(Photo)journaling as inspiration

When I was around thirteen years old, like many teenagers, I went through a period of journal writing. I wasn’t very good at it. I never knew quite what to write, and it went very quickly from something I thought of as fun, to something I considered a chore. If I didn’t write in my journal at least every other night, I considered I was failing at journaling.

I guess I felt like I didn’t have much to say. I wasn’t a typical angst-ridden teen. I had a great life, and I knew it. My biggest complaint was having to do housework on the weekends. I didn’t really like boys at that point, thanks to having two relentless older brothers who teased me mercilessly. Why would I voluntarily add another boy into the mix?

Drawing came much easier to me than writing words. I spent hours in my room, listening to my stereo, sprawled out on the floor with sketchbooks and pencils.


Mostly I used pictures in books or on album covers as my inspiration. I drew Dennis DeYoung, Linda Ronstadt, George Michael, Frank Sinatra. I copied an album cover onto the back of my brother’s denim jacket, and painted it (New Riders of the Purple Sage). I drew my feet, my hands, my dog, a self-portrait.

Drawing is a great hobby for a writer. It forces you to really observe. I soon went from drawing in my room, to getting outside and drawing from nature. It’s amazing what you see when you lie on your stomach in the grass. There’s a whole new world down there. Once I turned seventeen and got my driver’s license, I headed down to the beach, sketching everything from lighthouses, to fishermen baiting hooks, to windsurfers preparing to hop on their boards. The Jersey Shore has its own culture, and it has always fascinated me.

It was about that time that I became friends with a guy I worked with. Tony Gonzalez was (and still is) a photographer (see http://tonygonzalezartist.com), and I soon added photography to my list of journaling tools. Tony and I would head down to Long Branch and shoot under the boardwalks, using black and white film.




I love the nuances in grey scale. It makes the subject’s details obvious to the eye, adding light and shade, highlight and depth, texture and mood. Take, for example, this photo of an ant on a daisy.


IMG_9112IMG_9112 b&w










The color photo’s story is cheerful, a happy little ant tooling along on a daisy stem, the yellow of the daisy’s center like a ray of sunshine. The black and white photo, however, tells a different story. The wilted flower now looks harshly dead, and the ant appears more sinister. It’s as if he sucked the life out of the flower, and is marching on to attack his next victim.

Whoever said “A picture is worth a thousand words” was a wise person, indeed. Not only do my photos remind me of details upon which I can draw in my writing, they are also the jumping-off points for stories. Take this photo of the Duomo in Milan.


If you don’t know the Duomo, it is the second largest Catholic cathedral in the world, and it took nearly four hundred years to complete. That last fact, alone, is fodder for a writer. Imagine the lives of the cathedral builders, artisans, craftspeople! In fact, Ken Follett did, in his amazing novel, The Pillars of the Earth.

I love to take photos of people, as well as places. Aren’t you just dying to know the story behind this violin player on the streets of Rome? Or to make one up for him?002


Is he really a poor man looking to make a few euros to get him through the day? Or is he laughing behind that big smile, rolling in dough and just enjoying his retirement, playing a part? Is he married? How many children does he have? Grandchildren? What is his house like? Since my stories always start from the human element, often my photos give me ideas for stories I want to write in the future.

Whenever I travel, my camera goes with me, along with a little notebook to record details about certain photos, or tactile experiences. What was the air like on that day when the mist hung over the water? Did my skin taste salty after walking in the fog at the shore? Did I twist my ankle walking down that winding cobblestone road in Orvieto? How cool was it to use only a golf cart for transportation in Costa Rica?

If my pictures are good enough, every little detail of my experiences, including tactile ones, can be recorded with a click of a button, to use at a later date when I’m back in the confines of my office, working on my next story. They help flesh out the people, places and things. For me, characters and settings rich in details are what make a story worth reading.

