Writing by Fridge Light

December 5, 2018

fridge light

The naked truth, as told on Jungle Red Writers

With my newest middle-grade novel, Finchosaurus, just published, it’s time for me to start something new. Way past time. Unfortunately, I’m not the sort of writer with more ideas than I have time to execute. If you’re one of those people, I hate you. Just kidding. But I am jealous. Because my idea-creation mode is more the “pulling teeth” variety.

That’s why I wasn’t about to let an idea escape, one recent night. I’d been trying to come up with a new character, but she wasn’t fully formed. So I set myself the task of thinking about her while I slept, hoping my nighttime brain could do what my daytime brain hadn’t. Hoping I would wake in the morning with an idea.

I woke up only a couple of hours later. Maybe the cat was making her weird “let me out” noises. But for whatever reason, I was awake, and I did have an idea. Good, I thought, I’ll write that down in the morning, and I drifted back to sleep.

I woke again. Same idea, with another twist. That could work, I thought, and went back to sleep.

For the third time, I woke up. My brain: Do Not Forget. There’s the girl, there’s the twist. Me: Yes, I promise I’ll remember. Back to sleep, but not for long. Soon I was awake for the fourth time, knowing there was no way out: I had given my brain a job and my brain had done the job. Now it wouldn’t let me go back to sleep. Resigned, I got out of bed. Unfortunately, I seemed to have shed my pajamas during the night. I was stark naked.

I wanted to get the idea down on paper. I did not want to wake up any more than I had to by doing things like getting dressed, or turning on the lights, especially because the blinds were up, and we live in the city.

That’s how I came to find myself crouching on the kitchen floor, scribbling notes by the light of the open fridge door. Writing just enough to convince my brain that it could let me sleep now. I don’t know if this idea will turn into a book, but I hope so. Because this character has persistence! She woke me up four times to say, Write about me! So, I’ll try. After all, it’s not every day—or night—I get an idea.


Best day job for a writer?

October 3, 2017

PPL 06 exterior Robert Benson photographyEven though “She’s closing up the library!” was a dark fate best avoided in “It’s A Wonderful Life,” I think working at the Portland Public Library is pretty wonderful.

Photo by Robert Benson

Sorry I scavenged through your garbage, kid.

February 14, 2016

I don’t normally scavenge through other people’s garbage, but there was good reason to go through the bags my kid was throwing out: Money.

At $2.70 per bag in our city of Portland, it would cost some $16 to toss the half dozen bags she would put out after a big end-of-summer room cleaning.

I had my doubts that the bags actually contained what we call “garbage-garbage.” In fact, I was pretty sure that many of them were full of things we could put out for free in the recycling bin.

It might have been the boxy shapes clearly showing through the plastic bags that tipped me off. Boxy shapes that were, in fact, empty shoe boxes.

I began routinely going through the bags after these big cleans. Cardboard boxes were broken down and recycled, and schoolbooks (oh, the shame! But at least she was cleaning her room) got returned to the schools. And the notebooks got adopted by me.

Every fall we had dutifully bought notebooks for her classes. And every summer these partially-used notebooks, with varying amounts of perfectly good paper still left inside them, were thrown away. Apparently my kid hadn’t taken to heart her great-grandmother’s saying that, “every piece of paper has two sides,” a motto to live by if I ever heard one, along with my personal favorite, “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

I was happy to model these mottos by using the old notebooks. While I do much of my writing on the computer, I still like pen and paper for scribbling notes and first drafts.

It seemed especially apt that I should use my kid’s cast-off notebooks to draft my books because in some sense, my books are written for the reader she was.

Even though she had taught herself to read by leafing through picture books, she was a “reluctant reader.” Very few books grabbed her. She wasn’t going to ask for another chapter if the last one hadn’t ended with a darn good reason to turn the page.

Reading aloud to her, I became a better writer. Now I have three novels for elementary school-age readers published, and a fourth in the works.

But soon I’ll need a new source of paper. School is college now. The going-back-to-school room cleanings don’t yield as many garbage bags, and they aren’t filled with paper or cardboard anymore. Once I discovered that the bags were just full of “garbage-garbage,” I stopped going through them. And I guess this should make me happy. She’s recycling! She’s at college!

But as I near the end of the last notebook, I’m feeling sad. Her first name and last initial is on the front cover in permanent marker: Zora K.

I want to say, Thanks, Zora. Thanks for letting me read to you when you were young. Thanks for making me a better writer. Thanks for the treasures you left in unexpected places.

from the Maine Sunday Telegram



My Latest Crush

October 21, 2015


I’ve got all the signs. I can’t stop thinking about her. I neglect duties to spend time with her. I stay up past my bedtime to hear what she has to say. Yep, I’ve got it bad: an author crush.

Happily, I’m not crushing on a “debut novelist,” left wondering if she will write another book I like as well but on the well-published Maggie Stiefvater. I’ve only just discovered and sped through “The Raven Boys.” Now I’m beginning the next book in her Raven Cycle, knowing a third is ready and waiting and a fourth will be coming out in the spring of 2016.

A legend of a Welsh king, secrets, dreams, and prophecies are all woven together in Stiefvater’s fast-paced prose. Her equally strong male and female characters—four boys from a private school and a girl from a family of psychics—make this a story that can’t be reduced to a “girl book” or a “boy book,” but simply a great read.