Saturday, June 20, 2009


I'll take a guess that the year was 1972 when my sister, Jane, shared an essay she had just read as part of a High School English class at Chelmsford High. It was by George Orwell. This essay on simplicity was, aptly, short. My eleven year old brain immediately felt a bolt of energy. I remember, to this day, where I was when I read it. I was in my bedroom, sitting at the desk which was tucked into the closet whose door was removed to make way for our "study center" in the room I shared with my twin brother, Paul.

Mr. Orwell's advice made a lot of sense to my visual-thinking brain. I didn't memorize his words or make a pledge to follow his "rules," but it did encourage me and validate my hunch that I was going in the right direction.

Less can be more.

Pictures can do a lot of heavy-lifting.

Words used in just the right measure can help simply get the point across. If you have no point to make, go into the garden and plant Morning Glory. An idea worth sharing may come.

This Orwellian-inspired thinking has traveled with me all my life and has helped my own story-crafting journey.

Simply put: Thanks, Mr. O.

Here's a nice, even simpler (ironically) recap of the essay from George Orwell’s 5 Rules for Effective Writing

Finding Vashti

The year was 2001. I was in a coffee shop (a stellar cafe) Mocha Java, on the corner of High St. and Eastern Ave in my hometown of Dedham. I was nestled into a favorite spot right by the bookshelf and next to the big glass window – lots of light and plenty to look at and get inspired by.

I had my watercolors going – doing some art for my new book about a young girl afraid to draw – which had a title, but the main character did not yet have a name. Suddenly, a girl appeared in front of me holding a dozen green carnations. She sold me one as a fundraiser for her school.

When I asked her which of the local schools she was raising money for, she just stood there. I realized she was not from around Dedham.

I looked closer at this nine year old girl with brown hair and big brown eyes. Her skin was the color of a cafĂ© latte – and she looked very much like the girl I had been drawing in my new book. The girl asked what I was doing and who the painting was for. I picked up on the hint that she wanted the painting. I told I was painting for her.

Her eyes opened wide.

“For me?”
“Yes, for you.”
I went to sign it to her and got as far as “To...”
“And how do you spell your name again?,” pretending that we were old friends.
Wow, I thought to myself. This is her. This is my character!
I gave her the painting. She left smiling. I saw her get into the old brown van that appeared to have traveled many miles. She was showing her painting to her mother and her little sister who began waving to me through the window.

The van drove off.

I never saw Vashti again. I wonder if I ever will?

After The Dot was published, I shared this story while visiting studnets and staff at the McKay School in Fitchburg. The principal excitedly said, "That's OUR Vashti!"

I thought that I had finally found her.

"She was picked up by the police for selling flowers downtown during a school day. Her parents picked her up and she never came back to school."

Vashti apparently is a gyspy probably crisscrossing New England or beyond. I often wonder if she ever stumbled upon The Dot. I can imagine her "connecting the dots" and pulling out that slightly worn little watercolor made in a little coffee shop all those years ago.