Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Surprising Bounty of Books . . .

Part of my to-be-read books

Interested in the fur trading era in Canada and the Great Pacific Nor'West?

This week's mail brought a surprising bounty of books to mull over.

The first pairing of books takes me sideways to Manitoba's historic Red River, which flows through the middle of Winnipeg today. Carol Matas wrote Footsteps in the Snow, The Red River Diary of Isobel Scott, Rupert's Land, 1815, for the Dear Canada series. Technically, this is a little before the 1840s, but captures beautifully those impressions of a young girl who's just arrived from England with her family to start life anew.

Anthony Dalton's River Rough, River Smooth: Adventures on Manitoba's Historic Hayes River, presents travel notes of his modern recreation of traveling by York boat from Norway House to Hudson's Bay on the Hayes River. The River runs north, which means Dalton had a wild ride downstream over and/or around some 45 rapids for about 375 miles. While well over 100 years has passed between Dalton's journey and my novel, his book helps me visualize more completely what it might have been like to live on the river.

But my characters traveled upstream, from York Factory to Norway House, making portage as needed. Folks in my writer's group said this feat was impossible. But those oarsmen really did pole through shallow marsh, bugged by clouds of mosquitoes, and paddle like crazy against the current, that is in the late summer, after the annual ship from England had landed, and before the Hayes shut down, frozen solid.

The second pair of books are a bit more academic: Daniel Francis and Toby Morantz wrote Partners in Furs: A History of the Fur Trade in Eastern James Bay 1600-1870 (McGill-Queen's University Press, 1983). And Richard I. Ruggles wrote A Country So Interesting: The Hudson's Bay Company and Two Centuries of Mapping, 1670-1870 (also McGill-Queen's University Press, 1991). Both books present fascinating stories, collections of maps, photos, and drawings of the fur trade era. Both are drool-worthy.

A final surprise this week: Earlier this year, I joined an informal book exchange. We were to send our favorite, most treasured books to the next name on the list. I did send my book off, a collection of poetry by Mary Olliver, but heard nothing and received nothing -- until this week. Mailed from England in May, these two books are both ones I've never read: G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown (tiny, tiny print), and Alexander McCall Smith's The Cleverness of Ladies (part of the series, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, (much larger print),set in Botswana.

My to-be-read stack of books is close to toppling over with these new additions, but luckily I have time and energy enough to read, and hubby's a bookworm too. I still remember the time we took my aunt to a bookstore with us. She vowed she would never, ever again go to a bookstore with us for "we spent far too long."

May you be blessed in the coming year with books that enrich your reading.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Writing with the kindness of strangers . . .

A cold snap is coming. Temperatures down to the 20's starting later this week. Naturally, then, I'm writing about a rugged trek south from York Factory in the summer of 1843. 

Due to the kindness of a writer I've met online, I've got maps spread over my writing desk. And I'm reading journal notes of a survey team of roughly that era to figure out which river the Fur Brigade Express took from York Factory to the infamous Red River Settlement (now Winnipeg), and exactly what my feisty heroine experienced.

The conditions were deplorable for a typical working day. Sails only worked for a little while on the narrow, shallow Hayes River, its route south from York Factory bending through the marsh in a convoluted, twisted S-shape. The oarsmen used long poles to move the York boats forward, stopping frequently to use ropes to brutally haul the boats further south when the water was too shallow. Four men traded off every one-and-a-half hour shifts, grateful to be back in the boat for a breather from hauling those 30-foot long, fully loaded York boats along slippery, muddy banks, where footing was precarious. 

Where did those maps come from? Nancy Marguerite Anderson kindly shared her research with me. She's working on a sequel to The Pathfinder: A. C. Anderson's Journeys in the West, a well-written and fascinating account of her ancestor, a fur trader and map-maker who also worked for the Hudson's Bay Company and traveled widely in Canada and the Pacific Northwest. If you are drawn to history of roughly 1831-1884, her book is well-peppered with insights, anecdotes, maps, and photographs as we follow the exploits and life of this young fur trader. Nancy's blog, An Accidental Historian, is also a fabulous resource as she comments on her ongoing research.

Fort Garry, 1884 (Wikipedia)
Translating research into story is challenging and fun. I'm constantly asking how does this new information support and drive my story forward. Should the new 'stuff' be pulled into dialogue or backstory? What nasty twist can I add so my heroine and various characters 'suffer'? What does she learn? How does this change or affect her quest? And what is the structure of this section, how does it support the overall story goal?

