Monday, December 10, 2012


Today as I sat at my desk, the sound of the wind drew my attention to the window. Outside, dry, fallen oak leaves tumbled in my yard and in the street. It's an overcast day, and I had that feeling of melancholy that accompanies gloomy days and dead leaves.

In Western movies, the iconic tumbleweed rolling through the center of town indicates emptiness. Perhaps the town is abandoned, or all the people are inside, hiding from the gang of bandits terrorizing the locals.

There's something sad about a bouquet of flowers that's started to wilt and lose its petals. It isn't cheerful and uplifting anymore. Now, it's just depressing. In Great Expectations, Miss Havisham, the jilted bride, spends her life in her wedding attire. Dead flowers adorn her hair and vanity. The image of a bride and her bouquet, both withered and decaying, is the height of Victorian Gothic. It's shocking and immediately conveys Miss Havisham's deranged state of mind.

On the bright side, she can still fit into her wedding dress. 

What is it about deceased plant material that arouses these unsettling feelings? Does it serve as a reminder of our own mortality? Or of the impermanence of beauty? Why is a Western town even made emptier when there's a tumbleweed passing by? Why do dead leaves and wilting flowers seem so sad?

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Monday, December 3, 2012


Over the weekend, Mr. Boyce and I celebrated our wedding anniversary.We marked the occasion by ditching the kids and hitting the pub. The English-style establishment to which we sojourned has large screen televisions adorning the walls, which air sporting events. Now, my husband and I are not sports fans. I like the Olympics and the World Cup. Basically, I can get excited about athletics for a brief period of time once every few years. We pay zero attention to American sport seasons.

These seem like people who would play rugby, right?
During our repast at the pub, our fellow patrons were excited about a contest of collegiate American football played between canines with stunted nasal passages and a toxic algal bloom. Forgive me, my fellow Americans, but I just don't get the appeal of the game. Armored lummoxes of men move a ball up and down a field in minute increments with only the occasional break-out display of action. An hour of game time manages to suck up double or triple as much actual time because of all the stops between plays and officiating and whatnot. It bores me.

About the time I ordered another pint, one of the large televisions (the smallest one, crammed up in the corner) showed a game (match?) of rugby. Mr. B noticed it first, as it was behind me. He was delighted with what he saw, so I joined him on his side of the booth. I saw large men with massive thighs and bare heads barreling up and down the pitch. The ball was kept in action until a tackle or collision brought play to a temporary halt. A gentleman bearing a striking resemblance to Hagrid seemed possessed of a Berserker rage and plowed straight through anyone in his path. In fact, I wondered aloud if the game had been invented by the Scots. It seemed like the foolhardy and slightly deranged activity that marvelous country is known for. Wikipedia informed me that, in fact, the game developed amongst another group of impulsive males -- school boys.

But seriously, someone please explain this to me.
The game was hugely entertaining to watch. The action was almost non-stop. Players performed the same kinds of tackles and grapples as American football players, minus the safety equipment. From my perspective as an audience member, the stakes seemed higher. We saw a player gamely trot off the field with blood pouring down his face. Once in a while, for some reason I don't understand, both teams piled together and tried to push through each other. As near as I could tell, it was done just for the sheer joy of plowing over the adversary.

Because I've never met an analogy I couldn't stretch until it screams in agony, that rugby game got me thinking about writing. Good writing leaps off the page. An entertaining novel is packed with conflict and the action keeps moving the plot forward at a good clip. There aren't big breaks in the action to dissect what happened, like between football plays. It just keeps going. Good writing takes risks, like those rugby players hurtling down the pitch without the pads and helmets American football players wear. The stakes should be big. When a character slams into an obstacle, it should matter. It should hurt. Otherwise, no one will care when that character finally prevails.

I'm sure there are plenty of rules associated with rugby, but I don't know what they are, and when I was watching that game, they didn't matter to me in the slightest. I couldn't begin to tell you whether or not those teams were following the rules. All I cared about was how much fun it was to watch the action unfold. Likewise, a reader shouldn't worry about whether or not the author is following all the rules. Rather, she should be thrilled by the daring premise and emotional turmoil; she should be left breathless by the conflict and action.

So, that's my tip for today: Write like you're playing rugby.