Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wearing someone else's shoes . . . and ROW80

We'll be on the road for all of March, no set itinerary, just driving down from Spokane to Tucson, meandering, all the 'things' we need in the car, camping in a tent when we wish or sleeping over in a hotel. Somehow that appeals to me, that letting go of daily routine (sotto voice "and obligation"), stepping away from structure, and embracing the daily surprise that warmer weather will bring. I will miss our darling grandchild and family, but we are still going.

I will write every day, but that's nearly a given. When we come home from such a trip, all the clutter of our home greets us. My favorite books in a pile (his favorite books in a pile). My sewing projects and volunteerism (his sports). I cook (he pays the bills). When it's his turn to cook, we go out to dinner. Tuesday, movie day. We settle into routine like two left over sweet potatoes, not too dramatic, but cosy and comfortable.

So this week I'm in someone else's kitchen. Nothing I cook with normally can I find at first blush. I'd like to think I'm not too materialistic, but butter at room temperature? No. Mixing bowls, yes, but all metal. Everything matches beautifully, pots, dishes, glasses, as Kazantzakis wrote in Zorba the Greek, ". . . the full catastrophe!" No books piled up, except the ones we brought. I dread moving anything around and realize at heart I am not orderly at all. I'm reminded of the great disparity between the safari hotels -- and the public schools we visited in Africa, the warmth of the bricklayer's family, their music and singing the gift they gave us.

The kings and queens of medieval times did not live so well, no matter how much I admire their tapestries. How much is enough for Americans in a first world culture? I take far too much for granted. Even my simple life is not so simple, not even when I wear someone else's shoes.

ROW80 UPDATE: Today's update short and sweet for A Round of Words in 80 Days (see the challenge at with check-in to track progress each Sunday and Wednesday:  Writing: Finished editing Section 1, Years of Stone, jumped to edit Section 2. Writing 400 words a day, 5 out of 7 days, without counting notes or blogs. Need to write on my travel blog (more about Africa).  Reading/Craft: Set goal of reading 3-5 ROW80 colleagues every day. So far, so good. Haven't cracked Peter Maas' workbook yet. Marketing: Signed up for a free webinair on marketing. Otherwise, delay, procrastination, avoidance, even with another small check from Amazon. ROW80 colleagues: May your writing week go well.

Photo of the day: A bit of January whimsey from my daughter's back yard here in Spokane.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Running late with ROW80 Check-in. . .

I feel a little like Alice down a rat hole. We're hanging out this week with a centenarian, a delightful lady with stories of the 1930s oil fields to share. Internet here works but not with my computer. I'm writing every morning, but then switch to the 'big' computer in the den for internet. So here's my ROW80 check-in:

Sunday's January 28th ROW80 progress this week:
  • Writing: Wrote 5 out of 7 days. Finished edits about Deidre through Section 1 for Years of Stone and caught some sequencing issues (logical lapses fixed). Happily wrote new stuff but not the 500 words a day. Reformatted the Word file entirely (copy to WordPad then back to a new Word file) to remove weird spacings. Guess I have worked over this over too many times. Wrote about writing on Weds check-in (but late one day).
  • Reading/Craft: Steady progress on Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker. Ordered Peter Maas' workbook on writing a breakout novel. Read about 15 ROW80 colleagues since last Weds. Good stuff all around.
  • Marketing/Publishing: Nada. Installed MailChimp on my travel blog at  but no 'campaign' yet. I think I'd like to set up some sort of PDF file as a freebie (this is on my travel blog, which by the way is getting double and triple the hits of my writing blog). Gave a copy of The Mermaid Quilt to an inspirational quilter, but that doesn't really count as marketing, though she does live in Connecticut.
ROW80 goals before next Sunday's February 4th check-in:
  • Writing: Complete revisions on Section 1, Years of Stone, and begin revisions on Section 2. Complete all revisions by PNWA literary contest (February 22). Write 400 words a day 5 out of 7 days. Draft discussion questions for book club on The Mermaid Quilt. Draft PDF on Africa. Work on PowerPoint slide for presentation on African trip. Sunday ROW80 check-in, write about writing issues.
  • Reading/Craft: Prep for Spokane Authors meeting first Thursday of February. Finish Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker. Begin the Maas workbook.
  • Marketing/Publishing: Got lots of information and strategies coming in, but I'm having a hard time deciding what would help most. OK I did volunteer to do a guest blog and so I'll write that up, confirm the topic and get it out before next Sunday. Need to read Literary Cafe and this equally nice Historical Fiction blog and post there. Need to post a review of Kate Grenville's The Secret River on GoodReads (which I really did admire for its beautiful writing).
No picture this time, but a 20-second video I took in Buenos Aires, Argentina, of a couple celebrating the tango on a Sunday afternoon in the funky little neighborhood of San Telmo. This is to remind us to dance with joy -- maybe with words -- but so we dance each day.

