Here’s An Idea . . .

Last night my good guy surprised me with a wonderful dinner out.  If you like french food and live in the Denver area, I’d recommend trying La Merise in Cherry Creek.  Prices are way too high, and the meal takes forever and a day to put in front of you, but the food is well worth it.

Anyway, on the drive home, and after a glass or two of wine, we got to talking about books. My guy said he’s probably read six books this month alone.  Six books! How great is that? He works a full-time job, writes on Facebook, stays up with politics and sports, ballroom dances, yet still makes time to read voraciously. Wow.

photo of books about ideas and more

Getting and organizing ideas.

I had to admit I haven’t completed any. Yes, I’m in the middle of Harold Robbins’ The Predators, but I’m also reading High Probability Selling by Jacques Werth and Nicholas E. Ruben as part of my consulting work, still dipping into Story Engineering by Larry Brooks and have just started to dive into a fun read called Where Do You Get Your Ideas? by Fred White.  Guess I like my reading the way others like eating tapas–a small bite at a time.  You could call this reading style either Attention Deficit Disorder run wild, or you could be kind, and say I have eclectic reading tastes.  I prefer the latter, thank you.

But I want to share with you the concept of capturing ideas for writing from Where Do You Get Your Ideas?  I’ve seen whole books on the subject of organizing story ideas before, and I have to admit that Mr. White’s proposed binder with wandering spiral is intriguing.  He even goes so far as to recommend different colored paper to capture notes in different ways.  This kind of system has always appealed to me in the past.  The challenges come for me in the process of maintaining an idea file or notebook.  Here’s why:

  • Jotting ideas down, to me, needs to be a regular habit.  If I were to wait until I was inspired, I wouldn’t have any published work yet. And just carrying around a pocket notebook isn’t a guarantee of anything more than having a scratch pad for the grocery list you need for tonight’s dinner.  But, I have to admit, I keep that notebook handy–just in case.
  • The binder Mr. White recommends should hold about 400 pages. Whew! I could fill that up, but given my clumsiness, I could see me accidentally dropping the book and all those pages flying around the room.  Then the dog would get excited and start chasing them, while the cat would screech and run off to a hiding spot.  And with my luck, just at that moment, there would be a fire alarm with “abandon the house!” orders . . .  okay. Imaginative moment. Sorry.
  • I have kept idea files, drawers, boxes, etc. before. Can’t seem to find them when I need them.  And to be honest, on that rare occasion when I come across them on a lazy afternoon of “there’s nothing to do, so let me look through all my junk,” most of the ideas are pretty lame.  I don’t pitch them, because you never know.  To me, I suspect that ideas have a shelf life of maybe a few months.

I’ve seen the concept of capturing ideas often. I have several spirals with scraps and starts. But one more notebook seems to me to be that last straw.  So here’s what I plan to do:

  1. Keep that wandering pocket notebook.  I bought a purse with a big pocket just for that purpose.
  2. Buy a one subject spiral with about 100 sheets of paper.  This is where I’ll jot notes from reading, story starts, character sketches, and all bits of creative writing.
  3. Once a notebook is filled, I’ll set aside an afternoon (or day or week) and type up the best exercises, lists, story ideas etc.  These documents will be filed . . . on my computer.  Then I can either pitch or store (yes, I can feel my mother cringing–NO STORING JUNK!) the old spiral and treat myself to a new one.
  4. I like to sketch ideas too, so I’ll need to become skilled at scanning documents, but this isn’t a rocket science skill so that shouldn’t be a problem.

How about you? How do you capture your great ideas? How do you get rid of old spiral friends? I’d love to hear from you.

Have a creative week, my friend.

New Ways With Old Books

I’m excited to say that in a couple of weeks, I’m going to the Lakewood Art Council’s gallery in Lakewood, Colorado for a book signing event.  These promotional affairs are still new to me, so I don’t feel cynical if I end up with only two or three people at my presentation.  But I have to admit, I’m a bit nervous about this particular event because I’ve committed to doing an “art project.” Yikes!

