Sue Monk Kidd’s “The Invention of Wings”

Wow. I just finished this book and I can’t express how much I enjoyed it. Most recently I’ve leaned toward thrillers and mysteries, having departed from my life-long love affair with what I call “people stories”. In short, the book follows Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave, and Sarah Grimke, one of the daughter’s of the wealthy Mr. Grimke (how I’ve typed and retyped that sentence, trying to allude to their relationship without vile words such as master or owner) as they transition into adulthood and beyond. Based on previous experiences with Sue Monk Kidd’s novels, I had a feeling I would love this one. I did. 

As I’ve been studying the craft of writing, I’ve really tried to focus on what works well in the stories I read, and what doesn’t. The Invention of Wings drew me into the story so well that I forgot to pay attention to my usual checklist, which is pretty remarkable. This is one of those stories that I wanted to hurry up and finish so I knew what happened, but then I found myself lingering toward the final chapters because I didn’t want it to end.

If you haven’t already, obviously I’m suggesting that you read this book.

One thing that did stick in my mind was the seamless way that she switched between the two women’s voices. I always knew which person was telling their story and although she thoughtfully labeled the top of chapters with Sarah or Handful’s names, readers could just as easily do without. How masterful is that? It wasn’t just in the language she used or how they referred to other characters, but also in the way we, the reader, see through the narrator’s lens. Each woman notices different things, even if they’re in the same room with each other. It served as a good reminder that every one of my characters needs to not only have their own voice and agenda, but also to be sensitive or interested in certain things. I may love milkshakes and you just might prefer pie, so of course at a restaurant we’ll order different things. That’s what makes us, as individuals, so amazing. It’s what makes our characters come alive on the page. Knowing a character as Kidd knows hers is pure magic.


Is There a Script for This?

      Life isn’t a book. Or a movie.
     What does that mean or not mean?
     For me, this is a difficult post, because I have conflicting views. It means that life is often ordinary- that I wake up, go to work and shop for groceries and try to squeeze in as much of the stuff I love (spending time with friends and family, writing, baking, running) as possible. It means that I make a point to be grateful for the times in my life that aren’t worthy of a Grammy- when life is peaceful and without drama. When I wake up for work on time and don’t spill coffee all over myself on the way out the door and remember everyone’s birthday.
     Early last year, I went though a major life change and it opened my eyes to all the possibilities in life. I stopped taking everything for granted. So when I say that I appreciate every cup of coffee, I really mean it. I never want to lose that part of myself again- the person who wonders and loves and dances freely.
     While I love these every day moments, I also find myself yearning for something more because I feel like I’ve got a second chance at life. And I’m determined not to waste it. As someone who likes to plan things out, I have found myself slipping back into the tendency of anticipating all the negative outcomes and not necessarily taking into consideration the positive ones or that I will likely be blindsided by some surprises along the way.
     I’m not a character in one of my thrillers, nor is this a romantic comedy. There’s no serial killer after me (God, I hope not), nor is there a knight in shining armor looking to rescue me and I sure haven’t had the fortune of having a flying car. See, as a writer, I’m always looking to find the next trial that my character(s) must face. A few years ago, I started to take that same outlook on my own life, although I didn’t realize it until much later. Recently I remembered that things balance out. There are amazing moments and devastating ones and a lot that float somewhere between the two extremes. Maybe all my dreams will come true. Maybe not. I do know that I’d never keep reading a book if I didn’t have some hope that the character I’d invested so much time in wasn’t going to grow or achieve a dream or find love or win a battle- whatever it is that their personal quest was.
     My goal is to really immerse myself in the living of life. Not everything will go my way, but sometimes things work out better than I plan. No book is entirely void or filled with joy and heartache and the same is true about life.
     I’ve decided that I need to make a new type of ordinary for myself, which is why I’m embarking on the journey of self publishing. I hope I succeed and it’s possible I won’t, but I’ll surely fail if I don’t try. I’ve resolved to leap with faith into things that scare the hell out of me, but will either be extraordinarily fabulous or will be great learning experiences in which I’m challenged, but come out of it stronger (hopefully that includes fabulously challenging times).
     They make Indie films, right? Maybe my life is an indie film… 

Productive Procrastination

     I envy the writer who does not procrastinate. It seems that every time I sit down to write, I remember that laundry needs to be folded, my dog needs to be walked, the baseboards scrubbed, and there’s a sale online…
So it goes. I’ve tried turning off the WiFi on my writing device, keeping my cell phone turned off and in another room and writing on a pad of paper to avoid distractions. I’ve created a dedicated writing space and have a favorite 24-hour coffee shop. I have a writing group that I meet with on a weekly basis to keep me accountable. I’ve learned that it’s okay to say ‘no’ to every invitation I get so that I have time to write.
     Yet with all of the steps I take to make sure I focus on writing, it’s still easy to get distracted. I like going to Happy Hour, hiking outdoors in a rare warm-weather June day in the Pacific Northwest and meeting up with someone for a last-minute game disc golf. It’s also nice to have clean clothes and something to eat while I stare at a blank computer screen and try to conjure up the magic that is a good story.
     Last weekend, I decided to try something different. I did a big grocery shopping trip on a weeknight. I got to bed at a decent hour Friday night and woke up early and naturally Saturday morning. Then I hit the ground running. Literally. I went for a run, took my dog on a looooooonnnnng walk, eating a banana on the way. I popped meat in a crock pot and more in the oven, started a load of laundry and then went out to mow the yard. After I hacked away at some overgrown bushes outside, I swapped out one load of laundry for another and tackled the inside of my house. It took a few hours, but my house was clean, my dog wanted a nap, I had snacks and food pre-made for the coming week and I felt like I’d accomplished a lot.
     Were there still things on my to-do list? Yes. And there always will be. But I’d accomplished quite a few of the every day nagging items. All those things that are in-your-face reminders that while writing you’re neglecting other projects were gone. Did my email and text message notices still ping? Yes. They always will. During NaNoWriMo, I tell everyone that I’m furiously writing and that if they need my attention, to call my phone twice in a row. Then I know it’s important. Everyone understands my reasons and doesn’t abuse the “important” clause. They know that I check my phone during writing breaks- usually every two hours or so- and that I’ll get back to them then if it’s not urgent. I did that this weekend again.
     The results were amazing. I fleshed out my story while I scrubbed my bathtub (because, really, cleaning isn’t all that exciting) and had worked through a plot issue I had been battling for the better part of a week.
     After a few solid hours of writing, I met a good friend at a hole-in-the-wall pub where I was able to people watch and then I headed home where I played with my dog and got ready for date night.
     If you find your daily duties tugging at you, try giving them a set amount of time or decide on one or two specific tasks to accomplish and stick to it. My mother does something she calls “fifty-two pickup,” which is where she does a quick check of the house at night and tidies up. I know a friend that cleans her entire home one morning a week and others who get up an hour before everyone else on weekdays to write or to do household chores. Find what works for you and if what you’re currently doing doesn’t work- change it!