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642 things to write aboutOne of our favorite gifts this Christmas was a book called 642 Things to Write About by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto (2011).  Given to us by a dear friend, the book is a collection of prompts (642 of them, we’re guessing), such as “Write ten sayings for fortune cookies” or “Write a story that ends with the line, ‘And this is the room where it happened.’”

For our New Year’s Resolution, we’d like to “do” this book, to use it to fire up our somewhat-soggy-from-the-holidays creative embers.  Much like the NaBloPoMo Challenge, we’re hopeful that this endeavor will bear fruit in several ways: new and interesting blog posts, a “stretched” or enhanced creative energy in our writing, and a renewed dedication to our next big writing project—a sequel to our first (as of yet unpublished) young adult novel.

We have some individual resolutions, too—ones that don’t have anything to do with writing. And what are they? Well…

SHERI

All best plans seem to come in three’s, so I’ve come up with three resolutions for 2013.

I resolve to spend more time outdoors. January in New England may not be the best time to start this one, but I read a statistic from the Gale Encyclopedia of Public Health that the average North American spends 90 percent of the time indoors, 5 percent in cars, and only 5 percent outdoors.  And I know I fit into that category.  When you’re a writer, a reader, a mom, and a pop culture fanatic, you tend to be more of an indoor person.  So 2013 will find me putting on my warmest coat and getting outside to let the sun shine upon my face, the snowflakes coat my eyelashes, and the gentle breezes carry me away.

I resolve to eat more vegetables.  This may seem like an odd one for a woman in my 40s, but if I’m being honest… I hate vegetables.  I envy those people who can serve up a plate of roasted eggplant, zucchini, asparagus, (fill-in-the-blank with your vegetable of choice) and devour it with the kind of ecstasy I only reserve for Ben & Jerry’s.  In the words of Corey Flood from the movie Say Anything: “that’ll never be me, that’ll never be me!”  However, I do resolve to eat more vegetables, even if I never grow to love them.

I resolve to act on benevolent impulses.  Scottish philosopher David Hume argued that humans possess a “natural benevolent impulse” that moves us to love others and to perform kind, charitable acts.  I would say this is definitely true for me with one slight difference: my benevolent impulses lead me to want to perform kind, charitable acts.  It’s the doing where I tend to fall off the rails.  Oftentimes because I’m too busy (or too lazy), and other times my introverted nature stops me from putting myself out there.  But not in 2013!  Every time I have an impulse to do something nice for someone, I resolve to do it.

MARK

I, too, have three specific goals… as well as one less quantifiable, infinitely goofier one. First, the specific ones:

  • I’d like to lose twelve pounds (at least) before April.  In January 2003, I lost twenty-three pounds as part of a New Year’s diet; ten years later, the pounds have slowly but oh-so-surely crept back. I figure I’ll try to lose half of that original amount (twelve is half of twenty-three, kind of) this time around.
  • I’m going to make a project on iMovie. We bought an iMac almost two years ago now, and I don’t think I have used iMovie even once.
  • I want to improve my ping pong game.  We have a table in our house, and I want to get better at it. (Probably the first step would be to call it by its proper, snootier name: table tennis.).

Now, here’s the goofier goal: I want to be more “up” on things. Not necessarily political things or big-ticket news items. I just want to know things that everyone else seems to know about.

Let me give an example:  with the end of the year comes lists—the most popular songs of the past year, the biggest news stories of the year, the top ten Sporcle games that chewed up the most potentially productive hours. (OK, that last one might just apply to me…)  But my favorite year-end list has to be the “Dead Celebrities” review—the one that provides a final farewell the famous folks who died over the past twelve months.

The individuals on this list often fall into different categories: the “Fond Remembrances” group (e.g. Dick Clark, Adam Yauch, Maurice Sendak); the “Such a Shame/ Cautionary Tale” group (Whitney Houston); the “Wait, You Mean This Person Didn’t Die, Like, Ten Years Ago?” group (Ernest Borgnine).