My original optimistic hope was to finish Rivers of Stone by year-end. I can report the overall progress is good. Major sections of the book are taking shape, and the draft is now about 95K. But I do see much revision in the section I'm working on, with at least one more round of revising the full manuscript before I can leap up from my writing desk and say, "It's done!"  Next step? Ready for beta readers.

May your winter be a mild one, and if you are writing, may your writing go well.

Friday, November 04, 2016

IWSG: Writing with Focus

We're on the road just now, at least until the elections are over, and I'm packing my relatively new travel computer, a massive 15" laptop. Too big. Too heavy. But, oh, does it have memory -- and speed. The Toshiba's a definite first choice over that cute mini HP netbook that can hardly take a semicolon before the memory flashes full. 

So I completely forgot about IWSG (Insecure Writers' Support Group) this month! Ouch! Two days late. Too many distractions. So on the first Wednesday of each month, participating writers share their challenges and current thoughts about writing.

My thoughts take me to FOCUS. As I think back over the last month, I can see real progress in taming an unwieldy first draft of about 90K. The draft is now divided into four workable sections, and I have a breathable outline for each section. Those plot holes look more like muddy puddles instead of bottomless pits. And there are far fewer plot holes!

My motivating mantra? End each writing session with a FOCUS QUESTION that emphasizes the story. Far too often, I end up writing about the story, editing, and researching. But by pushing any reading/research outside my writing time (early morning well before anyone else is up), I'm finally, finally telling the rest of the story.

I'm not writing with NaNoWriMo this year (too much), but you might like a daily writing blank sheet at 750words.com  I love this site! This morning's research/reading led me to a hanging in 1845. It's so much fun when the words flow, the research meshes with the story, and the characters come alive.  May your own writing go well. Why not stop by to see what other IWSG writers are up to -- some 260 of us? Or join us!

We're still on the road for another week. This afternoon, we're traveling to Sisters, Oregon, to admire mountain vistas and maybe visit a quilt store. Yesterday, we spent hiking at Smith Rock. Yes, my office at home has books, a good computer, and quiet mornings. But when we're on the road, we get to explore . . . 

Smith Rock Vista
near Redmond, Oregon (November 2016)


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

#21 Abandonment

The suitcases await by the door,
and I'm in the process
of abandoning the familiar, 
leaving behind those comfortable
necessaries I cannot take with me.
Even for a two week trip,
I'll miss these accessories  
that give structure to each day,
the sewing machine, three bookcases,
that cushioned chair, my comforter. 
Well, the laptop travels, as does 
a journal with blank pages,
for I would not leave behind my words.
What is this trip but another journey
of letting go?

Japanese Gardens at Manito Park (October 2015)
Another poem for OctPoWriMo. Visit HERE to see what others have written.




Monday, October 24, 2016

#20 Tucson Mermaid

Arizona Cap Canal (Wikipedia)

Tucson is an ordinary town of artsy suburbs --
if you look past the saguaro dotting the rolling, dry hills,
ancient guardians that lift spiny arms to the sky.
At night, the lights of baked adobe houses measure
blocks of homes, while stars pierce the sky,
white pinholes. My sister saw a mermaid once
who swam in the canal. This could be no ordinary
mermaid to be drawn to the desert.
Maybe my sister followed a dusty trail
along the cement waterway to discover
a fan-shaped shell, where no shell should be.
Geologists remind us of a long ago inland sea;
perhaps this mermaid searches for her family,
lost in the desert, but stubborn,
like some I know who seek comfort inside
those pretty beige adobe houses.
Outside gray wolves howl, no respite for the mermaid.
Maybe she rests near the saguaro at night,
venturing out along the canal,
searching and singing even today.

Arizona Canal near Scottsdale
(Wikipedia)

I discovered that Tucson celebrates the monsoon season in mid-August with 'Return of the Mermaids,' a community parade complete with mermaids of every description. So OctPoWriMo's prompt for today was 'fantastical'. See what others have written HERE.

#19 When September becomes October . . .

October view out our apartment

When September becomes October,
on its way to November
with gray, endless days, do we
settle down with comforters, safe
behind locked doors
to watch the television flicker?
Or do we go out,
walk along that well-known path
down past the watershed,
that little lake where the last of the ducks gather,
a few Canada geese stop on their way south,
the wind fresh with a bite 
of winter to come?

