Nyah nyah nyah.

Last week the manager of the neighborhood HEB told me the store no longer accepts checks written with pink ink. They would take mine this time, but in the future

What a shame. I’ve always thought my colored ink–especially the pink–added a certain flair to my checks. I imagined it made people in the back office happy to see pink ink. I believed my checks provided a bright moment in their dreary numerical lives.

I wheeled groceries to my car thinking of Amy, my first paralegal instructor, who said she signed everything in purple. I wondered whether the Bexar County District Clerk has since told her to stop it.

But I digress.

Act III of Shakespeare's Hamlet: King Claudius...
Act III of Shakespeare’s Hamlet: King Claudius and the theater. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We now return to grocery store, where we are reminded that Shakespeare’s themes are indeed universal, and that perfectly nice people still suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and bear the Oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s Contumely, the insolence of Office, and–especially–the Spurns that patient merit of the unworthy takes. To wit:

Yesterday I wrote another check to HEB–in black ink this time–for $48.26; but on the second line I spelled out forty-six. I considered voiding the check and writing another, but instead struck through the six, wrote eight above it, and initialed the change. I also wrote my phone and drivers license numbers. Handing the check and my license to the cashier, I said, “I made a correction. Is that all right?”

The cashier looked at my check. She looked at my license. She looked at me. At the license. At me. At the check…and so on, back and forth. I wished she would stop.

Just when I was on the verge of offering to write another check, or, better yet, pulling out my credit card, she said, “You didn’t spell this right.”


“It needs an h.”

She pointed to the word eight.

“It’s spelled correctly,” I said. It had an h. Adding another would have made it eighth.

She looked at me, looked at the check. Examining the check, she appeared confused, but the looks she gave me were accusing. Frown. Narrowed eyes. You know the look I’m talking about.

Now I was on the verge of saying, I have known how to spell eight since I was seven years old, so there! But again I remained silent.

Finally she hit on a solution. She set the check on the counter, dotted the i, and went over the word, tapping each letter with the point of her pen. Then she said, “Okay,” ran the check through the little machine thingy, and handed me the receipt. I gathered my groceries and left.

It was fortunate our conversation ended there, because I’d been on the verge of saying, In fifth grade, I won the district University Interscholastic League spelling and plain writing contest with a perfect paper, which means I closed all my o‘s and a‘s and made the k‘s and l‘s taller than the t‘s and d’s, AND I dotted all the i’s. And I didn’t misspell eight.

Walking across the parking lot, I once more noted my unfortunate resemblance to Frasier. I didn’t go to Harvard, but I know how to spell eight, and I left the i undotted for aesthetic reasons. Nyah nyah nyah.

Loving Molly

Author Susan Woodring’s post “This Writer’s Wish List: A Love Story” has been on my mind since I read it two days ago. I can’t make it go away.

Susan Woodring (short story)
Susan Woodring (short story) (Photo credit: suzanne carey)

It sticks with me because what Woodring says is true. Uncomfortably so.

She says if we write because we want something–wealth, fame, a room of our own, shoes–we’re destined to fail.

To write well, we have to ask what the story wants. We must write out of love.

I have at times worked according to the love principle: when I wrote an eight-chapter satire on life in the teachers’ lounge; my first couple of short stories;  a segment of the Mystery in Four Parts for the annual Austin Sisters in Crime celebration; the daily assignments for the retreat in Alpine last year; the very first, and unspeakably horrible, draft of Molly; every post that appears on this blog. The less the product matters, the more I’m willing to consent to its requests, and the more I love to write.

My Friday critique partner and I even wrote the love principle into the title of our partnership. Recognizing that publication would not be a slam-dunk, we lowered our expectations–or as my thesis advisor once recommended, modified our aspirations–and named ourselves the Just for the Hell of It Writers. 

Somewhere along the way, however, I meandered away from the ideal. I focused on getting it right the first time, being perfect, failing to trust that something would come from nothing. I wandered away from the playground and haven’t found my way back.

While wandering, I suggested to CP that we change our name to something more serious, more business-like, a name we could take out of our tote bags and flash around at writing conferences, a name that would look good on our resumes. After much discussion, we chose Waterloo Writers. We even voted. The motion passed unanimously, 2-0.

