Monday, March 18, 2013


Patty here…

Some writers have a high tolerance for chaos. I consider myself relatively unflappable. I can multi-task with the best, but I don’t like full-blown, crazy-ass, out-of-control shit, pounding down on my head in Biblical-sized hailstones.

I'm a writer, but I also suffer from chronic volunteerism, so my plate generally overflows. I also have an MBA with an emphasis in Strategic Planning, so I always consider worst-case scenarios and never take on more than I can manage in case things go sideways.  Life was skipping along rather splendidly.

Then it rained in L.A.

The bedroom skylight sprung a leak. Plaster puckered the wall like scar tissue after a knife fight. And it was spreading. Had to be fixed. My Beloved called in the cavalry. Then he noticed the deck needed painting and the thirteen large ficus trees and the what-not-in-pots on the deck were looking a bit tired. And heavy. And those trays under the plants? They were filled with water. He envisioned more leaks. The deck was a roof after all. Damn plants had to go.

My Beloved, who has high tolerance for chaos, believes everything should be done simultaneously. So, the junk hauler arrived to cart off the plants. The painters started hosing the deck. The flashing fixers chopped dry rot from the area around the skylights. Soon the sounds of screeching, hammering and the buzz of power tools, not to mention the odor of toxic chemicals, filled the house. Doors swayed on their hinges. The furnace blasted heat into the outside air. The cats were freaking out. My Beloved listened to Wynton Marsalis through his ear-buds, oblivious to it all.

The two of us have been together for a while. I know how he operates. Earlier in the week he turned the gas burner up to Hell to heat water in the expensive copper teakettle I bought him for Christmas. Typically, heating water is just one of the many balls he juggles in the air at any given moment. However, unless you’re in a space capsule headed to the moon, those balls must come down at some point. Later, I walked into the kitchen and found the burner still on high and rivers of melting copper oozing onto the stove. It was a Dorothy versus Wicked Witch of the West moment, but me? Cool as the proverbial cucumber. I scooped the melted metal into a bag and carted it off to the garbage can. Then I went back to my writing.

I digress. Back to the day of the Junk Hauler/Deck Painter/Flashing Fixer. As I sat at my computer, I heard a loud noise from the floor below that vibrated my chair. At first I thought it was a jackhammer gone rogue. I would have investigated but I was in the middle of editing an important section of my current novel. The phone rang. I didn’t answer, because the noise was too loud to hear human speech. Better to let the caller leave a message.

The din didn’t stop. That’s when I realized the noise wasn’t a rogue power tool. I raced downstairs and found the fire alarm blaring. My hands shook as I tore open the alarm box. Inside was a maze of wires but no red off button. I didn’t want to yank the wires free for fear of triggering somebody’s nuclear warheads.

Screaming like a banshee, I bolted outside, calling for My Beloved to shut off the bloody alarm. Naturally, he couldn't hear me because he was doing mambo moves to a recording of Tito Puente on his iPod. That’s when I saw the fire truck pull up to the curb in front of my house.


As soon as the firefighters left I went back to editing my chapter, because that's what writers do. They write. Many authors have far more distractions in their lives than I do: young children, day jobs, elderly parents, illness. Still, they manage to put words on the page, day after day, until they've accumulated 65,000 or 85,000 or 100,000, or just enough to tell a story worth reading, or as William Faulkner said, a story about "the human heart in conflict with itself." All of these authors share one essential trait: they know how to manage chaos. How about you? Have crazy distractions ever stopped you from writing? How did you get back on track?

Happy Monday and Write on!

P.S. Thank you to Oline Cogdill of Mystery Scene Magazine for welcoming us back to the blogosphere.


  1. from Jacqueline

    Well, seeing as you asked ... I won't go into the details here, because this is a really funny post, and I don't want to spoil it. I have to say, I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall a your house while this was going on. As you probably know, last year was a really bad year for me, yet through all that dreck, my writing grounded me. I know this is no time to admit this here, just one week before my new book is published, but I wrote every day through the worst of times, getting up at 4:30am to have time for myself before my day went pear-shaped, and by the time I had finished that book, I couldn't remember writing most of it. Miraculously, it seemed to hang together, with just a bit of tweaking here and there - but the essence is that getting on with my writing every single day kept me sane. Now, Patty, what is this about a kettle on the stove? What are we in - the dark ages? Get yourself an automatic electric kettle - we Brits have been using them for over 45 years now, and we are big drinkers of tea and coffee and they work a charm. Mine's a Breville (Australian brand, very good), though my other favorite is a good old Russell Hobbs - all available here in the USA. Buy one. Soon. Loved this post, Patty!

  2. My dear Our J, an electric teakettle???!!! What have you Brits come to? This kettle was handmade, a replica of kettles found on old whaling ships from yon years of yore. Since My Beloved is a man of the sea, I thought it would be appropriate. Now we're back to one that whistles but will check out your recommendations.

  3. I have constant distractions. Like looking around and seeing that something needs to be done: laundry, bathroom cleaning, the cat's little fake claws have come off and need to be replaced before she shreds the new furniture. I had the flu once while on deadline with a book. I had a fever of 103 and could barely move. But I wrote every day. When I recovered and finished the book, I went back to fix the stuff I wrote while I was so sick. I couldn't find the awful part. The part that was sick with flu. The plot was relatively seamless. I have no idea how I did it.

    1. Karen, you are one of authors I most admire because you have always been able to "keep on truckin" regardless of what's going in around you. Your "fever dreams" sounds like Jackie's experience with one of her books.