Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Friday, February 21, 2020

WEP Challenge: Cafe Terrace

Waiting for Van Gogh

Cobblestones make walking tricky as I wander far
from our hotel in this small town
under a dark, star-spangled sky.
I said I would not wait
for you. Your paintings shimmer in my memories,
like sad songs without promise, reminding me
of what we once had, precious friendship diluted
by screaming fights, the drinking, the slide
to oblivion. You laughed when you cut off your ear.
I could not hear your pain then.
Yet you painted again and again
what you saw around you, crows rising from a wheat field
and me.

NOTE: I’m writing this poem while on the road, far from home and with iffy internet on an iPad I don’t quite know how to use . . . which means I can’t post the lovely poster for this February writing challenge from WEP, Write—Edit—Publish.

Please go HERE to read what others have written for Cafe Terrace, inspired by Van Gogh’s painting, Cafe Terrace at Night (1888). Source: Wikipedia.

80 words. Any comments appreciated.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Feb IWSG: A little about critiques and stars

Wednesday night, and it's time to post on my blog as  part of  the Insecure Writer's Support Group's monthly challenge!

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the scope of your writing project? perhaps deadlines? Today is a day to talk about those creeping insecurities that we somehow find a way to face down and persevere.

This pic shows dear hubby on an amazing hike trip we took in the Atacama Desert in Northern Peru a few years back. Our tour guide took us down sand dunes that stretched to the horizon and then to this narrow canyon. Before we began, though, two younger women looked at us and said, "They'll never make it. They'll hold us back." Guess who fell behind? Wasn't us. I'll never forget that sense of freedom as we rolled down those gigantic sand dunes.
Hiking the Atacama Desert, Chile

What does this have to do with writing? Well, we writers do so appreciate a good critique. But what happens when the crit doesn't inspire us to keep writing? In fact, what if a critique makes us stop writing?

Do we learn what we can from that critique, then let go and simply return to our writing? Sometimes.

A writing friend reminded me that we need to recognize that we are telling OUR story, the story we love, the story that won't let us go. This may be the story that we can't finish in a few months or even a year. Maybe our characters talk to us -- and maybe they don't. But something keeps pulling us back to this story. We can circle around, study our favorite writing gurus, and recognize we may never make every reader happy. We can simply persevere with our writing.

So, this month, I've worked through those critiques, done some research, and revised for more effective use of inner dialogue, and now I'm setting those critiques aside and focusing on the story itself. BTW, here's a short summary of what I learned about inner dialogue:

1) Not everyone thinks in their head!
2) Shorter is better, especially when my character is under stress.
3) Watch out for narrator's intrusion AKA back story!
4) It's ok to use italics for inner dialogue. Some very famous writers do -- and many others don't.

Just so you know, I'm back to writing . . . and happy to be here, talking to you as part of this month's IWSG.

Here's IWSG's February 5 question - Has a single photo or work of art ever inspired a story? What was it and did you finish it?

When I lived in San Francisco, I stood in line for four hours to see a traveling exhibit of Van Gogh's work. I can't say his paintings inspired a specific story of mine, but his life and work have affirmed the importance of creativity to each of us. I cannot watch this wonderful video of Don McLean's "Starry, Starry Night," illustrated with Van Gogh's work, without tears.

So, no matter what form it takes, poetry, short stories, novels, or painting, I wish you a joyful end-of-the-winter month ahead to explore YOUR creativity.

Part of participating in the Insecure Writer's Support Group's monthly challenge is to check in, find out what others are thinking about. Why not click on over!

Thanks go to co-hosts for the February 5 posting of the IWSG are Lee Lowery, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, Jennifer Hawes, Cathrina Constantine, and Tyrean Martinson!  And a special thank you to Alex J.  Cavanaugh for starting this all.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

IWSG: On the Road Again . . .

We're on the road again, traveling from snow zone to sun, a wonderful way to begin the new year, sharing time with old friends and then, suitcases in hand, jumping onto a plane, south to Mexico.

We're a little older, walking not quite as fast or as far, but still ready to appreciate the ambiance of some place that's totally new, this January to the west coast of Mexico, a tourist destination: Puerto Vallarta, a small condo walking distance to the beach and sunny days of 85F.

Part of the pleasure of leaving is simply letting go of what is non-essential, those tangible 'gifts' that surround us, pictures, books, quilt-making supplies. I asked Allen if I should leave my netbook at home since our trip is only 14 days. His reply, "What! Are you nuts?" I have my travel journal, but I do love looking out the window at a strange vista and writing into the morning. That means I'll have my current story with me and, as always, hope for insight and progress.