Friday, January 25, 2013

More about Mathinna

I wrote about Mathinna's history last April. This evocative painting of her by Thomas Bock calls me back again and again, and so today I put the unveiling of this portrait in my story, Years of Stone, set in Tasmania in 1842.

But writing is never so simple. Sometimes there are surprises.

Right now I'm revising Years of Stone, rereading and revising, and yet feeling like progress is very slow. I read a note from Rick Bylina this morning who is cutting back on his social 'platform' to free up more time for writing. His cry: Write on! His personal challenge: 500 words a day.

So I thought perhaps I should just try this and write my 500 words.

I began by blocking the scene of a soiree at Government House because it was incomplete. I listed the characters, their potential motivations and conflicts, and then set the scene as Deidre looks at this painting of Mathinna, just unveiled.

Now, of course, I had to go look at the painting again. Here's the surprise. Notice that oval surrounding Mathinna. There's rather an apocryphal story about Australian author Richard Flanagan being inspired by the painting of Mathinna, seen first in a storage room at a museum. The image here is unframed, but if the painting were framed in a typical oval frame, Mathinna's bare feet would be hidden. Ha!

Former convict painter Thomas Bock, truly celebrated today for his insightful early paintings of aboriginals, and popular in the 1830s until his death in 1855 for his portraits of the wealthy, gave us quite a gift. A picture of the essential Mathinna.

Here's the scene that resulted:

Deidre drew closer to the framed, formal painting. Mathinna’s expressive dark eyes looked back at her, forever six years old, a plaintive half-smile on her lips, hands clasped, as Deidre had never seen her,  Mathinna, sitting quietly, no possum nearby.

“What do you think of it?” asked Thomas Bock, his high dome forehead catching the light from the chandeliers above.

“It’s certainly very true to her nature,” replied Deidre. “She seems wistful.”

“Ah, she didn’t want to sit still.”  Bock gestured at the painting. “She wanted to have her little pet painted as well, but Lady Franklin did not approve. So, we made a concession. She was to sit still, and I was to paint her bare feet, but outside the oval of the formal portrait. I wish you could see the whole painting.”

Deidre looked at the painting again and tried to imagine Mathinna's bare feet peeking out from her beloved red dress. With the ornate oval frame, that essential symbol of her freedom and her exuberance hidden, Mathinna was fixed in time, proper and sedate. “It’s still a remarkable painting.”

Source of image: Wikipedia

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Winter thoughts and ROW80 . . .

January brings
freezing fog this morning,
ice on the street slick and glassy.
Little nameless winter birds cluster
at the bird feeder,
as if the seeds will keep them warm.
Even the trees turn white
and still, each leafless branch,
each pine needle, frost-coated.
Like house plants, we are still alive,
My African violets yet bloom in winter.

ROW80 CHECK-IN: Skipped Sunday's ROW80 check-in. I can only blame volunteer work, writing PR stuff to deadline, and a truly wonderful baby-naming. So, the WRITING (or I should say revising) goes reasonably well "between" other commitments. I can't keep a word count, and I get sidetracked by research, everything from what does a possum really look like to who was the District Constable in 1842.

I'm currently READING Jennifer Chiaverini's Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, a well researched slice-of-life story in Civil War Washington, D.C., but a very different, more matter of fact style than the evocative writing in Kate Grenville's The Secret River. MARKETING should heat up in the next few weeks as my KDP contract runs out on Feb 7. The next challenge is to take The Mermaid Quilt live on Smashwords. I did learn much from participating in just the first week of The Ultimate Blog Challenge. But writing a blog post a day is simply too much, unless I want to cut back on my main writing project (and I don't).

Question of the Day: I do keep a travel blog, On the Road Again, where I've been posting pictures and some writing about what we saw in our 3 week trip to Africa this last November. But even if I don't post as often as here, more readers are jumping to that blog than this one, and some of those readers are complaining that I need to post more on the travel blog!

Market gurus say to find your niche and promote from there. But my writing is my main focus. I also find it hard to write on the travel blog when we're at home. That nasty inner voice says, "What's so interesting about home?" Today's poem came from what I see out my window at 6 am. Tonight's low will be under 20 degrees Fahrenheit; I'm expecting more frost-covered trees, more revision, and maybe another poem.

So the question is: What would make my writing blog more interesting to you? And thank you for stopping by.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

WEDS ROW80 Check in . . . and possums

Tasmanian Brushtail Possum
One of my characters in Years of Stone carries around a possum. I thought I knew what this small animal looked like, most likely something like a raccoon, though I was uncertain why anyone would want one for a pet.