Then we get to the most frustrating category of them all: “Yes, This Celebrity Died Months Ago and Somehow You’re Just Finding Out Now.”  Every year, I learn about one celebrity death that somehow passed me by. In 2011, it was Dobie Gray. In 2004, it was Rick James.  And in 2012, it was none other than… Donna Summer.

Apparently, the Queen of Disco died of lung cancer last May…. so how did I not know about this until a few weeks ago?  Hey, I wasn’t her biggest fan, but… it’s Donna Summer!  Why wasn’t there more hubbub about this?

I’m not saying no one knew about Donna Summer’s death; in fact, everyone I talked to about this has said, “Oh, yeah, I knew.” So I guess I’m not so much sad she died but more frustrated that I didn’t know.  I hate being left out!

So maybe next year I will either try to be more aware of what’s going on, or else enlist a massive team of pop culture watchdogs who will send me an alert whenever a famous person dies.  (Then again, maybe I’ll just stick to the ping pong.)

To hold ourselves accountable to our joint and individual resolutions, we promise future blog posts with updates on how we’re doing.  But now we’d love to hear from you!  Use the comments section to share your resolutions for 2013.

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We Did It!

 

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

“National Blog Posting Month is the epicenter of daily blogging! People who want to set the habit of blogging by doing it every day for a month, including weekends, can band together for moral support, inspiration, and the camaraderie that only marathon blogging can provide.”
(From BlogHer.com, host of NaBloPoMo November 2012)

It seemed like only yesterday that we officially launched Edge of Story on September 18, 2012.  Six weeks later Mark signed us up for BlogHer’s “National Blog Posting Month” challenge.  The premise was simple enough: post something to your blog every day for a month.  My initial reaction…I wanted to throw up.  We love to write, but blogging was still so new to us.  We’re mainly fiction writers, and so we had to figure out a whole new culture and set of norms for this world of blogging and bloggers.  And posting something every day left no room for writer’s block, busy days, or unexpected calamities.  Could we really do it?

The answer: yes!  And it was exhilarating and hard and absolutely worth it.  In one month we wrote about everything from Greek mythology to Patrick Swayze to professional wrestling to Norman Rockwell to iCarly.  We wrote about books, books, and more books.  We even got a post up on Thanksgiving Day!  In everything we wrote, we held true to our goal of focusing on stories that entertain, delight, instruct, and inspire.  Some of our most popular posts:  Modern Day Man of My Dreams, The Power of Two, The Golden Buddha, and Favorite Teen Texts.

In one month our blog had over 1300 hits, mostly from the United States, but also from all over the world including Hong Kong, India, Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Spain, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Switzerland, Israel, Korea, Brazil, Greece, Peru, Canada, and the United Kingdom.  Our posts generated over 75 comments from funny and insightful readers. We gained 22 new followers—not as many as we’d hoped, but we’re willing to be patient and build up our numbers slowly.  (Besides, we don’t love that term “followers” – sounds too much like a cult.)  We hope in the months to come, more and more people will sign up for our mailing list to receive email updates about new blog posts.

So today’s post is not just a report card, but also a heartfelt thank you letter.  To everyone who read, commented, “liked”, “followed”, and enjoyed our daily posts: we can’t begin to express our gratitude.  Thank you for sticking with us, for not getting mad at us for clogging up your inboxes, and for inspiring us to keep writing.  This NaBloPoMo challenge taught us a lot about discipline, the creative process, and working together.  It introduced us to some amazing blogs and even more amazing bloggers.  It gave us a new appreciation for the whims and fancy of writing fiction, which we’re excited to get back to now that this challenge is done.

And now…we’re ready for a break!  But only a short one, we promise.  So please check back with us often.  We’ll keep writing about the stories that we love, and we look forward to hearing more about the stories you love.

Thanks again!!

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Much like Tommy and Gina who were immortalized in song by Bon Jovi, Sheri and I are likewise halfway there.  That’s right: Today marks the half-way point of the National Blog Posting Month Challenge.

