On Losing a Friend

Fran was usually the first person I’d see after checking in at the YMCA’s front desk. She kept the place clean, especially the ladies’ locker room, but she did so much more than push a mop or a cleaning rag. She was the finder of lost things, the smile and joke I needed after a bad day, the shoulder to cry on after a really bad day. I went through a rough patch about nine years ago when I hurt my back and slipped into clinical depression and a major fibromyalgia flare. I knew I needed exercise; it had always helped me before. My physical therapist advised a return to activity, that I should get out and see people. But simply leaving my house seemed like a monumental task. I tired just thinking about walking across the parking lot, changing into a bathing suit, changing afterward.

Fran not only took care of me when I was there, she took care of all of us, like the self-appointed den mother to the ladies of the YMCA. She fastened the straps of my suit when I didn’t have enough flexibility to reach them. She listened and hugged me while I poured out my frustrations, from losing my job to having to learn how to walk again. When I passed out from a combination of a too-hot shower, a new medication, and the twenty pounds I lost while I was ill, Fran was the first one there with a cold cloth for my forehead.

She had been one of the few to notice my improvement. “I see you getting better,” she said. “I see you making eye contact and stuff. That’s a good sign, right there.”

One day when I came into the locker room, well after my recovery, Fran turned from what she was doing and flashed me a broad smile that showed the missing teeth on the right side. “I got somethin’ for you, chick-chick,” she said. She called all the women “chick-chick” or “chickie.” Then she gave me a pair of flip-flops she bought for a dollar at the mall, because she saw I didn’t have any.

I was heartbroken when the Y let her go last year in favor of an outside cleaning service. The place was never the same: the warmth, the chickies, and the Fran-ness were gone. It certainly isn’t any cleaner, either. Fran’s chicks were angry that the Y had done her dirty, and we were worried for her, that without purpose, without feeling needed, her health, already not the greatest, would fail.

And as we’d feared, it happened. We still don’t know the exact cause of her sudden death, but just a look passed among the ladies in the locker room spoke volumes: her heart had been broken, too.

The last time I saw Fran was at a potluck supper our aqua-jogging instructor hosted in her honor. It was a beautiful day and we were laughing, drinking sangria, and making jokes that we barely recognized each other with our clothes on. She always laughed the loudest. That’s what I want to remember about our chick-chick.


Sliding Past Vertical Entered in Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards!

SlidingPastVertical300Hi, folks!

I just entered Sliding Past Vertical into the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards contest, and blatantly stealing paying homage to a brilliant idea by author Charles Ray, I’d love to share a preview of my entry here.

I’m always open to feedback if you’d like to provide it.

Good luck to my author friends who have or will be entering. You have until March 2 or until they reach their quota or we break the website, one or the other. Have a great day!

Top 5 Ways to Beat Crazy-Writer Syndrome

Why, just the other day I was having the most inspired conversation with one of my stuffed penguins when…yes. I can completely relate to DV Berkom’s blog about CWS. And you should have been a fly on the wall when I asked a local police detective the street value of a baseball-sized bag of cocaine. Because I’m a writer and I need to know these things, okay? (It helps if you smile sweetly and have gray hair.)

DV Berkom Books

Welcome to CT I’ve been writing full-time for a while now, and I seem to have fallen into a comfortable routine of home days (two days during the week where I do nothing but stay home and write) and away days, or days that I have other stuff I have to do that takes me away from a full day of writing. I’m still able to make my word count (usually) on those days, but I also get to go out into the real world and pretend I have a life.

At first I looked forward to those two home days, mentally rubbing my hands together in gleeful anticipation of a long, unhurried stretch of time to spend with my work in progress. Uninterrupted hours in which to concentrate on putting words to page, staring out the window and planning the next scene, completely immersing myself in the world of my characters and…

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The problem is…

Typewriter - Once upon a time…I don’t know how to not write. I go into a kind of fugue state when I finish the first draft of a manuscript. Intellectually, I know I’m done for now. I’ve reached the end of the story, and I know to tuck it in the drawer and come back with enough perspective so I can wave my little magic wand and rewrite the kinks out of it.

But in my heart I want to keep playing with it. I want to write the backstory to the big first kiss that started it all. I want to do more character work; I want to know MORE. I want to go back into that document and clean up those messy lines I left. Around ten thirty, eleven at night, I get this pang. Because that’s when Charlie, my protagonist, wants to sit down with a few fingers of scotch, play his Frank Sinatra albums, and tell me stories. I miss him. I know that I’ll be with this universe of characters for six, seven, eight drafts. It’s not like I have to say goodbye right now. And maybe when I do that rewriting I’ll need to write new material and I’ll need to call on him again. (I do love when that happens!) But for now, I need the separation. I need the break. My writing mind is tired and needs to do other things.

Okay, I cried. It feels that real to me.

Maybe the novel isn’t the only thing that needs perspective. Maybe I do, too. I love my work, editing and writing, and the three months I spent working on the first draft of this story have been intensely rewarding and a continual surprise. I learned that I can (sort of) work from an outline. That I can (sort of) write a sequel. And that (maybe) I can write from the POV of several people I will never be. Although sitting in front of the keyboard day and night not only makes this Jill a dull girl but also means forking out extra for chiropractic adjustments.

So I’ll take my break. At least from this story. And then I’ll come back to my people, pour a virtual scotch, and see where they take me next.