Then I found there's a big difference between an opossum in North America and a possum in Tasmania.

In Tasmania, the possum is cuddly, somewhat chubby, a nice, long bushy tail; big eyes and cute ears that look almost like a rabbit's ears, though the possum still has those very sharp claws. In fact, the proper name for a Tasmanian possum is Brushtail Possum.

Virginia Opossum (Wikipedia)
In Virginia, the opossum looks feral in comparison with an elongated snout, nice sharp teeth, and a ratlike tail. Who'd want to cuddle with that? So once again, I'm grateful for the  internet and the ability to find comparative information -- even for what appears to be a walk-on appearance!

WEDS ROW80 UPDATE. I'm pretty pleased with this week's WRITING. The writing/revising comes along slowly, and Deidre is less wimpy by the day. I'm not counting words while revising because the process is somewhat sticky. Most days I delete as much as I add. I'm also making steady progress with READING other participants in the Ultimate Blog Challenge and ROW80, and using Facebook and Twitter. Kate Grenville's The Secret River is a sheer delight to read for her descriptive ability and nuances of character and plot. I'm also knocking down 2-3 writing magazines every other day. So far, so good.

The toughest area for me (as with many writers) is MARKETING. One example. With Blogspot, readers can sign up to receive e-mail notification whenever I put up a new post. But these e-mails are invisible to me. Enter MailChimp, a free service (can upgrade for $$$) that allows me to set up a way for readers to sign up for a newsletter. I can then write directly to my readers.

I'm experimenting with this on my travel blog (On the Road Again) to see how it works. Some of the marketing bloggers I've read through the Ultimate Blogging Challenge use something like MailChimp to offer their readers something for free. For writers, that might be a free story or an occasional newsletter or events announcement. If you have experimented with developing such reader lists and/or a follow-up campaign, I'd love to learn how and if this technique worked for you!

But what makes me still smile is that today I walked into my favorite used book store. Here, the owners kindly set aside shelf space for local authors. So after dithering for weeks, I took my book, The Mermaid Quilt & Other Tales, and asked if they would be interested in carrying my book. The response: Perhaps February (they rotate authors). Marketing. One step at a time.

More about Tasmanian Brushtail Possums at the Tasmanian Parks & Wildlife Service site.
The image of the Tasmanian Brushtail Possum is a screen saver picture from National Geographic.

If you'd like to see what Scheherazade has in common with the Francolin from Tanzania (Africa), check out my latest blog, On the Road Again. As always, may your writing week go well.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

ROW80 Sunday Check-in

This month's Writer's Digest has an interesting article by Donald Maass, "Failure to Launch" (Feb 2013). He's telling writers that great fiction will sell, and he itemizes what specifically we should check to ensure we are writing enthralling fiction.

What drew me into the article, though, was my personal history with Agent Maass. Back in the day when I subbed my first novel, Mothers Don't Die, he sent me a short but personal note. He said very directly that he didn't see how my book would appeal to readers because of a pretty unsavory character (one of the good guys) who appeared in Chapter 1. The most on-target advice I've ever gotten. I smacked my head and put the draft in a drawer, ready to move on.

This month, I'm deep in revision of my second historical novel set in mid-19th Century, messing around with the motivation of a particular character (Deidre) who faints as easily as a misplaced semicolon.

Did Maass have some advice for me? He identifies three pitfalls in this article:  (1) Timid voices, (2) Untested characters, and (3) Overly interior or exterior stories. He then provides some practical exercises for each problem area, and one exercise fits exactly where I am.

He asks writers to consider the essential story problem from the point of view of the protagonist (my fainting female). Think about, he suggests, the protagonist's understanding of the beginning, middle, and end of the story. How is her understanding different by the end?

Writing out this exercise transformed the structure of Deidre's motivation and her self-awareness of the obstacles she faces in my story. Deidre's not fainting any more. So this experience ties in neatly with today's ROW80 check-in, for I'm making steady progress in revision, in reading about the craft of writing.

Writers: How's your week going? Any novel revising strategies to share? When all else fails, perhaps we just need to switch gears and do something entirely different, like take advice from Donald Maass. Did you know that lions sometimes sleep in trees?

Sleeping lion, Serengheti, Tanzania (November 2012)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Writers: Do you back up your work daily?

I had my laptop stolen once while crossing the border between Chile and Peru. I well remember that sick feeling of horror, even though I had backups online and on a flashdrive (kept separately from my computer). There I stood in the bus station, trying to explain to a police officer in my somewhat fluent Spanish how important that computer was. I did lose photographs and a daily journal with drawings as well as a lovely large Guatemalan computer bag. But, once home about a month later, I was able to retrieve my writing -- all of it. 
Hiking in the Valley of the Moon
near the Atacama Desert, Chile

But this experience changed how I think about backing up my writing. It also convinced me to switch to a netbook (easier to hide) before our next overseas trip.