Now, many of my friends know that I have been sketching and doing watercolor painting since Eisenhower was president, but to be honest, I’m not that great at it.  I don’t remember if it’s cadmium yellow that stains a paper or winsor yellow.  I’ve never achieved “vibrancy” the way professionals do.  I mostly work hard at painting and have a ton of fun with it.  There is no way I’m qualified to “teach” a bunch of artists anything about painting.

In desperate hopes I turned to the Internet for ideas.  I typed in “books in art” because, after all, I’ll be doing a quick reading from my own book.  The images I found were beautiful, but ancient looking. Hmm. Ancient.  What could I do with that?

"1455 portrait 100" by Darjac (personal collection) - Scanned by Darjac. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Johannes Gutenberg on a Hungarian stamp in 1962. Portrait by Darjac, thanks to Wikicommons.

Finally it dawned on me that the whole concept of “book” is ancient.  Johannes Gutenberg is considered one of the greatest inventors of all time because about 600 years ago he invented the printing press, and made reading available to all as a result.  Until his books, people had to rely on oral history and tales passed from mouth to mouth and generation to generation for news and learning. Book printing was the “latest technology” and threatened to destroy campfire tales and other forms of storytelling.

Yet, here we are today with both books and storytelling still going strong.  But a new threat to reading in a “traditional” sense is here.  Books held strong through the advent of the radio, the television, and even the movies.  But can books survive the invention of the computer and the e-book?  Do they need to?

Let’s face it.  Books are fun to read once, and if they’re exceptional a second or even third time.  I remember my dad reading “The Night Before Christmas” every year as I grew up.  But today, for the most part, we read to be entertained for a few hours, educated (at least through the final exam of a semester in college) and inspired to be a better person. When a book is complete it usually sits on our shelves collecting dust and acting as a gentle reminder of good times and thoughts past.

It occurred to me that doing something with books that we no longer use might make a good craft project, even if it isn’t art.  In my internet search, I stumbled across such things as “book carving,” “bookmarks,” and “turning books into purses.”

In a way, this seems like a sacrilege.  One time, when I was in grade school a kid came in with his subject report illustrated by pictures he’d cut from his parents’ encyclopedias.  Oh the uproar!  That boy had “ruined” great books!  It didn’t matter that his folks could afford to buy new encyclopedias.  It didn’t matter that every project Rene brought in was constructed with the finest, most expensive materials around.  He had the audacity to treat an encyclopedia, an encyclopedia for goodness sakes, with irreverence! That scandal flashed through Vaughan Elementary with the speed of a summer lightning storm.  And for every child who was not the hapless Rene, we trembled with the thought of destroying something as precious as a book.

Fast forward to my kids’ growing up (which is still ancient history).  With my pack-rat tendencies, I always had plenty of magazines on hand to cut up for report illustrations.  But even when a National Geographic magazine was years old, I had a hard time letting the safety shears and Elmer’s glue go. Some magazines were as precious as books.

Finally, when the kids had gone and I had enough spending money to be able to buy books regularly, I began to dispose of them.  It remains hard to do, even today.  My big break-through came when I was trying to decorate an office for a company my good guy and I started in 1999.

For the first time I bought a book with the sole intention of cutting it up.  I used beautiful illustrations from the book to cut and glue onto computer discs.  My goal was to combine the idea of gleaming technology and the beauty that is Colorado together.  I ended up with about 10 of these discs mounted and framed.  The project came out well, and for years we received compliments on pictures that would otherwise have been lost in a book on a shelf somewhere.  Who knew I could do this?

So the question is, can we as artists, have a love of book and still create art with it?  Is it bad to cut up books and repurpose them, or should we let go and move on to the compact nature of an e-reader, never to thumb through, smell the ink, or enjoy a quiet afternoon rolling around on the couch to find the most comfy position to read the next page?

If you’re in my area on Saturday, July 26th from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm, I hope you’ll join me for Literary Arts: Meet The Author at the Lakewood Arts Council Art Gallery, 85 S. Union Blvd (Union & 6th Ave. behind the Wendy’s burgers), Lakewood, CO.  We’ll be talking mysteries and doing crafts with used books.


