Tuesday, March 26, 2013

April and poetry, etc, etc.

I write and no matter where I am,
or in which century,
each word builds story
as the doves chitter and sit on the garden wall
in this Tucson morning sun.
Already the mountain laurel and the marguerites bloom,
the wind chime tinkles softly,
and the palo verde glows green with spring.

April promises to be intense. I'm getting ready for the next round of ROW80 (A Round of Words in 80 Days), which runs from April 1 to June 21 by refining and setting my writing, research and publishing goals.

The A-Z Challenge also runs in April. This year my theme will be writing about research for Rivers of Stone. My characters will cross 19th Century Canada and the United States to reach Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River. Some people write their entries ahead of time, but I like the spontaneity of connecting my writing and reading to the letter-of-the-day. 

April is also National Poetry Month, and it's kind of fun to try to write a poem a day just for April. For me, writing fiction is a way of exploring story, history, characters, ideas, and working out conflicts, but poetry is a way of centering into the present.

Are you in?

Check these websites for more information:

A Round of Words in 80 Days at http://aroundofwordsin80days.wordpress.com/

A to Z Challenge at http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/

Ways to celebrate National Poetry Writing Month, started by the Academy of American Poets. See http://www.poets.org/page.php/prmID/41

Friday, March 22, 2013

Scintilla Day 9: Lost

When I was in my early twenties, dreaming of going back to school, my hippie sister came up out of the wilds of Mendocino County, dragging her adorable kids, Chrissy 5 and Dale 6.

"You take them," she said. "You've got a job, you've got a life." And so I became a mom, arranged a babysitter, bought clothes, cooked proper meals, read good night stories, and fell in love all over again. My sister hit the road, alone.

One Saturday, I thought we should have an adventure. I'd been invited to the coast, roughly an hour's drive from Ukiah to near Fort Bragg. I loaded the kids in my car and checked the map. I could have chosen 101, the North Redwoods Highway, the road most traveled, but a thin line traced on the map led over the coastal mountains. "Let's take this back road, kids," and off we went.

Our road that at first wound through foothills and lovely, quiet woods quickly became a one-way dirt road. This old logging road, rarely used, twisted and turned back on itself as it cut through rugged hills. We sang and told stories as I maneuvered my old car past potholes at maybe 15 mph. I was lost. We had no food, no water. Feeling more scared and stupid by the minute, I gained no clues from the road or the map. I drove on. Five hours later, we arrived at the coast. We took Highway 101 home. I hoped the kids never knew how frightened I'd been.

For three months I was a mom, but then my sister swung back through town. "They're my kids," she said. "You can't have them." And then they were all gone. I moved to San Francisco, worked my way through school, and became a teacher. I heard from her occasionally, sometimes by letter, sometimes by rumor.

I never saw the kids again. My sister dropped in, sometimes asking for money, sometimes telling me of her latest boyfriend. Chrissy married at 19, and had two kids of her own. I think she's somewhere in Montana. Dale wound up in jail. Several decades later, my sister died in a crack house in Dallas, lost to us all. But I still cherish those three months of innocence and remember the day we got lost in the woods.

NOTE: I'm joining the Scintilla Project (daily writing prompts for two weeks) while on the road. Read what others have written at www.scintillaproject.com or jump on Twitter at #scintilla13 and read and write on!

Day 9 prompt:  Talk about where you were going the day you got lost. Were you alone? Did you ever get to where you meant to go?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

March 20: Scintilla Day 8: It was the best of feasts . . .

Thanksgiving. My sister and I invited eighteen people to gather for an unforgettable meal. We spent hours shopping, cutting, preparing, stewing, boiling, baking. Every special food had been prepared for this four-course Swedish Thanksgiving feast. We took more time in the kitchen than planned. People wandered in and out, encouraging us, for we had prepared no appetizers. By the time we sat down to table, our guests had that lean and hungry look, almost dangerous.

Cartoon from Uffdashop
My sister and I sat at the head of the table, together on this special day. She brought in the first round of salads, all well received, even Sill Salad, a beet concoction my grandmother used to make. I brought in the first platter of lutefisk and politely passed it around. I watched as the platter made its way around the table. No takers. Mutters arose as that platter returned to us untouched. "No turkey?" someone queried. My sister and I dug in; this was a feast: Light, succulent lutefisk made with traditional white gravy. Our guests ate broccoli and corn. They were grateful for pie.

