Words On a Train

I, too, like writing on a train.  Yesterday, in a 2-hour trip from Philadelphia to Washington, DC I outlined my next book.   That’s the kind of productivity I can’t usually find at my desk.

Up to now, the appeal of writing in DC’s cafes/coffee shops/bookstores has eluded me. Orders for lattes, cranberry scones, and milling hipsters does not inspire my prose.  I need a grittier approach.  Case in point, last week, to get myself writing, I yelled aloud (in my own house) Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!!Train yard

My current writing is a set of short stories (more on that later) and a crime series, with lesbian protagonist, P.I. Charlene “Charlie” Mack.  It’s set in Detroit, in the mid 2000s, when Detroit was caught between an era of chaotic and depressing government mismanagement, and its inevitable slide to insolvency.  Then, sliders were more prominent than scones; liquor more ubiquitous than lattes.

The stimulation I need to write this series, comes from watching people in the urgency of their lives.  So, there’s nothing like sitting in a train station for a half-hour  before your announced departure, and spying the microcosm of humanity that parades there.   I get great ideas for clothing descriptions, how people walk, body language, and what I’ve come to label the various train “types.”

My short stories are about the dynamics of relationships–among friends, within families, occurring in casual encounters, playing out in workplaces.  Many of these stories depict the lives of black people, in all their huge normalcy, innovation, dysfunction, hope and challenge.

Those stories are supported by my life and experiences, but also from the information that bombards me from television, Twitter, Tedtalks, telephone conversations, and train rides.

Train travels…short and long…are wonderful sources for dialogue, eavesdropped or overheard.  The window seat provides a panoramic view of the backsides of people’s lives where industry, poverty, and creativity abound.  Peering into the backyards of houses gives you a better sense of how folks live, then the facade of curb appeal.  The manufacturers of today and yesterday display their real enterprise at the rear of factories.  Graffitti–phat, bold, cursive and colorful, demonstrates the vitality of ideas that wish to be expressed.

For me, riding the rails sparks my imagination; and locomotion stirs my writing.

 

Writer’s Block Blues

Image

imagesL0VAO2NZI should be writin' but I cain't
I should be happy but I ain't
Words on the run
Ideas won't come
I got the writer's block blues.

You say I'm lazy, don't you try it
Just start composing, I don't by it
Stuck in the drudge
Don't be my judge
It's just the writer's block blues.

Twitter says follow and I do
Facebook says like me; please like me too
TV's a siren
I'm really tryin'
to cure my writer's block blues.

The Book: How it All Began


 

Long Way Home:  A World War II Novel is historical fiction and I have been at work on the project for more than five years.  The idea began in a very informal way after a series of conversations with a friend’s aunt who was a WWII veteran and one of the 150,000 members of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.   Her memories of life at the Ft. Huachuca Army base  provide the novel’s setting and emotional center.

My father also served in WWII as a Private First Class.  He enlisted in 1943, just shy of 18 years old and worked in the Transportation Corps.   We spoke only a few times about his army service but he recounted fondly the many places he’d seen during his service, among them: New Orleans, San Francisco and Liverpool, England.   He wasn’t one of the “stand out” black soldiers of WWII–like the Tuskegee Airmen or naval hero Dorie Miller–he was just a regular soldier.

After Ken Burns’ produced his iconic The War series (amidst allegations of omitting the contributions of Latino soldiers*) I began to imagine there were many men and women, like “aunt” Lil and my father, who never won Medals of Honor during WWII or even got to the front lines, but whose service was nevertheless honorable.

PFC Sam McGarrah (my father)

The research that was required of the storytelling was daunting and many times I thought I’d bitten off more than I could chew.   Ultimately, doing the research  became an exhilirating treasure hunt.

Long Way Home has romance, conflict, celebration, humor and also detail about the tenor and tone of a segregated Army experience that is a microcosm of the Negro experience in 1940’s America.

 

* Hundreds of thousands of Hispanics served in the military during WWII; and 13 Hispanic servicemen were awarded the Medal of Honor for their WWII service.

Long Way Home is available as an eBook

updated July 2013 (original post April 2011)

Inspiration in the Dandelion

I write the words and phrases but they’re like orphans.   No family to help raise them from the page.

That’s when dirty clothes in the hamper, decaying food in the refrigerator, weeds that have beaten the lawn into submission call to me.

Chores make ignoring the letters on the wide expanse of white, less sinful.

The errant weed reminds me of the haphazardness of life and when I’m lucky, the churning of the trowel lifts roots of dialogue and scenes from the fertile soil.   Maybe the dandelion has a story to tell.

What Golf Has Taught Me About Writing

I have always been a golfer even when I wasn’t.  My father played golf and he often watched the tournaments on television; I watched him watch golf and play golf and perhaps that is where my affinity for the game comes.  Golf is a sport filled with beauty, imagination and precision.   When one steps to the tee and looks onto an immaculately manicured, 300-yard fairway, it is an awe-inspiring view of soaring possibilities.   When one approaches the close-shaven turf of a green it is a challenge to succeed measured in inches. Continue reading