Thursday, July 31, 2014


When I was sixteen, I took guitar lessons with Bill Brown.  This was a big, big deal in my world.  It was Bill Brown.  The first time I’d ever heard him was when I was fourteen, at the John Lennon tribute concert, which we once held annually here in Springfield, MO.  And I was blown away.  I had no idea that there were people who could play like that who were not on MTV. (I’m actually being completely serious about that.)  I spent the next year and a half going from venue to venue around town to listen to his various bands play (his best-known group was undoubtedly the Ozark Mountain Daredevils).

I was utterly starstruck when I took lessons with Bill.  To this day, I have never been around anyone so innately talented—actually, I think I could live to be two hundred, and meet the very best the world has to offer, and still never be around anyone as talented as Bill.  He was also hilarious.  And kind.  And goofy.  (He used to greet me when I came into the store by singing XTC's "Holly Up on Poppy."  He loved XTC.)  I can’t adequately describe how I looked forward to seeing him every Saturday, in the back room of Third Eye Guitars.

I’d already played piano for several years, and could read music.  But Bill also taught me about playing by ear…most importantly, he got me to bring in some of my poems, showed me some of the basics of songwriting.  

I totally stole this pic from the FB page for Bill's '80s band, The Misstakes.  It's very close to the way he looked when I knew him.

…This past week marked the tenth anniversary of Bill’s passing (he died in a house fire with Don Shipps, another Springfield musician).  Like I do every year on the anniversary, I got out my guitar and played a few Beatles songs in his honor.  I also played a few of the songs I wrote when I was a teenager.

There’s absolutely a rhythm to the written word—a music in language.  I can’t help but think, then, that those music lessons in Third Eye were early lessons in writing a novel.  And I can’t help but think that Bill’s influence is easy to find in my books. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Runner's High by Ellen Jensen Abbott

I love to run. I love the feeling of accomplishment when I’ve finished 6 miles. I love feeling my body recover after a particularly long or steep hill. I love the sweat, the tiredness, the toe-callouses, the achiness—all of which tell me I’ve done something. I love the extra cookie I can have because I’ve burned 700 calories. 

And yes, there’s an app for that! I often run with my phone strapped to my arm and the mechanical voice of the RunKeeper lady announcing my achievement every five minutes. “Time: thirty-five minutes. Distance: three point four seven miles. Pace: Ten minutes. Thirteen seconds. Per Mile.” I use her voice to push myself harder when my pace slows, to decide which turn I should take in order to get more mileage, to push myself through the last few tenths so that I actually run all 5 or 6 miles, rather than stopping at 4.7 or 5.5. The RunKeeper gives me a ribbon if I run particularly far or fast or long. I can even post my results on Facebook, though I never do.

But lately, I’ve been leaving my phone at home and heading out the door with just me and my sneakers. I lose myself in the pounding of my feet and the rasp of my breath. My mind wanders and floats without the jarring interruption of that mechanical voice. I know roughly when I pass the 2, 3, 4 mile mark and I know how my pace feels without actually having a number to assign to it. I don’t worry that my pace is getting messed up when I jog in place, waiting for a light to change. I finish with a sense of accomplishment even if I don’t know exactly how far I’ve gone. (Was it 6.1 or 6.2?) 

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but I can’t help but see an analogy here for my writing life. There are times when I am all about the data. How many being verbs can I cut per page? Am I using at least three senses in each scene? Did I push myself through that difficult chapter? And that ubiquitous question: How many words/pages did I write in a given day? (Lots of folks post that on Facebook!) 

But right now, I’m trying to ignore the data. The truth is that if I were to judge my writing life by the data—time spent, words written, chapters constructed—I’d be a very depressed writer! But I also know that like running, it will only be harder if I don’t get out there and do it. This summer, I’ve been heading into writing each day with just my pen. I write a few pages long hand, letting my mind wander and float, worrying less about if there is a story buried in my words. I allow myself to feel good that I wrote at all, rather than if I met my word count. I’m keeping the writing muscle flexed so that when inspiration or insight strikes, I’m in shape for the long haul of a story or a book. 

Two pages long hand gives me enough of that writer’s high to trust that I'll be logging longer miles again. When it does, I want to be in shape.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Ain't nobody got time for that (Brian Katcher)

Ah, the days before parenthood and writing. I had time for so many things: exercise, rotating my tires, filling out my tax returns, etc. Those days, alas, are gone forever.

