Her Happy Place

A few minutes ago I was working on a story called Whisper. I’m nearly done with it. It’s the first story I’ve written in a long time where I didn’t put a lot of pressure on myself to write it and make it publishable. More on that, maybe not today, but later.

Cate walked into the room with the smile on her face that is usually reserved for when she is creating. Tonight she is baking cookies. Not just any cookies, but her sugar cookies that she will ice with the royal icing. They are delicious. 

“Hey,” I said and turned away from the computer. I put my feet on the bed and watched as she dug through a rolling unit of drawers for the right cookie cutter. She found the one she wanted, closed the drawer and looked at me.

I smiled.

She went to the door, turned and looked at me. “I have to get them cut,” she said. I guess she thought I wanted to talk or to get her attention. I didn’t. I just like seeing her that way.

I just smiled again. In return, she smiled, then walked out of the room, closing the door behind her. 

I turned to the laptop and stared at the last few sentences I had written. 

“She’s dead, you know?”

Shelley swallowed hard and nodded. She knew.

I saved the document, then closed it. I spun in the chair and put my feet back on the bed, crossing them at the ankles. I stared at a tie dyed sheet hanging on the wall. It’s something Cate made. I turned and looked at the wall where my desk is. It is lined with pages from a book—Cate wallpapered the wall with a copy of King’s The Stand. On my desk is a replica of the Stoker Award that Cate made me one year when I thought one of my stories was a shoe-in for a nomination and I was sad that it hadn’t received one. We did a Not at the Stoker’s Award show the same night as the Stoker’s event. She called it the Bram Stokeher award. The shirt I currently wear is one she made for my last birthday. On it are the words Who Knew 50 Could Look This Good! On the wall next to the television that sits on our dresser is a painting she did of a door in a garden. 

All around me are the things that make my wife happy. When she is creating anything she is the happiest person alive. Her mind is thinking, her hands are working, her eyes have that determined look in them. That’s her happy place. 

How can I not smile at such happiness and joy. 

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.


The Creative Blessing… and Its Curse

Being a writer you have to be somewhat creative. You have to see things in your head, even if those things aren’t necessarily there. You have to connect the dots from A to B all the way to Z and then some.

You get it–you have to be creative.

For me, having a creative mind is both a blessing and a curse. Obviously it is a blessing when I write. It gives me the ability to create scenes and characters and scenarios. But it’s also a bane in other areas, especially reading. I am a notoriously slow reader simply because every word I read is pictured.

Take for instance this quote by Stephen King:

I watched Titanic when I got back home from the hospital, and cried. I knew that my IQ had been damaged.

When I read that, my mind went to work. Picture this:

A man sitting in a recliner. Say he has a beer in one hand and a bag of chips in his lap. Oh and let’s just say he’s wearing a pair of gray shorts. Black socks cover his feet and he just happens to be one of those guys who like to wear those socks with his sandals on. A white T-shirt is stained with brown spots near his slightly pooched out belly. He just came from the hospital–at least in my mind he did–so let’s put a cast on one of his legs and a brown ACE bandage wrapped around the other knee. There is a walker standing near the recliner, rubber stoppers on its legs. Maybe the guy has a patch on his forehead (after all, he was in the hospital and most folks who follow King know about when he was hit by that van that almost killed him).

For giggles let’s just say he is in his living room and there is a couch off to his left, a coffee table in front of it. To his right is a small end table, the remote sitting on top of it. Beneath the remote are a couple of magazines, a Sports Illustrated on top. The light is off and the white glow from the television illuminates a rectangular portion of the room, while other parts of it are shrouded in shadows.

Do you see all that?

Now imagine that he’s watching Titanic on his forty inch flat screen television. Maybe the scene where Rose releases Jack into the water after the luxury liner sank just ended. Do you see Jack sinking into the water? I do. Now the man is crying. He probably even lifts the tail end of his shirt and wipes his nose. His eyes are rimmed red, the lids puffy. He sniffles a few times.

All of that appeared in my head after reading that one statement. This is how my mind works.

There is more.

My daughter likes to read to me. She, like her mother, is a very fast reader. The other day she came to me.

“Daddy, can I read to you?”

“Sure,” I said.

She had some vampire book in her hand (no, it wasn’t Twilight. Thankfully). She sat down to read, but before she could get started I said:

“Chloe, don’t read fast. Read so I can understand you.”

And so my daughter read the first two chapters of this book and she read them a lot slower than she normally would because I needed to be able to picture the story as it unfolded. When she reads fast the images become jumbled and I don’t remember anything she says. When she reads slowly, the details form in my mind and the characters become realistic enough for me to become engaged in them.

I read the way King writes: One word at a time.

But there’s still more to this. Recently in my home state a man came up missing. My wife asked me about it as we walked around the baseball park (Do you see the image of two people walking along the outside of a baseball field? There was a black crow in the outfield that day.).

“What do you think?” she asked.

Honestly, I didn’t have many thoughts about it at first, but as I pondered it, I began to picture the man–I had seen posters of him plastered around downtown (he worked less than two blocks from where I work)–and the possible scenarios. I ticked them off for her.

Maybe he just got tired of his life and wanted something new.

Maybe he angered someone (with his position it was possible) and they kidnapped him and killed him.

Maybe he was having an affair and left with the women.

Then I said:

“I bet there’s money involved. Or a woman. Or both. I wouldn’t be surprised if money comes up missing or if he had an affair and he decided to leave before he got into trouble. Maybe he left a note behind or something. It could be a bunch of different things.”

It turns out the man did leave a note and that there was money and a woman involved (though to what extent or if there was an affair has not come out yet). It also turns out that, yes, this man was dead, but he hadn’t been murdered. He had taken his own life.

All of this information came out about a week after my wife and I had that little talk as we walked around the baseball diamond, the crow in the outfield.

For me, all of what I just wrote has its images. Everything is there in my head, though I haven’t seen any of the events unfold. However, in my mind–that creative stream–I saw everything. I saw the shame of what happened on his face. I saw the way his eyes became distant, the way he stared at the wall or the way his hand shook as he wrote the letter explaining why he was going to take his life. I could see him smoking a cigarette as he walked away from his office, a 9mm gun stashed in his waistband, his suit jacket buttoned to conceal it. I could see how unsteady his steps were, how nervous he was. He was going to die and this scared him. Or so that’s what my mind said. I saw him lock himself in a room and sit down on the floor. He contemplated the gun for a while, trying to figure out if this was really something he wanted to do. His thoughts were a cacophony of screams.

Don’t do this.
I have nothing to live for.
This is suicide.
Think about your family and friends. Think about how this will affect them.
I am.
This isn’t so bad. You don’t have to do this.
It’s the only way out.

I imagined there were tears in his eyes before he put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger. I won’t tell you anything else I saw about the scene. I think you can figure it out for yourselves.

If this were a story I was writing, there would be a lot more details to it, a lot more of the man struggling with himself on whether or not to do what he did. Why? Because that’s the way my mind works. It sees events in full digital color and in Dolby Surround Sound.

A writer’s mind doesn’t need all the details to fill in the gaps of information that’s not there. Their minds fills in everything else for them. It’s our creative side, the part of us that we have trained by hours and hours and hours of writing and trying to figure out scenes and how a character should act in certain situations. It’s putting life into words and seeing what’s not there. For me, it’s the only way to write, the only way to read.

It’s both a blessing and a curse.

It’s why I write the way I do, with details and descriptions and character emotions. I want to bring you, the reader, the most vivid reading experience that I can. I hope I succeed more than I fail and I hope you see what it is I write.

Until we meet again, my friends…