Food For Thought

Here’s my chance to debut my cover for Sly. It’s not the final. I haven’t yet purchased the high-res images without the watermark. This crudely-thrown-together figure is two faces and five clothing items combined to make my ideal Sly.

Who knows? Should it be Eyes, William, or Eyes; William? Spirit, Francis or Spirit; Francis?


They joke about writers cannibalizing their relationships for fun and profit, and sometimes as payback. Better yet is to cannibalize our own lives, lives we know from the inside out. I say, why the hell not? Use what you have.

My family is full of nuts. How many of you have a sister who was married to a predator priest who’d served time for altar-boy abuse? I do. To this day she has never admitted he might have been guilty of the crime. She says: “He said they were all trying to extract money from the church.” I’d been told of one accusation. I’m thinking: They all? What’s this they all?

Most everything I write in Sly, and now in Maisie, is rooted in my personal experience. I am the crazy old lady narrator in Maisie in Hollywood.

I have the brother who married money, and has spent his whole life leading the life of a grad student, with all the freedom to come and go that that entails. Meanwhile, his wife was the grad student. She finally got her PhD ten years ago, running through a large inheritance in the process. She’s down to her last two-three million. She had to sell her one-hundred-forty-acre family-descended property to revive her finances. But she’s still got the house in town. Nice, right?

We all have mountains of personal experience to assign to a character, and have a ball with, stretch it, twist it, as you would a slab of taffy. That’s why a book I discovered on Facebook really pushes my buttons. This is as bland a telling as I ever encountered. I’m tempted to buy the book to learn if the vapid storytelling continues down the same path. (Moonbeam Bay floats plenty of boats. The author is a USA Today Bestseller.)

GD writes about his experience in Viet Nam. Perry writes about his lifelong love of fly fishing. What pastures of plenty do you have in your past, that you can make hay of, that will enable you to write a story no one else could have written?

New writers frequently worry that their idea will be stolen. It’s not the idea, it’s what you do with it. Write something no one else could have written. Develop a signature point-of-view, and a signature style. If you can’t do that, what kind of writer are you?

Hmmm. I suppose Kay Correll has done that.

Develop an interesting point-of-view.


22 thoughts on “Food For Thought

  1. MamaSquid says:

    Great post. I’ve never intentionally drawn from my real life, though I know many writers who do, right down to the characters they put in their novels. But stuff always slips in. I legally emancipated when I was 17, so it’s not uncommon for my characters to be fleeing or otherwise on their own at the start of their journey. I’m a social worker, and as a result of what I’ve seen, what I know, about the society I live in, it’s hard not to write about social issues. I have always been fascinated by huge wealth disparities between lovers, but I didn’t know I would live it out personally. After legally emancipating, I went to a major university on scholarship, and met a man with a family who had wealth beyond my wildest dreams. I loved him. I love him. Wholly and completely. He is a kind, gentle, utterly dependable person with a quiet, unshakeable confidence. He has an almost preternatural calm in a crisis, and in those days, with my family, there were lots of crises. So I chose him, despite the alien landscape of his family’s wealth, this enormous dysfunctional family full of attractive people with a specific ethno-religious identity, I chose it all. And in time I think I taught him to appreciate them more.

    My family, oof, I’d rather not. All the mothers in my novels are dead. In fact parents are pretty much irrelevant, as useless on the page as they are off the page. My estranged mother is a goddamn tragedy, a person who is so mentally ill I’m not even sure recovery ever was possible for her. She’s a jump away from my uncle who died destitute with schizoaffective disorder – these are people who lost the psychological life lottery. I can’t turn around and exploit them for creative material, at least not knowingly, not intentionally. Plus, honestly? I write to escape my life, not to relive it. My family is small and painful, like a knot you can’t untangle, and I couldn’t call out the atrocities without collateral damage. The best of humanity alongside the worst of humanity, sometimes bound up in the same person.