I do miss my days of community theater. The murmur of the crowd, the makeup, the egos, the public screw ups, the rotten vegetables...there are no small roles, only small actors.

 A one-armed alcoholic with a schizophrenic son? It's the role I was born to play!

I can't really justify spending so much time away from my home and works in progress, but I do remember those productions fondly.
King of the faries

You know, acting is a lot like writing. You pour your heart and soul into character development, only to have your director/editor tell you you're doing it wrong.

'Nuts'. I'm on the far right. That night I got pulled over by the police while wearing that makeup. In the Ozarks.

Maybe when my daughter gets to be a little older, I'll get to tread the boards once again. Oh, to once again play 'Thug Number 2'...

Monday, July 28, 2014

Finding a Hobby (by Margie Gelbwasser)

Growing up, if you had asked me what my hobby was, I'd say, "Writing!" It's what I did when I needed to figure things out, relax, unwind. It was as natural as breathing. When classes got boring, I'd pretend to take notes. Really, I'd be writing a story or poem. I was editor of my high school and college literary magazines, and it was no secret that my dream was to be a published author. The thing about dreams, though, is that once they become realities and careers, they cease being hobbies.

When I write now, I still love it, but it's not the same. I don't write to sort out my life or to relax. Writing now is about the story and where it's headed once I'm done with it. It can't stay in my notebook like it used to. It's final destination is always a book. And that's OK. Not many people can make hobbies into careers (and not everyone wants to either). The bigger problem was the void that was left where a hobby once was.

Not having a hobby made me feel boring. When people ask me what do I like to do, I still answer writing, but that's a false reply. It's not just what I "like" to do. It's a part of who I am. So, when this blog chain topic came up, I racked my brain for something to write about. What else do I DO? Here is my list of loves:

1. My family--spending time with them and taking care of them
2. Walking--for exercise, to sort things out, to work out book ideas
3. Reading--for fun and for craft
4. Watching TV--for fun, but I sometimes cloak it in craft (haha)
5. Cooking--love it and trying out new recipes

All these the things above are good, but hobbies? I don't know. Isn't a hobby supposed to be something you do consistently? And something like a side project? My family is hardly a hobby. They're my everything.

So I guess I'm lame. I don't really have one hobby. And, therefore, am not sure how to say a way it impacts my writing. I've thought about getting one, but I feel I have so much on my plate already, now is not the time to learn a new skill.  I think 2-5 could qualify, though. Maybe I'll make some dish inspired by a new book.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Walking the walk (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

My main hobby is walking, or hiking, and it has been intertwined with my writing life for years.

I walk for exercise, for the meditative sort of thinking I can only do while I walk, and to explore the world around me. I seek out the places where cherry trees bloom in the spring, where red maples flame in the fall, where dense shade cools the hottest summer days.

I walk through my suburban neighborhood regularly. But my favorite walks are through woods or on mountains, from the Poconos to the Adirondacks, to the dazzling high trails in Yosemite and Rocky Mountain and Mount Rainier National Parks. Even when I lived in major cities, I found the places to walk: alleys, gardens, parks, window-shopping districts, river trails. Philadelphia, Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Washington DC are all great walking cities. When I visited Paris, I never took a metro or a cab. I walked everywhere, figuring that everything I would see along the way was part of the experience: every flowerbed and statue and fountain and bridge, every patisserie and storefront and sidewalk café.

My characters also walk when they need to think—Maggie fleeing a romantic encounter with her best friend in Until It Hurts to Stop, Colt mourning his secret girlfriend’s death in The Secret Year, Ryan reconnecting with the world after a suicide attempt in Try Not to Breathe. They all find someplace outdoors that’s meaningful: a riverbank, a waterfall, a mountain. I used my hiking experiences most directly in my third book, Until It Hurts to Stop. Maggie and Nick’s encounter with a rattlesnake, their battle with high winds on a mountain summit, and their getting caught in a rainstorm are all things that really happened to me.

I met my husband through a hiking club. He walks, too.

Hiking with someone else is different from hiking alone, and I need both: the solitude and meditation of a hike alone, the shared joys and camaraderie of a hike with others.

