Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Inspiring writers . . .

I'm just finishing up reading Mary Doria Russell's A Thread of Grace and like so many things about her writing style: underlying themes that challenge the reader, depth of character development and relationships between the characters, and vivid country settings in Italy. So I went to her website to find she's just published a new book, Dreamers of the Day (an excuse to go back to the library before my books are truly overdue), and she has also posted advice to writers.

OK, so writing is supposed to be a lonely occupation. I know if the writing doesn't go as well as I wish, I doubt and delay and pretty much feel inadequate for a day or two.

I read somewhere that even with severe writer's block (which I don't quite believe in), that the best strategy is to simply write. Even if you don't like what you're writing. Just write. Then check back the next day. A writer's guru from Writer's Digest Forum says you'll be surprised to find yesterday's writing is fine. You can always return for revision later. But the key is you don't require inspiration.

Mary Doria Russell gives a helpful list of tips in her Note to Writers. Among these, two for me stand out (not the least being her generous and open tone):

--Fall in love with your characters. Make them laugh and cry. They'll tell you what they want to do.
--Don't rely on writer's groups. Russell says that it's enough to read her own "crappy drafts." (This in itself is reassuring for every rough draft seems crappy at some point.) She continues: Search out test readers. Tell them to look for what's broken. They will help you diagnose editing areas, but only you will know exactly how to "fix" the story.

Allen told me last night that writing a novel was a long and solitary occupation. Writing is very hard work. I don't want to settle for "The novel is finished. Hooray!" I see about another year and maybe two years of editing before Standing Stones will be the best story I can write.

But every day remains a challenge. So I'm going off to my first creative writing conference and will hope for useful information, knowing that whatever I learn, I still will remain committed to this process. And it doesn't matter if others like my stuff or don't like my stuff. I write.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Each evening, I fix hot tea
and sit at this window.
I see pine trees in shadow against a pink sky,
a line of young aspen tremble in evening wind,
and there, a line of blue mountains fades
into gray clouds low on the horizon.

Somehow I lost you between Wednesday and Friday;
only bare lines on photographs remain.
What solace does memory bring?
I cannot remember the names
of the flowers that bloom.
I only remember you.

Note: Click on this link for more readings on this week's prompt from Sunday Scribblings writers. I was surprised by this prompt, somehow connecting it in my other blog to quilting and Obama and then, after a long walk, to loss.

Solace . .

Hop over to my other blog for some comments on this week's prompt on SOLACE from Sunday Scribblings. I may yet post a poem but . . . not yet!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

In the Black Hills . . .

In the Black Hills near Devil’s Tower,
I climb down a mountain trail,
ignoring a raven
who brushes across my path
three times.

A prayer bundle bag hangs from a pine tree.
I circle it reverentially and leave quietly.
A cloud of yellow butterflies
swirls ahead of me
on the trail.

This week's prompt from Sunday Scribblings is one word: ghost. I started by writing "I have never seen a ghost." Then this poem found me, and I remembered this day's hike in the heat of a summer pine forest.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Historical Inverness

Today I'm visiting Inverness, virtually that is, and found this incredible picture of the seacoast along northern Scotland. These are the famous Duncansby Stacks, so reminiscent of the standing stones left throughout the islands by neolithic peoples. Fishermen and passing ships would have seen these sandstone stacks; the whole coast is rugged, storm swept with treacherous tides. Mac, one of the characters in my book, is traveling down from Kirkwall in Orkney to Inverness and would have passed these stacks, just south of the Pentland Firth.

Dunscansby Stacks (source: Wikipedia)

I also read about the Mercat Cross in Inverness. Right in the heart of town, the Mercat Cross marks the gathering place of the market, where merchants and traders gathered, announcements were read, and sometimes public hangings or other punishments were carried out. Today, a modern sculpture topped by a unicorn and falcons honors this tradition, but then, the Mercat Cross was at the center of town, to help the stranger find his or her way.

Near the base of the Mercat Cross in Inverness, so the story goes, washerwomen hiking up from the River Ness would rest their tubs of laundry on a large stone which came to be called the clach-na-cuddaiin, or Stone of Tubs. Storytellers say as long as that stone remains in Inverness, that city will prosper.

Friday, July 04, 2008

I can imagine Frida Khalo . . .

I can imagine Frida Khalo
at the 7-11, at 8:30 pm,
before the stars are fully out,
just standing there, checking out
cold rows of Dos Equis in the cooler or the
blistered pizza barely warm on a summer night,
clicking her red fingernails on a torn LOTTO ticket.

She would come into that space,
trailing incense,
earrings touching her shoulders,
jasmine flowers in her hair,
her swirling long skirts covering a limp,
her fingers marked with red
and green and yellow oil paint,
her wide red lips
and dark eyebrows marking her dangerous,
seditious, revolutionary. Her sorrows
fall away in jolting lines of color.

I know this:

I would stand silent behind her.
I would not give away her phone number.
I would hide her canvases.