    I write romance because I’ve been fortunate to experience the kind of life-altering and enduring love that has captured the popular imagination for so long. I have been with my husband for twenty-one years and I still feel that heady awestruck admiration that I did when we first met. I write with life/death stakes because that’s how critical these relationships are to survival. I know how intimacy unfolds in relationships. I know how conflict springs up from disparate life experiences. I know mental illness and trauma. It’s all there.

    As for my voice, I prefer a simple and succinct style without too many flourishes. I admire spare and direct writers. Hemingway. Chuck Palahniuk. But I love Bradbury too. The way I pace my prose, and make space for darkness, and emotional depth, I owe to Bradbury. I love my writer’s voice, and that’s how I personally define voice – when you can feel the author’s joy in the writing as you read.

    Liked by 5 people

    • mimispeike says:

      Good points. It sounds like you’ve dealt with your pain. I have not. I live with it every day. Writing about it is a way of dealing with it.

      And I mine it for the humor involved. There is plenty of humor in dysfunction and, having lived through it, I feel I have the right to use it as I see fit.

      I cloak that usage in work my siblings are likely to see. But since neither of them has shown interest in reading my writing, I feel very safe.

      Liked by 4 people

      • MamaSquid says:

        I can relate to writing as a healing process. My first book was a raw and cathartic, disturbing mess, but I had to get it out of me. I’ve never been a literal prisoner, but I can relate to being in a situation from which there is no escape. So I pour that feeling of helplessness and impotent rage into the character’s experience, and that works for me. It helps me process the real-life experience without entering into it directly, in a context in which I have complete control. I think this is more effective for me than just writing my exact experience. I’ve tried memoir, but it’s simply not as helpful as writing fiction.

        I know a guy who has an entire cast of characters based on people he’s known, who grounds his characters in places he’s been, modeling their world directly from his. He’s a great writer. But that is not my style. The real world always seems so mundane to me. But people slip in unconsciously. I have two brothers who are basically my id and my superego, respectively. My husband pointed out to me that he’s a supporting character in my trilogy. Sure enough. Everything’s grist for the mill, I suppose, even when we don’t intend it.

        I think there is a lot to be said for writing from our unique perspectives. Even if we all had the same story, we would tell it differently. One of my editor friends has always encouraged us to write for the narrowest possible audience. It seems counterintuitive, but the more specific we are, the more people will relate to our work. And of course that’s how you get intensely loyal fans, when you write with enough specificity that readers feel you understand them. I don’t think you can achieve that – “This author really gets me” – without deviating from the beaten path.

        That you can write about these things with humor is a great strength. That in itself is remarkable, especially in today’s culture, which takes itself way too seriously if you ask me.

        Liked by 3 people

  2. Perry Palin says:


    Love the cover. I’d go with the semi-colons.

    I don’t know that I cannabalize my relationships, though I try to write what I know, and my characters have traits I’ve seen in real people. I’ve had some of my reader/acquaintances say they wish they’d known me back when all my story adventures occurred. I’m flattered that I made the stories real for them, but I’ve had to tell them that the stories are fiction. I wrote a fishing story once with a girl in it, and a girl I used to know assumed it was her. I’ll have to watch myself in the future.

    I have my share of nutty relatives. I don’t write about them. I try for characters who are different from one another, but who are at least reasoning and sane.

    I met an unpublished writer who said he is an introvert, and that makes him a better writer because instead of engaging people, he observes them. I could lend him a book that describes the Meyers-Briggs personalitiy types. My own Meyers’Briggs type (I’ve shared this here before) is I-I-I-I (okay, that’s a joke, but I am at the extreme end of the “I” scale). I don’t know that an “I” who is focused inward is necessarily a better writer than an “E” who gets their inspiration from time spent with others.

    Liked by 5 people

    • MamaSquid says:

      I often yearn for what writers could get away with in the old days. Never leaving their house, and occasionally pushing a manuscript under the door for their publisher. You think Kierkegaard had to do book tours? We writers come from a long line of people with crippling social anxiety, and yes, we observe keenly, possibly because other humans are a kind of existential threat. Personally, I love people, just not all at once.