I've been sick with an early winter cold this last week, with not enough energy to even write a little poem, but I do have a renewed appreciation for each day of health and energy that, alas, we all take for granted far too much. Happy to be back and now maybe too far behind this OctPoWriMo's month of poetry challenge. But at least I'm writing, and here in eastern Washington, even when it rains, the sun comes out.

Check out what others are writing for OctPoWriMo HERE. Today's prompt was 'fantastical' so maybe I shall return and write a little more.

Friday, October 21, 2016

#18 The quilt show is over

I'm still recovering.
Last Sunday, the quilt show ended.
I wandered past some 600 quilts, 
with sore feet, a few quilts
decorated with ribbons,
and there,
hung casually among the others,
a quilt that made me stop. 
Someone's vision,
a turquoise bear, raven,
turtle, salmon,
a howling wolf,
with traditionally patched bear paw
blocks, all sacred spirit carriers
of past and present and future,
balanced in a dreamscape of white.
I wonder what creative journey
brought this quilt
to this place
for me to admire,
moved nearly to tears.


"Turquoise Bear" by Butch Bovan
Washington State Quilters 2016 Quilt Show
(click to see larger image)
What an amazing quilt. Stop by OctPoWriMo hosted by Poets on the Page to catch up on what others have written HERE

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

#17 You are savory . . .

You are sometimes hot 
and sometimes sweet, 
the mist from the chiles I cooked 
lingering, pricking my eyes with tears,
a tangerine fresh picked eased the sting.
Together we ate crunchy fried grasshoppers in Turkey,
fresh goat cheese in Greece, the chunks
white and smelly, 
and used chopsticks in Canada
to dip chicken toes 
in a red-yellow Chinese gravy.
We watched a young man 
on the beach in Rio  
work a machete
to open up a coconut, the milk
unexpectedly warm.
Bring out the suitcases. 
I want to savor each day with you.

Here are two pictures from that trip to South America. In most families, when one rattles the suitcase, the other might say, "Not this summer, dear." But in our family, when the suitcase comes out, we both pack.
Allen with the mermaid at Rio de Janiero, Brazil

Sampling Coconut milk in Rio

One day behind, so I'm still playing catchup to write a poem a day for OctPoWriMo. Why not amble over HERE to see what others are writing!

Monday, October 17, 2016

#16 I'd rather watch football

I'd rather watch football.
The attacks are choreographed,
a brutal ballet of strategy, 
the kid, the pro, the quarterback 
all balanced in a violent dance 
that, for once, has little to do
with politics. 

So I sit next to you,
sometimes holding hands,
rooting for my team,
sharing a little beer,
and a few groans
when someone plays outside the rules
and someone else lays quiet
on the field.

Seahawks' Special Teams block a point (Wikipedia)
I'm a day behind with writing a poem a day for OctPoWriMo's poetry challenge. Catch up with other poets HERE.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

#15: Versailles and 'blue' musings on the election

Entry to Versailles (Camp 2004)


Met by pigeons, we enter the gate,
the crest of the king in gold filigree and iron,
the grand promenade, a car park,
before us, massive Versailles,
residence of French kings since the 17th Century.
Guards monitor our passing,
our sandals and tennis shoes, a Gallic shrug.
Would the king have said,
“Off with their heads!”

Should the king wish to pray,
his private chapel awaits, surely ornate enough
To inspire thoughts of God.

Ceiling, Upper columns,
King's Private Chapel (Camp 2004)

We walk past the king’s bedroom,
Courtiers arrived each morning
to assist him in dressing, even to the chamber pot.

The King's bedroom (Camp 2004)

Stunned by opulence, we wander 
down the Hall of Mirrors so arranged
the king could admire his progress
to the Queen’s bedroom or beyond.

Hall of Mirrors (Camp 2004)

Who could imagine
at the end of World War I,
Germany signed the Treaty of Peace here?

Detail, Queen's Bedroom (Camp 2004)

Would a jug of wine, a loaf of bread
be sufficient in such a place?
The long halls, empty of furniture and portable art,
throng now with tourists and history.

In the Royal Theater, 3,000 wax candles
burned at each performance.
Perhaps artisans were well rewarded,
I only recall this excess
led to the French Revolution.

Versailles (Wikipedia)


NOTE: The last time I watched television with such intensity was the coverage of John F. Kennedy's funeral. I am so dismayed by the news coverage, highlights of press conferences, the sheer vituperation in the dialogues online and off during these last weeks before the election. Poetry seems very far from my heart. 

