Thursday, August 18, 2016

Walking with Neil Diamond

Guest blogger C. Hope Clark gives us a story of walking, and of walking her way into a story. She is a gifted novelist and shares this insight into her writing process.

My publisher asked me to create a new mystery series. Tough assignment, right? A dream for many writers, but with three books under my belt in a different series, my heart wasn’t into creating another world and a new cast of characters. I expected to be Sue Grafton-esque, with two dozen episodes of the Carolina Slade Mysteries, and me still writing the stories in my nineties. 
Walking opens my mind and releases some sort of magical physiological something I don’t know the name of, and this assignment warranted my feet hitting the ground someplace to set my brain in gear. I cherish walking outdoors mostly, drawn to forest paths and all their glorious nature. The musk of rotting leaves, sweetness of honeysuckle, even the richness of dirt empty my mind of so much stuff. 
But I didn’t need an empty mind. I needed new ideas. Made-from-scratch ideas about stories I wasn’t keen on writing. So instead of the woods, I entered the recreation center with hubby, him seeking the weights and me the monotonous oval track. The forest gave me permission to not to think. The track represented the opposite. I could walk without worrying about stumbling, without the distraction of a squirrel up close, or a rabbit scooting across my path.
Monotony of setting also dictated ear buds and the music of my choice. The publishing assignment stymied me, so I fell into old Neil Diamond tunes that opened old memories. Back when I was a teen and enjoyed hiding away to hear Neil pine about lost sweethearts, heartbreak, and forbidden love. Drinking wine to forget. Floating on water and feeling sunshine. Bitter-sweet, poignant songs of a lonely individual lost in life.
Two, three, four miles each day I walked, ten Neil Diamond albums on my playlist, replayed so many times I knew which song would come next. 
My character took a rough form. She was once strong, once in control, and now broken, a foreign concept to her. She spiraled into a sense of loss. (Cue Neil for a song or two so I could wallow in the loss. Let it touch my heart and maybe loosen a tear. Neil cuts to my soul.) But what loss? At three miles, I tucked away my iPod, went home, and took notes. 
Several visits and several miles of track later, I set the new series on Edisto Beach, South Carolina. That’s where I’d been so many times when upset, or sorting through issues, often with a good friend who lived there. A woman who addressed her life through yoga, who lived life large but on her terms. Maybe a secondary character?
More miles, more track. The playlist memorized to where I could set certain songs to cue specific feelings. The protagonist had to be a cop, per my publisher. During Neil’s bluest songs of loss, I saw my character despondent, seeking solace, feeling guilty for her choices. 
Four months later, Callie Jean Morgan assumed her place in Chapter One. Her career choice cost her a husband, and her job. She retreated to home, to Edisto Beach, to find herself and raise her only son. And the only solace she found was listening to Neil Diamond on her porch, seated in an Adirondack chair, gin and tonic in hand. 
Murder on Edisto released a year later. It was the best book I ever wrote. 

BIO: C. Hope Clark recently released book three in the Edisto Island Mysteries in August. Echoes of Edisto is now the best book she ever wrote, and she cannot imagine her writing life without these characters in it. 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Winding Stairs

I was with my Dad and, for some reason, I was chasing after him as he was running like a teenager down several flights of stairs. The stairs went round and round and I could see him getting further and further ahead of me no matter how much I tried to reach  him. 
I didn’t intend to write about my dreams twice in a row, but this one just popped out of my head over the breakfast table and said, “This is what you need to talk about.” Yeah, I probably do. 

My Dad has been diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia, or LBD. If it sounds familiar to you, it may be because Robin Williams was also diagnosed with this condition. In his case, it was exacerbated by depression, with tragic results.

LBD exhibits symptoms of both Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s. Several years ago Dad had a couple of incidents where he lost his balance for no apparent reason. In one instance I was standing right behind him and caught him as he tilted backwards into my arms. Later, his walking turned into a shuffle, presumably to keep himself vertical. We don’t know for sure. He can only say that his feet won’t do what he wants them to.

During those same years he also began having memory problems which began with what I referred to as a swiss cheese process of memory loss, where holes appeared in his memories for no apparent reason. Today he lives in the present, retains very little, and has forgotten many of the most day-to-day skills, like using a telephone or how to make coffee. Like all dads, though, he still remembers to turn off the lights!  Even when my Mom wants them to stay on. 

This summer my wife and I have been going through a lot of my parent's papers and possessions to help them get ready to move into retirement living. Besides old bills and contracts and such, we’ve found photographs, letters and memorabilia that gave us glimpses into their past. Dad hand-wrote 15 pages about his 1967 trip to Europe to meet with fellow scientists in England and Germany. It was a very engaging travelogue and when I read it to him and Mom at the dining room table he was quite interested, but repeatedly interrupted to ask who wrote it. It was all new to him. 

Is it any wonder that this was what I dreamed about last night? It’s a simple metaphor. That Guy Who Walks can’t  catch up with That Guy Who Shuffles, his father, who is gradually moving beyond his reach. 


Lewy Body Dementia Association

To learn more about LBD, Whoopi Goldberg recorded a short video introduction that you can watch at Thanks to the Lewy Body Dementia Association (

Photo Credit

(  Not Just Cute: Intentional Whole Child Development — a blog written by Amanda Morgan. She gave photo credit to Shi Yali, but with a broken hyperlink.