      Liked by 5 people

    • Since the Meyers-Briggs’ data base comes from cataloging real people over decades, I suspect a writer could be of any personality type. I once owned a career placement firm for professionals, people who could do many things well, and we used the Meyers-Briggs to find them a job that was a good personal fit. Me, I’m an INTP. I don’t trust psychologist any more than I do priests, but my certified tester assured me that my skepticism made sense to him.

      Liked by 3 people

      • MamaSquid says:

        Yes, people from all personality types become writers, but I think one thing they share in common is a rich inner life. Being extraverted doesn’t preclude that.

        Liked by 4 people

  3. The elegantly subtle, too often misunderstood connection born of a semi-colon between two independent clauses is, I think, one of the marvels of written language. Used in a series that contains commas, it is simply a rigid rule, awkward and uncomely. On your cover, Mimi, because you have emboldened and italicized the nicknames, there is no mistaking the meaning of the sentence, and it has a lyrically visual flow. I’d leave it the way it is.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. I found the commas after [Cecil] and [Walsingham] confusing because they are not on the same level as the commas after [Eyes] and [Spirit].  I am against overloading commas.

    My first choice (as in #1 below) is just to drop the commas where [was] is implied.&nbsp: From what Sue said about semicolons, I gather that she would prefer this over my second choice (as in #2 below).  Commas rather than semicolons would be OK by me in #2, but I prefer the brevity of #1.  Please don’t mix commas for a series with commas as short for [was].

    (1) E gave her favorites nicknames: R D was her Eyes, W C her Spirit, F W her Moor.

    (2) E gave her favorites nicknames: R D was her Eyes; W C was her Spirit; F W was her Moor.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. victoracquista says:

    Nice cover; although, Sly doesn’t look sly, he looks angry. I write whatever the hell I want to. Hah! That sounds antisocial. I write to educate, entertain, and generally to explore social themes in my fiction.

    Liked by 4 people

    • mimispeike says:

      Ah! I think Sly is very conscious of what an important animal he is, and excited that he’s dressed up to have his portrait painted. And, yes, I am anti-social.

      Liked by 3 people

      • victoracquista says:

        Actually, Mimi, my comment: “I write whatever the hell I want to. Hah! That sounds antisocial.” was purely directed at myself. I was not referring to you or your writing. It just so happens that what I want to write usually involves education/entertainment/exploration. Can we be antisocial together, or is that an oxymoron?

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Dearest Mimi, Titles on “magazine” style covers can use commas, Save the semi’s for inside work in reports! I love all your cover, and it does reflect your style. So refreshing! Best of the best for your Sly debut!

    Liked by 5 people

  7. mimispeike says:

    Sly’s thinking to himself:

    If they could see me now, that old-time gang of mine,
    I’m eating fancy chow and drinking fancy wine.
    I’d like those stumble bums to see for a fact
    The kind of top drawer first rate chums I attract.

    All I can say is, wow! Lookee where I am now!
    Right in a patch of catnip, fellas. Holy cow!

    Those stumblebums back home would curtsey and bow
    –they’d never believe it–
    If my friends could see me see me now.

    At the Court of Haute-Navarre, Sly dispensed with the finery except on grand occasions. King Jakome was thought demented; the cat didn’t want to make it worse for him.

    Queen Elizabeth loved pageantry, and loved to see him dressed to the nines. And he was happy to comply.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. mimispeike says:

    I haven’t written this section yet.

    Sly returned to England after ten years away with the goal of visiting his mum and showing her what her comically ambitious boy had made of himself. (He’d been the joke of the barnyard.)

    He’s caught up in the extravagance (far beyond anything the Court of Haute-Navarre had to offer) and by the celebrity he enjoys at the Court of St. James. He’s lost his head. He means to make the trek to Cumbria in far northern England, but never does. Fate intervenes. He’s forced to leave England abruptly.

    He’s going to feel really bad about not seeing his mom, really bad, throughout the rest of the story. I have my own experience to model his angst on. I feel bad about my mother also.

    Thank you Victor for assisting my thinking in this area.

    Liked by 3 people

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