Sunday, September 30, 2012


Roz Morris posted this writing prompt, really a blog hop and a challenge: To write about strangers who appear in a photo you've taken. 

So I selected this picture at random, a side street in Rio, taken in January 2009. The picture is quintessentially Allen. I play with my camera and wait beside the small neighborhood floral shop as he consults Lonely Planet, his mapping skill gained from years of traveling, but one he now fears he can no longer do as well. 

Behind him a couple strides determinedly. An older couple. Are they married? Are they Bazillian? Perhaps they are tourists, as we are, here for such a short time. Perhaps they are émigrés from Europe, for despite its pulsing samba beat and impossibly white sandy beaches(Ipanema, Cococabana, how these names linger), Rio has a decidedly European flavor. Brazilians drink espresso in small coffee shops with fresh, delicate sweet breads and stroll at all times along wide boulevards.

A couple strides past
my husband, lost in a guide book,
as anonymous as flowers in pots
lined up by the door of a small florist.
None of us notice the
raw pink vine flowers that blossom above.
The couple marches, arguing,
he has a lover,
she wants a divorce;
he cannot find his way.

ROW80: Going South

'Tis time. The Canada geese are heading south this morning, lifting up from the nearby wetlands; their cries begin my morning. That bite in the air says snow will fall before the end of the year.

October 1st begins the next Round of Words (ROW80), my second. Participants set measurable goals for the next 80 days and then report to the group via blog twice weekly -- Mondays and Weds. We'll read each other's progress reports, cheer wildly, and go back to work. I'm still a ROW80 newbie as the last session was my first. Perhaps the biggest accomplishment was finishing the rough draft of Years of Stone AND actually e-pubbing a collecion of short stories (just to learn how).

And so I post my goals for the coming three months. It's all about the writing. It's all good. You can jump in here!

My ROW80 goals for October 1st - December 20: 

WRITING:  Complete edits for Years of Stone (pov shifts, authorial intrusion, repeated words) and revision (character depth, conflict, more sensory detail). Work on back story to develop more fully realized characters throughout. Write a poem a day for OctPoWriMo. Read Standing Stones and make notes for revision. By January, I’d like to begin researching Rivers of Stone. My goal is to write the best story I can. The result may not be literary fiction, but it will be my best. Keep one writing session each week for WRITING IT DIFFERENT.
READING/OUTREACH: Each month The Writer and Writer’s Digest arrive. Each month the magazines wind up in a safe “to read” stack (now a backlog of 40 magazines). I’m challenging myself to read 15 of these magazines a month. Blog weekly on some inspiring writing skill (WEDS WRITING WORKOUT). Commit to Sunday and Weds updates for ROW80 – and read and comment on 10 other ROW80 bloggers weekly. Participate weekly on FB (Writer Unboxed, Fellow Writers, Reviewers) and Twitter. Other reading: 3 novels a month (and post reviews on GoodReads).
AGENT SEARCH/MARKETING:  Revise query, synopsis, and send Years of Stone out to 3 potential agents a month. Identify key elements of a marketing plan and draft mine. Develop book group questions.          

Friday, September 21, 2012

Standing behind Deidre . . .

I'm taking daily lessons on how to improve my ability to fully realize a scene. The resulting writing exercises may or may not add to my current revision of Years of Stone, but, like journaling or morning lines, keep me focused.

This came about as I began the hopefully last round of revision and perhaps another six months of work. After reading that so important first chapter, the critters over at the Internet Writing Workshop said I needed more sense-based imagery to flesh out the story. I talked with my hubby, a sometimes ferocious critic but always supportive, about different strategies and we came up with this scheme.

My first exercise on Wednesday was to hover in my imagination 20 feet above the foundering ship and describe what I see. What I realized immediately was that I couldn't SEE the ship! I didn't know what type of ship, how large, how many crew, how far out from land she had run aground. Aaargh! No wonder those sensory details were missing! So I wrote a little and jumped back into research.

Allen:  "That's cheating! You can't rely on research. You must force yourself to use your imagination, write from what you see, what you imagine you smell, taste, hear, touch." (I told you he could be ferocious.)

Me: "But I'm writing historical fiction. How can I write without knowing absolutely . . . etc, etc."

Source: D'Entrecasteaux National Park
That led to more conversation. We are both stubborn. It's my book, and I will do research. But I will also approach these exercises to focus on spinning out the story that uses the five senses. So today's exercise -- to stand behind Deidre and write what I see -- brought this draft.

Remember, Van Diemen's Land, 1842, the ship has foundered along the D'Entrecasteaux Channel near Southport:

Deidre holds Amalie’s hand tightly as they stand in line. The sailors, their faces sweaty and fearful, rush past them. One sailor drops a coil of rope and bumps into Deidre, shoving her to the deck. For a moment, Deidre loses her grasp of Amalie. “Deidre!” Amalie shrieks. “Don’t let go!” The little girl presses against Deidre and winds her arms around Deidre’s waist.

First Mate Banks roars just ahead of them. “Hold tight. Easy there.”

Deidre wraps Amalie close and leans over the bulwarks to look down at the churning sea. She can taste the salt in the wind that buffets her face. The sailors have rigged up a rope chair and are lowering Mrs. Rafferty over the side, her pudgy eyes closed tightly as she moans. The sailors groan as they lower her to the sea. One of the ropes slips, and she falls the last five feet, dumped unceremoniously into the water. The sailor waiting at the side of the ship tries to pull her out of the water. He goes under, Mrs. Rafferty clinging around his neck. He resurfaces and clouts her on the chin. She slumps, her skirts spread out behind her as he wraps a rope under her meaty arms and begins to haul her to shore.

