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Posts Tagged ‘books’

  1. Intrigue at the Laundromat

    February 26, 2017 by Diane

    Laundry machines in public laundromat

    I was at the laundromat on a Friday morning washing the big stuff—comforter, mattress cover—the stuff too big to cram into my landlady’s washer. It was just me and three others: a geeky-looking guy with earbuds reading a book on Communism; a woman covered in tattoos sorting through newspapers; and a blonde in a purple pants-suit standing at the dryers.

    While my stuff spun dry, I sat in my car with a clear shot of the laundromat, feet on the dash, reading a detective novel. Suddenly a cop breezed by my open window, marching a young guy in handcuffs straight through the laundromat, past the blonde who fell back a step, and out the door.

    I roused myself. “That was weird,” I said, checking my lumpy load in the dryer. I added a couple more quarters.

    The blonde looked over with worried eyes.

    “You know him?” I said.

    “He’s my fiancé.”

    “Oh. Gosh.”

    The geek and tattooed lady got real fascinated with their reading.

    The blonde looked out at the police car, at the guy in the back seat, his head turned away. She sighed a lot as she folded her sheets. The cop nosed around an RV parked nearby. I figured it belonged to the blonde and her fiancé; maybe they were on their way through town, decided to catch up on laundry and rip off a nearby liquor store. I wanted to know the story, but didn’t want to pry.

    Then again, maybe she needed to talk.

    “Are you okay?” I said. Stupid question.

    “It depends on what happens,” she said.

    I couldn’t read her; did she want a sympathetic ear, or did she want to be left alone? If I was a stranger in town and my fiancé got arrested, I’d want the sympathetic type to sort out the mess in my head. But not everyone wants a fix. An ear, yes. Not a mouth to go with it. So I kept mine shut, and hovered nearby in case she wanted to talk.

    She went back to sighing, snapping her towels as she folded them, occasionally glaring at her fiancé stuck in the heat. Was the cop making him sweat it out? Thirty minutes later, they drove away.

    By then, I had my feet back on the dash.

    The tattooed lady appeared to be doling out the sympathy, leaning one hand on the counter while the blonde folded clothes, nodding. Over the top of his book, the geek’s eyes darted behind hipster glasses.

    Sometimes, when I’m in a public place, I’ll think: what if a couple of thugs wearing ski masks burst through the doors right now waving their guns, ordered everyone to hit the floor, and then tied us up? We’re all strangers, and suddenly we’re bound together.

    I had that thought as I pondered the three I might be bound to, and zeroed in on the tattooed lady. I’d seen her arrive in a beat up four-door. A man dropped her off, staying just long enough to wrestle the heavy basket of dirty clothes from the trunk. Her husband, I’d assumed, or boyfriend, judging by the peck on her lips before he roared off, no doubt to do manly things involving a six-pack and football while she did the woman’s work. That’s the story I spun. Watching her with the blonde, the way she leaned in with legs firmly planted, then rested back against the giant dryer, arms folded, looking like she’d heard it all before, been there before, had come out wiser—she didn’t look like someone who took the backseat to any man. Shows how wrong you can be, judging people.

    I decided if I was held hostage in the laundromat, I’d want the tattooed lady tied to me.

    The next week, I scoured the papers for any mention of the arrest. Evidently it was so uneventful it didn’t warrant a sentence. I don’t like stories that leave me hanging. Why was the kid hauled away in handcuffs? Did the blonde forgive him? Did she bale him out, or leave him sitting in a jail cell while she drove the RV to the Sierras? Maybe the tattooed lady joined her on some wild Thelma and Louise adventure.

    And what about the hipster reading the communist book? There was something big there, something waiting to be discovered.

    If I was a detective, I might nose around some. But I’m a writer. I’ll leave it to my imagination.


  2. Book Review: Hope and Help for Your Nerves

    December 14, 2016 by Diane

    hope-and-help-for-your-nerves

    I don’t know if this book is still in print, but it’s worth scoping around used bookstores to find a copy so you can underline helpful passages. And there’s much to underline here.

    First, Claire Weekes uses the old-fashioned term “nervous illness,” which sounds more tolerable to me than the word anxiety. She takes the shame out of anxiety by referring to the illness as “severe sensitization” of the nervous system. Nerves become sensitized after a surgery, a major illness, prolonged tension, dieting, and whatever stresses the body. The body reacts with the symptoms of anxiety: a churning stomach, sweaty hands, racing heart, etc. These reactions become a habit.

    Second, the author explains every symptom in her no-nonsense yet reassuring tone, taking the fear out of the experience.

    Third, she encourages the reader to face the fearful symptoms, and not add to them through what she calls “second fear”–those worrisome what if thoughts that keep the stomach churning, the palms sweating, the heart racing.