When I first floated the idea of doing this challenge, Sheri wanted to throw up. It all seemed so daunting—still does, in fact.  But fourteen blog posts later—on topics ranging from golden Buddhas to warring poets to Patrick Swayze—we’re somehow still standing.

We thought we’d commemorate this milestone by reflecting on what these past two weeks have taught us about blogging.  And, naturally, in keeping with the title of this post, we’re going to link these lessons to words spoken by that Great Sage of Everything, Bon Jovi.

“It’s all the same, only the (posts) have changed…” (from “Wanted Dead or Alive”):  Even though we had no idea what we were getting into when we started this, we set down a few guidelines for ourselves:  we wanted to write something every day, not just post something—that is, we didn’t want to copy and paste quippy lists or some trite-posing-as-inspirational poems we found on the Internet; we wanted to write something pseudo-substantial or at least vaguely interesting each day, not just a few sentences or a dirty limerick; and we didn’t want to write the same sort of things every day.  We wanted to change things up each time.  And while that seems liberating (Write about whatever you want? Cool!), it can actually be kind of paralyzing. (Maybe we should have stuck with the dirty limericks?)

“Tomorrow’s getting harder, make no mistake” (from “It’s My Life”) AND “I don’t know where I’m going/ Only God knows where I’ve been” (from “Blaze of Glory”):  Coming up with a blog entry that fit the above criteria for one day is manageable… but what about the next day?  And the day after that?  Blogging, we’ve discovered, is relentless… and I guess Sheri and I tend to be relentful.  Good thing we’re doing this together; we’re able to trade off days or pick up the slack if the other one is swamped.  We absolutely commend anyone out there who is doing this solo.

“Lock the doors/ We’ll leave the world outside” (from “Thank You for Loving Me”):  One of the hardest truths we’ve learned about blogging is that you cannot, in fact, leave the world outside.  Instead, the world is still expecting you to engage in all your ordinary worldly activities—like taking care of your kids, or eating, or raking leaves, or even going to work once in a while.  (Wouldn’t this contest be so much easier if everyone else in the world was doing it as well?  Then you could just say, “Sorry, can’t generate that annual report this month… gotta do some blogging.”  Why do we always have to accommodate the non-writers out there?)

Having said all this, we still think this has been an exhilarating experience so far.  We’ve been forced to exercise our minds every day, and we’ve become part of a community of other like-minded lunatics who’ve taken on this same challenge.  And lookee here: we’re already at the halfway point.

And so, as we look ahead to the next fifteen days, I want to say to my writing-partner, the one who wanted to vomit at the very thought of this: “Take my hand, we’ll make it I swear.”

Have a nice day!

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Yesterday, in her post, my wife called me the “man of her dreams.”  How do you top that?

Fifteen years ago, on November 8, 1997, I married the woman of my dreams. To celebrate this day, I thought I’d post something I had written for a marriage program we gave together in June 2011.  The following is an excerpt from that talk (with two tiny revisions). 

Happy Anniversary, sweetie!

For those unfamiliar with the book, Toni Morrison’s Beloved recounts the story of several former slaves living in Ohio in 1873.  Even though they are technically, legally “free,” these characters still find themselves enslaved—by guilt, by reputation, by their own memories.  And one character, a man known only as Paul D, is actually enslaved by his own freedom.

Paul D, you see, spent more than half his life as a slave, as someone else’s property.  And so, when he gained his freedom, he started walking—not because he had a destination, but because he could. 

Morrison sums up his nomadic existence this way: “If a Negro got legs, he ought to use them. Sit down too long, somebody will figure out a way to tie them up.”  It makes sense: For Paul D’s entire life, he’s been bound; now that he’s free, he’s not going to be tied down to anything… or anybody.  For Paul D, “to eat, walk, and sleep anywhere was life as good as it got.”

