Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Snippet for WIPpet: Farewell to York Factory

This morning, three-foot icicles dangle outside my office window, about a foot of snow on the ground, and temperatures in the 20s promise a quiet day. I found an amazing article online by Eric W. Morse on Fur Trade Routes in Canada/Then and Now that includes notes from Sir John Franklin's journey up the Hayes River in 1819. 

So many details of Cat's journey downstream were simply wrong. I'd left out the first portages and the first waterfalls. Luckily I knew about the mosquitoes, so many, Franklin reports, that they were unable to shoot snow geese for dinner for they couldn't see through the clouds of mosquitoes. I've camped a time or two and swiped bees off my food, but imagine being out in the wilderness without Deet to ward off mosquitoes. I know. Toxic chemicals. But I'd rather not hear that nasty whine and barely can imagine "clouds" of mosquitoes. 

Except once when we traveled to Inuvik near the Arctic Circle and took a side trip to a small town just because its name was intriguing. We literally ran from the car to the tourist information center to escape that summer cloud of mosquitoes. Seriously. No camping. One night in a hotel and then back to White Horse.

Today's snippet for WIPpet Wednesday picks up the start of Cat's journey west from York Factory in Manitoba in the 1840s. Based somehow on the date, I give you five paragraphs for the 5 in 2015.

Cat sloshed over the muddy beach, waded into the Hayes River, and scrambled into one of the three boats, her legs dripping wet. She sat close to one of the mail packets in the middle of the 40-foot boat, well out of the way of the six oarsmen. Charles Alcorn nodded at her. “Heard you were coming, Cat.” Two ministers she didn’t know at all were bundled heavily with blankets over their coats, sitting behind Charles. Just off the ship from London, they swatted at the ever present mosquitoes and talked only to each other in low voices, as if they weren’t quite awake.

Back on shore, a group of men gathered around Mr. Mactavish and Mr. Hargrave to consult on last minute instructions. Then, three voyageurs carried Mr. John Rowand, a bear of a man, short but weighing over 300 pounds, out to one of the waiting boats. Once hefted into the York boat, he sat alone in the center, morose and nearly buried in blankets. Muchk had told Cat the Blackfoot called Rowand Iron Shirt, but he was also known as One Pound One. Some said for the way he walked with a decided limp; others for his temper. “Watch your way west,” Muchk had said. “He has a loud bark, but he has daughters.”

Mr. Hargrave and Mr. Mactavish stood with a few of the Cree to watch their departure. Cat looked for Muchk, but he was not there. She waved at Samuels as with a cheer, the York boats, heavily laden, launched into the Hayes River, turning south to the Nelson River and Norway House.

Samuels had shown Cat a map of the trip, his fingers tracing the route from York Factory, south some 200 miles on the Hayes River. Samuels tapped his finger at the Painted Stone Portage. "Ye'll have a bit of a walk here to get over to the Echimamish River, but it's easy going down the Nelson River to Norway House after that."

Cat didn’t really care about where the boats would go. She was finally leaving York Factory. She did not look back at the few who stood on the bluff above the river near York Factory. She shivered as she glanced at the burial ground south of the whitewashed buildings. I won’t think of it. May the child be at peace in this cold place, and may I never return.

York Factory 1853 (Wikipedia)

Check out what other writers have posted this morning for WIPpet Wednesday. Thank you, Emily Witt, for hosting! May 2016 bring you good reading, good friends, and happy endings.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Snippet for WIPpet and we're on the Columbia . . .

The snow is falling heavily outside my window this morning, and I'm alternating between writing and quilting. 

With the writing, I fall into my story, lost in the research, and imagine what happens next. With quilting, I get up and move from sewing machine to ironing board and back again. I read somewhere that we're not supposed to hunch over the keyboard for hours. My reality? Since straining my hamstring, I can't sit still so long. 

But, both occupations are equally entrancing. 