    She reminds us that overcoming a case of sensitization doesn’t happen quickly, but, like any habit, it can be changed. The sufferer can be cured.

    This book, as well as a steady practice of meditation, helped me kick the panic habit. If I overtax myself, or stop taking my “meditation medication” and start becoming sensitized again, I often reach for this book, and Dr. Weekes’ understanding, encouraging voice, to steady my nerves again.


  3. Your Novel Offers One Big Benefit for Readers

    December 4, 2016 by Diane

    I love strolling the neighborhood at dusk, seeing inside the well-lit houses I pass without the occupants seeing me. There’s a family sitting around a dining table. A teenage boy wearing earphones, dancing in a living room. An old woman watching the weatherman on television. I see framed photographs on a pinewood dresser; an iron bed pushed up against a window that’s steamy from the chorizos frying on the stove; a lacy curtain turned gray. Glimpses of lives being lived.

    Rooms reveal something about the people who live within. Are the walls bare and painted a peach hue, or adobe white, cluttered with photographs? Are the furnishings leather and chrome, cast-offs from the flea market, or Scandinavian minimalist? And the house itself, is it battleship gray, sunny yellow, or dull as mud? Is the yard mowed or overgrown, fenced, or unfenced with flagstones leading to the front door? Did someone plant tulips along the walkway, or vegetables in wooden boxes? Is there a sign on the gate: Beware of Dog, or does a cat slumber on a window sill?

    On my evening walks, I view the world through the lens of a writer. I yearn for a home of my own, to be sharing a meal with family. I empathize with the woman alone in front of the TV–could that be me in twenty years? Wait, don’t close the curtains, I’m not done looking.

    I spy on people.

    It’s not what I do in life, but it’s something I do.

    What do you do?

    When meeting someone for the first time, we’re often asked: “What do you do?” Leil Lowndes, the author of How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships, suggests phrasing your answer in a way that says: “Here’s how my life can benefit yours.” She gives these examples:

    Instead of real estate agent, say: “I help people moving into our area find the right home.”

    Instead of hairdresser: “I help a woman find the right hairstyle for her particular face.”

    Instead of financial planner: “I help people plan their financial future.”

    What about fiction writers? How does our work benefit the lives of others?

    Here’s an answer:

    As readers, aren’t we spying on imaginary people? We peer into their lives, listen in on their thoughts, watch their most intimate moments, shadow them through their days. We part the curtains of a book, and lose ourselves in the lives of the characters within. By observing how they think through their problems, and what actions they take to overcome obstacles, we learn to navigate the real world.

    As writers, how do we help readers satisfy that itch to spy? Here are three tips, with exercises to practice:

    1. Engage the reader through their senses

    By choosing a few specific sensory details that describe person, place, and thing, the better the reader can “see” the world they’ve entered. In other words: show, don’t tell. He isn’t mad at his wife; he stiffens his shoulders, sets his jaw, and slams out the door. She isn’t trying to get the boy’s attention at school; she’s tapping her pencil against her binder, reaching out one toe and nudging his calf. The car isn’t old and messy; there’s dog hair on the upholstery, McDonald’s wrappers on the floor. The radio sputters between a Spanish station and Big Band music, and the air smells like French Fries.

    Don’t overload the reader’s senses (something I need to watch out for in my own work); allow room for the reader to engage their own imaginations.

    Practice: Write a scene using sensory details only.

    2. Let the reader in on the character’s thought process

    Readers don’t want the kind of detail provided on Facebook—this is what I’m having for dinner—unless that’s crucial to a scene. If a character’s inner monologue doesn’t move the story along or reveal something about the thinker, it doesn’t belong.

    Readers want to know what’s going on behind a character’s facade. What is the character wrestling with? How do they sort through options? How do they deal with depression, anxiety, or fear? How do they really feel?

    Practice: Write the inner monologue of a nervous man or woman getting ready for a date. Why is this person nervous?

    3.  Hold the reader’s interest through conflict

    Why do we tune into bad news on television? Why, when driving past an accident, do we slow down to look? Why do we gossip? Why do we watch someone on YouTube get slammed in the crotch by a baseball? We want to see the reaction to whatever horrible thing has happened. We want to see how people survive, how they handle getting knocked down, how they band together, how they process bad news. We want to see how rotten life can get for someone else, and how, against all odds, that person rises up. It makes our own lives seem better.

    Practice: Write a scene where something bad happens to a character. Use action, dialogue, and inner monologue to show the character’s reaction, and how they fight to overcome the obstacle. Include a few sensory details to bring the scene to life.

    Remember: outside the window of every work of fiction, there’s a reader peering in. It’s up to writers to open the curtains wide.