Six impossible things


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the U.S., which is generally considered a family day, so I thought I’d talk about family and writing this time.

One way or another, family is something every writer has to deal with, and it’s never nice and clean-cut. Family can be supportive, or they can be a big obstacle, and sometimes they seem to be both at once. Family members can and do automatically provide things that other people often don’t even know a writer needs, from computer upgrades and chicken soup to just exactly the right kind of reassurance when the writer is having an artistic crisis and thinking of retiring to a monastery in Tibet. They’re right there to provide babysitting and grocery runs when the writer is on deadline. They can brag about your writing to other people when you can’t. Some of them even handle a lot of the business end of the writing job, so that the writer has more time to actually write.

On the other hand, these are the same people who can’t seem to get it through their heads that sticking their head into the office “just for a second to see how you’re doing” may derail an entire day’s worth of work – it’s not the amount of time, it’s the mere act of interrupting. They’re also sometimes the ones who get bent out of shape because they’re convinced that some character or plot twist is based on them – or else they demand that the writer “put them in one of your books.” They want to give you ideas…or they claim that you’re stealing theirs. They think that because you’re home all day, you must have plenty of time to run their errands or go to lunch with them or hang out on the phone for hours. They post hideously embarassing, gushy reviews of your work on Amazon and then get hurt when you try to explain that it’s really considered highly unprofessional for a writer to get their family to skew the reviews like that.

They’re wonderful, frustrating, helpful, annoying, encouraging people. In other words, they’re family.

Since everyone’s family is unique, everybody has to come up with their own method of dealing with them, both the good parts and the bad. I’m lucky; my family is heavily weighted on the good end of the scale. My mother used to type up my handwritten “manuscripts” when I was in 7th grade, trying to write my first stories. For years, every time my parents had a party, my father would go around the house making sure that copies of my books were on display and that my sisters’ paintings were prominently displayed on the walls. My sisters and my brother all listen to me go on about my stories-in-process, and then when they’re finally finished, they buy the books even though they have to be sick of hearing about them by that time.

So right now, this is my family: My Dad is 91 and still chopping wood, climbing mountains, taking road trips, and giving me all sorts of impossible advice about what he thinks I ought to write next. My sister Susan runs a community/summer stock theater in Maine, the Boothbay Playhouse (, which pretty much takes up all her time in the summer. They have a fantastic kids program (and I am only slightly biased on account of having watched my niece and nephew do amazing things in their productions). My brother David runs the metal stamping business that my parents started over sixty years ago; he also is a major plot sounding board for me and talks up my books on the home schooling chat group he’s part of. My next sister, Margaret (Peg), retired from the metal stamping business a few years back; now she’s a Master Gardener, writes for Alabama Gardening and several other local gardening publications, and has a terrific gardening blog ( – and she just posted a bunch of great pictures of my father on it). My youngest sister, Carol, lives here in town; she paints, gardens, scolds me about my housekeeping, paints fabulous things inside my closets, and makes sure I take time off in between books…and that I don’t take too much time off.

They’re great, even when they’re annoying. And I’m sure I annoy them just as much sometimes (hey, it’s a requirement when you’re the oldest, isn’t it?).

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

  1. This was a really nice post! I especially appreciated the perspective on the not-so-helpful family. I wrote a dedication for my novel recently and really struggled before deciding to just do what I liked with the dedication. So many people dedicate their first novels to their families — and don’t get me wrong, I love my family, they are terrific and wonderful and all things great — but when it comes to writing, eh. In the abstract, they’re supportive, but in the concrete, they’re either disinterested or oblivious and the early morning interruptions drive me crazy. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone. Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Happy Thanksgiving! It isn’t a holiday of my country, but no festival of fellowship is ever too many.

    My own family are and almost always have been boringly helpful, supportive, and ready to give room to my writing: without either of the very different ways in which my mother and my late father encouraged me and offered feedback, I think that either the flame would have died, or else led me in a very different direction altogether – most likely not F/SF, or maybe even genre, at all.

    One post I should really be interested in reading, any time the whim takes you, would be on character families, their care and feeding, and the special pressures story imposes to reduce their numbers and attenuate their clannishness. I note you have been more than once rather resistant to that!

  3. “They’re wonderful, frustrating, helpful, annoying, encouraging people. In other words, they’re family.” <— I laughed for a good minute at that.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. I agree families are full of annoying behaviors, but we love each other despite them.
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  5. That was lovely, and a wonderful thought to take away. My family is very supportive, though very doubtful of my current attempts to move my focus from academics to writing. This reminds me to be grateful for their love and support and willingness to listen to me talk about (and my sister’s willingness to read) my writing.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you, though it’s not a holiday for me, either (we’ve already had our Thanksgiving, back in Canadian harvest season — early October!).

  6. I really liked this post. Since graduation, I’ve been trying to ascertain myself as a writer, and I was really concerned my family wouldn’t understand my inclination to creative writing. I do journalism too, and they were hoping I’d be on TV. But, recently, my mom said she is proud that I write fiction too, and that meant the world to me. I wish you all the best!

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