Writing is not only a solitary profession but a sedentary one, so it’s good to have a hobby that involves physical movement. It keeps me from getting stuck, in more ways than one.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Hobby That Isn't

The Hobby That Isn’t by Natalie D. Richards

As a new contributor to YAOTL, naturally I felt my first entry would need to be The Greatest Blog of All Time.  I had it planned.  It would be equal parts heart-warming, educational, and humorous.  It would cure rabies and fill potholes and produce rainbows in the skies of readers everywhere. 

Seemed doable until I realized I had to write about hobbies. 

Couldn’t be that hard.  Surely I do…something.  A quick scan of my house revealed dog hair on the floor, dishes in the sink, several paperbacks within grabbing distance, and an Old Navy bag with another black shirt I absolutely don’t need. 

This was a slow-spin moment.  Not the good kind where you’re in a field of lilies with background music.  No, this was when I realized I was a living, breathing Target ad.  I felt my identity disintegrating, just melting away like the faces of the baddies in Raiders of the Lost Ark. 

So, I turned to my oldest kid—a precocious ten-year-old who hasn’t yet hit that part of childhood when he decides I’m the devil—and asked if he could think of any hobbies I have.  He oh-so-helpfully informed me that I do dishes and laundry and Oh! I watch him play hockey.

And there I was, right back to melting identity.  There may have been crying.

Who could blame me?  I’m on a blog with people who become one with nature and stretch themselves into impossible yoga poses.  They garden and bake and draw and…why don’t I do those things? 

I guess I scrapbook (though so infrequently my third child probably isn’t sure she exists) and I bake whenever I’m in the mood to eat my body weight in butter and sugar. 

But why don’t I knit hats for freezing orphans in the Ukraine or learn to make hand-thrown clay dishes that I donate to animal shelters? 

Why don’t I try to do something new? 

Then it hit me.  I do try new things all the time. I plan vacations I can’t afford, and paint my nails a different color every week.  I go to new restaurants and cook weird recipes and meet strangers whenever I possibly can.  Because I absolutely love to try new things.

Is that a real hobby?  Maybe not.  But I don’t think anyone should trust me with a pottery wheel, so it’s probably for the best.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

the kitchen is my sanctuary

When I'm writing a book, I need time away from my desk. I spend most of the day with my characters, listening to their voices and jotting words on paper. After a while, I drift into the kitchen. Then I sink my hands into bread dough, roll out fresh pasta, or slice up goodies from my window garden. It's the perfect hobby for someone who lives inside her head.

radishes (and most fresh veggies) are yummiest when roasted!

measuring cup by cup

kneading bread dough is so relaxing!

delicate ramps (wild onions) remind me of music notes

a pair of French loaves--one to keep and one to give away

I never liked tomatoes...until I tasted them in my summer CSA basket. It's all about eating with the seasons.

Working in the kitchen is a lot like revising a story. You learn as you go. There's no perfect recipe---only what tastes right to you. All that matters is that you're the present tense.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Baked-in Goodness (by Patty Blount)

All this month, we're talking about hobbies.

I don't have a lot of hobbies. I love to read and I love to write. I do those two things almost exclusively when I'm not at work, which leaves very little time to pursue activities like yoga or gardening or rock climbing, and so on.

But there is one thing I like to do. Bake. I'm pretty good at it, too. I baked a 360-degree looping Hot Wheels track on a birthday cake for my son's 5th, and a religious cake for a friend who'd baptized their baby, even a replica of a New York State Learner's Permit when my son turned sixteen and passed his driver's written exam. I make amazing rainbow cookies and am now on a quest for a perfect macaron recipe.

Baking is fun because it results in something that almost always tastes as good as it looks. And that got me thinking about the old adage -- never judge a book by its cover.

Which we all do, right?

Covers are important -- good covers can sell books and bad covers can get them ignored. Just like baking, if the end result looks good, it'll probably taste good, too.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Trouble = fun (Lauren Bjorkman)

I applaud those who blogged before me about their soul-fulfilling, body-tuning, and heart-stirring pursuits. You are amazing. Seriously. My hobby might be considered less wholesome. *lowers head in shame* Still it's the key to my awesomesauce writing life.