Gathering With Family

I love the irony of a family gathering on Independence Day.  We’ve mostly all grown up and moved on in our lives to form new families and new connections far away from “home,” yet this year, as in years past, my siblings and I have gathered at my sister’s house in Waterford, Michigan, to celebrate our country’s beginnings and our family’s continuing close connection.  Do you, too, connect with friends and family for the fourth of July?

Henry dog in front of Ocie's car

I like this car.

I think the fireworks at this time of year are also appropriate.  Yes, the rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air do still give proof that our love of country and family are still there. Thank you Francis Scott Key.  I also like the idea that people yelling and disagreeing does make a lot of noise sometimes, but eventually the noise dies away, leaving a strength of family and love. How cool is that?

During my visit to Detroit this year, Sis and I watched the movie, “Return to Me,” starring Minnie Driver and David Duchovny.  The story is a romance (hey, sister week, remember?) between a heart transplant woman and a widower who’s wife was the heart donor.  That premise itself is a wonderful thought to play with, but what really appealed to me was the love of the ‘family’ that was in evidence throughout the story. There was a grandpa (Carroll O’Connor) and an uncle (Robert Loggia) and a bunch of guys who would debate the best singers ever over games of poker.  I also liked the layer of a younger family with bunches of kids and the mom and dad (Bonnie Hunt and Jim Belushi) who constantly yelled but were obviously in a rhythm of love and fireworks throughout their lives.

Henry 2014 laying down

No, I won’t go with you!

I think it is the wrapping of love in movies and stories that make them so worthwhile.  I really enjoy it when there are no real “bad guys,” but real people who just see things differently.  Remember the movie, “Sabrina?” Either version will do.  Or if you like something a little less romantic, how ’bout “Remember the Titans?” These feel-good movies and stories touch us as humans and help us see that life is exciting even without romantic kisses or gunshot-riddled sets. They help us believe an important truth–every human being counts in this world.

Sometimes stories have to have violence and force to carry their story.  I couldn’t imagine “The Godfather” without the shooting scenes.  But there is a line between moving the story along and gratuitous violence.  I watched a couple of episodes of “Game of Thrones,” and stopped because I couldn’t buy into the violence there.  My nephews disagreed vehemently, saying that the violence made this fantasy show more “realistic.” Interesting.

For me, when I watch a movie or television show, or read a good book, I want to be entertained.  Violence doesn’t do that for me.  But I’m open to debate.  How do you feel about violence as part of the story line?  How much is necessary, and when do you think it goes over the top?

Henry 2014 being carried to other car

Sit down protests are better than hunger strikes!

And also for me, I can’t get enough of humor and affection.  Where would we be without friends on-screen like Whoopi Goldberg or Robin Williams?  No, I can’t watch all this feel-good non-stop.  That would be like eating three birthday cakes in one weekend, with a chaser of soda-pop, and pancakes for breakfast. Oops!  Did you see me last week?

And I can’t leave my memories of the weekend without a mention of Henry.  Henry is my niece’s family dog.  I first saw him two years ago when “grandma and grandpa” brought him to the family party, and he politely let another little relative use his kennel.  This year, Henry came inside for a quick hello.  He is huge now (close to eighty pounds according to my adorable great-niece), but as quiet and friendly as I remembered him.  Henry must have gone outside with the younger people because after a quick hello pat I didn’t see him the rest of the day.

However, when it was time to go home, Henry did his best.  He ran up to the car and sat waiting for the back to open up.  Unfortunately, he had the wrong car.  The one he chose was “Ocie’s car,” Ocie being another sister who was traveling in  a different direction.  Ocie’s grandson is very fond of cars, and hers is always the best.  Add to this that Ocie has a new car and, well, who could blame Henry for wanting to go in it?

No matter how the Henry family coaxed and cajoled, Henry wouldn’t move.  If this were a taste test, Ocie’s car won the day.  So how do you move a big dog who doesn’t want to move?

Henry being loaded into the "right" car

In the end, love wins the day, and Henry goes in the “right” car.

My niece and her two kids picked up Henry, and walked around the corner to the “right car.” Personally? I think Henry has good taste in cars, but has ended up with a loving family. Best of both worlds.

Wishing you love in all of your conflicts this week.