So do you back up your work in progress? How frequently?

Two tools I can suggest:

1.  My Dropbox, a great free resource if you stay within file limits, for the free account set at MG. This suggestion came from my mathematician brother-in-law whom I trust implicitly being somewhat estranged from math. I routinely save ALL drafts into My Dropbox every day. This automatically puts my files into "the cloud" and also updates My Dropbox on my hubby's computer. 

2. Google docs also offers a free service (along with pay-for-more-GBs) that allows you to upload up to 2 GB and manage your documents. You can set your account up to share files with specific people or so that only you have access. 

3. Flash drives are quick and easy. At the end of 2012, I purchased a Seagate external hard drive with 1 terrabyte of memory and back all my stuff up once a month, whether it needs it or not.
I think it was Hemingway who divorced his wife when she lost his manuscript, but that was long ago, in the days when writers wrote by hand or used a typewriter. 

If my words here encourage you to find a way to back up your writing, I'll be content. 

ACTION STEP: Why not jump over to the website for My Dropbox and check it out? Here's the link:

Flamingos feeding on brine,
Saltflats near the Atacama Desert, Chile

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Writing Tip: Setting and Truthiness . . .

Suppose you are writing a story set in a locale you've never visited. Is it a failure of imagination that you can't quite visualize the scene?

For writers of historical fiction, creating a sense of time and place are crucial in building story. So, in the quest for 'truthiness', a term coined by Steven Colbert, what writers call verisimilitude (actually 'truthiness' is not quite what writers use in their quest for authenticity or fictional truth), but here's one technique I use when I'm stuck.

A table.

I build a two-column table in Word and jump onto the internet to search for images specifically for a particular place. I copy and paste images that tell me something about this place into column 1 and the URL and my reactions and notes into column 2. Note, I'm not violating any copyright because I'm borrowing these images for research purposes.

Here's an example. When Mac and Deidre's ship, the Brilliant, founders just south of Hobart Town in Van Diemen's Land in 1841, I learned that most wrecks occurred in Bass Strait, north of Tasmania. But one truly spectacular wreck took place just outside Snug Harbour in the 1830's. So I placed my wreck there and wrote my scene. But did they scramble over rocks or sand? Were there sand dunes? How high?

I know from my research that a whaling station was nearby (crucial for rescue), but did a road run inland from Snug Harbour to Hobart Town in the 1840's? I found there was a track, but the whalers were pretty isolated, getting supplies every several weeks. So if the whalers were to help in the rescue, that would occur by small boat. Would they go to Hobart Town or nearby Sandy Bay (because they were transporting prisoners).

Now, what did Sandy Bay look like? What could my characters see once they landed? Since I haven't yet visited Tasmania, the distance being a little over 8,000 miles from my home in the Pacific Northwest, and while maps can tell me something (I use Google or Yahoo maps), image is everything.

What did I find on internet? That the most beautiful, wild cliffs border the ocean along the southeastern coast of Tasmania and that my characters can see Mount Wellington from Sandy Bay on a clear day.

View of Mount Wellington and the Derwent River (Wiki Commons)
I do try to be meticulous about using images on my blog to respect copyright. So, any images that appear here are either photos I've taken myself or photos that are in the public domain, like this one of Mount Wellington from Wiki Commons.

How to save a picture from the internet for research purposes:
1. Open your word file (or word processing).
2. Open your internet browser (two windows open at the same time).
3. Find your image on internet.
4. Right click on the image. A menu will pop up. From here you can copy the image and copy the URL. 5. Move to your Word file. Paste the image and URL. Write notes like mad.

What strategies do you use to bring 'truthiness' to your writing.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

ROW80 Update . . .

ROW80 (A Round of Words in 80 Days) begins officially with Monday and Wednesday posts, January 7 through March 20. We have set goals and now will climb the hill of accountability every week. On this last Monday, one ROW80 writer cleverly separated 'writing about goals' from 'writing about writing', so that's what I will try to do with today focusing on goals.

Writing: I would like to finish another round of editing of Years of Stone. This last week has seen a breakthrough as one of my major characters comes into her own. Of course, being somewhat demanding, she requires a complete rewrite. She will not faint. She will drink more than tea. She will confront dragons (figuratively). She is challenging me to rethink her every action, and I will.

Being part of several writing communities, the Internet Writing Workshop, the Ultimate Blog Challenge, and ROW80, as well as keeping up my travel blog makes me wonder if I've stretched myself too thin. Especially for the travel blog, I find it difficult to keep posts current, unless we are on the road somehow. This last six weeks, I've been writing about our trip to Africa. I'm now posting about one entry a week. But each morning begins with writing on Years of Stone first. So far.