When I was a kid, my dad often said, “Lauren! Your head is in the clouds. Wake up!” Or when he was REALLY mad he'd say, “Get your head out of your BUTT!” He wanted me to BE HERE NOW. And get my chores done, damn it. But I liked daydreaming more than washing dishes. And sometimes--while I daydreamed--the dishes miraculously washed themselves.

[Note: head-up-butt image pending]

One time my sister caught me kneeling in the stateroom of our sailboat in front of a bucket of soapy water. My job was to wash the floor. Instead, I'd piled bubbles onto the sponge and was singing Ode-to-SpongeCake, a song of my own composition.

Of course BE HERE NOW has practical applications. In my boat days, I fell asleep at the tiller once, risking all our lives. Luckily the boat didn’t get wrecked on a reef and we lived to tell the tale. (To be fair, I was barely ten.) These days I  limit my daydreaming to times filled with less dangerous activities. Sometimes I forget this principle while working out plot points, though, and drive into a ditch to the wrong place.

All kidding aside, I have a few self-improvement-type hobbies. I knit and hike and take out my aggression on the enormous weeds that grow around my house garden. Sometimes I stretch my hamstrings. But while I’m stretching my hamstrings, I daydream.  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Sweating My Butt Off in the Hot Sun Because Barbara Kingsolver Told Me To (by Jody Casella)

I'd always liked the IDEA of gardens. But I could never see myself actually, you know, out there in the dirt, gardening. 

The extent of my gardening experience was to buy a couple of pots of tomatoes from Lowes, stick them out on the back porch, and hope I didn't forget to water them.

Then I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. (Side note: Kingsolver's one of my favorite authors. Her novel The Poisonwood Bible is easily in my top ten life-changing books She lectured once at a local university after that book came out, and I missed it --a huge regret!-- so when I saw that she was returning to give a talk about her new book, I was all over it. To attend the talk, you had to buy Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a non-fiction book about... gardening. Not really my thing.)

I loved the book from the very first page. It's a memoir, of sorts, about the year Kingsolver and her family tried to only eat the food they grew themselves (or could purchase from farmers within one hundred miles). There are recipes. Gardening tips. Disturbing facts about the food industry in America. And a hilarious chapter about Barbara crawling around on her knees trying to watch her turkeys mate with each other (apparently, turkeys have been bred NOT to mate and have kinda forgotten how.)

Around the same time I read this book, my family moved from Lexington, Kentucky to Columbus, Ohio, and our new backyard had space for a large garden. I'm not gonna lie, I seriously thought about buying a few turkeys too, but decided to dial back a little on my plans.

Inspired by Barbara, the first order of business was to plant asparagus. See, it takes like, 6 or 7 years to get a good established crop, but it is so worth it to one day be able to stride out into your garden and snap those lovely stalks out of the ground.

I WANTED those asparagus stalks.

You have to plant the rootballs in March, in a trench 18 inches deep, six inches apart. I ordered 24 rootballs. That year, our first winter in Ohio, was stunningly wet and gray and cold. I wheedled my husband into helping me dig the trench. We felt like 18th century Russian peasants out in the mud with our post digger, clomping in the muck, the icy rain misting our faces. The kids were watching us from the warm dry safety of the house, laughing.

"Mom," my son said, shaking his head, and with a look on his face that showed that he clearly thought his father and I were nuts. "You realize that those asparagus won't be ready to pick until I'm away at college?"

I wish I could tell you now, seven years later, that we had a glorious harvest of asparagus.

We didn't.

Something something about soil composition.

Oh well. My son's away at college and I am still gardening. It's a hobby, I guess. Even though I never thought about it this way until I started thinking about what my hobbies are.

I'm not a gardening expert by any stretch of the imagination.

Every year I plan. I plant seeds. I weed. It's a ton of work. But there's something meditative about it. I spend a lot of my time parked inside my house staring at a glowing laptop screen, thinking. Heading out in the garden to attack a weed patch, NOT thinking, is a welcome relief.

I know I am not the first person to see a resemblance between gardening and writing. The planning. The mistakes. The work. The incredible amount of TIME!!

But I do so love the rewards when I just keep digging around in the dirt.

Spring--just planted.
Lots of lettuce and the beginnings of tomatoes, peppers,
eggplant, cucumbers, kale, and green beans
This overgrown mess is what happens when you've been out-of-town and haven't weeded in weeks
Whew! Took care of that.
And looking forward to this year's harvest