"I write so that my handful of pebbles, cast into still waters, will create a ripple."

Monday, January 14, 2013

15 Lessons about Playing Solitaire

Every writer I know plays Solitaire while they’re waiting for inspiration or coming down from the natural high of being “in the zone.” It occurred to me this morning that most of life’s lessons apply to Solitaire.

  1. Sit up straight, don’t slump.
  2. Don’t assume anything.
  3. Luck is passive. Winning because of our skill feels better.
  4. Don’t be greedy. Nobody wins every hand.  
  5. Be careful what you ask for. The hand that lets you use every single card in the initial lay-out will leave you out of options.
  6. Trust your instincts, but heighten them by living in the moment
  7. Don’t get pompous. More great hands are lost for lack of a low face card than a king.
  8. The round may start out easy, but every game has its rough patches.
  9. Forgive yourself for being an idiot.
  10. Sometimes you get a second chance.
  11. God doesn’t answer every prayer.
  12. The game isn’t over until it’s over.
  13. When you don’t feel elation over winning, it’s not a game anymore.
  14. It’s addiction if you have to hide it from others.  
  15. Try other games in the list  
I'm sure this list could go on forever. How about you? Do you have one to add? 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Writing with George

On the whole human beings want to be good, but not too good, and not quite
all the time. - George Orwell

I found this quote somewhere last week and it cracked me up. By coincidence, I’m working on a novel with this theme.

In my novel I channel a middle-age Mexican man with self-doubts. Preliminary readers say it works, and I’ll bask in the glow until my editor gets her copy. By implied consent she gets to say it doesn’t unless I can convince us both that my way works. One thing we never disagree about are the details I tuck into the story.   

My favorite part of writing is developing a character. It’s the same for actors, in that we become our characters. For me, the best part is asking myself the nuanced questions that go beyond the “who, what, where, why and how” that some writing books suggest. Fleshing out a character always happens after the first draft, like when I used to sit across a cafe table with Robert, a friend who reads my early iterations. He’d ask me things like, “What is the lighting like in Esquival’s cantina?”

I’d answer without taking time to think about it, “It’s an ancient wagon wheel from the wood hauler’s oxcart. After the ox died at the age of twenty-six, the owner had no further use for the cart. A week before he died, he bartered the wheel for a few day’s worth of pulque and drank himself into a place where old men could still find purpose.
My friend would blink, expressionless, and continue. “What does the front door look like?”

 “A heavy wooden door in the brilliant blue of the Virgin of Guadalupe’s robes, painted by the owner’s wife so everyone will know she is a righteous woman and a Catholic. Above the arch she added six gold stars that have kept their color even as the door has faded. Although it can no longer compete with the shouting lavender of the Jehovah’s Witness Hall at the edge of town, it is of no matter. The color satisfies her.”

Now Robert has moved away and the cafĂ© sessions are no more. Now I ask myself these questions as I write.  I’ve learned that the best details define the characters that own them. Every accessory serves the purpose of moving the story forward. Nothing gets in without carrying its own weight.

And, surprisingly, they all seem to have something to say about the struggle of man (or woman) to be good—but not too good and not all the time.