Saturday, July 19, 2014


by Mary Kennedy                         
One of my friends commented that writers are like sharks, always on the move, because if we ever stopped moving, we would surely die! (actually, that's a common misconception about sharks. There's only one species of shark, "obligate ram ventilators." who will die if they stop moving. The rest can take pit stops to grab a breath.)
But back to her theory. When I asked her to explain, she said, "You guys are always thinking, always watching everything, always coming up with characters and plots." She gave a little snort. "And when you're sleeping, you probably dream about books." (I may be mistaken, but I thought she sounded vaguely annoyed with me.)
But I have to confess, in many ways, she's right. It's true that our brains are always "engaged," much to the annoyance of our non-writer pals. We never "chill out," we're always thinking, thinking.
 If I go to a party--a rare event, I always have deadlines--I try to absorb everything I see, hear and feel. It's all material, after all.  Last week, I saw a girl in tight white dress (if it were any tighter, it would be a tourniquet) and heard her whisper to a friend, "This dress--it was a gift." Really? I am fascinated and wonder who bought it--her hubby, standing at the bar downing a few shooters, her boyfriend, a flashy Lothario chatting up a redhead, or maybe she's lying and she bought it herself? (It's a designer dress, but then, she IS a hedge fund manager.). One look at a dress and my mind scoots down odd passageways. I immediately started thinking about how I could work the "girl in the white dress" into a murder mystery.
Odd bits of dialogue are always intriguing. I overheard two women talking at Starbucks. One said, "How are Walter and Francesca doing? I heard they were having some problems." Her friend shook her head sadly and replied, "Yeah, it's a shame. Things have never been the same with them--ever since he threw her through that plate glass window." Yowsers. I sipped my Chai tea and moved to another table.
And it doesn't have to be sights and sounds, even smells can trigger strong memories for us. I love honeysuckle, it always reminds me of "summer nights filled with magic and promise, when everything seems possible." One whiff of honeysuckle and I'm wrapped up in a romance novel in my head.
Sometimes a sight and smell together can move a writer to tears. I was walking with a friend when we passed a Victorian house surrounded by magnolia bushes. A young girl came out and let the screen door bang behind her. I was shocked when my friend's eyes suddenly got misty.
 I stopped dead in my tracks. "What's wrong?" I asked. She brushed her tears away and said sheepishly, "I know this sounds crazy, but the smell of the magnolia bushes, the front porch, the screen door banging on a summer night, it just all seems so sad."
Sad? It turns out that she was flashing back to a memory of herself at age thirteen, spending the summer with her grandmother at the shore. It was happier times for her, and she captured that whole image--and those feelings--in a sort of freeze frame. The image was so vivid and so moving, it was hard to believe that twenty five years had passed. But I knew exactly what she meant, because the same sort of thing has happened to me.
Do certain sights/sounds/smells trigger a memory for you? Can a sunset or a summer night bring back a wave of nostalgia? If so, you're probably a writer. Or have the soul of a writer...
Mary Kennedy
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