Ah, the pomp and the circumstance. One could almost hear the strains of “Land of Hope and Glory” replacing Willie Nelson from BookPeople’s speakers overhead.

(Epiphany: As I write this, a Frasier marathon, compliments of Netflix, plays on TV. I just realized I am a Frasier. Uptight. Perfectionistic. OCD. No wonder I’m not having fun.)

Anyway, I haven’t loved Molly for quite a while. I haven’t asked what she wants, and I’ve ignored her attempts to tell me. Even when she’s yelling. She yells a lot, all day every day. And at night when I’m trying to sleep. I can’t make her–or her passel of friends–shut up. No one else hears them.

Ignoring the cacophony takes energy. And sugar. Today the shouting was so intense I plowed right through the sticky, cloying chocolate thingies my husband bought at Wal-Mart to take to work for lunch. Enough for the next two days, he thought. Tonight, to make amends, I baked brownies, which I have already sampled. If I go to bed soon, they have a chance of lasting till morning.

Obviously sugar isn’t working. It never does.

Giving up isn’t an option either. In the words of another critique partner–one I consider my mentor–“Writing is part of my condition.” I may stray from the rule, but never from the desire. The voices in my head keep clamoring, and there’s just one way to calm them.

For this writer’s brand of schizophrenia, the only effective drug is the one Susan Woodring prescribes: love.

Plus, I would add, equal measures of faith and hope. The three have a history of joyful collaboration.


Susan Woodring’s latest novel is Goliath (St. Martin’s, 2012). She lives in North Carolina. More information about Susan and her books is available on her blog.


Picture of Susan Woodring by Suzanne Carey, via Flickr, CC BY- NC 2.0.

Goliath cover from Susan Woodring’s blog. 

If You Don’t Love a Character…

L-R: Robin Allen, Kaye George, Janice Hamrick, Hopeton Hay

Sunday’s Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas Chapter presented a New Authors panel: Robin Allen (If You Can’t Stand the Heat: Stick a Fork in It), Kaye George (Choke; Smoke), and Janice Hamrick (Death on Tour; Death Makes the Cut). Hopeton Hay, host of KAZI Book Review, served as moderator.

Here, listed in no particular order and attributed to no particular panelist, are the tips I gleaned from the discussion:

  • If you don’t love a character, get him out of your manuscript.
  • Characters don’t always behave.
  • Publishing the first book makes writing the second easier.
  • There is no one correct way to write a book.
  • Characters come to life during the writing, not during the outlining.
  • Write characters worthy of subplots; they will carry the book.
  • Writing is torture.
  • Writing is necessary for good mental health.
  • Sexual tension between characters is hard to sustain over time, but marriage ends things.
  • Publishers encourage authors to have a social media presence.
  • Publishers discourage authors from having a social media presence.
  • Publishers don’t market books.
  • Authors must actively market in order to sell books.
  • Without limitations on time, it’s easy to screw around all day.
  • Agents don’t know everything.
  • Plot in advance but be willing to change the plan.
  • Writers who pants successfully have a lot of the plot in their heads.
  • Not everyone needs to write daily.
  • Sometimes a character disappears without telling the writer where he’s gone.
  • Writing a novel requires large blocks of time.
  • Writing a novel can be done in twenty-minute segments.
  • Experience makes a difference.
  • Establish a writing calendar.
  • An excellent manuscript doesn’t ensure publication.

Locomotive: And the Winners Are…

About an eon ago, I posted the picture above with the following promise:

“The first person to leave a comment identifying the picture above will win a copy of Kaye George’s CHOKE.”

Five readers (bless their hearts) commented; none identified the picture correctly.

Consequently–ALL of them win a copy of CHOKE.

If the following–

–will e-mail me your mailing addresses, I will send each of you a copy of Kaye’s book.

E-mail me at kathywaller1 at gmail.com.

And thank you for commenting.

As for the picture–within the next seven days, I’ll tell you all about it.