“We won’t fall, will we?” asks Amalie.

 The Captain’s longboat pulls alongside. The sailors snug the boat to the ship. Immediately the waiting women and children are wound in rope and lowered over the side. Deidre moves forward in the line, Amalie with her, hoping this time they will go in the boat.

“No more ‘else we founder,” cries one of the sailors from below, and the line in front of Deidre stops. The ship’s list has increased. Moans of fear bubble up from the women behind her. Is this the day I die?

ROW80 UPDATE: The round of 80 days has ended. I'm late with my update, having joined this writing community in the middle of the 80 days, but the postings of other writers in the midst of working toward their writing goals has been a wonderful experience. Twice a week we are accountable for what we write. The next round begins October 1. I will be ready with a new set of measurable goals, ready to read what others write, and more than ready to write on!

My update is simple. Writing goals have shifted as I realize I cannot complete the final revisions to Years of Stone in under a month (that is, before leaving for Africa). Unbelievably optimistic! But, good progress on e-publishing as The Mermaid Quilt & Other Tales is up on Amazon and available in Kindle and Amazon formats. Whew! These skills were not easy to learn. I've made very good progress in professional reading, though the backlog stack of magazines is very high. And the last goal, building a marketing plan starts with a list and understanding what's involved -- and what I'm willing to do. Ordered Mermaid bookmarks! Next? Think ahead to the next three months.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sunday morning . . . early.

It's 4:30 am. A motorcycle revs up and burrs through the night, the sound irrevocably splitting my eyes open. And I begin think what to do -- meetings, public relations projects, deadlines, and the marketing plan (when all I want to do is stay home quietly and write).

I open up my e-mail to find Karen Huber's post about stillness. The Power of Pause. Emptying the mind. Lovely evocative photographs that remind me we can find quiet.

This week I subbed a new opening chapter for Years of Stone to the NOVELS group on the  Internet Writing Workshop and got some generous and helpful feedback. My book now opens at the moment people abandon ship. Cries and screams. Crashing waves. A tenuous rope holds ship to shore. Sailors carry children on their backs and pull their way to safety. Women cling to the rope. A few -- terrified and cold to the bone -- can't hang on and are pulled away in the sea. And the ship goes down.

I found this photograph online of women in 1860 at Scratching Sydney's Surface and am struck by how unique each woman's face is. Of course, they would be, just as we are today, but I have to work hard not to generalize the past, as if all women had that patina from Romantic painters. But they did not. These early suffragettes ultimately brought women the right to vote. Their determination can be seen in their faces, even as their clothing reveals adherence to Victorian codes of dress and decorum.

ROW80 Update: Sadly missed Weds check-in but I have made some progress in writing, reading, and research. Marketing? Less so. Our major quilt show comes up in October with about 5,000 attendees. Should I invest in bookmarks???

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Sunday night . . . late.

This last week has been hectic when I would rather simplify.

Slowly I am realizing that my exuberance of last week is premature. Yes, the first draft of Years of Stone is done, but now the real work begins. My quilt squares are off the cork board and the 3x5 scene cards are posted instead. Feedback from the harshest critics are ahead, and I know I will need to face down days of doubt.

This early morning crane (a photo taken this summer) makes me think I should not question the process, just take each writing session and work away at building a deeper understanding of character, motivation, and conflict. If I really want to understand what it was like to live in mid-19th Century, I must dig deeper. And that's all right.

ROW80 update: Tested Scrivener, liked the corkboard, the visual prompts for writing, but still not a good fit for me. I think my projects would collapse of their own weight (research files, photos, maps, outlines, character sketches, and that's not counting the story writing).

Worked rather desultorily on a market plan for The Mermaid Quilt & Other Tales. Made me feel like a used car salesman. Made me question my purpose in trying this avenue of self-pubbing. I hate to ask for favors, but this week, I will ask for a review. And maybe set up a 'free day'. What's aggravating is that the preview shows typos and I have uploaded the final correct copy three times now --  surely no one would believe an English teacher would spell 'dedicated' like this: 'DEDICATed.' Aargh! Well, I got it right here. Oh, and I didn't post on Weds. But reading what others have written keeps me going. Thank you all, ROW80 participants!

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Sunday Musings:

Row80 Update is here.

Othello Crane Festival (click to see details of this photo)
Last spring, we drove down to the Othello Crane Festival in southern Washington. We saw cranes in flocks, and, at sunset, we were treated to a swarm of hundreds of ducks circling an open field, calling to each other, landing, sometimes taking off again, yet coming down to ground, safe for the night. 

Overall this magnificent pattern, repeated each day as these birds migrate spring and winter, driven by some unnamed passion, reminds me of flocks of words and my own journey. This week is about editing, analyzing, persevering. My challenge is to infuse more conflict into my writing. I will begin with developing more in-depth character sketches for my two main protagonists. I know them well enough to dream about them, what they will say and do, but I know little about their deepest hopes and fears. 

Noah Lukeman in The Plot Thickens says that "Once you really know your character, your knowledge will flow unmistakably through the text; like an undercurrent, it will authenticate every word, gesture, and action." My week ahead promises a litany of read, write, and reflect. 

May your writing week go well.