The hardest job a writer ever does

It’s been called “the hardest job a writer ever does.” Is it coming up with the initial idea? Developing characters? Or is it getting the first draft written? Revising and editing? What about simply overcoming writer’s block?

No, no, no, no, and no.

IMG_9066.jpgAccording to John Gardner, it’s none of those things. According to him—and he knows a thing or two about writing— Continue reading



Locks on doors.
Metal detectors and security sweeps.
Evacuations, manhunts, and bomb squads.

This is our world. But someday…


The Eiffel Tower lit up in the colors of Belgium after the terrorist attacks on Brussels on 22 March 2016.

Someday wars will cease, someday terror will be no more.
Someday locks will be forgotten, metal detectors left to the scrap heap.

“They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”
“Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”

Someday, words of hope
written to those who wondered what hope they could have
will no longer be merely words,
no longer simply hope
no longer just a beautiful dream of some far-off future,
but will literally be

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Revelation 21:3-4

Every tear… wiped away,
No more death or mourning, crying or pain,
No more terror or fear or wondering what will blow up next.

When the old order of things has passed away.

* * *

You can read about our experience of the night of the Paris attacks last November here and my visit to the Bataclan memorial here. When I started this blog, I didn’t imagine I’d be writing this much about terrorism. But this is the world we live in.


How much are you willing to work for it?

Supposedly George Frideric Handel wrote “The Messiah” in just over three weeks. Mozart could whip out a minuet over coffee, hand it over to a creditor and thereby take care of his debts. And some composer whose name I’ve forgotten apparently would write out orchestral pieces one entire part at a time—the flute part, beginning to end; then the oboe; the clarinet; and so on down through the brass, percussion and strings—since he had the entire thing worked out in his head!

These are the kind of stories I heard when I was studying music composition in college (back in a prior millennium).

Amazing, right? Apocryphal? Perhaps; although it seems pretty well established that Handel did write the Messiah in an incredibly fast burst of creativity. And there’s no doubt that Mozart was phenomenally productive in his 36 years on earth.

But truthfully, these kinds of stories may have done me more harm than good. I can’t relate to such seemingly superhuman creative output. How many of us can? These stories further the idea that creativity is magical, or effortless, or perhaps entirely the province of god-like geniuses.

But it’s not. Sure, there are geniuses out there, and sure, for some creativity does come easier. But stories of exceptional creativity held up as anything but that—exceptional—serve only to distract from the reality of what any significant endeavor requires: hard work, perseverance, and sweat.

The day you realize it’s time to start over

Since December, I’ve been working on a new draft of the final act of my novel, and much of it is coming together well. But the last few weeks have been spent on a critical passage that sets up the climax, and I’ve started having serious doubts about it: Some pieces were feeling a bit contrived. Some character motivations didn’t truly make sense. And a critical incident didn’t seem entirely logical, believable… or even physically possible.


So it was time for a conference with one of my go-to writing critique partners. That’s right, my thirteen-year-old daughter, Carolyn. Her credentials? Poet. Short story writer. Lyricist. If I’d written as much as she has back when I was her age, I’d no doubt be a better writer now. But no time for regrets, it’s time for a consultation.

It was just the two of us one night, so I asked what she wanted to do. She suggested we go to the fancy Starbucks and write. Well, twist my arm! After an hour or so of writing, we headed over to Breakfast in America for burgers and to talk over our respective works-in-progress.

When it was my turn, I laid out the situation of the scene I’ve been concerned about. As soon as I got to the critical moment, she looked at me and said, “Oh, this is what’s going to happen, right?” and proceeded to predict precisely where the painfully predictable scene was going.

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Sometimes you miss your cat

Sometimes you miss your cat. Especially when she’s 4,994 miles away and you haven’t seen in her in 176 days. So back in January we decided to get our cat fix by visiting the Chat Mallows Café.


Wait–is that OUR cat? No… but she looks a lot like ours back home.

There are a few of these cafés in Paris, but we chose one in the nearby fifteenth arrondissement. It’s definitely a place for cat lovers. If you’re allergic, don’t like cats following you around, getting on your table, and investigating your food, then maybe you should try somewhere else.


Chat Mallows certainly has no shortage of cats–and cats of all kinds–at their café. Not just typical shorthairs, but ones with two different colored eyes, a nearly hairless one, and one aptly named Yoda.


Do you know the classic line about cats and dogs? Dogs have masters, but cats have staff. Here it’s literally true. Staff that look after them, make sure they’re healthy, and clean constantly. And that’s just the beginning. These cats live in cat paradise. Seriously, they have the best life.

Endless food. Flowing water. A big cat wheel (like a huge hamster wheel). A vast selection of boxes and baskets and hideaways to sleep in. Scratching pillars, ledges to leap along, and toys for patrons to tantalize them with. Oh, and a room separated from the rest of the café (and off limits to patrons) where the cats can go if their inner introvert takes over. All this and plenty of people paying top euro to get their cat fix.


Be forewarned: drinks are pricey. How pricey? Think double the price of already expensive coffee drinks in Paris. Like 8.80€ for a Café Viennois. We dropped 25€ during our time there—which is more than the girls and I spend to go to the cinema (taking in a movie is a relatively good deal in Paris—but that’s a topic for another post). But not to worry: the drinks were good—the chocolat chaud so rich and thick that the girls were happy to take their time while the cats entertained us (and tried to finish our drinks).

Two hours on a Saturday with tasty beverages and a bunch of friendly felines? It was most definitely worth it. And I guarantee you this: Carolyn enjoyed the time more than any visit to a museum!


Literary corner

Need a place to sit down and… I don’t know… read a book?


Want to have your own reading break here? Or need a place to enjoy the gelato you got at Grom? (I haven’t been there yet, but thanks to an online tip, I have another reason to get back to the neighborhood.)

Here’s how to find this fun little hidden corner known as Square Gabriel Pierné:

  • Go to the Pont des Arts (the one that used to be shackled full of love locks until the city took them off).
  • Head toward the big dome (the Institute de France), but veer a bit to the right, slip under a pedestrian archway and come out on the other side.
  • Walk a short block and there you are.


From there, wander the neighborhood and take in some of the many galleries. You’ll find every kind of art, from the sublime to the slightly silly…


What’s in the box?

An old suitcase full of books, sheltered from the rain in front Shakespeare & Co. in Paris. And not just any books. Unknown, mysterious books in sealed brown cardboard boxes. The key to unlock a box’s mystery? Five euros. Who can resist? Not us!

Version 2

I felt like a kid at Christmas as we picked up different boxes, giving them a shake, feeling their weight. Is a heavier book a better book? Hmm, how to decide… In the end I went with the first one I’d picked up. Reasonably weighty. No second guessing–let’s do this.

We took it inside, slapped down five euros and ran up the stairs with our prize to one of the funky reading rooms. The sign on the suitcase had promised “classics & mysteries.” What would ours be?


And….. it’s a Stephen King novel I’ve never heard of. Given how many books he’s written and how few I’ve read (two, I think), it’s not a big shock that it’s one I’m unfamiliar with. Not sure it’s a classic or a mystery–but it’s probably mysterious.  It’s gotten decidedly mixed reviews on goodreads, but after I get through my current pile of reading, I’ll give it a try.

In the evening we went to our church’s community center near Châtelet for Creative Night. The girls enjoyed a painting lesson as well as working on decorative letter kits we’d picked up earlier in the day.


My creativity definitely trends toward the written and the musical (and I’d already spent the afternoon rehearsing), so I was happy to chill out with friends at the event while the girls had fun being artistic.