Part of the pleasure of returning home is understanding anew what is good about this home and this place, for at some point, we won't travel at all.

Casa de Pilatos, Seville
Begun in 1492
I regret nothing about the trips we've taken, the worlds of art and culture we've seen and tasted and dreamed of, most recently, last spring, a month in Seville, a city that brings Moorish and Christian history alive, a tradition of sitting on companionable little patios, enjoying tapas ('little bites') with sangria.

At home, we're nurtured through the seasons by closeness to family -- and the hope of the next journey -- with netbook!

Each decade presents us with questions: What is essential? What requires courage or change? What will we continue to embrace? What will we let go of?

IWSG's January question asked us to explore how we began writing -- if we always knew one day we'd write, regardless of challenges along the way. I choose to focus on what's ahead, for after a lifetime of writing poetry, telling stories, and, at retirement, finally, finally writing novels, I realize that what once began as a vow to myself when I was 10, is now a reality.

Happy New Year ahead! May all your dreams come true! May you cherish each day.

Thank you to the intrepid group of writers, including host Alex J. Kavanaugh, and co-hosts for the January 8 posting of the Insecure Writer's Support GroupT. Powell Coltrin, Victoria Marie Lees, Stephen Tremp, Renee Scattergood, and J.H. Moncrieff!

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

IWSG December: Living the Dream

November's National Novel Writing Month is now over, as is Thanksgiving as we tunnel through winter to the end of the year.

Outside my apartment window, rain, instead of snow, pelts an amazing pile of abandoned furniture next to the community garage, a stranger's untold story.

Today, this Wednesday, as part of IWSG's monthly challenge, we're asked to describe our future writer's self -- what it looks and feels like -- IF we are living the dream. Or, we could talk about what our life as a writer is like IF we are already there. And what would we change or improve?

I'm never sure about these questions or where they'll take me. As an older than average writer, I am, like many, poised between becoming a better writer and being, that is, practicing the craft of writing every day.  Simply put, that's my dream, and I'm living it.

Last month's NaNoWriMo pushed me to face stories I've never told as I took a mini-break from my current novel to begin a memoir. Some 35K words later, I'm pleased by my start, to look critically at those events I've wrestled with in my fiction, but never easily talked about.

Yes, I read pretty voraciously. Do you? This week, I forced myself to finish a book that will remain nameless, for it disgusted me. The novel, this month's selection for a book club, read as if it were a memoir, but without grace or insight. The main character divulged an atrocious childhood and then transformed into a money-grubbing, amoral, self-obsessed individual. The book ended with no transformation of the character's many flaws, no hint of change or redemption, but promised this was Book 1 of more to come.

Aargh! I may not know where my writing will take me, but please, I hope to write stories that encourage us to face evil with courage, despite many obstacles within and without.

For many writers, the dream is recognition and perhaps more than a livable wage. I'm retired with few wants. Do you remember Hemingway's very famous short story, "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"?  Hemingway shows us, with bare prose, the value of simple acts. How we choose to live with empathy and courage. For we know, don't we, that some -- even us, at times -- despair, and this leads us right back to bedrock: that regardless of circumstance, we have the freedom to choose how we live and what we do. 

That's my dream: To live and write with a sense of harmony and grace, regardless of circumstance. I think I'm living the dream. That could be an illusion, but it's one that sustains me.

That's me with my cousin,
Bainbridge Island,
about 1953
One last note: It's too close to Thanksgiving not to truly be thankful for much -- my family and friends, my life companion, and, not least, those readers, primarily from the States, Scotland, Australia, and Canada, who read my stuff.

And a special thank you to the  co-hosts for the December 4 posting of the IWSG are Tonja Drecker, Beverly Stowe McClure, Nicki Elson, Fundy Blue, and Tyrean Martinson!

May you all live your dream in the year ahead.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

IWSG November: Researching the Unimaginable . . .

Each month, the Insecure Writer's Support Group posts a question for writers to ponder and write about. This November's question: What's the strangest thing you've ever Googled in researching a story?

I've done my fair share of researching serial killers, the mafia, how quickly rigor mortis takes effect, and royal intrigue, among many other topics. Today's response is inspired by Google research about a bar in Edinburgh and about a fish that lives on the bottom of the sea.

BACKGROUND: While living in Edinburgh to research Standing Stones, we lived in a 5th floor walk-up apartment overlooking a 16th Century Writer's Museum, located in the  courtyard in Lady Stair's Close. About half a block away, on the corner, we passed by many times a very famous bar called Deacon Brodie's Tavern. Sadly, we never visited there until I began my current romantic suspense novel.

