryear, either. Writer Peter Benchley got an idea for his book, Jaws, from the 1916 New Jersey shark attacks that started on Long Beach Island. Who could argue with that success?

3. Family – Oh, yes, the original source of embarrassment and inspiration. How many of you have a weird Uncle Albert or Aunt Ada, the hoochie dancer, your father the war hero, your mother the self-made CEO of a multinational conglomerate (if you’re the latter, have her buy you a publishing company, and never worry about plot again). As for my own family, I have an original ‘49er, a nightclub singer, and a somewhat tenuous relation to Wyatt Earp’s brother, Virgil. Trust me, you never know.

4. Steal From Someone Else’s Story – Seriously, this is a viable option. Now, I’m not talking about opening up some New York Times bestseller and jacking right from the page. What I’m suggesting is taking a book in the public domain, and tell the story behind the story, what happens before or after, or from another character’s point of view. Jean Rhys prequeled Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre with Wide Sargasso Sea, and more recently, March, by Geraldine Brooks, tells the story of the absent father gone-to-war of the March girls of Little Women. Who hasn’t read a book and thought about an unexplored secondary character and wondered what their story was? Now’s your chance to clear it up.

5. Take a Walk – Any walk, anywhere, from your own street to a street far, far away. Take in the sights, the sounds, the buildings and the people, sit on a bench in a park, in a cafe, on a bus, at a museum, on a beach, by a lake, on an observation deck. If you can, do it alone to keep distractions at a minimum, allowing yourself to absorb everything that floats, waltzes or rolls past you. Leave the phone turned off and the ear buds in your pocket, and let the milieu do the talking. You’ll be amazed at what it tells you.

I’m so much more about autumn

pine-barrens-whartonLast week I was ragging on and on about my Summer of Suck and how I was more than ready to get it over. Total party poopage, I’m sure, but had you been me you’d totally be down with that. But you have to agree that Fall isn’t too shabby either. For one thing the temps will be a whole hell of a lot more bearable, at least what’s been passing as “weather” in my part of Jersey. I’m so over these 90 degree days. But to give a bit of a better insight what I’m talking about, look at these reasons I am so much more about Autumn than I was about Summer (at least this year):

1. Apples – Gala, Cortland, Mac, Granny – sure you can get them at the supermarket all year ’round, but this time of year, you can pluck them right off the tree. And here in the Northeast, there’s no shortage of apple farms. Matter of fact, this time of year there’s no shortage of Apple Festivals, with their accompanying Hard Apple Cider samples. And this abundance of apples leads to the inevitable apple cakes, apple muffins, apple sauce, fried apples, apple fritters, apple dumplings, apple doughnuts, applesauce, apple lasagna…

2. Cooler Nights – Seriously, I have nothing intrinsically against summer, but I also like to get a good night’s sleep. And I don’t care what you say about air conditioning – the only difference it makes to my downtime is I get a bit of Sinus Inflamed Fitful Sleep instead of wallowing the night away in a pool of sweat-soaked sheets. Big difference from leaving the window opened a tad and tucking the covers under your chin. Plus you can snuggle up with the person next to you and not have your skin go phwhuck! from the contact. So much pleasanter. And quieter!

3. Better Movies – With the summer blockbuster season behind us, the studios finally roll out their “serious” films, as we get closer to Oscar time. Goodbye car chases, blue screens and dick flicks, I can finally revel in some meaningful dialogue and decent acting. Now if I could only find a theater that’s actually showing  one I would be happy.

4. The Elections Will (finally) Be Over – What am I thinking? No they won’t.  They’ll go on and on and on like a bad case of the scabies.

5. Scarves Are Back – Love them. LOVE THEM. They make you look artsy and dramatic, and keep your neck warm at the same time. What other article of clothing can you buy at Target that says so much for so little? Plus they keep the collar of that wool jacket you look tres chic in from itching so bad you’d like to rip your skin off. Ah, the price of fashion…

Let the leaves fall!


Happy Labor Day and Good Frickin’ Riddance Summer of Suck

Gretchen and Gwen 8.29.15I have nothing constructive to add this week. My header says it all. This has been one trashcan of a summer for me, no sense in sugarcoating it. I had more health issues than JAMA, I spent waaaay too much time watching TV (thank Christ for Poldark, TCM, and John Oliver), and I didn’t go swimming in the ocean once. NOT ONCE. Terrible bad form for a Jersey girl, and it’s not for lack of trying. Still, for all my bitching, a few good things did happen. I no long need contacts or glasses (since I was six), except these RayBans of course, and after losing a few parts I’m good for another million miles. Plus I finished a new book. It’s out there making the rounds and there’s a sample up top if you want a sneak peek. Outside of that, I’m done with this being down. That’s me and my sister, Gretchen Weerheim, sporting our new Wonder Woman bracelets. Definitely feeling badass.

Here’s to Fall. Bring it, suckas.