How I Write


I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on the question of how I write, and I’ve come to this conclusion:

I write like I’m five years old.

Now, arguably, my grasp of grammar, sentence composition, and the vagaries of human interaction have improved in the intervening forty-some-odd years. But the place, deep down, where this impulse springs from? Sense of wonder, and all that stuff?

Yeah, that might have been set when I was five.

Around that time, my sister Elizabeth was a drama student at Loyola. She cast herself and her three sisters in a staging of the Mad Tea Party from Alice in Wonderland. (I’m expecting a correction from her on this point, that no, it wasn’t for Loyola, it was actually for summer stock at UNO, or some other detail I couldn’t have possibly been aware of at that age.) All I know is that I had barely started school myself, and I had a sister in college, and she cast all her sisters in a play.

My role was the Dormouse. Which I suppose was suitable for a five-year-old, because the Dormouse sleeps for half the time, and most of the speaking lines involve the word “treacle” which I found easy enough to remember.

Two things I recall from the production: I missed my cue at one point, because I was too busy playing with the tail of the costume Mom made for me. The tail was great—‘70s-era poly-fiber fur, in this light gray color. And the other thing? I did NOT develop a taste for the stage. A taste for the story—definitely. But being a live, active participant in it? Not so much.

So fast-forward to this current decade, all of which I have spent endeavoring to write stories. Two details come to mind that hark back to those earliest days.

I’ve mentioned before how I frequent Starbucks. It’s my main escape from my paying job—I go there to write during my lunch break. Several years back, Starbucks had this adorable stuffed animal as part of its holiday merchandise. A little gray mouse with a friendly face. He was “The Mouse Writer,” and he wore a little vest that was uncannily similar to the one from my Dormouse costume. I told Husband Tim that The Mouse Writer was what I wanted most for Christmas that year. So, lo and behold, come the morning of December 25, I found Ambrose (as I call him) in a tube sock hung from our buffet.

He’s sat on the right side of my writing desk ever since.

And the second detail is something my sister Julie just brought up. (Julie was the March Hare.) She asked if I chose the name Lacey for my heroine because of Elsie, Lacie, and Tillie. “No,” I answered at first. And I mumbled something about how very early on, she was called Laney, but then Tim said something about how he liked Lacey Chabert, and I thought Lacey was a good name, so she’s been Lacey ever since.

But then I started thinking about it. The lines about the “three little sisters, and their names were Elsie, Lacie, and Tillie; and they lived at the bottom of a well. . .”

Well, those lines were some of the first things I ever had to memorize. I’ve got to believe at some subconscious level that factored in.

There are other things from around that same time—my Grandmother’s funeral; long car rides over Lake Pontchartrain; bomb scares. Save for the bomb scares, these items are threads in Lacey’s story. (Though, driving the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway doesn’t come about until the third book, so there still may be time to work in a bomb scare. . .)

And I can’t help but conclude with this: the Dormouse was a storyteller. Albeit, not a very good one. But verbal storytelling is a completely different ball game. I have to believe the Dormouse was a phenomenal writer.

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