Reading. Aargh! I'm feeling undisciplined. I'm reading four books, maybe five, right now: Sally Mitchel's Daily Life in Victorian England; Orson Scott Card's Characters & Viewpoint; Ken McGoogan's Lady Franklin's Revenge (nonfiction); and Kate Grenville's The Secret River.  But late at night, the Kindle calls with its lovely, oversized print. Of these, so far, Card has been most useful in digging into ideas I need to understand, particularly re character motivation. I did sign up for GoodRead's challenge to read 50 books this year.The mail also brings in Writer's Digest and The Writer to keep me thinking about writing craft.

Marketing/Publishing/Outreach. Today, I submitted Standing Stones to an independent publisher specializing in historical fiction. Big step. Lots of paperwork. Now I wait 5-10 weeks and may hear nothing at all. But the book is out there once again.

In addition to ROW80, I'm posting daily for the Ultimate Blog Challenge (UBC) through January. Most UBC participants are not writers, but they have marketing and technical skills galore. I'm learning new vocabularies and new ways of thinking about what marketing strategies will work for me. One lesson: Work on the 'business' side of writing every day. My goal: To have a specific list of actionable steps I can take to improve my marketing by the end of January.

Do you have your 2013 calendar yet? For the first time, I have listed writing goals throughout the year. Yes, I will submit to the Pacific Northwest Writers Association literary contest in February. Yes, I will write a month of poetry in April for National Poetry Month and participate in NaNoWriMo this November for Rivers of Stone (after a summer of research).

My favorite quote just now is from poet Sharon Olds. I met her one rainy weekend at a writing retreat on the Oregon coast. She says: "Writing or making anything -- a poem, a bird feeder, a chocolate cake -- has self-respect in it. You're working. You're trying. You're not lying down on the ground, having given up."  So, respect yourself. Respect the process. And may your writing (or other projects) go well. May you celebrate each day with joy.

Masaii Women in welcome dance, Tanzania, November 2012

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Blog Banners? Better believe it . . .

Got a new banner up late last night because I got tired of futzing around with my name not appearing in the search line. A lot of the blogs I read by writers have very evocative banners -- a design that hints at the writing process or the genre or a mood the writer wants to instill.

So, why have I chosen a raven for my banner?

Ravens feed on dead things, their call at times a croak, their plumage the color of death. Because of my Swedish background, I was fascinated to read in Wikipedia that ravens were used in Viking war banners, one such banner named "land waster."  Even at the Tower of London, ravens were a symbol of death, said to gather at beheadings, and protected by royal decree. Legend has it that the Kingdom of London will fall if the ravens are removed from the Tower of London.

In Standing Stones, as Mac McDonnell is being taken by boat to the Thames in London to await transportation to Van Diemen's Land, he counts the ravens gathering along the stepped gables and remembers an old saying: "One for sorrow, two for mirth; three for a wedding, four for death."

And here in the Pacific Northwest, a long tradition by native peoples says the Creator made two ravens -- one, the creator, bringer of light out of darkness, and the second, the trickster raven, the childish one, selfish, charming, not to be trusted. (Note: This is book 3 calling me once again as the story, River of  Stones, will be set in the Pacific Northwest.)  I will draw on this contradiction for my banner, the raven as the symbol of something unknown, larger than life, perhaps not to be trusted, implacable, but yet even close to death, full of life.

I took my new banner photo of a raven at Stirling Castle, a mere 25 miles northeast of Glasgow, Scotland, a wonderful castle that is open to the public. We were in Scotland in 2009 doing research for Standing Stones and wandered through the courtyards and halls where great dramas had unfolded, where kings and queens had been crowned.

In the very back of the castle, we watched a team of weavers recreating a famous tapestry that somehow wound up in New York City's Metropolitan Cloisters Museum. This set of 'new' tapestries would once again grace the stone walls of Stirling Castle. I found a carved mermaid here, hidden in a back stairwell that led to the throne room.

If you have read Tracy Chevalier's The Lady and The Unicorn, you know the call of this mysterious set of tapestries. For the Unicorn Tapestries are in Paris, at the Museum for the Middle Ages, in a room of their own, slightly darkened to protect them, and more gorgeous than I imagined. The Metropolitan has one such tapestry, The Unicorn in Captivity. For more about the Stirling Tapestries, go here. To read about the cultural depictions of ravens go to Wikipedia.

If you are here from the Ultimate Blog Challenge, what does your blog banner say about you?

Detail of Unicorn at the Fountain, Stirling Castle

Monday, January 07, 2013

Book marketing online? Do writers give a shiitake?

