Wiping Away Her Tears

April 9, 2018

She couldn’t wipe away her tears. This is the image that’s haunted me most since I lost a friend to ALS several years ago. I’d worked with Gina right out of college, then moved on and lost touch other than exchanging delighted hugs if we happened to see each other on a sidewalk or in the mall. She was an incredibly warm and vibrant person – sparkling brown eyes, a hearty laugh – somebody easy to reconnect with in an instant. We were about the same age, and our catch-up conversations reflected the pressing concerns of youth: ten extra pounds, the grocery stores that wouldn’t double our coupons, those darned downtown trains that always tied up traffic during rush hour. . . But mostly we laughed and reminisced about our fun-filled, adrenalin-fueled, friendship-rich stint at the local newspaper. Until her little girl was diagnosed with cancer. That’s when our chance encounters turned somber and soul-searching. That’s w...

Taking It, Making It, Faking It (Time, That Is)

April 5, 2018

“When do you find the time to write?” This is what I’m almost invariably asked when people find out I’m a novelist. And, believe me, I understand the question. Competing activities that have threatened to nudge my fiction-writing into oblivion throughout my life have chronologically included Brownies, band practice, existential teen angst (quite the time sucker), college finals, wedding-planning, labor, midnight feedings, toddler tantrums, T-ball, parent-teacher conferences, existential teen angst (this time my kids’, not mine, but even more of a time-sucker the second go-round), furniture rearranging, bathroom-disinfecting, etc. Oh, and a day job. Toss that pesky day job into the mix and time starts to seem as scarce as, say, political integrity. Still, I’ve squeezed fiction-writing into all these activities and more, because asking when I find the time is like asking when I find the time to eat crème-filled donuts. Some activities are simply so sacred that...

Channeling Dad in My Characters’ Names

April 2, 2018

“That’s kinda weird. . . .” I remember getting a lot of feedback about the name of the protagonist in my 2014 young-adult novel, Thirty Sunsets. Her name is Forrest, and several stymied readers asked where it came from. Um . . . I dunno. Where does any name come from? Your family? Your favorite soccer player? Your imagination? Some combination thereof? My chief motivation in giving Forrest her name was that I wanted to recreate my dad’s penchant for assigning stream-of-consciousness nicknames to his kids. Dad’s original nickname for me, for instance, was “Christine Clam” (he was channeling Jackie Gleason, for TV trivia buffs who go waaaay, waaaay back), but the name continually evolved. Whatever iteration happened to trip off Dad’s tongue at any given moment might be a one-time deal, or it might stick for a while. “Clambo,” I think, had the longest run. I, as the saying go...

Music to My Ears

March 29, 2018

The longer I write, the more I find myself turning to songwriters for inspiration. I co-wrote the songs included in my most recent novel, "All the Wrong Chords" (the EP, "All the Wrong Chords" is available on iTunes or wherever digital music is offered), and I love the economy and discipline required in crafting lyrics. Sure, there’s something very satisfying about finishing page 312 of a novel. But it’s nothing short of sublime to find that single word that adds grace, profundity, scansion and meter to a song lyric. It’s one thing to tell a story when time and space are limitless. That’s a primo reason novel-writing is so deliciously indulgent. But in songs, time and space are always limited. If you’re going to tell a story, inspire an emotion or create a connection in the confines of sixteen or so lines of copy, you’d better have a laser-like focus on what makes people tick. Great songs never take shortcuts. Great lyrics never settle. Great songwriters never fake...

My Writing Tips for Kids

March 28, 2018

When I visit schools as a guest author, I share a sneaky little secret: Good math skills open math-related doors. Good athletic skills open sports-related doors. Good interpretive-dance skills open interpretive-dance-related doors. But good communications skills? They open virtually every door. A strong command of the language makes people assume you’re smart in general. Isn’t that incredible? Very few other skills have such an all-encompassing effect. Nothing’s wrong with those other skills I cited (and best of luck with interpretive-dance aspirations), but those who take the time to cultivate communications skills will reap advantages in every area of life. That’s a lot of bang for the buck. And how exactly do you cultivate those skills? Here’s what I tell kids: 1: Be a reader. I’ve actually known writers who try to skip this step, but it can’t be done. Trying to be a good writer without being an avid reader is like trying to be a chef with only three ing...