Do you journal, with words or pictures? What do you get out of it? Dish with me.  🙂




The Romance Book that Changed the World…or at least, mine

Every once in awhile, a topic comes up in discussion that offers as many varying viewpoints as there are people involved in the discussion. So it is with this month’s topic on the Femmes blog.

As I read Michele’s blog post last week, it occurred to me…there is a reason why there are so many different subgenres of romance. The books that immediately came to my mind, as the romance novels that influenced or impacted me, are perhaps not what you would typically consider “romances”, at least, not in the mainstream. They are the literary works that informed me, that educated me as a whole, and possibly, that made me the romantic I am today (behind the cynical, protective shell). Often, they are the books I read in high school in New Jersey, and later, at The University of Dallas in Texas.

There are many definitions offered on Wiktionary, of the word romance.

romance (plural romances)

  1. An intimate relationship between two people; a love affair.
  2. A strong obsession or attachment for something or someone.
  3. Love which is pure or beautiful.
  4. mysteriousexciting, or fascinating quality.
  5. A story or novel dealing with idealised love.
  6. An embellished account of something; an idealised lie.

Each one of these has found a place in mainstream romance novels, from The Bridges of Madison County to Fifty Shades of Grey. The novels that have inspired me are those that combine two or more of the above definitions.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez – copied from caribbeanbookblog.wordpress.com 

Michele touched upon one of my favorite authors in her blog…Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Although she referenced One Hundred Years of Solitude (a fabulous book, by the way), the book  that won’t stop pushing its way to the forefront of my mind is Love in the Time of Cholera. As the title suggests, this book is a love story. Actually it is two love stories: the forbidden love of Florentino and Fermina, and the practical love of Fermina and Urbino. Florentino’s personality personifies the love he shares with Fermina, as does Urbino’s. Florentino is flamboyant, soulful, engaging and optimistic, and his love is filled with gestures both sweet and grand. His passion flows out of him in passionate words and gestures. Urbino is practical and  methodical, and he provides Fermina with the stability that she needs to survive in difficult times as the city is overrun with an epidemic.

Florentino, Fermina and Urbino…from the movie

What makes this novel so remarkable to me is that, while the ideal of love is presented (see romance definition number 5), in many ways, the book depicts the lie that is idealized love. Romance novels of yesterday presented this ideal of love…innocent, demure heroine meets perfect, alpha man, there is little or no conflict of merit, they ride off into the sunset. Marquez’ book sets out from the beginning to debunk the idea that love is perfect. Fermina, far from pure and demure, defies her family in her youth, in order to be with her first (and true) love, Florentino. Throughout the novel, Florentino declares his love practically from the rooftops, yet his many affairs are detailed for the reader. Even the upstanding, practical, righteous Urbino is found to be an adulterer. All of which, appropriately, takes place among the sordid, filthy, rotting, disease-plagued streets of a fictional seaside town in Colombia, a town that, itself, is practically a character in the book. Yet, for all the dirt, the insidious treachery, the adultery, the philandering, the suggestion that love itself is an incurable disease (is love actually the epidemic from which the town suffers?), the purity of the love (definition 3) between Fermina and Florentino endures. Powerful stuff.

Interestingly, Marquez himself cautions against taking his book at face value. “You have to be careful,” he says, “not to fall into my trap.” *   *(Booker, M. Keith (summer, 1993) “The Dangers of Gullible Reading: Narrative as Seduction in García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera“. Studies in Twentieth Century Literature 17:181-95).  From Wikipedia.

Which begs the question…is this book even a romance?

If you haven’t read it, I strongly suggest you read Love in the Time of Cholera. In fact, I just put it on my nightstand…to be reread.

A final thought:  My mother always called me her “gypsy daughter”. Perhaps it is the gypsy in me that draws me to books that create worlds that are, in themselves, characters.  Here are a few books that have had a great impact on me. What do you think…are they romances, or not?

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

What books (with evocative settings) have influenced you? Leave a comment, and be entered in the July contest to win a trio of books from the Femmes.



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