Back in 2011, Alan Rinzler's The Book Deal blog was listed by Writer's Digest as one of the best websites for writers interested in publishing their work. So I bopped over to take a look. I'll be back.

The Book Deal BLOG is hot! To my surprise, everything I've been reading from co-participants in the Ultimate Blog Challenge about marketing can be seen at work right here: Short paragraphs, visually appealing images and overall web design with headers, readable text, and snazzy headliners. And a very catchy, engaging style that invites the would-be-lonely-writer into the niceties of marketing and publishing.  It looks like editor/consultant/workshop leader Rinzler posts 1-2 times a month. He's worth a read.

Not only am I intrigued by APE: How to Publish a Book, Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur  (co-authored by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch and Rinzler's latest post), but I almost want to plunk down $$$ ($9.99 on Kindle). Almost. But first, let's exhaust online resources.

Writer's Digest listed 12 other sites in their 2011 Best Websites for Writers. Several are already defunct (does that say something about the fluidity of the web?). Here are three that look promising:

  1. Joe Wikert's Publishing 2020 Blog at features posts every several days on larger book publishing issues (DRM management, Amazon reviews, HTML5). This one's worth a look for the website design alone (three column layout, easy contact, truncated entries).
  2. An online community specifically for self-publishers called Publetariat at also has that easy to read three column layout with equally easy navigation to NINE categories that offer a hit list of articles under each topic (my favorites so far, WRITE, DESIGN, PUBLISH, and SELL). I'm most excited about this one.
  3. Carol Denbow's A Book Inside  at has sporadic posts, but Denbow's Kindle book, 100 Ways to Market Your Book for Free (or Really Cheap) got me to hit the "buy" button.  

Giraffes snacking at
Tarangire National Park, Tanzania
So today's post is part of my New Year's commitment to clean up my "to read" pile AND to find online resources about book marketing. I hope this helps you as well!

BTW, there's no "affiliate kickback" on any posts I do on this blog.

If you came here from the Ultimate Blog Challenge, this post's for YOU! Do you have any online resources to share?

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Can writers revise motivation?

One of my major characters is a wimp. Deidre has worked as a teacher, but she lives in a time (mid 19th Century) when few opportunities existed for women, and she has landed, literally, in a prison colony where 10,000 men  vie for the attentions (and services) of 2,500 women. Lower class women found work as laundresses, cooks, servants, and prostitutes. Middle class women might find work as governesses, or teachers at girls' schools, or they might marry.

Orson Scott Card says in Characters & Viewpoint (106-107), look to motivation. If the writer does not show complex motivation, then the reader may simply assume stereotypes. So what are Deidre's motivations? her purposes, her loyalties? Where is she conflicted? What does she fear? What does she hope for? Why did she follow Mac here, to Van Diemen's Land, really? What did she learn on the four-month voyage here? What are her thoughts and her plans, her feelings and reactions? What is she NOT facing and why? What motivates her that she may not be aware of? Where does she draw a line? Where does she fight back?

Some 21st Century women still protect themselves with innuendo, by presenting ideas as questions, by deferring, by manipulating, by sacrificing. I'm running straight up against social convention, those rather strict Victorian codes that put women on a pedestal. And so Deidre drinks tea and faints, not at all the brave woman I want her to be. Yet.

Card says that motivation is at the heart of the story. If I change a character's motivation, I'm working at the deep structure of the story on issues I may not be aware of. But I will persevere.

Now to ROW80 (A Round of Words in 80 Days) that begins today for 2013.  This is my third round of 80 days, and I do see changes in my planning and writing behaviors. My 2013 Calendar has writing goals and action steps already planned throughout the year. This is a first! If you've read earlier posts, you know that I want to start the third book in this series (River of Stones set in the Pacific Northwest). If I don't start before, I will with NaNoWriMo in November, 2013. That's a commitment.

Tonight's ROW80 report will be short mostly because I'm not home. Even the keyboard is different. I'm babysitting a 7-month-old who has just gone down to sleep. She's so sweet, and I'm so tired. But I can report steady progress in drafting, editing, and for me a very large challenge, marketing. I don't care so much about learning how to sell as I do about connecting with readers, having people read my stuff.

Just this last week, I joined a local author's group that meets monthly. ROW80 has made me much more aware of how important studying the craft of writing is to my own growth as a writer. One of the joys of being a part of ROW80 has been learning from other writers  (equally true of this month's Ultimate Blog Challenge bloggers). 

Question: If you are a writer, what challenges have you faced in writing scenes that reveal your characters' motives? 

