Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Details of a Life

My new route is an old residential neighborhood. The sidewalks are cracked and uneven. The houses are close together. The steps are made of wood and creak under my weight. There are houses so tiny that I don't see how a family could possibly live in them. There are also houses so large that I could imagine several families living inside them. Many of the houses are multifamily dwellings with separate entrances. Many others have a single well kept entrance with the tell-tale signs of an elderly couple whom have probably lived there since they were 20 year old newlyweds- the plastic canvass needlepoint welcome sign, a wreath made out of faded plastic flowers and more obviously, the stone carving which reads “The Smith’s, est 1942."

I believe you can tell a lot about a family just by looking at the entrance to their house. One has a large water bowl for a dog to the right of the door. Another has a pair of muddy motocross boots on the sidewalk. The grass is always cut perfectly at one while the neighbors haven’t mowed for weeks. There are three cats staring at me from the back of a couch in one and several little dogs barking at the next. Some have the signs stating that the place is protected by a security system while others leave the front door wide open.

It would be very easy to walk across their lawns and toss papers toward the direction of the door without another thought. My writers’ eye however takes the time to notice the different things that make each house a home for its inhabitants. Every detail is important to someone sleeping inside, and making them real in my mind makes me care more about doing a good job for them. I’m more apt to bag the paper on a wet day if the customer is a person rather than just a welcome mat. I can picture someone shuffling past the muddy boots to sit on the glider with a cup of coffee to read the morning edition. I can picture Mrs. Smith being grateful that I place the paper in the mailbox so she doesn’t have to bend over to scoop up the paper.

Writing is just as much about observing details as it is about sitting down and putting pen to paper. Take your time. Look around. Every moment is research and discovery for the wonderful tales we weave.

Friday, July 16, 2010


It's amazing the things some people throw away. Dylan (that's my son) delivered with me this morning. It's garbage collection day which is nirvana for my boy. He found a shovel and 2 computer towers (or are they called hard drives?) to bring home. Two weeks ago he found a gently used step aerobics platform and a window fan that still works- very valuable since the temperature has been consistently in the 90's for weeks.

It's 4:50am and he's sitting in the living room dissecting the computers. He finds great value in seeing the insides of things, to understand the way things work from the inside out. I don't mind the mess and puddles of brick-a-brack he leaves in his wake because I know the value of experience. All the stuff he brings home and spends time with will some day lead to him realizing his quest for world domination. Hopefully I won't sound too dumb comparatively when they interview me on CNN about him in 20 years.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Summers are short in Upstate New York, as a result it's tough to find paper carriers who are willing to sign on for the long haul. Nobody minds delivering in the wee hours when the temperature stays around 60 degrees and the occasional precipitation is refreshing. Ask the same of someone when the temp hovers around zero and freezing rain/snow is the norm... good luck! But oh the descriptive details the observant eye can absorb! Entire novels could be written about the way a full moon back lights a dying tree, or the ominous appearance of what is a charming garden decoration by day, potential creepy tool of devil worship by night. I could sit and write material for hours... if only I didn't have a delivery deadline!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Newspaper Delivery Equals Life Experience

No matter what you do or where you go, if you are a writer, you should be gathering material. Experience is the key to writing believable characters, convincing dialogue, vivid settings and realistic plots. You would be surprised the lessons I learn about human nature while delivering papers. For instance, the customers whom seem to have the least are usually the best tippers. The people whom seem to have the most are usually the first to file a complaint should their paper have a wet handprint on it. Some people are awake playing solitaire at 3am and others are just getting home from who knows where. Some will meticulously manicure their lawns but leave bags of garbage by their entrace for days. The key is to pay attention and gather all this valuable information for when it's needed in your stories. Delivering papers doesn't have to be just about making money.

Many hands...

Since school let out for the summer, my 14 year old son has been sporadically accompanying me on my morning route. He does it to earn money or pay off what he owes me from his e-bay activity, but I LOVE the company! Not only is he fabulously entertaining but he truly cuts my delivery time in half. He asks me questions like, "if you were to become trapped by a resistance force and told you would only be freed if you denounced your faith, what would you do?" I don't know if his thinking is just way more advanced than mine or if waking up at 3am has short circuited his brain, but he and his questions are a welcome diversion during my morning deliveries. He will run ahead to houses with motion lights and dance in their glow. He runs around the car as I approach just to prove that he's a lot faster than me. Makes me wish I could bring him with me to my day job. Probably good that I can't, while he increases my efficiency and productivity on the paper route, he'd be a wonderfully oppressive distraction in government clerk world.