So today I'm sharing a poem from 2014 about a visit to Versailles ten years ago. Perhaps I worry now about how fragile our democracy is. Maybe this reminder of what sheer, untrammeled power can wreak on the people of France can remind us to not stay home in protest, but to vote. 

And we're not going to "vote early and often" as was said here in the U.S. in the 1900s to describe ballot stuffing. Allen remembers a time in Philadelphia in the late 1950s when certain precinct leaders met voters in a bar with a $10 bill and a name to use. Or stories about ballot boxes conveniently 'lost' in Southern rural areas in the 1970s. Or the time, again in Philadelphia in the 1980s, that two big bruisers offered to come into that tiny, private, curtained election booth with me because the levers to vote for the 'other' party would not work. I got dirty looks because precinct watchers called the 'malfunction' in.

Does all this make me 'blue' -- for blue is today's poetry prompt from OctPoWriMo. Nope. The more I write, the more determined I become . . . to keep writing and to vote! 


Check out what other folks writing for OctPoWriMo have written HERE

Friday, October 14, 2016

#14: The Scream . . .

Edvard Munch, "The Scream" (1893)
Source: Wikipedia

What inspired this blood red sky?
This roiling dark ocean nearly rising to the hills?
This terror? All else in the painting
seems ordinary as two men stroll
along a boardwalk. Munch says the colors
shrieked, it felt as if "an infinite scream 
was passing through nature."

I first saw "The Scream" when I was twelve.
I thought it a reaction to World War II,
some global horror.
But the date was wrong.
And yet, Munch reports feeling faint, anxious. 
Critics suggest the recent explosion of Krakatoa
may have influenced him. Or a nearby slaughterhouse, 
a lunatic asylum. I only know the terror
he captured in this painting 
resonated with me, as if the world were ending
while some walked by unaware.
Every day someone lives in this scream.


Today's prompt from OctPoWriMo asks us to explore something shameful, perhaps inspired by this week's political news. Ah, but I don't want to go there. Yes, I will watch the coming debate (leaving the room when the tension becomes intense). I will  hope for a focus on details -- philosophy of leadership, and I will vote. Democracy is fragile. But I don't want to argue, or watch stalking behavior, or listen to people shrieking at each other. That seems shameful in a debate. There, I've said it. Now to move on.

So today's topic is now up to me. Over at Writer's Digest's poetry prompts, Robert Lee Brewer suggests an ekphrastic poem, that is a poem inspired by art. Now, there's a direction for today. Which painting shall I explore? Which painting do I remember seeing first?  Read more about Edvard Munch HERE.

Read a few poets from OctPoWriMo here.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

#13: When I quilt . . .

Bear quilt in progress (Fall 2016)

When I quilt, all else fades,
the colors shift, and square by square,
something new emerges.
Sometimes my quilts are made for others;
their colors, their style permeates
that bed cover, king-sized for newlyweds
with years ahead.
Sometimes my little flannel-backed quilts
go to warm strangers. 
Once in a while, I slide away from pattern,
building something new. Each
square completed takes me to the next.
I sigh, delighted by fabric and design,
and dream of farway places where
a bear floats atop a fantastic moon.  


Today's prompt for OctPoWriMo asks us to respond to Alan W. Watts' comment: "The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance." 

This week has been fraught with worry as Hurricane Matthew moved up the eastern coast, the aftermath of the political debate reached a new low, and both my granddaughters sickened enough to puke. Usually, my writing keeps me feeling centered so that I can be calm, energetic, and 'join the dance.' But that daily writing requires emotional and mental focus. When I quilt, all else fades . . .

Stop by HERE to see what others have written.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

#12: Monet's Garden

Monet's Garden at Giverny (Camp 2004)

One afternoon, we wandered
through Monet's garden at Giverny,
a day trip away from Paris,
with a few hundred others
and two lovers.
I don't think they noticed
the water lilies or
the formal gardens.
Instead they stopped to sit
on a Japanese water bridge
and dreamed of what lay ahead,
as ethereal and shimmering
with promise
as one of Monet's paintings.


Rachel and Nick at Giverny (Camp 2004)

Monet came to live at this lovely, quiet estate in 1883. The story I remember most is that he worked closely with a gardener to reshape and replant the gardens to his exact specifications. Then, early and late, he would go out to the garden to paint those amazing studies of his gardens that fill museum rooms today. 

