Monday, October 24, 2005

Hi Jean!

My Not-Quite-Daily Blog

It's fun to see you beginning your life-as-a-blogger. Tell us how your right brain/left brain thing gets resolved: financial planning and novel writing!
Tracy Dunham

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Pruning and transplanting

Tracy Dunham

The weather has once more lured me away from my desk. Yes, I admit it, I've been getting dirty and sweaty playing in the garden. Azaleas needing more sun, my poor drought-stricken Alberta spruces, the Acubas that craved a trim - I shoveled and planted, transplanted and tossed, snipped and trimmed, adding to the compost heap and a renewed yard regime for a whole day. What fun. The rosemary went to a new spot in the back, having taken over the herb garden, and I pulled a few more tomatoes off the vines. The basil, chive, mint, and oregano all are thriving in this Indian Summer weather that should, by all rights, have ended weeks ago. I planted over a hundred new tulip bulbs to add color to a boring corner. I can't wait for spring to see how my rearranging works out.

It's a bit like writing - everything needs a good pruning, a judicious trim, a little more color by the second draft. The third draft adds more shape, gets rid of the dead wood. The best part is, thinking about a work in progress and seeing its holes, its strong parts, what needs to go, what needs reworking, is always easier when I'm disgustingly filthy, dirt caking my knees and under my nails, playing in the garden.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

On the Road

Tracy Dunham
A long car trip is, in some ways, my idea of heaven and hell mixed together. Seeing sunsets without city lights, mountain ranges misted with rain, barns falling into fields shoulder-high with weeds going to seed, I soak it all in and store it away for future use. In a book, of course. I read authors I normally wouldn't, stretched out on hotel beds I don't find comfortable, missing my family nest at home. I found a couple of writers I'm going to add to my "must read everything she writes" list. That, and new sights, are some compensation for leaving home.

The other "up side" is that I'm outside my comfort zone. The downside is, I'm outside my comfort zone. Physically and intellectually. Knowing I'll be going home gives me the freedom to pretend this is where I'm from, this is the vista I see every day from my bedroom window, when in fact, it isn't. This illusion mixes into the recipe for a book, adding to its spices and giving it a flavor I might have missed. I like that.

Going home is heaven. My own sheets. My own kitchen window with the cat pouncing on its sill, yelling at me to fill his bowl. For days, though, I carry pictures in my head of a black ribbon of road, twirling around mountains, valleys cut by rivers running faster than the Chrysler's speed limit.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Bump Drafting

Tracy Dunham
Nah, the title doesn't mean a draft manuscript filled with rough patches. Actually, it's a term that's come into use in the past five years or so to describe what happens at Talladega Speedway during the races. Yesterday's Cup chase (you all know I'm a diehard NASCAR fan, right?) was filled with terrifying wrecks and some pretty upset drivers. Those who cartwheeled down the track (Michael Waltrip and Scott Riggs, I think it was) were more calm than Elliot Sadler (a good Virginia boy if ever there was one) after Jimmie Johnson stuck his nose under Elliot's bumper and tossed him out of the pack like a broken cookie. Waltrip and Riggs were probably just grateful to be alive. I was grateful for them, and for the safety of everyone else who got caught up in the melees and lost cars. Very expensive cars.

It's said fans love Talladega because of the spectacular wrecks. Me, I love nose-to-nose racing, the kind you see when Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin are door-to-door and respectful enough to race cleanly. It's like reading a clean manuscript - I love it when art and craft mesh as they do when Rusty and Mark are on the track and having fun racing each other. No bumps needed. Some writers seem to prefer literary bumps, full-throttle-hit-the-reader-over-the-head-with-gory-stuff, as opposed to a solid, clean story. I just finished a book in which the opening chapter contains a gruesome murder. The murder, it turns out, isn't the mystery, and is, in fact, a mere "oh, by the way," solved quickly and too easily at the end of the book. I was as upset as Elliot Sadler after he was bumped out of the race yesterday. I wanted to be vested in solving the murder in the first chapter, kept hoping the clues were leading there, only to find out it was unnecessary to the mystery. Writers need to respect their readers, just as NASCAR drivers need to respect each other.

Most writers, and most drivers, do.