Monday, June 30, 2008


Readers disagree: is it a “sin” to make notes in a book, or is it a gift to future readers?

From a post on a LibraryThing discussion thread, it’s at least a writing prompt:

I was in the Cincinnati Public Library doing some research when I found [a] genealogy that had writing in the margins of almost half of the pages. At first I was upset, but then it became obvious that the author had come to the library again and again over twenty years to update the book. The most recent entries were in a very frail, shaky script.
What’s the story?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Supervising Assessor

The supervising doctor in the Emergency Room sat with Mom and me in our little curtained cubicle. She reviewed the resident’s medical work-up of my mother. “What’s your relation?” she asked. “Sisters?”

I smiled and waited for her to look up from the chart and wink. After all, Mom was 38 when I was born. Sure, second and third marriages generate some surprising age ranges among today’s step-siblings. But 38 years? Would she look up and wink, already?

Her question hung in the air. Seriously? I looked like a seventy- or eighty-something? Granted, it was early; I hadn’t showered. But sisters?

“I’m her daughter,” I said. She shrugged. “I never make assumptions.”

I’ll use this someday, in some piece of writing. But my character will be edgier. For starters, she’ll say, “Gee, your assessment skills suck.”

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


On Saturday, preparing for a little road trip with my mom, I was next in line when the car wash broke. “Need to order a part,” they said; wouldn’t be repaired for two days. I backed out and drove home.

On Sunday, I was on my next-to-last load of laundry when the washing machine broke. “We’ve already repaired it once,” my husband and I said; we’d shop for a new one in four days, when I got back from my trip. We gathered the last loads and drove to the laundromat.

These things come in threes, yes? And in themes, yes?

I never dreamed that the third thing to break would be my mom. “Need to go to the hospital,” she said on Tuesday; she stayed six days. I stayed close for three, then my sister came and stayed close until discharge.

But what’s the theme?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Setting Maps

Further along into the book with the Scene Map that I blogged about the other day, was a Setting Map -- an overhead, blueprint-style rendering of the TV town of Mayberry, North Carolina, laid out by postal worker/artist Mark Bennett.

Interesting! So I googled Bennett and discovered he’s released a whole book of similar maps: TV Sets: Fantasy Blueprints of Classic TV Homes. I’ve mapped floorplans myself -- childhood classrooms, my house, a neighbor’s house, the house on my first favorite TV show (Bewitched). I borrowed Bennett's book from the library and am making my way through it as a series of puzzles about TV shows from the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s: I cover Bennett’s map with a sheet of paper while I re-assemble my own mental image, then slide the paper away little by little to reveal his map and see how closely we match. The process feels like a really slow computer trying to load a screen image.

Next to Bennett’s book on the library shelf was Diana Friedman’s Sitcom Style: Inside America's Favorite TV Homes, loaded with both wide-angle and close-up photographs of familiar rooms from 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s series. I leafed through her book from back to front (to avoid chapter-heading spoilers) and instantly recognized almost every set. Then I read the accompanying design notes to learn how the furnishings and decor were selected to develop story, characterization, and theme.

While looking through both books, it seemed that my mind had organized and remembered the layouts and details of rooms more along the style of Bennett’s overhead blueprints, but that I now recognized them faster via Friedman’s front-facing photographs. Either way, I’m encouraged that, decades later, the TV fictions are so memorable … kudos to the storytellers who developed them so fittingly.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Scene Map

From You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination by Katharine Harmon, this image was created by graphic designer Tibor Kalman to promote a NYC restaurant. (Click on image to see larger size.)

Notice one napkin on the floor, the other curving onto a lap. See how the forks are held, take in the atmosphere of mirth.

Try mapping a still-shot of one of your scenes … noticing details like these along the way … then write out a first draft.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Men in Trees

What's this guy's backstory? (Click on image to see larger size.)

What's his next maneuver?