Later in Philadelphia, we saw an exhibit of Monet's works. One room had been set aside for the very large water lily paintings. Outside it was snowing and dusk was falling, but inside, we were surrounded by Monet's garden.


Where Monet once lived at Giverny (Camp 2004)

Visit the gardens at Giverny online HERE for some amazing photos and more of Monet.


Hydrangea at Giverny (Camp 2004)

NOTE for OctPoWriMo poets: Today's poem is a repeat of a poem I wrote a few years back. I've thrown away the evening watching the news and felt in need of something beautiful, that magical day we spent with our daughter and son-in-law.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

#11 Where did 'determined' come from?

Fight or flight never meant much to me.
Sometimes you stand and take it.
Sometimes you run.
They can't hit you if you keep moving.

Just maybe there's a happy-ever-after
in the week or year ahead.
More likely, someone will tease you
for wearing a sweater with holes.
I practiced being invisible
sitting in the back row, hiding 
behind glasses,
but they still saw me.
I was lucky I was tall.

Now folks say I have an unforgiving nature,
the old two strikes, blah, blah.
Don't push. 
I'm getting out.
Just call me feisty
and determined.

Dressed up and determined.
Writing a poem a day for October seems to happen either early in the morning or late at night. Today's dark little poem comes in response to the prompt from Poets on the Page for OctPoWriMo. The prompt began with a quote from Douglas Macarthur, "Life is a lively process of becoming." Explore your relationship to one of these words: lively, spirited, gutsy, determined, feisty, zealous. And the first line just popped out. 

Why not go see what others have written HERE? We up to nearly 80 poetry writers! Surely someone had a happier vision?


Monday, October 10, 2016

#10: Heritage unfolded . . .

I have an undated photograph
of my grandmother, Carolyn Mable Johnson,
taken when she was about 8 years old.
She sits scowling on a cane-backed chair 
between her mother and father, but 
the names don't match.

Her mother, Clara Mary Linthicum,
a dark-haired beauty just sixteen,
lounges on a hammock;
her father sits in full uniform, not quite at ease.
Walter Thomas Franklin,
served as a soldier at Fort Reno, Oklahoma. 

So why is my grandmother's birth name Johnson
and not Franklin?
The photo taken sometime in the early 1900's 
shows his mother, a spare woman, 
her mouth a straight line. 

Maybe someday I'll resolve the mystery
of these people sitting on this porch. 
Was my great-grandmother part Cheyenne?
And his mother named Caroline Missouri,
another mystery not even the internet
can resolve.


Click to see a larger size

I actually got a little genealogy research done with today's post. Not quite a poem, but maybe a reflection about family and questions that cannot be resolved.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

#9 Discouraging debate?

Sorry.
No poetry tonight.
I should have written
this morning and not waited 
until after the debate.
Sigh.
I admire my candidate's hopeful visions,
but why does everyone have to interrupt?
Even the commentators yell at each other,
as if raising their voices brings insight.
Bullying is now part of the democratic process?
I have little to offer, except
this is not my American Dream.

Fall Pond by Jeffrey Stemshorn





Saturday, October 08, 2016

#8: Freaked out . . .

Are we on a journey,
turning left instead of right,
talking instead of listening,
waiting and waiting
for just the right porous moment
to spill our hearts onto the page?
Sometimes in the morning,
I'll find a poem
nestled like a starling in some
incongruous place,
unloved, humble,
yet raucous and so hungry.
These fledglings scrounge for seed, 
rather like a writer
with too many words,
too many stories,
and not enough poetry.

Today's OctPoWriMo poetry prompt was a little hard to dive into -- simply the word "porous." So I went online at random to find PoetryPrompts and this enchanting picture -- which then reminded me of those mental journeys we take when we write. Don't ask how I found this poem. It's a mystery! 


"Freaked Out" at Poetry Prompts
You might find Robert Lee Brewer's poetry prompts at Writer's Digest useful. For now, why not read what other OctPoWriMo writers have written HERE?

Friday, October 07, 2016

#7: Another Tasty Treat . . .

Venus Verticordia - Dante Gabriel Rossetti- 1866
Maybe because I grew up fast and hungry,
I attack food as if someone
were going to take it away from me.
Don't come too close at supper time.  
I keep my arms curled around my plate,
and my knife ready.

