Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Blogger Goblins

Maybe a better name for this post would be Blogger Demons. I should market bumper stickers that say "Got Demons?" and sell them at writers' conferences. I bet I'd make a fortune.

Yes, all of us writers have demons. Lots of 'em. Under different disguises. For some people, the mother of all demons is WRITER'S BLOCK. I know a writer who is so superstitious about this that he won't even say the phrase aloud. In fact, he gave me a book that contained those two words in the title, and taped the letter C over the B in the second word, thus changing the work to a discourse about Writer's Clock. Of course, he's heavily involved in theater, so I could probably scare four years off his life by walking up behind him and whispering "MacBeth" in his ear.

But demons come in all shapes and sizes. I have heard some successful writers talk about theirs, and I'm always blown away by what occurs to some people. I heard a best-selling author (believe me, you'd know his name, but it's not my place to air his confidences) once talk about his constant fear of not being able to write past page 40. That he would come to that particular page number and the book would be finished because he'd run out of plot points. I know a Young Adult/Middle Grade writer, also a best-seller, who worries that he is too old to write what he does, and that what he says will have no meaning for his target audience. Also clearly not the case, as he continues to sell and sell and sell.

My particular demons jump out of the floorboards and dance around the computer desk when I confront the blank screen and the blinking cursor. There are times I look at the screen and then get up and walk away. Coward! the demons hiss after me, chortling with glee. I come back eventually, and they start up again at once. On a good day, I can kick them all back into their little box under the floorboards, but there are other times... Well, best left to the imagination.

The blog goblin is the one that leers at me at the beginning of every week and says "What are you going to write about this time?" as he swings from his perch on the door to my office and hangs upside down. "You haven't got any idea, do you?" And he cackles.

If I could throw things at this little creep, I'd do it. But of course, if I start throwing things at the door to my office, my husband would have a fit about the damage done. And possibly have me hauled away by ambulance. So my battles remain internal, a struggle to find an interesting topic while munching on way too many Hershey miniatures and perhaps the odd bag of chips.

Today, the little hobgoblins have given me a topic simply by existing. Next week, I won't be so lucky. But maybe by then my muse will have come back from her 20-year trek through Everywhere-Else-But-Here and handed me a worthy idea. In the meantime, back to the Hershey bars. I wonder if goblns eat chocolate?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Ghosts + History = Magic

Some years ago, I was in a college class and the subject of THE BIG earthquake in Missouri came up. Most of the class had never heard about it and the instructor herself was not sure of the year, but I knew it. 1812. (Actually, it was December, 1811 through January, 1812 since it was a series of upheavals, but I was close enough.) And why did I know that date? Because of a ghost story I had read during childhood.

Recently, while doing my "research" and immersing myself in the paranormal reality shows on SyFy, Biography, A & E, TLC, and the History Channel, I started taking notes simply because I was learning not only history, but lots of little factoids that tend to stimulate the writer in me. For instance:

- Casket plates were metal plates that were attached the tops of caskets as identifiers during the winter when the ground was too frozen to dig graves. Since the caskets were stored in a community location, the plates were helpful in keeping the remains of loved ones organized. (Some people collect these things- would you???)

- In the 19th century, there was such a thing as a "baby farm", where illegitimate and otherwise unwanted babies and youngsters were placed. As is so often the tragic case with this sort of thing, the babies were sometimes killed and the poison of choice was arsenic, because its symptoms mimic cholera.

-  I now know of at least two man-made lakes, Norfork Lake in Arkansas, and Table Rock Lake in Missouri. Creating Norfork Lake entailed flooding 400 farms, numerous small towns, and also required moving 26 cemeteries. I have been to Table Rock Lake: when the water is still, you can see some of the buildings down at the bottom. Very eerie.

-  Phenobarbitol was used to treat epilepsy in the 1930's and '40's.

- James Thurber lived in a haunted house at one time and wrote about it in his book of short stories, My Life and Hard Times.

I could go on much longer, but I'm sure you all get the idea. It's amazing how much history you can pick up reading and watching ghost stories! When I was a kid, I loved tales of haunted locations, and learned smatterings of history along the way. As an adult, I've also learned to love history. When the two come together - for me, it's positively magic.

(This piece was previously published at the blog Young Adults You've Never Heard Of .)