Saturday, July 23, 2016

Revision and more revision . . . Barn Owls or Cougars?

This month, I'm working on the first real read through of Rivers of Stone. I wish I could report that each day is relatively the same as before, but some sections require deep revision and other days additional research. Yesterday's challenge was to accurately report Cat's dream and hint at her fear of abandonment.

My first draft had her dreaming of the scream of a mountain lion. Preliminary research suggests there may have been some mountain lions (cougars) in the rolling pine forests and swampy marshlands at York Factory in Upper Manitoba. But the sightings are quite rare and tend to be word-of-mouth. Here's that mountain lion sound:

If there were few mountain lions in Upper Manitoba, could I use an owl's scream instead? What really does a barn owl sound like? Does it sound like a woman's shriek? I never could have answered these questions without the internet!

But apparently, barn owls do not travel as far north as York Factory. Instead, swampy owls and barred owls (not barn owls) make their home around Hudson's Bay. Unfortunately, their attack calls sound 'cozy' compared to the barn owl. 

So after all this research, I'm back to the cougar. Here's the passage from Chapter 14, Rivers of Stone:

The morning the Fur Brigade left began dark and cold, with the men scrambling to bring cargo down to the landing and to fulfill the last directives from Mr. Hargrave. Shouted orders, groans, and a few curses filled the air as those who were leaving York loaded the boats and canoes. A few of the voyageurs held out for a last farewell from their native wives, the children clinging to their fathers, but Dougal stayed away from Cat.

Cat was afraid she would cry. Last night she had heard an cougar shrieking in the night. Everyone was right; it did sound like a woman screaming. The men had laughed uneasily; perhaps it was a bad omen for those who were leaving this morning. Cat still thought she could have slept by the river, with nothing between her and the wild creatures but a carefully tended fire. She could have kept up with the deadly pace Dougal had described. She was sure of it.

Available on Amazon
What am I reading this week? L. A. Meyer's Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary "Jacky" Faber, Ship's Boy caught my eye. 

The title pulled me in first because my current wip, Rivers of Stone, features Catriona, a young woman disguised as a boy. Bloody Jack is also written in roughly the same era as my book.

After reading that first paragraph, I was hooked. Meyer uses an engaging and delightfully earthy first-person narrator (somewhat rare in historical fiction). For example, Jacky's reaction to signing on that sailing ship as a ship's boy? A girl what's born for hangin' ain't likely to be drowned.

My thoughts exactly.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Reaching: About a Reading

Available on Amazon
This week, Allen Dorfman, my hubby, talked about his book, Reaching, to a small group of retired military men, some with experience in World War II, some served during the Korean War, and one during the Vietnam era. 

He began by talking about how his memories of his service in Vietnam and his stories have somewhat mixed as nearly 50 years have passed since he was in the Army there, during the Tet Offensive in 1968. 

Allen, Vietnam, 1968
He told of marching across those rice paddies towards a treeline, knowing the enemy was there, waiting for their platoon to advance. Sometimes the enemy soldiers were chained to trees, high above them. 

One particular day, their platoon moved in on a bunker that was firing on them. Because Allen was the squad leader, he and two others surrounded and attacked the bunker, firing heavily as they entered.

The lone, young soldier was dead. He had been left behind, injured, medicines and photos of his family arrayed beside him. 

The Vietnamese interpreter, called a Chieu Hoi (former Viet Cong) and assigned to the unit, sat down with Allen and translated the many documents, including personal letters written by the soldier who had been killed. He had missed his family and hoped to marry when he returned. 

The Chieu Hoi picked up the helmet and gave it to Allen, saying: "This is not a war souvenir. I want you to keep this as a memorial so you will know the enemy we fight are people too."

One day, we will go again to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D. C., and Allen will put this helmet there. A memorial.

Friday, July 01, 2016

IWSG: Seemingly Insurmountable

On the first Wednesday of the month, a few hundred writers (including me), all fans of the Insecure Writer's Support Group (and famous founder Alex J. Cavanaugh), blog about some issue we've been preoccupied with.