Have a tasty treat, the old woman said;
she was no Aphrodite, but she offered me an apple. 
My teeth broke the red skin with that first bite, 
the apple juices a jolt of rapture 
roiling on my tongue,
then that little death, a drugged sleep.

No Snow White, no happy munchkins
lining up, far shorter than me,
for a supper that doesn't quite spread
to feed so many. 

Where is that old woman
with her red, red apples?
I could use a little deception
or a nap.



I don't really know where this poem came from today. I sometimes wish my writing didn't have a dark twist, that I could easily write happily-ever-after stories, but today's prompt, "tasty" should play into some good memories, for I love to eat. I've eaten chicken toes in Canada, fried grasshoppers in Turkey, and an unforgettable Brazilian stew of beans called feijoada. But why not turn to myth, Snow White and Aphrodite, or even that famous apple that some say was a tasty treat for Adam and Eve.

Meanwhile, are you writing a poem a day for October's  OctPoWriMo, a poetry challenge sponsored by Poets on the Page? Click HERE to read what some 70 poets have written today.




Thursday, October 06, 2016

#6: Tantalizing . . .

The Pap Lady by Charis Tsevis

So it begins: We women
have our own routine as we prepare
for the day. Yet, we tantalize
as we infuse each act with beauty.
From such small moments,
we shape the world for our children
and our lovers. Maybe
we take scraps from between
to make something of beauty
out of ourselves,
for ourselves
and those we love. 


Today's prompt from OctPoWriMo, that challenge to write a poem a day, asks us to explore the meaning of "tantalizing." 

Late last night, a quilting friend posted the amazing work of Charis Tsevis on Facebook. Tsevis, a Greek artist, uses small squares to create the most 'tantalizing' and stunning prints that look as if they have been quilted. He recently created a series of prints for the American house at the 2016 Olympics. See more of his work HERE.

So what is tantalizing about his work? I thought it had been quilted, and I thought a woman created this image. Surprise. As a quilter, I was first drawn to the creativity of color and design shown in Charis Tsevis' prints. But to write this poem, the woman herself and her beauty in daily routine became the focus. Tsevis' work is shown online; I've written for permission to use it here.

Meanwhile, are you writing a poem a day for OctPoWriMo? Click HERE to read what some 70 poets have written today. And now I don't know whether to write or quilt!



Wednesday, October 05, 2016

#5: Look Sharp



"Look sharp," my grandfather used to say
when he took me hiking.
His arthritic fingers tracked the horizon,
the color of the sky,
pointing out shifts in wind and cloud,
insignificant specks of gray 
that foretold storms. 
"People don't watch the weather 
nowadays," he said. I agreed. 
Why did we have to? I was no farmer,
no hunter. I did not fear storms.

Once, we huddled in the hallway 
while the television blared: Take cover! 
At the same time, a tornado passed overhead. 
Thump, thump, thump,
the sound indelible.
I could taste my fear.
Would we be that random
family, house and possessions 
strewn about in the yard, a morass of lumber
and disbelief, shocked to be alive, 
weeping into loss?

We drove through a tornado once, my husband and I,
the sky filled with that awful round swirling gray cloud,
cars pulled by the side of the road next to trees,
as if that would protect them
from the howling wind.
Our car lifted from the road now and then,
but we made it through the storm.

I have no lessons today.
Storms of many kinds pass with little grace
as relentless as seasons.
But I remember hiking with my grandfather, 
his stories of cowboy days, 
wild horses, rattlesnakes, rodeo,
singing in bars with his guitar during the Great Depression,
the one who taught me to see the sky.

Today's prompt from OctPoWriMo, that challenge to write a poem a day, asks us to explore the meaning of "sharp." I wasn't sure how to find my way into a poem until I remembered hiking with my grandfather, his connection with nature, and how he watched the sky. 

The photo is one I took through our car's windshield back in 2007 as we traveled through Minnesota. My husband and I drove through that storm, the circling cloud filled the whole sky, and the car actually did lift from the road a few times. We drove until we found a motel in a small town miles from the passing storm. That night I dreamed of being tossed through the storm cloud. 

These powerful, violent storms, some hard-to-understand result of geography, wind, and temperature, leave devastation behind, impossible to understand. We watch with concern as we wait for news about Hurricane Matthew, a Category 4 storm now making its way through the Carribean toward the east coast of Florida. Flooding. Wind damage. Displaced thousands and thousands of people. I'm hoping the storm will turn East and dissipate out in the Atlantic.

