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Cathy Gillen Thacker
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Cathy's Corner
Sunday, September 06 2009

"It was a dark and stormy night," as my favorite character Snoopy says perched upon his red doghouse, thinking of something, anything to write. It's those same words that my mother seems to live by, sitting on her own doghouse (an old, ratty office chair), using a computer that pre-dated PCs (she's now upgraded to a more modern laptop), sometimes soliciting advice from her good pal Woodstock (in this case, me).

Every writer has their muse, their Woodstock, so to speak, and I seem to be my mother's. I don't mind, I actually enjoy developing plot lines, charting character development, discovering just what motivates everyone and everything. I just can't seem to fit that title on my resume anywhere. And, boy, have I put in the hours to deserve it.

I get calls at 7am on Saturday mornings, sometimes when I am sleeping in after plugging away long hours during my law school weeks. I get these emails describing these problems in great detail, so much so that if anyone ever wants to know any detail of my mother's books in advance, I'm the person to pay. (Just a warning: since I am now attending graduate school, I must up my rate significantly to off-set the costs of school and because my information is much more valuable.)

According to my mother, I am available 24/7 for whatever plotting issues she may have. Or she thinks she has. Or she's not sure she has. If in doubt, call Sarah. It's to the point, that my father even will occasionally grumble to my mother during particularly bad moments in my mother's writing process that she "should call that English major daughter of hers." I wish sometimes that my mom would get me confused with my other sister, the music major, since English and Music are both "arts", one is liberal and one is fine. Same difference to me. Alas, that trick has never worked.

To get an idea of what a typical conversation is like with my mother about these issues, just imagine having a discussion with someone when you know going into it you just cannot win. It's not that they are smarter or better or any more well-versed than you are on the subject. Instead, the conversation is geared towards making that other person convinced that what you are saying is the key to the castle, the answer to their prayers, that extra layer of icing on that homemade chocolate cake. My mother will present me with one of her problems in excruciating detail (because that's what writers do, focus on the little, inane details of every situation), even if she has given me all this detail before, if not just prior to this rehashing. And I had better pay attention because if I mix up one detail, I get to hear the whole scenario all over again.

Then comes the worst part. She argues with me. No matter what I say, what I do, she argues. I can say nothing and she'll argue with the dead air. For mom, the argument is what gets the problem solved; for me, the argument is what drives me nuts. I just can't win. Even though the problem usually gets solved with the combination of heads plotting away (excuse the pun), I always leave the conversation exhausted, confused, and ready for a nap while Mom is energized, her creative impulses restored and ready to work.

Yet, I'll never turn down the chance to help my Mom solve one of these problems. Not many people get to be a muse, even if I don't play the full part. But I do have to make my Mom admit that some books, she just couldn't do without me. (Not that I write any portion of the book or completely plot an entire novel - just that I do significantly help her during certain portions of the writing process.) And, usually, that admission alone is enough to keep my brain churning as my mother's very own Woodstock.

Posted by: Sarah AT 09:42 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
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Cathy Gillen Thacker is the bestselling author of witty romantic comedies and warm, family stories whose books are published in 17 languages and 35 countries.