So this month, I'd like to write a little about revision goals. Especially when those goals seem insurmountable. Even though I'm a seat-of-the-pants writer more than a planner, my basic revision process is to:

  1. Think about what I'd like to accomplish.
  2. Set a deadline.
  3. Break that large task into smaller pieces.
  4. Set a daily goal of hours worked (or words completed).
  5. Try to work methodically until the overall goal is met.
  6. Try to get feedback at key points from readers I trust.
  7. Forgive myself if I don't make my goals every single day.
I want to revise Rivers of Stone, now that the unwieldy dratted first draft of roughly 90,000 words is finished. I did fall into one section and thought I would never climb back out! Now, that first draft is done -- complete with photos, maps, drawings, notes, and questions mixed throughout the story. 

I stepped away from immediate revision and let the rough draft rest for two whole weeks while my beta reader reads. I remained in limbo, between writing and actually revising, uncertain of the next step to take -- until an e-mail from Kristin Kieffer at She Writes popped into my inbox, inviting me to participate in Camp Nanowrimo. 

Now July 1st marks my first ever immersion into Camp Nanowrimo. 

This morning well before anyone else woke up, I printed out the first 25 single-spaced pages and dug in. How exhilarating! 

What's my process? 
  1. Print those pages.
  2. Read the first chapter out loud.
  3. Stop whenever something doesn't sound right and make notes or revise with a pen right on the paper. **
  4. Read aloud. Repeat #3.
  5. Repeat #4.
  6. Reread from the beginning until this chapter is 'finished'.
  7. Move on to the next chapter.
** Those who know me well know I work primarily on the computer, so writing notes on paper slows me down and lets me 'see' what needs revision. I also keep a daily work diary for notes on characters, or missing research, or unanswered questions, or just random thoughts. 

Somehow being accountable to Camp Nanowrimo to report those words completed/time spent revising each day sets me up for the entire month. I may not finish all revisions by month end, but I will be closer to that goal of completing this story, Rivers of Stone, the third book about the indomitable McDonnell family.

And that's the point. We go forward, develop processes that work for us, share what we learn, and we write. We writers are part of a larger online community of writing challenges and resources. I'm grateful for every nudge, every word of encouragement, every tip for success. 

This afternoon, a woman who looked vaguely familiar stopped me to ask, "When will your next book be ready to read?"

If she only knew. Just maybe by the end of the year!

Monday, June 06, 2016

Monday Musings: Disposable?

Many of the writers I've met online talk about the difficulty of balancing 'real life' with a commitment to writing. Some work full-time and write early in the morning, late at night, or on weekends. About half chase the dream of being traditionally published; others self-publish and take on the added challenge of marketing their own work.

I've spent the last three years researching and drafting my historical novel set in 19th Century Canada during the fur trade era, Rivers of Stone

Tonight I printed out paper copy for the first read through of the entire mss (some 90,000 words), and realize anew the level of work ahead to revise, edit, and copy edit. I almost would rather go camping near Banff as we did last summer.

Breakfast view near Banff (Camp 2015)

That's almost. For this morning at the gym, two friends asked when my next book would be finished. I keep saying this year. As a self-published writer, that's a big commitment. I'll sink back into the story, the fur trading culture, the rugged mountain crossing in winter, my heroine's dilemma. I'll edit again and again, questioning every level of story structure plot, conflict, characterization, and emotional resonance. Maybe by the beginning of winter, September or October. Wish me well.

This week I was inspired by a writer I know. 

Annette Drake's blog post "Disposable or Indispensible" tracks that moving journey of a writer who works for a major company in a big city and yet commits herself to being a publisher and professional writer. 

Not with those hesitant steps that may someday lead to success, but with heart-stopping leaps of faith to navigate the world of self-publishing. She asks what is it that brings joy to our lives -- Our families? Our jobs? Our writing? What is it that makes us indispensible?