Click HERE to read what some 70 poets have written today. Why not just join in.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

#4: Purple Home



I can see these mountains,
the Santa Catalinas,
from my sister's backyard near Tucson.
They promise coolness in the summer,
In the morning, my spirit
reaches out to possibility,
purple rapture,
the scent of mesquite,
the chirp-chirp of cactus wrens,
my writing notebook open.


Today's prompt from OctPoWriMo, that challenge to write a poem a day, asks us to simply write a poem about the color purple, some memory or reaction. The poem began with a photo by Jeffrey Stemshorn of my sister's back yard.

Click HERE to read what some 70 poets have written today, or why not just join in.

Monday, October 03, 2016

#3: Glitter Day


Everything to enchant us: 
glitter crown, fuzzy gloves, 
pink chiffon, tennis shoes
splashed with sprinkles, a parade
of politicians, trumpets, and high-stepping
high-school bands. 
At the end of the day, we gather
to watch exploding sparkles 
fill the night sky.

Not one word of soldiers,
Paul Revere's ride through the dark night,
the distrust of neighbors who might be Tory
or Patriot, or those through the years
who have served our country,
those who have voted, those who chose
not to vote, and those
who could not vote at all.

We share this imperfect union,
this fragile democracy;
sometimes a blaze of glittering generalities,
but still free speech
and fierce patriotism,
respect, honor, sacrifice,
commitment to ideals that shine
like fireflies in the night.


Today's prompt from OctPoWriMo, that challenge to write a poem a day, asks us to write about some aspect of -- glitter. Today was a very full day. The poem began with this picture of Leda, July 4, 2016.

Click HERE to read what some 70 poets have written today, or why not just join in.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

#2: The Blank Page . . .


The blank page,
now the blank screen,
is rather like the sky at dawn,
that gray-blue with hints of sunlight 
at the horizon that spills into morning.
Possibilities, endless, really
a matter of choice,
first, one word,
the next and
the next,
to build meaning, a connection, some
sense of order out of chaos,
some way of making
sense of this day,
this precious
life.

Today's prompt from OctPoWriMo, that challenge to write a poem a day, asks us to consider the void, what happens when we writers cannot write. I'm not sure I have a response other than to say when the writing becomes more difficult, the words hidden, I try to persevere. Poetry is like an embellishment for me. Stories tell the whole through characters and conflict; poetry turns a word, helping me dive into meaning.

Click HERE to read what some 70 poets have written today, or join in. Write a poem in response to the prompt or just leap into the void. Celebrate the creative spirit!

Picture: Lake Chelan (September 2016).

Saturday, October 01, 2016

IWSG: From Eggbeater to Writing Focus

I'm feeling a little like I'm caught in an egg beater these days. Each week, I set goals and struggle to stay current. My volunteer projects keep growing. Despite getting up early, my writing time gets pushed to the side of my rather crowded desk. And so I circle around, wondering how I can make progress at all on my writing.

And then I opened this week's e-mail from Lorna Faith to find her blog post, "3 Enemies of Productivity for Writers." 

Alas, all three 'enemies' rang true for me, but Lorna offers strategies to face down each challenge:

1) Minimize uncertainty about what comes next by ending each writing session with a short note to yourself about what you will work on in your next writing session. This could be research, drafting back story, or writing dialogue, or tightening the plot. Creating a focus makes it easier to slide into work mode.

2) Sidestep procrastination by changing your inner dialogue. Instead of saying, “I only have 30 minutes, so I can’t do any real writing now.” Say: “I have 30 minutes. What can I get done?”

3) Avoid being overwhelmed by breaking a large (and intimidating!) task into smaller steps. This classic project management strategy is always helpful -- when I remember to use it.



And so I thank the Insecure Writer's Support Group that asks participating writers to talk about what they find most challenging about their writing this month. Tomorrow morning, I will begin again.

Afternoon walk (October 2016)


#1: Sometimes Fall Begins . . .


Sometimes fall begins
as just another summer day,
endless promise.
Come walk in the park,
to see the first leaves turn to red. 
We'll rest by the pond
where Canada geese settle,
before flying south,
snow birds.


OctPoWriMo begins on October 1st, with participants writing a poem a day throughout the month. Why not join in? Morgan Dragonwillow and Amy Phelps McGrath will lead our way in this fifth year of celebrating poetry. I can't promise more than snippets this year . . . my goal to finish final edits on Rivers of Stone before the New Year looms large. Click HERE to see what others have wrritten.