Every Word Is a New Idea

Ground Zero, October 2009

“We say that our way of life was attacked on September 11. What we mean is that our words were attacked — our sauntering, freewheeling, raucous, stumbling, unbridled, unregulated, unorthodox words. All that we are in this country came out of words — 18th century words, 19th century words — which in turn wend their way back into a past that existed long before the first sentence of the Book of John. Every word is a new idea, and there is nothing like a new idea to counteract the stony madness of fanatics. If a man spends enough time in a library, he may actually change his mind. I have seen it happen.”

from “Ground Zero” by Roger Rosenblatt, Time, May 25, 2002

At Sharechair: New Kindles Announced by Amazon

English: Amazon Kindle DX Graphite displaying ...
Amazon Kindle DX Graphite displaying Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’d like to know more about the new Kindle Paperwhite–and the older versions as well–check out Sharechair: Everyday Technology for Everyday Folks.

“I will highlight these products here, and try to give you an overview without getting you overloaded with details you probably don’t want to know.”  

New Kindles Announced by Amazon.


Image of Kindle made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication. 

She Likes Me, She Really… Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Snoozing chimp
Snoozing chimp (Photo credit: World of Oddy). [Not my cousin MV]
I’m sharing a hotel room with my cousin MV following this afternoon’s bridal shower for our great-niece and this evening’s dinner with great-niece’s grandfather.

(Don’t waste time on the relationships. Only the cousinship applies here.)

MV crawled into bed early, turned on the TV, and channel surfed, but could find nothing interesting.

“I need someone to read me a story,” she said.

I volunteered to read the latest version of my Molly manuscript. She said something like, “Oh goody.”

Booting up the laptop, I located “The Definitive Summer 2012 Version” (so named to distinguish it from the other 3,243 Molly files) and crawled onto the queen-sized bed opposite hers. And I began to read.

I had reached the last paragraph of page 11 when I heard snoring.

Could this be, I thought, an omen?

And if an omen, is it good or bad?

I never stood on ceremonies, but–when your own blood kin, whom you’ve known for over half a century (wow!), whose infants you fed and diapered and lugged around as if they were your favorite baby dolls, for whom you served as target for the all the slings and arrows of outrageous cousinhood she let fly–like the time she was visiting you and she got all wasp-stung picking Kentucky Wonder beans off Mr. Armentrout’s fence and went to bed with an ice pack on her hand and in the middle of the night she laid it on your mid-section just to see what you would do and you were only sixteen and she was thirty and old enough to know better–well, when your own blood kin can’t stay awake to see what happens at the end of chapter one, then you might do well to find something to take the place of novelizing. Like playing Bookworm for eight hours straight without guilt rather than with it.

So. I sat for a while in contemplation, and then I emailed several friends for opinions on the omen question, and then I checked what’s happening on Facebook. And about the time I got to the fifth cat picture of the evening, I had remembered several circumstances that might be called extenuating:

1. MV liked the very first draft I wrote and keeps telling me I’ve ruined it and I need to toss all my (years of) revisions and bring back the original. It’s nowhere near publishable, but she liked it.

2. She laughed at all the right places, or most of them, while she was awake.

3. She’d had a long day and was tired.

4. She might have been motivated by revenge because I told her she was old. Which I’ve done several times on this trip. Like when she wanted to lift my suitcase onto the luggage rack for me. I mean, my doctor has referred to me as an “older person,”* but she’s been eligible for the senior citizen breakfast at IHOP for years. And just minutes ago, at midnight, she racked up another birthday.

In short, it’s possible her untimely entry into the land of Nod is a non-ominous omen, having zilch to do with literary criticism, and therefore no reason to get my knickers in a twist.

I’ll interpret it that way anyhow.

About paragraph #9, above, MV woke up and walked to the refrigerator for a bottle of water. On the way back to bed, she noticed me sitting on the sofa where I am still parked, composing.

“You’re not going to want to get up in the morning,” she said.

“I never do,” I replied.

She didn’t ask what I was doing, so I didn’t tell her I’m writing about her. I didn’t tell her about the photo I’d already chosen to illustrate this piece either. She’ll find out soon enough.

She’ll also learn what happens to kinfolk who fall asleep during a dramatic reading of Kathy’s Perfectly Polished Prose.


Happy Birthday, Mary Veazey!


* But he did it only once.


Photo of Snoozing Chimp by World of Oddy via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).