Tradition and Quirks

Many years ago I read a moldy old Reader’s Digest magazine while spending the night with Auntie (our grandma surrogate). I’ve never forgotten this little piece I read, although I have no idea who wrote it.

A young woman always cut her roast in half before cooking it. When asked why she did that, she replied it was the way her mother had always cooked roasts. When the mother was asked why she did that, she replied it was the way her mother had always cooked roasts. When the grandmother was asked the same question, she replied that she’d never owned a roaster big enough to hold the whole thing, so she had to cut it in half.

It stuck with me because it showed how we do things out of habit, and sometimes without understanding why.

Aunty and us Easter 2

Aunty with three of us. I’m not the one eating her basket.

I have passed on a tradition to my husband and son about making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. You ALWAYS put the peanut butter on first, then the jelly.

My dad was diabetic and he loved peanut butter. Every night he would say ‘what are we having peanut butter on tonight, mother?’. (One time I suggested a spoon, which he didn’t find as funny as I did.)

Because of the diabetis, no jelly could contaminate his beloved peanut butter.

My husband and son aren’t diabetic. But still, the rule remains because of habit and training. Peanut butter first.


Last night we had hamburgers. They wanted tomatoes. When my son was putting his burger together, he put condiments on the bottom half of the bun, added onion, and then waited for the burger. I said ‘don’t forget your tomato’. My husband and son both spoke at the same time, saying the tomato had to go on top of the meat. I asked what difference it made. They couldn’t tell me. It was just the way you had to do it. Not me. I don’t add a tomato. I go for extra onion and I don’t care what order it goes on as long as it goes on.

Arts birthday & climbing 088


But all that got me pondering about the little quirks we have, the odd traditions we follow, the habits we form, all without remembering why, or being able to explain why. ‘Just because.’ ‘It’s always done that way.’ ‘The world will end if you don’t.’

For instance, always leave about an inch of beverage in the bottom of the glass for the fairies. It doesn’t matter what I’m drinking. It doesn’t matter if the glass is full, or partially full. It doesn’t matter how thirsty I am. I have no idea why I do that, and I don’t even realize it until I do dishes. But I’ve always left something behind, even when mom would get mad at me for wasting milk.

Lisa and mom 1994

Always avoid stepping on black ants, but don’t worry about stepping on red ants. Another habit of mine that my son has picked up without knowing why. As a child I read a book about kids shrunk down to ant size. The black ants helped them and the red ants were trying to get them. Ever since, I have to help those little kids and their black ant friends.

And so it goes. Traditions without known cause, habits from forgotten reasons, quirks just because.

We’re so strange.

Us three taken by Kathy

Book Trailer Lessons

Sam Nuttmann (THE Sam Nuttmann) is considering doing a book trailer for This Deep Panic. If he reads this post, the parenthesis will make him laugh. But still, I’m having an excited fan moment.

Sam Nuttmann: MoVI Operator

I’ve learned a few things about book trailers in just the couple weeks we’ve been chatting. Initially I asked a friend who does amazing video recordings if she would be interested in taking this project on, without realizing that she doesn’t handle scary things well. I’m grateful she was honest with me because I wouldn’t have wanted the project to be upsetting for her. So then I remembered Sam and his film work and after contacting him, gave him the things that I thought were good visuals for the book. My list consisted of this.

  1. The Index Town Wall, with low clouds trailing down through the trees.
  2. Maybe a bit with the town itself, like a view of the town hall, store, museum.
  3. Whitewater.
  4. A raven or old woman.

lookout point 001

My husband then suggested I ask those friends who had read the book what their ideas for visuals would be. Wow. So different from mine. Their list went like this.

  1. Young people trying to cross a slide area.
  2. An old woman in black robes coming through the trees.
  3. An overturned school bus and young people trying to climb away from it.
  4. A middle-aged woman climbing boulders or sliding behind boulders while others try to stop her and a raven near her.
  5. Panicked shopping.
  6. Collapsed buildings and people staggering away.
  7. Rob McKibben heading for whitewater with his red kayak on his shoulder.
  8. A vague human-like shape with silhouette of antlers moving through shadowed trees, maybe following the high school kids.
lookout point 005

Taken from Lookout Point, partway up the Index Town Wall

One person said that for her, the book read like a movie so she pictured the visuals to be like an action movie trailer.

