what’s ordinary about ordinary?

2013-05-27 21.43.57 An update on my novel’s latest adventure! The Mosquito Hours has been with an editor for the last month and now has returned to me, full of fresh, new ideas. It is invigorated and excited (so to speak) and so am I! I had a terrific Skype meeting with my editor last evening. (How much do I love saying my editor?? A LOT!) I have some work do to, but I am getting very close to the final edit. Which means you (yes, lucky you!) are getting close to being able to read it!

I remember how I felt when this manuscript was in the early, dreamy time of the creation process—when the story is beginning to take shape, although very loosely. When characters are emerging as if from a steamy room into clear air. It’s a point when I don’t want to know too much, just enough to begin. Then I allow the momentum to carry me along, because the story knows best where it’s going.   One thing I am always pretty sure about is the likelihood that my characters will be ordinary people to whom pretty ordinary things will happen.   Does that seem dull?

2013-05-27 21.44.27

Well, here it is: I am almost never interested in writing about the big things—horrific atrocities, murders, jilted brides, war, abducted children. I prefer to write the small, familiar ruptures, hurts and joys. I write about everyday people and everyday life. I can write pages and pages about the way a character thinks and feels about and reacts to ordinary life.

(The trick? I try to create characters people care about.)

Even when I choose a book to read, I shy away from those brimming and expansive plots and gravitate to the quiet stories.

Sometimes I wonder if it would be easier to write the big stuff...

But whose life—even the most ordinary—is lacking in trajectory and meaning? I feel safe in saying these is no life with such lack.   I think there is an importance in moving focus to the lives of the people who seem commonplace, one of the masses, contributors to the stereotypes. Individuals, whose lives symbolize a wider significance in our history and can rise out of anonymity in being given a name and a place in the collective consciousness. The people I want to write about are the people who, in real life, would probably be ignored, but in the creation of whom readers will be able to connect with the everyday-ness of their stories. Find something of their own stories within.   I suppose I am much more interested in the “nothing” that happens. I am eager to witness what is revealed in the everyday. I believe authenticity surfaces from the details. Right now, everything that is ordinary is, well, ordinary. But as time passes, a picture is created. A history collects.   A curious thing happens when I set out to write the ordinary: anything but emerges. Vivian, Tania and Guin (the protagonists of The Mosquito Hours) are not ordinary whatsoever. And yet nothing particularly out of the ordinary comprises their lives. What happens are the things that do not possess the scope of power to reveal themselves as immediately life-altering, but with time prove out to be just that.   And so I wonder: is anything really ordinary?

Parts of this post originally appeared in a somewhat different incarnation on Her Circle Ezine.

please assure me that i am not the only one who sets potholders on fire

I am not referring to a singular occasion wherein one might have done this. I mean regularly. I mean every pot holder that makes its way into the house.

You do this, too, right?

The smell of a burning potholder is quite familiar to me. I was recently on the phone with a friend and cooking pasta at the same time. (I am really good at multitasking.) I smelled something distinctly not food-ish and knew it immediately as the scent of burning polyester. I calmly removed the flaming potholder from the top of the saucepan where it drooped into the gas flame of my stovetop, ran tap water over the small blaze and never missed a beat of the conversation. Boo-yah! I can burn stuff and do other stuff simultaneously.

So, I have a confession—for the first time in 4 years of participating, I quit NaNoWriMo before I hit 50,000 words.


That is the amount of words I managed to write between November 1 and November 22. Yes, I did some writing on Thanksgiving, before the big dinner, in between cooking it and eating it. Then afterwards, as I sat by the fire pit in my parents’ backyard, drinking a nice glass of wine and chatting with my Dad, I looked up at the clear, cold, starry sky and said, “I am quitting NaNo this year. And I am totally okay with it.”

(The little loops, too. No part is safe.)

Usually, I push and push and push. And when I am exhausted and spent and seemingly at my limit, I push further. (Then I am usually somewhat difficult to be around. Just ask Steve. He is nice and might lie and disagree. But trust me on this one.) So rather than go down this old road, I decided instead to try to recapture the joy.

Nothing (aside from the gracefully shared, unbridled happiness of my children) gives me more joy than writing. And the joy was gone. I was pushing through it. And this is a novel I have nurtured for a long, long time. A story I really love. And the joy was gone. Replaced by a drive towards a self-imposed deadline.

NaNo is nothing like setting potholders on fire. More like putting the fire out? No, not like that, either, exactly. Actually, maybe it is like setting potholders on fire—frenzied writing for 30 days. I guess I smelled the familiar odor of burning polyester and threw that fire in the sink. That’s okay. There is always next year. And more potholders, too.