NOTE: I'm joining the Scintilla Project (daily writing prompts for two weeks) while on the road. Read what others have written at www.scintillaproject.com or jump on Twitter at #scintilla13 and write on!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

March 19 Scintilla: No Turning Back . . .

Everything changed when I met my husband. He was traveling to Mexico to go to graduate school. I was working at an international bank. He said, "I'm leaving in September, and I most likely won't be back." I said, "I've always wanted to go to Mexico." He was too kind-hearted and too enamoured to refuse me.

Within the month, I quit my job and sold my possessions, except for my sewing machine, a heavily loaded back-pack, and my mother's portable typewriter -- all of which I carried over the border. I didn't speak a word of Spanish, yet somehow, a mere 45 hours on the bus brought me to San Miguel de Allende, a small colonial town just north of Mexico City, a town of artists and writers, and Allen.

He did tell me he wasn't the marrying kind, but I took that as a personal challenge.

Isaiah Zagar's mosaics, Magic Garden,
Philadelphia (Camp 2000)
I never wanted to turn back, for Allen was (and still is) a wonderful teller of tales. Normally one person in a couple has the voice of reason. If Allen or I suggested we should travel some new place, we simply went. We have had outrageous adventures. Once we had our daughter, we learned not to rattle suitcases and settled down, somewhat. In 2004, we spent seven months traveling, a month in each country, beginning in Egypt, then Israel, Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, and England, an unforgettable trip.

I remember buying a pair of scissors in a Turkish open air market and immediately cutting Allen's hair. A crowd quickly gathered, offering helpful comments, laughing and teasing to see my handiwork.

I still cut his hair. I would not change one moment of our marriage.

NOTE: I'm joining the Scintilla Project (daily prompts for two weeks) while on the road. Read what others have written at www.scintillaproject.com or jump on Twitter at #scintilla13 and write on! To read more about Isaiah Zagar, go here

Monday, March 18, 2013

Scintilla 6: Testing character . . .

Scintilla 6: Describe a time when your character was tested.

Tsunematsu-san was always composed. He was very short, even for a Japanese, yet his air of confident calm meant regardless of the crises that surrounded us, his few words put us at ease. Did I say we were international bankers in a west coast start up? Assigned to our office from Japan, he moved through the day as if he were at home. Occasionally he would talk to me about Hiroshima, where his family lived for generations. I didn't have the courage to ask him why he came to the states or how he felt about America.

Everyone liked Tsunematsu-san. For his 60th birthday, we planned a surprise birthday. Because I worked most closely with him, I was delegated to bring him to the break room. The hour came. I picked up my phone, dialed his number, and said with some urgency, "Tsunematsu-san, please come to the back office. I need you."

He was dutifully surprised by cake and the gathering of office workers and expressed pleasure. "We do not celebrate birthdays in this way in Japan," he said. But after the party was over, he took me aside. "Beth," he said, "you did not tell me the truth when you called me. The words cannot be taken back, even if for this good cause. Now I know I cannot trust you."

I was shocked. I was hurt. But his words forever changed me.

NOTE: I'm joining Scintilla Project (daily prompts for two weeks) while on the road. Read what others have written here or jump on Twitter at #scintilla13 and write on!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Scintilla #1: Morning Commute

We're in Arizona now, 93 degrees today, the land flat desert, rolling hills to mountains as we pass Blythe and stop just over the border, and I drove about 290 miles at breakneck speed. Very few cars followed the 70 mph limit.   So I was a little tired, just checking in on bloggers I like to read.

I found a neat, knuckle-biter of an airplane story from S. C. Morgan and a link to participate in The Scintilla Project. Click here to find out more or click on the icon in the right hand menu. Scintilla provides daily writing prompts for just two weeks. I was tired enough not to reisist, so jump in!  

Today’s prompt: Being trapped in a confined environment can turn an ordinary experience into a powder keg. Write about a thing that happened to you while you were using transportation; anything from your first school bus ride, to a train or plane, to being in the backseat of the car on a family road trip.
I was late. Why was it that when I was on my way out the door, my boyfriend would ask me a question that no one could answer with yes or no? I gunned the jeep just a little. Cold morning, cold car, cold fingers on the wheel. 

The jeep slid over the yellow line. Black ice. My heart jumped. No oncoming traffic. I twisted the wheel one direction. Steer into the skid! That didn't work.

I flipped the wheel to the other side, and the jeep whirled around in a circle. I watched the hills covered with snow float past the window. The jeep continued to rotate in circles, off the road, tilting, sliding. I was weightless. I remember thinking that I had no regrets. 