I learned from these two lists that I pulled out visuals that to me, from the writing standpoint, felt menacing. I realized that because I knew the story so intimately and in all its rough drafts, I assumed those visuals would mean something to others, when in fact, they give no context of story.


Listening to the readers’ choices made me look at the idea of visuals completely different. Now they seem more complicated and harder to do, but that’s where the expertise of friends who know how to film will make a difference.

Right now we’re in the initial stage of figuring out the ideas of what a trailer would look like. From there I will get a quote, and if it’s something I can afford we’ll move forward on this project. I’m imagining a lot of involvement from locals running around in the woods, which is probably going to be an absolute blast.

I’ll keep you posted.


In the meantime, I found it interesting how the writer ‘sees’ the story so differently from the ‘reader’. Or at least, how I did. Obviously my list fell far short because I didn’t think about how my list of visuals felt to me, and I didn’t think of actual scenes from the book. Looking at just my list itself, none of the emotions came through at all. No fear, nothing. Looking at the list from readers, I think tension and fear came through much better.

Now I need to find out if any locals have an overturned school bus lying around in their yard that we could use.


Lessons Learned Yet Again

Writing has been a struggle for months now. A few weeks ago I turned to three friends and one husband. As always, they listen.

And then, as always, I turn to music. The Arran Boat Song (also know as The Aran Boat Song) is one of my favorites. It’s a lament that was around in the 1700s although the exact age is unknown. Feel free to listen while I chat, especially if you need some quiet music in this crazy world right now. It’s a song that always allows me to drift off into stories.

The Arran Boat Song

I’ve spent months trying to write a new story and every single word felt wrong. I’ve started it over four times so far. I then moved to working on the fifth book in the mystery series only to fight every single word there, too. So what helps?

Friends who can gently ask the questions that you already know the answers to.

Especially when you’ve been here before and when you’ve faced the same questions before, and by now should really know the answers.


Can’t see the forest for the trees?

One friend asked ‘what has changed?’ My writing. I’m trying to write the way I always have, and it just isn’t the way these stories want to be told. The characters are stepping away from me and holding up their hands, telling me to wait and listen.

Which leads to ‘why’.

Sometimes the struggle is because I went down one path when the story wanted to go another. One friend asked ‘what would happen if you bushwhacked until you found the trail again?’ And another asked ‘If what is missing is the trail, maybe all that means is you’ve picked up all the tools along the paths to start foraging your own way’.

Do you see how well they know me, that they use forest analogies?


I want to sit in the cup of that tree.

Sometimes I take a character or subplot in the wrong direction. Sometimes I try to take the whole dang story in the wrong direction. Like when you’re trying to force a haunting into a mystery. When that happens you need friends who send an email that says:

What I’m sensing in your emails is this: 

– grief (I won’t pretend to know for exactly what)
– a feeling of being lost, lack of direction
– the desire to enter into some sort of magical realm, so to speak (in
your emails: folklore stories that inspire, characters that are attracted to the elemental parts of the world…)


Elemental forest creature or clay bank with stream and two rocks that fell out? And do you see the smaller face to the side?

And when you read those words, that inner writer lights up and says ‘YES!’ That character – she’s grieving, she’s seeking something elemental, some story to take her away. The mystery is still there, but now, there’s more.

Finally, you need friends and family who believe in you so when you start hitting the potholes in the trail, they carry you over them then give you a little push.


A narrow trail I stumbled down recently.

I’m not moving forward yet, but I think I see the path. But more importantly, I’m laughing. Because I’ve learned all these lessons before. Because I seem to need to relearn them after every book is finished.

Stumbling around fighting words must be the writing process before I can start something new. I’m lucky my family is patient. They should record all of this and play it back to me each time I finish a project and struggle to write the next one.

Another lesson learned.