Photo: Manito Park, Spokane, 2016.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

IWSG: Summer Surprise

Whenever writers are deep into a project, doubts can surface. Luckily, we have many resources that can help to motivate us to recenter our purpose and faith, to sharpen our analytical skills, and to persevere.

Last month, I celebrated finishing that first real draft of Rivers of Stone. Rereading this draft, though, was not a celebration. The middle section sagged for it needed to cover four years. 

I could fudge the dates, but in historical fiction, real dates matter. Especially if the story pulls in characters based on persons who actually lived in that specific time. So while a four-year gap may not matter in worlds that are entirely made up, a historical setting changes the game. 

First I asked was this section really essential to the story itself, my character's development, and the resolution of issues and themes throughout. 

Next I acknowledged the time and work that this additional planning, research, writing, rewriting, and editing will involve. I let go of deadlines. Writing my novel is not really a linear process, say like making bread, the steps sharply defined beginning, middle, and end.

On the positive side, what's next is very clear. This pantser, someone who writes and discovers the story as it unfolds, is going back to work to tell the rest of the story.

Today's post, a part of a monthly commitment to the Insecure Writer's Study Group (IWSG), will hopefully encourage other writers to persevere. Maybe those who like to read will come away with a sense of what goes in to writing and finishing a story -- at least for one writer. 

Stop by to read what other IWSG writers have posted HERE -- and enjoy the diversity and celebration we writers are sharing.







Monday, August 01, 2016

IWSG: About community

Today, August 1st, is our anniversary. About 41 years ago, Allen and I began our adventure together. I look back and think we were impossibly young and didn't know the challenges that lay ahead. He wrote stories; I wrote poetry. He believes in me and gives me the courage and sense of security to simply write. 

He always says that writing is not an activity that requires a community. He's that kind of writer who reflects and writes very slowly, one word at a time, and he tells beautiful stories. In public, he's charismatic, putting on the public face of an entertainer. But he prefers the life of a hermit. I know other writers like this.


Allen and me, Los Angeles, 1975

When I write, I'm rather a sprinter. Gosh, look at those fingers fly over the keyboard. I write and revise, loop back and revise again, a rather circular process until the story sings. In public, I'm shy. My persona is rather that of a manager and teacher, charged up to get things done. I love working with others, even committees, that sense of accomplishment when I can help motivate folks to get things done, whether at work or through volunteerism. But I also prefer the quiet life at home, surrounded by books (increasingly Kindle-based) and close to my computer.

Enter the internet. For the internet has brought me a wonderful sense of connectedness to other writers. My current favorite groups include the Facebook group Ten Minute Novelists, because this group of hard-working writers focuses on craft, just like the Insecure Writers' Support Group. 

Online writing groups, like our group, the Insecure Writers Support Group, the Internet Writing Workshop, and the challenge-based community of NaNoWriMo (I'm a first time camper at Camp Nanowrimo this year), and even Google+ introduce me to other writers and help me dig more deeply into the craft of writing.

Although I'm not very good at writing my own promised quarterly author's newsletter, I subscribe to any number of writers who send out frequent e-mails full of insights about writing. Perhaps too many, for my inbox is typically full. I tell myself I'll catch up tomorrow.

And that's my lament for today's post for the Insecure Writers Support Group. How many tomorrows will there be? 

Both Allen and I are now in our seventies, older than average writers. My ideas for future writing projects stretch out to infinity. Do I have regrets for all those years I worked for corporations and in academia and wrote poetry and short stories in snatches? No. Mostly not. For I did not have the courage to simply let go of that worry: Who will pay the rent? How will we eat if I do not work at a job that has a regular paycheck?

But since retiring just eight years ago, I've been writing. Each book I finish is a celebration. Those issues I care about -- a sense of history, how the human spirit survives despite obstacles -- are embedded in my stories. 

Later this morning, we'll leave on our first trip since March. We're driving up to the mountains near Colville to explore that territory that fur traders once took for granted. A man-made lake now covers what was once an early Hudson's Bay Company fort, but the mountains remain.  



Meanwhile, whether you prefer to write alone or write somewhat connected to others, I challenge you to write those stories that are closest to your heart.  

And why not visit a few other writers who are a part of this monthly check-in for the Insecure Writers Support Group.