The jeep slammed to a stop on a dirt embankment. My back crashed out the side window. The jeep tilted on top of me, heavier and heavier. I could take this, and no more. I could barely breathe. I pounded on top of the jeep's green roof and screamed as loudly as I could.

A man ran around the back of the jeep.

"Hello there," I said, breaking off from my screams.

"Don't worry, lady. I'll get this off you!" He strained to push the jeep up and away. But the jeep didn't move. His face crumpled. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'll be back. Just stay still."

Was I going anywhere? My head felt heavy. I wanted to sleep; the jeep was a blanket. I couldn't feel my legs.

Two men shoved and pushed the jeep upright. I slithered out the window onto the ground. They covered me with a blanket and waited until the ambulance came. Outside of a dislocated hip, a four-inch gash on my forehead, and a chip out of my spine, I was alive.

Today I am still very grateful for the years since, my only marker, a tiny scar on my forehead.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Of the sea and a ROW80 update . . .

Sea Pen (Camp 2013)
Today, we visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium  to find the most fantastic creatures, from water dragons to jellyfish to this curious sea pen, called in Spanish, pluma del mar.  I can imagine writing with such a pen.

Were any mermaids there? Yes, indirectly. I spotted a tiny, tough little egg case, also called a mermaid's purse, which a skate will attach to seaweed or sand. Sometimes we writers protect ourselves with such a tough skin.

I was fascinated by the jelly fish for they are so very different, each one independent, yet they float and bump along in a colony of like creatures, their pale, sometimes transparent colors ephemeral. We don't know if or how they communicate (they have no brains), yet they swarm together and have a kind of nerve net in their 'skin'. They were simply beautiful, yet I know their sting can be dangerous.

ROW80 UPDATE/WRITING: Access to internet has been at random at best, but I am writing every day. I'm less confident I'll meet the goals I set at the beginning of this round, chastened by the reality of close revision but making progress. I'm nearly finished with Section 2 of Years of Stone. Ten weeks have passed (the editorial review window) without the indie press saying yes, so I shall go ahead with self-pubbing by the end of the year for Standing Stones and Years of Stone, not a bad goal.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Of found mermaids and ROW80

We're on the road, but I still see mermaids everywhere.

This mermaid perches above two draft beer kegs at the Chart House in Crescent City, right by the sea. Her face is hidden, her delicate hair and fins fashioned of driftwood, a creature reclaimed from the sea, anonymous, maybe even the bones of the sea, here in this town so vulnerable to tsunamis.

Later today I'll go walking by the ocean, feeling again the pull of the waves and the sea, that tension between becoming and being. Perhaps writers are always caught in imagining something else, never quite 'here and now' but always drawn to the possible, the 'what if?' The tide turns and returns, the waves a constant sound of something just beyond my ken.

ROW80 UPDATE: Not much to report this week. I'm reading someone else's novel for quick comments. In the morning, I'm optimistic and writing, but I've set aside other ROW80 goals for now. We are on the road and I'm the primary driver. Is that an excuse? I only know that after driving 200 miles, I feel too tired to do much more than flop. We'll head down the California coast tomorrow and have a rest day today -- so later a walk along the beach but now it's time for writing. May your week go well.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

A little about Sister Rosetta Tharpe

From the very first moment that Sister Rosetta Tharpe picks up her guitar and begins to sing, you know a master of timing and passion is at work. Here she is in 1964, singing in the rain to a packed audience. "Didn't It Rain."

PSB American Masters presented highlights from her career and life. We took a break from packing (tomorrow we leave on a 1,400 mile drive to Tucson at the crack of dawn), and we were simply enthralled at this wonderful celebration of her beautiful bluesy voice. Her guitar slides from gospel to early acid rock.

ROW80 Update: In spite of all the efforts we may make, at moments, we lose confidence in ourselves. Listening to someone like Sister Rosetta sing reminds me that we begin with faith and continue with hope. Even the earliest tapes of Sister Rosetta show her singing with power, an inspiration to any creative person. So my ROW80 update is simply that I'm making progress and will persevere.

Writing debate/tip/question: I'm reading two writers now who almost completely dispense with "he said" or "she said," using dialogue tags (also called 'action tags') instead. The resulting pace of the story picks up remarkably. Since a recent critter suggested I use "Deidre said" instead of "said Deidre," I'm rethinking entirely how I use those tags. Anyone have advice?

For more about Sister Rosetta, Wikipedia has a nice overview.