From The Seventh Tapestry

So, I'll let my hero, Neil McDonnell, art crimes investigator, describe the history of this very special tavern, as he meets with my heroine, Sandra Robertson, curator at an Edinburgh medieval arts museum, over lunch at Deacon Brodie's Tavern:
   “Ah,” said Neil. “Now, we enjoy. So, did I tell you about Deacon Brodie?” 
    Sandra shook her head, too busy with her salad to talk. The scallops, embellished with crunchy bacon and a light vinaigrette, were perfectly cooked and chilled.
    “Brodie lived in this neighborhood back in the 1700’s, a pretty well-respected cabinet maker and locksmith. At least by day. At night, he gambled. Got into debt. Turned his locksmith skills into copying keys to mansions.” Neil paused. “Rather like today. Somebody at your museum might have been tempted for some easy money. Maybe got in over his or her head with gambling, just like Brodie. ‘Tis as much a problem today as it was then.”
    He nudged his oatcake with a fork. “Anyway, Brodie continued to steal for the next twenty years, hiding in plain sight. Until he was finally discovered and then hanged. Pretty gruesome talk for lunch.” He smiled. “Did you notice the slogan on the front of the bar?”
    “No, too noisy and too many people. But it’s nice and quiet up here.”
    “Well, the slogan is one that every Scot knows. ‘In love and life I hath no fear, as I was born of Scottish blood.’”
    “‘In love and life, I have no fear.’ I like that. I think my father would like it too.”

And now a grim, little poem, inspired entirely by research! I no longer remember why I researched hagfish. Perhaps I found a mention somewhere, but here's the resulting poem.


Almost as long as my thigh bone,
she burrows into the bottom of the ocean floor.
Spineless, she circles and scavenges
her way into the bodies of the dead and dying
and eats her way out.
She sucks life through her skin;
at the same moment she swallows,
her cartilage-teeth move horizontally in and out
on two plates, and her whiskers quiver,
catfish-like, her pink skin deepens to purple,
her skull defined as if some sluggish, evolutionary
brain were trapped within,
some mindless, predestined intelligence
behind her eyespots.
She carries her eggs casually.
If caught, she covers herself with gill-clogging slime
and twists herself into knots to escape.
I would say this hagfish is a survivor,
550 million years old,
with dark lessons for us all.

May November bring you good reading and good writing!

Why not visit what other writers have written this month, for the purpose behind the Insecure Writer's Support Group  is for writers at all stages and genres to connect with each other, sharing our doubts and celebrating the writing life.

Special thanks go to November's co-hosts: Sadira Stone, Patricia Josephine, Lisa Buie-Collard, Erika Beebe, and C. Lee McKenzie!

Thursday, October 31, 2019

OctPoWriMo #31: Peace

Forest Walk (pixabay)

It doesn't matter where we are.
Truly. The young ones grow up;
we elders pass like seasons;
every decade brings its own challenge,
and, at the end, a few memories
remain: the birth of our child,
a hike around a mountain lake
shimmering blue in the sun.
We did climb the heights at Macchu Picchu,
gasping for each breath,
sitting on stones,
contemplating ruins of stone
made in another time long before us.
What will I remember
when memory fails me?
Will we hold hands,
fully at peace?
Will the world, so full of chaos,
be at peace as well?
I am at once filled with doubt
and hope.

Morning Fog (Pixabay)

Today is the last day for this challenge to write a poem each day for the month of October. You can still visit OctPoWriMo at to read what others have written and perhaps comment. 

Thank you so much, Morgan Dragonwillow, Michelle Vecchitto, Esther Jones, and Maria L. Berg for hosting this month-long poetry challenge. You have given us all gifts of language and feeling -- poetry!

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

OctPoWriMo #30: Me

These are my hands, not privileged,
gnarled with seven and a half decades of living,
maybe at a slightly slower pace, yet
ready to work, reach out, embrace,
not alone, but connected
to circles of family, writers, quilters,
and that sense that cherishes
each morning: for I am still here,
facing down that blank page
and writing.

Hand of an Elderly Woman (Pixabay)

Tomorrow's prompt: Finding Peace.

You can visit OctPoWriMo at to read what others have written and for writing prompts for tomorrow's poem. Why not join in? You still have one more day!

Thank you, Morgan Dragonwillow, Michelle Vecchitto, Esther Jones, and Maria L. Berg for hosting this month-long poetry challenge.