Dancing on the Bus

March 27, 2018

My mom told me once that when someone was infuriating her, she'd gaze into his face and try to imagine what he looked like as a baby. Don't get me wrong: Mom was no pushover, and she could be pretty crusty if rubbed the wrong way. Snobbishness, self-righteousness, hypocrisy and prejudice, for instance, were on her short list of pet peeves, and she didn't hesitate to speak up in the face of injustice or unkindness. But she also tried to give people the benefit of the doubt. I never knew anyone who adored infants as much as Mom did, so superimposing a baby face on, say, a snappish fast-food server was a highly reliable way to defuse her ire. My bestie in college was also incredibly adept at seeing the best in people. She's beautiful, but it's her warmth and sparkle that most reliably draw people into her orbit. She always, alwaysfinds something likable in other people. For instance, we used to share bus rides in college with an annoying fellow passenger. He bellowed his ever...

Writing is a Team Sport

March 26, 2018

This is redundant. That’s what I remember thinking when my high school guidance counselor assigned a personality quiz to my sophomore class so he could help shape our career paths. I didn’t mind answering a few questions about, for instance, whether I’d prefer bungee-jumping to knitting. But I already knew what I wanted to do the rest of my life: write. That’s all I’d ever wanted in a career, and I didn’t need a personality quiz to steer me in the right direction. Of course, the results did hit the nail on the head (those Facebook quizzes don’t ferret out your spending or voting habits for nothing, you know), confirming that I was (and am) an introvert who relishes holing up in a room with a book, either reading or writing one. And true, few pursuits are more solitary than writing a book. It’s just me, my imagination and a blank computer screen when I embark on a novel. I even have a hard time listening to music when I’m writing. The quieter ...

Isn’t it Romantic?

March 8, 2018

When my publisher, Flux, asked me to weigh in on my five favorite literary romances, my first thought was: Only five?!? Yikes, that was a tough one. Okay, my list might be totally different on any other given day (romance is fickle, and so am I), but here's the list I came up with. Enjoy! Or pick it apart. (My readers are fickle too.) Gone with the Wind: I’m originally from Atlanta, and I named my most recent protagonist Scarlett, so how could this novel not make the cut? But you needn’t hail from the Deep South to bask in the smoldering heat generated by one of the most passionate romances literature has ever produced. True, Sherman’s the one who set the city on fire, but Rhett and Scarlett’s veritable spontaneous combustion added plenty of sparks to the flame. Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda: The tension in this oh-so-charming young-adult novel by Becky Albertalli is deliciously palpable as the protagonist follows a trail of bread ...

Trusting that the Magic Will Happen

January 14, 2018

My to-do list for the afternoon: 1. Shop for tonight’s dinner with the fam 2. Clean bathrooms 3. Achieve cold fusion Okay, number three isn’t really on my list, but it might as well be. The actual number three is “start a new novel,” and that seems just as daunting right now as nuclear science. Staring at a blank screen never gets any easier. The screen suddenly morphs into a taunt, a tease, a dare, a threat. It screams mean things at me, like: * "Good luck, loser! Bwa-ha-ha!” * “So you’re gonna come up with eighty-thousand words, huh? You can’t even think of the first one, poser!” * “Go ahead. Click on a cute-cat video. You know you want to.” My blank screen is just as daunting after double-digit novels as it was for the first. But I’ll dig in anyway. The onset of a novel is as intimidating as ever, but I have enough experience now to know that the first word pretty reliably leads to the second, that chapter one generally leads to ch...

Go Dawgs! Sic ’em! Woof, woof, woof

January 7, 2018

My former college roomie shared this morning a Washington Post article citing the University of Georgia’s “golden years” — the early ’80s, which featured, among other things, a national football championship, several athletes who defied physics on the gridiron and basketball court, a music scene to rival virtually any in the world (What’s the frequency, Kenneth?), the dopest cookie store on earth (RIP, Cookies & Company) and . . . me. Yep, I was there, too, so in anticipation of yet another national championship (GO DAWGS!), here are a few memories from the vaunted vantage point of my eighth-floor Brumby dorm: * My self-cleaning popcorn popper. Okay, it wasn’t really self-cleaning, but everyone (other than my poor roomie, Pam) was willing to accept my alternative fact that it was. Actual fact: It’s possible for a popcorn popper to be used every day for a year, never once see a dishrag and still not have its oil resid...

© 2019 Christine Hurley Deriso