Here's her new cover for Trombone Girl, formerly Bone Girl. Annette's books (and audiobooks) are well worth a read, as is her post. 

See her page on Amazon or visit her website.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

IWSG: Thinking about blogging

Today, the first Wednesday of the Month, we fans and followers of IWSG, the Insecure Writers Support Group, hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and minions, post something related to our writing -- perhaps our struggles or our motivational thoughts, but something that just might help us all along that long and complex journey of writing.

So, I've been thinking about blogging, especially because my blog, started way back in September of 2005, is nearing 100,000 hits. In fact, Memorial Day's post, highlighting some writing by my husband, a Vietnam Vet, got 120 hits. 

Wow! That seems amazing to me, for this blog has meandered all over the place -- with author interviews, thoughts on writing, hats off to those who have inspired me, and excerpts from my own research and writing (historical fiction). And yet, some folks who've stayed to comment feel like friends. Thank you!

This year, I've renewed my commitment to reaching out to readers and writers with my blog. This started with two very helpful blogging challenges: the 2016 A to Z Blogging Challenge and A Round of Words in 80 Days. My goals are simply to try to post every Monday (Monday's Musings) and every Friday (Friday's Fooling Around).

And just for IWSG, here's that first post from September, 2005, that shows that blogging wraps around my writing like a kind of compass (giving direction), or a mirror (reflecting), or even like my keyboard that, in spite of those letters fading, spills my words on the page.

A word about writing.

It doesn't matter what I write. It matters that I write and write for myself. Like a discipline of yoga, this requires dedication, concentration, commitment. So, today is the beginning. I can write 15 minutes each day.

Yes, I have a long project nearly finished and need to gather courage to take it to the next step of actually sending it out. The characters are present almost physically, and I gave the whole mess to a friend for a first real read. But it's not a mess really. Writing that story was a diving in and letting go, even healing, a process over three summers of daily writing. 

It's just when we come home, real life returns, teaching becomes immersion, with no time for writing. But, the novel doesn't want to stay quiet until next summer. My characters borrowed from snippets here and there, the imagination, all that childhood stuff I don't like to think about, now have taken on a life of their own. And they want my attention. Write the little vignette that opens the story. Now.

It's fall. The birds outside squabble over the seeds, swaying on the little wooden hanging feeder, tossing sunflower seeds over their shoulder as if winter were not closer every day.

Imagine a community fair with lots of food booths, colorful balloons, old car exhibits, a climbing rock for the kids, lots of strollers, a few on the fringe, and a sunny day. Spokane reopened its Monroe Street Bridge with city celebrations. A police officer explained why there were bars on the back windows of his patrol car. 

"They come in so out of control," he said, his eyes squinty, on the defensive, as if I couldn't understand, "they don't want to be caged. Even with cuffs on, they kick the windows out. And that's a cost of $120 per window." The front seats were protected from the back with heavy plastic shield, pretty common, I've seen this before. The front seats were also pushed way back; the limited leg room meant a reasonable person would have a hard time moving. No barrier to a person on angel dust, not even bars.

"I haven't killed anyone," he explained, his black uniform pulled tightly across his belly. "But we had an incident last week. A bad one. He was out of control. We had to restrain him." 

The words spilled out as if he had told this story many times. "So we tied him down, you know, on one of those gurneys, to immobilize him, so he wouldn't hurt himself." His hands moved ineffectually in the air, sketching the flat gurney. "And then he was gone. He just died. 

"The first report said he died by asphyixiation, like he choked on his own vomit. But the coroner's report came in, and it was like he cooked himself. His body temperature went up to 109, from the adrenaline surges they said." 

I found out later that the second report shifts liability from the police to the individual. But the officer said, "You don't know what it's like. Every year a little bit worse than the year before. Even in a town as small as Spokane."

Read what others have posted for the Insecure Writers Support Group HERE. Why not visit a few other blogs? Leave a comment of encouragement!