The photo is of a cactus lily that blooms in the winter. May your writing go well.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

About fan mail . . . and Yemanja

Katy, a friend of a friend, wrote a fan letter about my book, The Mermaid Quilt & Other Tales. More personal than a review, this letter between friends, recounted that she had opened the book at random and read about Yemanja in a poem set in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. She was immediately pulled into the world of the poem because she had once visited there and had fallen in love with the people of that town and their culture, just as I had.  Here's the poem:

"Imagine a Town . . . "
The women of Salvador dance down to the ocean,
bearing gifts to honor  Yemanja

Imagine a town each February 2
that closes its shops.
All the people come down to the water
wearing transparent beaded necklaces and
bringing gifts, little boats
filled with flowers and perfumes
to launch into the sea.

They come, singing songs and dancing,
the people of the town down to the water,
near the Rio Vermelho,
the beautiful brown women
wearing gowns the color of the sea.
Bearing gifts they come singing to you,
Yemanja, orixa, Princess,
oh, Janaina, Queen of the Sea,
mother of the waters, of the storms,
of the fish.  In your honor,
the sweet perfumes, the rejoicing.
Yemanja appears, giving gifts to her followers
Even the cat prowling
under the tables of Mama Bahia
for scraps of fish
has eyes the color of the milky green sea.

How I long to dance with the people
along the beaches here in your town,
in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil,
a town once of fishermen
who went to the sea in small boats,
while women waited
and prayed by the shore.
Now all shadows and phantoms
they come from the past,
their boats filled
with flowers and perfumes.

Another image of Yemanja
In Salvador, Saturdays are consecrated to Yemanja, the queen of the waters, ruler of the upper sea, a goddess (orixa) in the condomble religion.

Most commonly shown as a mermaid, Yemanja appears in many forms in this city where people still gather on the beaches each February 2 to offer her gifts. I was fortunate enough to stay in Salvador in 2009 for about a week. The first two photographs are from a monumental painting by an anonymous folk artist. This painting hangs in the lobby of the Pousada do Boqueirao, a hotel in Salvador where we stayed for one wonderful week overlooking the ocean. (Oh, please go look at the images of this wonderful hotel.)

This last painting is smaller, perhaps as large as your hand, also from the Pousada, which was filled with images of Yemanja.

But Katy's letter connects my poem to her experiences in Salvador, her appreciation for how Africans, brought to Brazil against their will as slaves, yet retained their own religion and their cultural identity.

As a writer new to building audience, how do I respond to her letter? For respond I must, first out of gratitude. She read my stuff and found it moving. What more could any writer want? I shall write her a letter back, perhaps including these color images, for they do not appear in my book.

How have you responded to your readers? What would you do in response to Katy's letter?

Friday, January 04, 2013

I don't remember . . .

I don’t remember what I learned last year.
In January, my love and I watched eagles winter at a mountain lake.
In March, we traveled south to see sand hill cranes migrate.
My aunt’s paintings became more precious
with her death. And in March, 
I stood beside my sister to mourn her husband’s passing.
In June, my daughter became a mother; joy on joy,
our conversations are different now.
In November, my love and I traveled to the ends of the earth,
or so it seemed, to Africa. Maybe our souls need more time
to catch back up with our bodies
that flew forty-six hours home.
I number the doctor visits on both hands twice over,
yet we talk of travel to Paris and walking once again along the Seine.
I breathe in memories of this last year
as dear, as pungent as lilacs. 

Today's poetry prompt comes from Morgan Dragonwillow, Playing With Words, to write a poem about this last year. I do write nearly every day, but somehow 2012 seems nebulous to me. 

What did I learn from this last year? Only to celebrate the gift of each day, yet somehow I cannot put this into words that say exactly how I feel.

If you're hopping here from the Ultimate Blog Challenge, have you written about 2012?

Thursday, January 03, 2013

The Value of Quiet . . .

Unfolding Fern, Botannical Gardens, Edinburgh
I know how to achieve perfect zen concentration -- the absence of any thought at all.

I just sit down at the end of a particularly intense day and open up my blog and attempt to write something. Nothing.

Aha, the zen master would say!


This is the moment to embrace that sense of nothing. To be fully quiet. To take 10 or 15 or even 30 minutes to allow all the threads that have claimed your attention to simply slip away.

Fern Tree, Botannical Gardens, Edinburgh
If I can, I begin by stretching through a few standing yoga stretches, breathing deeply, saying any affirmations that occur. From standing to sitting to floor, a simple routine. No hurry. If I can't remember what's next, my yoga cards help me along the way.

Then I take a final breath and go into my favorite pose when I'm tired -- the dead man's pose. I dim the lights, lie flat on my back, arms and legs perfectly comfortable on the floor. I just focus on my breathing. If a thought comes, I breathe it away.

