Monday, August 15, 2011


Each year I celebrate my birthday with 5-6 folks who share the same happy date. Often we exchange small gifts. Last year, a former coworker made cell phone bling and gave us the opportunity to choose among several options. Each had a silver bead with a power word on it. I snagged the one that read “change,” thinking to use it as a touchstone for meditation, for acceptance of that fact that, as Patty Loveless sings in that old song, "Life's about changing, nothing ever stays the same."

I’m not comfortable with change as a general rule. I don’t like surprises, curveballs or things I can’t anticipate. But I knew last year that I’d be enduring a gauntlet of changes in 2011 and I thought: Bring it on. I know you’re coming for me. I’ll be ready.
Some things you are never ready for.

I wasn’t ready for my grandfather to die this spring, even though I knew the end was near. And this summer, I wasn’t ready for two critique partners to choose new paths that lead away from our little band of writers. In a few months’ time, I doubt I’ll truly be ready to say good-bye to my boss of seven years.

Change. It’s hard, dammit.

I think my favorite protagonists would hold a similar opinion. For all the sh** we writers put those poor folks through, it’s a wonder they’re willing to show up on the page to find out what we have in store for them next. Life is swell then, bam, they stumble across an unexpected betrothal, get caught up in the search for a murderer, or learn that humans aren’t the only species at the top of the food chain. Or they are forced to come to grips with all three changes to life-as-they-knew-it at once. But show up they do and watching how they triumph, sink, fight and rise again not only keeps me reading, it keeps me writing.

In 1930s Hollywood W.S. “Woody” Van Dyke (director of The Thin Man among other great films), used to push people into his pool during parties he hosted. How his guests responded to this unexpected turn of events helped him figure out whom he wanted to work with in his next films (thankfully for all of us, Myrna Loy passed the splash test with flying, if drenched, colors).
It got me wondering. My hero, Joe, would likely stay in the pool, naked, the rest of the night. Especially if he could entice his mate, Della, to join him. Della would probably fail the test (she likes change just about as much as I do. Go figure.). She might even try to arrest Mr. Van Dyke for frivolous frivolity. That is, if she were still a cop. And if she could find such a statute on the books. I’d like to think my little touchstone has prepared me so I could pass the pool plunge test like Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed in It's a Wonderful Life.

But it probably hasn’t.

How about you and your characters? How would your favorite hero/ine take to getting pushed into Van Dyke’s pool? How would you?


  1. Good post, Keely.

    I actually wrote my first novel-length manuscript because of the daunting changes in my life. I was alone in a big, new city while Mr. Christoff was away in a war zone.

    I threw my heroine into the deep end of the pool to remind myself things could be worse, and then I led her to fight her way out of troubled waters to remind myself I could do the same if I had to.

    Whew! I learned a lot about myself and change that year. And that manuscript has done very well for me. So maybe change isn't all bad. But I still don't like it!

  2. I agree, not all change is bad...but it can be stressful. How lucky we are as writers to be able to work some of that anxiety out in our characters' trials and tribulations.

  3. I think that my characters would survive a drop into the deep end of the pool. But first they will they have to come up sputtering, claw their hair out of their eyes, kick their heavy shoes off, fight their way across the deep end, dodging things left floating in the pool, other swimmers, and any other thing I can think to throw in front of them.

  4. Excellent post, Keely! You're right. I hate change, too. But I must put my characters through one onslaught after another of crappy events to keep a story moving ahead and keep them growing!