Mark Waggoner, "Monroe Street Bridge, Spokane"
Source: Wikipedia

Monday, May 30, 2016

Monday Musings on Memorial Day

Charlton Bruce Camp
I have very few memories of my father who served in the Navy during World War II. I remember a kind man with a quirky sense of humor, quick to laugh, and equally quick to flashes of temper. He was a Hollywood stuntman and part-time bartender. My parents divorced when I was 5. Maybe because he gambled. We left post-war Los Angeles behind.

Allen Dorfman, 1968
Fast forward a few decades or so to San Francisco where I met Allen in the 1970s. He was a year back from serving as a front-line grunt in Vietnam. We were inseparable from the beginning and married a year after we met. At that time, he struggled with night terrors. He told me a few stories and he wrote. But then we had our precious baby girl. After a time, he stopped writing.

Last year, for his 70th birthday, our daughter and I published his novel based on his experiences in Vietnam. His book, Reaching, is available on Amazon

Here, in memory of those he served with, is one of those stories he told me. 

by Allen Dorfman

I remember being trapped while serving as a sergeant in Viet Nam.

My unit was sent out to a hot zone. The helicopter was packed with soldiers, and there wasn’t enough room, so several of us lay on the floor. I couldn’t see anything but blackness around me. The floor rattled and shook under me. My helmet vibrated against the bulkhead, and I could feel my pack and gun against my back. No one yelled over the noise, for we were going into battle.

The helicopter in front of us exploded. The captain screamed, “We’re going down. God protect us.” We somehow landed in a blast of hot air, gunfire, and shrapnel. We laid down a round of intense fire. The helicopter got off safely, but we were trapped along a tiny treeline, surrounded by Viet Cong. Outnumbered.

Snipers picked at us. Our young Lieutenant told my buddy Timmy to send out probing fire. He stood up to fire. A shot pierced his forehead, and he fell back into our hole.

“Listen, men,” cried the Lieutenant. “I want us to move across the field to that treeline.”

I felt Timmy’s hand grow cold in mine. “You’re going to lead us across that empty field?”

“Men, move out,” he replied. “I’m staying here with the radio.”

“We’re not going,” I said. “When you want to lead us, we’ll go.”

“When do you think we should go?”

“I’ll tell you,” I said.

We waited until dusk and then low-crawled over the open field. When we reached the treeline where the enemy had peppered fire at us all day, they were gone. Someone said they were probably afraid we were going to bring in cluster bombs. We radioed for a helicopter. 

Some 100 men went in, less than forty returned. Eight of us walked out uninjured, carrying body bags, the others hobbled behind, but we were still in Viet Nam.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Friday: Just fooling around with videos . . .

Today, thought I would try a new video for Standing Stones, my first book in the McDonnell saga to see which might work best to support my overall marketing.

I could use Vimeo or Youtube. Here are the results of both. Which do YOU like better?

VIMEO: Set up with Vimeo for a "lite" (free) account. Limited to 6 frames and 30 seconds. Took me about 1.5 hours to figure out how to draft, edit and create the following. Cons: No direct link to my Amazon page for Standing Stones.

Standing Stones, Book 1

YOUTUBE. Here's the 30 second version on YouTube. It's been awhile since I used YouTube's uploading/editing features, but I found some neat music from their free music library (Celtic) and liked how I could add more than 3-5 words to support each slide. One negative: I didn't have good control over what would be the 'bookmark' image. 

What took me so long (about 3 hours) is creating the PowerPoint slide show (edit, edit), then figuring out how to export it in video format so I can easily upload the finished 30-second product to YouTube!

TAKE 2 for YOUTUBE. This wonderful two minute version was created by Sandy Brown Jensen as a surprise for me and features beautiful Celtic music by Mairead Nesbitt, "The Butterfly."

So now I'm wondering, of the two YouTube videos, which is easier -- the 30-second version or the 2-minute version?

And of the two 30-second versions, do you like the Vimeo format OR the YouTube format?

Thank YOU for commenting!