If you have done this, you know that within a few minutes, all you can think of is breathe in, hold to 10, breathe slowly out. Gradually the tight muscles relax, the tick of the clock fades, the threads of obligation ease.

I do not pretend that I know yoga or that my practice is perfect. I only know that now I am refreshed. I can ask what is most important without feeling overwhelmed by competing priorities. I am ready to pay attention to NOW, whatever that may be.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Animoto, book trailers, and me . . .

As part of the Ultimate Blog Challenge to write a blog entry a day through January, I hopped around to read what others in this group were working on. So far, I've found more entrepreneurial stuff. But I was pulled in by Sabrina Espinal's post on Making Your Own Video Is Easy!

Two hours later, I have a 30-second free video blurb for Standing Stones from Animoto. How fun is that? I did learn that 30 seconds does not give you any wiggle room for any in-depth text. Every word counts! Animoto provides the design framework, music, and layout, but I would have liked to use more text in this video AND had the option of controlling font size as well as pacing of the slides.

If I were in computers, I'd call this trailer "air-ware" (promo materials for a product that doesn't yet exist). Standing Stones exists; it's just not quite published . . . yet!

I'd love to have your feedback, but this little video as a book trailer is so beyond inadequate. What I'd need to do is to upgrade with Animoto (think $$$) to gain more flexibility. Most potential readers will want something short but informative, visually appealing. Most writers will want a trailer that entices the reader into the story.

If it took me nearly two hours for the 30 second short above, what skills would I need to produce a trailer as artful as Rhonda Kay's book trailer for Amanda Borenstadt's book, SYGYZY?

You can see Rhonda's trailer at Amanda's blog, A Fortnight of Mustard.

Animoto invites you to try their slideshow creator

Rhonda Kay's site, Do Much, Say Little highlights several of her book trailers using Machinima.

COMMENT? And now I'm wondering, for those of you who have experimented with book trailers, what lessons have you learned?

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Reading and writing and blogging . . . challenges

Victorian Era Women

Last night, I started reading Kate Grenville’s The Secret River and was transfixed by her evocative writing that spelled out character and setting so perfectly. As I fell into her story and admired how beautifully she captures external and internal realities, I thought of a writing prompt:

We all have rich inner lives, informed by our experiences. Memories speak to us when we least expect it. So, what is dearest to each character in your current work in progress? Consider the senses, memory tied to particular time, person or place; life cycle events, childhood, adolescence, an embarrassing moment, a joyful time, music, dance. What would your character miss most of home? What memory most repels them? Freewrite for 15 minutes about one of your characters. Let the words flow -- scenes, dialogue, descriptions. Above all, consider memory. 

The reason for this prompt is that one of my female characters is very passive. She's always fainting. I think it means I don't understand Victorian era middle class women. I'm ok with blue collar and lower class women. Their dialogue sings to me. And I've worked with upper class folks who can sneer with a lifted eyebrow. Another book on my to-read-list is Jane Robinson's Unsuitable for Ladies: An Anthology of Women Travellers. If you have any suggestions about research that would help me understand Victorian women, please send it to me!

One sad part of being a writer that reads is that I cannot pick up a book without thinking about what strategies this writer used and what I might learn from this writer. Some books I start and cannot finish because of clumsy writing. Some potboilers I'm hooked from the very first page and cannot put the story down. So, here are my writing-related challenges for 2013. 

READING CHALLENGE.  I have enjoyed being a part of GoodReads this last year. Not only because I now have a 'hit list' of 'to reads' that matches my interests, but there's a whole online community over there with other writers/readers who talk about the books they love and review. My first challenge is to read 50 books in 2013 through GOODREADS Challenge 2013.

WRITING CHALLENGE.  ROW80 (A Round of Words in 80 Days) starts up again on January 7. I'm ready with tighter goals and more accountability. Sometimes this is a little scary, but the daily, weekly goals help me keep focused, especially as new projects beckon and I don't know where to fit them in! 

My main focus right now is reading (and taking notes on) Years of Stone with an eye to catch plot holes and minor editing along the way. But Deidre's character now grates. Does she have to simper, sigh, and faint? And drink tea? I know she is grittier, but it just doesn't come through. Aargh! I will complete the above exercise for Deidre.

This 1845 portrait of Angelina Grimk√©, a US abolitionist and activist for women's rights, who moved from the South to Philadelphia, shows so much character (source Harvard University Open Collections).

ULTIMATE BLOG CHALLENGE. This is something new -- do you like these kinds of challenges that motivate you with daily prompts? The A-Z Blogging Challenge last year was fun and useful. So I signed up for this one too. The Ultimate Blog Challenge runs just for the month of January -- and it got me to write today's entry!

The image of Victorian Era Women came from Victorian Era Women.