If You Only Just Ask

As I’ve written before, my new book involves a lot of research and since parts of it are loosely based on events in the life of my family, I’ve become an Ancestry.com addict.

Over these past couple of months, what has been so remarkable has been the generosity of persons I’ve asked for help.  I mean, look.  I’m a complete stranger.  Sending an email out into cyberspace and asking a person I’ve never met (and probably never will) if s/he can answer a question or lead me to information about a specific point feels risky.  And the range of my questions (and the replies) is amazing.  I’ve asked about the sales price of a particular, 1930’s era model car; about the interior layout of a Hudson River Steamboat; how a certain street in the Bronx would have looked in the 1930’s.  It goes on and on.  What’s so surprising and gratifying is how willing and helpful complete strangers have turned out to be.

Who would of thunk it!?

It’s especially wonderful because these last two months have been difficult for us.  Luisa has experienced an almost constant pain that has managed to defy the analysis of our local medical community. So, of course, I’ve been even more distracted than usual (and that’s a lot!!).  But thanks to the internet and my hummingbird approach to writing, I’m moving ahead with the new book.   190 pages in and still feeling enthused.

So what’s the takeaway?  It’s that people are pretty darn terrific if you give them half a chance!


And here’s how it’s working

In my last blog, I talked about my “hummingbird” approach to writing — all fits and starts and never letting yourself assume that you can only write when and if you have long, uninterrupted blocks of time.  Yes, it works, but do I yearn for long, uninterrupted blocks?  Of course!

A progress report.  My current project, a novel about a Jewish-American woman born in 1918 and that follows her life for approximately 40 years, is actually taking shape.  I’m about 130 pages into it and even though it’s mostly being writing under the constraints of my “hummingbird” method, things are starting to fall into place.  I’m enjoying getting to know the protagonist, as well the other characters in her life, and look forward to each new, albeit brief, session.

eb56bb711def1f34ffb1a16a49c7a222Because this novelis set in real places and at a real time in history, I needed to do a lot of basic research before

I ever wrote a word.  But once I’d completed what I absolutely needed in the way of research, I had a choice:  to either continue to research everything I possibly could or or to start writing and do

I love the research and could easily let it drag on for years and years and never actually start to write. Working as I do, when I come to a point in the story where research is essential, I either stop and do it on the spot or mark the passage and return to it later.research on the fly.  I chose the latter.

Stay tuned.

Write Like A Hummingbird

Since my last blog in which I bemoaned what has become (temporarily, I hope) an all-consuming focus on things canine, I’ve actually discovered a way to write.

It’s true, that Mischa, the Newfoundland, is by my side 90 percent of the times.  That’s because I’m under strict orders from the vet not to let her play, run, jump, frolic, cavort, prance, caper, gambol, romp or even walk more than a few steps.  So, as long as she’s awake, I’m  up and down . . . in and out . . .  with Mischa.  She’s a puppy that, after all, is constantly on the lookout for opportunities to engage in any and all of the above activities.

You might wonder what kind of writing I can get done when I’m interrupted every few minutes by a dog or a kid, or anything else for that matter.  I was feeling sorry for myself and figuring I’d have to put it all aside, when I noticed a hummingbird buzz in to eat from a feeder that hangs about four feet from where I’m sitting.  The little guy zoomed in, took a few sips and flew away.  His wings never stopped beating.  That’s when it hit me that if I really want to write, I’ll have to expect to do it more the way a hummingbird feeds and less as I would if I were enjoying a slow, leisurely, gourmet meal at a fine

Russian River-Coastal-20131020-00052restaurant.  I’ll need to pop in, write what I can, and zoom off to the next thing.

In the end, it comes down to realigning my expectations.  If mine are such that the only way I can imagine myself writing is to require long, unbroken stretches of silence, I might as well give up now.   But, if I can modify my expectations so that rather than wait for that perfect, interruption-free environment, I can see myself writing in short, frequently interrupted, bursts, I might surprise myself at what I can accomplish.

I’m not advocating this as the optimum way to write.  It’s not.  But it is a way to write.  Eventually, I’ll need to carve out those long, uninterrupted periods so I can take what might be a jumble and turn it into coherent, well-written prose.  My point, however, is that if I can “write like a hummingbird” and do what I can, when I can, I’ll be much farther along than if I wait for that perfectly silent, uninterrupted stretch of writing time.


When it’s all about dogs!

I know.  This is supposed to be a blog about writing, but let’s talk about this last week, shall we?

Since a year in the life of a dog equals seven in the life of a human, I suppose one dog week is equivalent to seven human ones.  What’s the point?  The point is that since last Saturday (a human week ago that feels like seven to me!) I’ve been drowning in dogs.  Or maybe I’m becoming one.

Last Saturday, one of my two dachshunds, Taro, found a scrap of bone in the dirt in front of the house up at the farm.  We were there for the weekend and enjoying fantastic weather and sharing it all with our daughter and her husband and children.  The bucolic mood was abruptly shattered when Mischa, our Newfoundland/Bernese Mountain Dog puppy (17 months) wandered over to see what Taro was so happy about.  Taro is at least 10 years old and has never been inclined to share.  He flew at Mischa who, despite being a gentle giant, was unhappy to have this snarling, rodent-like thing snapping away at her.  So, she fought back.  It was only a few seconds before my son-in-law and I pulled Mischa away and stuck her in a car but that was enough for Taro to sustain some nasty tears to the scruff of his neck.  We treated them with hydrogen peroxide and since they didn’t seem life threatening, anxiously tried to enjoy what was left of our country vacation.

When we got back to town, I took Taro to our vet who cleaned the wounds properly (finding an olive leaf in one of them!), installed tiny white-plastic drains and stitched everything up.  Taro spent the night and I spent plenty of plastic.  When I picked Taro up, he resembled nothing less than a Franken-furter.  A canine “hot dog” with plastic projections sprouting from his back.

OK.  Enough about Taro.

Misha had been previously diagnosed with elbow dysplasia.  I didn’t know dogs had elbows, but they do, and her front, left one was painful as evidenced by her limp.  Our vet had suggested we take her to the University of California at Davis where they have an excellent veterinarian school and where, upon referral, can take small or large animals for specialized treatment.  Davis is a two-hour drive from Sebastopol.  So, on Wednesday, Luisa and I, plus the Franken-furter (Taro); his litter-mate, Oni; and our Corgi, Smudge Pot made the drive to Davis for the long-scheduled evaluation.  The result was that Mischa was a good candidate for arthroscopic elbow surgery.  We all drove home Wednesday afternoon.  Then, on Thursday,

Mischa with Nose ConeI drove Mischa back to Davis so she could receive a CT Scan and be prepped for surgery on Friday.  The surgery went well and today (Saturday) I picked her up and brought her home.

So now, after 12 hours of driving Miss Mischa, and vet bills that have rendered my poor credit card limp from overuse, we now find ourselves running a convalescent home for dogs.  Mischa, who weighs in at almost 100 pounds, must wear something like the plastic nose cone of a rocket until her tiny incisions heal.  Fortunately, she’s sufficiently drugged that she’s not causing permanent injury to the unfortunate humans who find themselves in her path.

And Taro.  After getting home with Mischa, I took Taro back to our local vet who took out his tubes and declared he was healing well.

I can only hope the same holds true for that little plastic card in my wallet and my career as a writer..