Of course, you don’t have to be a former slave to appreciate this idea, at least in theory.   Maybe all of us, from time to time, look back somewhat wistfully on our younger, carefree days, before marriage, before kids.  You were a lone wolf back then, an independent operator.  And in a fog of nostalgia, you may at times reminisce to yourself, “Remember having no attachments, no one to report to?   Life was like a Bob Seger song back then. If I decided, spur of the moment, to go to Atlantic City one night, I could just get on my motorcycle and go. Yeah!”

Then the fog lifts, and you remember three things: (1) you’ve never been Atlantic City; (2) you’ve never owned a motorcycle; and (3) you weren’t truly happy back then, were you?  Somehow, something was missing.

Well, Paul D realizes this as well.  That’s why, at the very end of the novel, he returns to the only woman he ever truly loved, another former slave named Sethe.   He left her earlier in the book, but by the end he realizes that being able to eat, walk, sleep anywhere was not, in fact, life as good as it gets.  There’s something better.   And so, Paul D, this quintessential walking man, this lone wolf, realizes he wants to stay put, to build a life with his beloved.  Or, as Toni Morrison says, in her exquisite prose: “He wants to put his story next to hers.”

Whenever I think of that climactic reunion, between Paul D and Sethe, I always think of a song by the Indigo Girls called “The Power of Two.”  Now, on the surface, this may sound like a curious connection, since the novel is a horrifying account of the aftershocks of slavery and the song is about two folksy white girls going for a ride in the country.  However, the song contains a great line that I think echoes Paul D’s story perfectly: “The closer I’m bound in love to you/ The closer I am to free.”  That’s ultimately what Paul D, this former slave, realizes:  that, in this life, it’s OK to be bound to someone.  In fact, that’s his salvation.

This very blog is a “Power of Two” experience, but it’s not our first:  several years ago, my wife Sheri pitched the idea of writing a book together, after she was inspired by (of all things) a sculpture she saw outside the rest rooms of the Rainforest Café.  A few days later, while we were driving to the beach, she told me about this idea she had and then we started brainstorming.   Over the next few weeks and months, we kept talking, and as each of us built on each other’s ideas, the story evolved.  Eventually, we’d get babysitters and then go out alone and just talk about the book, fine-tuning the plot, characters, conflicts—with Sheri coming up with most of the best ideas.  Finally, we took all our notes and started composing the narrative.

Because we wanted to have a consistent voice, I would usually do the actual writing; Sheri would then read what I wrote and recommend revisions—some small, some sweeping.  Sometimes I agreed, sometimes I needed convincing, sometimes I had to convince her.   But all the collaborations and negotiations made for a richer, more complex story.

But, when it comes to writing, that process I’ve just described seems unusual.  In fact, when I first started telling people about our project, a friend who is a writer herself remarked, “I don’t know how you can write a book with another person.”  Well, after this experience, I don’t know how you could write a book any other way.  I don’t know if we thought about it as we were writing the book, but I can see now how this “power of two” philosophy truly fueled the entire process.

Each of us brought our own talents and ideas to the table, and as good as those ideas may have been on their own, they became so much better when we joined them together.  We inspired each other, and more than that: we motivated each other.  In my lifetime, I’ve probably come up with seven or eight novels—in my head.  Some I’ve actually started, but I never got beyond page ten.  This manuscript is the only sustained piece of writing I ever actually finished—and it’s absolutely because Sheri and I did it together.  To paraphrase a line from Beloved:  it only worked when I put my story next to hers.

Writing our book together—not to mention doing this blog—taught me something very fundamental about marriage:  sharing a life with another person is a process of creation.  Two people come together to create things, things that didn’t exist before.  Sheri and I wrote a book, but couples create so many things together.  Children, of course, are the most valuable, most lasting monuments couples create together, but there are others:  maybe a business; an addition to a house; a garden; meals.  Then there are intangibles: traditions; jokes; memories.   You created those things, but not alone, not as a lone wolf; you created them together.  Those things would not exist if not for the two of you coming together.

When you take the time to think about it, that’s amazing.  So, do take the time to think about it.  Celebrate the power of the two of you and remember all the things that exist simply because the two of you put your stories next to each other.  Then leave us a comment telling us all about it!

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