QUILTING: I'm working on the borders for a wall hanging of two leaping salmon, finished sashiko style (a traditional Japanese form). When I checked Kitty Pippen's Quilting with Japanese Fabrics to make sure the background grid was positioned properly, I spotted one of her wall hangings. She'd used a Japanese fabric to frame to sashiko. Immediately I dove into my Japanese fabric stash to find the perfect quarter. Making progress!

Sashiko project posted on my story corkboard

WRITING: Each Wednesday, we writers participating in WIPpet are to post a snippet somehow related to the date from our current WIP (work in progress). Here are 15 sentences to honor the last of 2015. 

Context: The fur brigade has edged closer to Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River. It's November, 1846, and Cat, disguised as a boy, still travels undiscovered as an assistant to artist Paul Kane. Close to her goal, she yet hopes she'll find Dougal at Fort Vancouver.

For the first time in a long while, Cat and Kane rode in the same canoe, seated in the center, the oarsmen paddling hard, and the river calm ahead of them. The two were silent for a time.

Kane straightened his back and stretched. “If we’re lucky, we won’t see much more rough water.”

“I’ll believe that when I see it,” said Cat.

“What if you don’t find your brother? Have you made any plans?” asked Kane.

“Don’t want to think about it. I’ll find him.” Cat hunched under her blanket.

“But if you don’t?”

“I’ll think about it if I can’t find him.” Cat sat forward, away from Kane. She didn’t want to talk about it anymore. Ahead of the boat, an westerly wind pushed rain clouds their direction.

Winter along the Columbia River

Why not visit those other authors who, despite the holiday rush, have posted a snippet from their writing for WIPpet Wednesday?

Or, consider joining in. One of the advantages of posting work that's fresh off that keyboard is you can peer more closely at that first draft and share a bit of your story.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A WIPpet and a Rapid . . .

White-water rafting down the Snake and Salmon Rivers made a thrilling summer excursion for me several years back. These are the kinds of experiences we may treasure and, as writers, later mine for that telling detail.

Today is WIPpet Wednesday, that day a few writers commit to posting an excerpt from their current WIP (work in progress). The snippet needs to relate to the date in some way. In this case, 12 sentences for the month of December.

Context: In Rivers of Stone, Catriona, disguised as a boy, travels with the fur brigade in 1846, to rejoin Dougal, her husband. This week, we catch up with them just north of Revelstoke, when they pass the Dalles des Morts (death rapids).  

Just ahead, a great sucking hole opened up in the river, white swirling, circling waves at the edge and deep green in the wide center. Mesmerized, Cat leaned toward the hole. She could see almost all the way to the bottom, an immense hole that could swallow the canoe, their packs, and everyone aboard. For a few tense minutes, their canoe wavered, the men paddled wildly, and the canoe skirted the very edge of the whirlpool.

The men shouted in relief as they scooted past the pull of the whirlpool.

“Whoopee! If she caught us in that, we wouldn’t pop out ‘til spring,” said Pierre.

Cat’s eyes glassed over. Her heartbeat slowed. No wonder Dougal wanted me to stay in York. She clenched the pouch that yet hung from her neck. I’m still alive.

While our guide on that summer excursion told us that boats had been pulled down into the whirlpool and hadn't come up until spring, what I remember most was staring straight down into the center hole of the whirlpool and feeling the boat shiver at its edge.

Here's a photo of this stretch of the river from Frances Hunter's post on Lewis & Clark's voyage through this specific stretch of the Columbia:

Dalles Des Morts (Frances Hunter)

Inspired by Kate Schwengel and now hosted by Emily Witt, why not check out what other WIPpet writers have posted HERE.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Jane Eyre, Luccia Gray, and Flash Poetry

One happy result of participating in online writing communities is meeting other writers. This week, I've been reading posts by others for the IWSG (Insecure Writers Support Group) and found a lovely blog by Luccia Gray.

Inspired by Charlotte Bronte's classic, Luccia Gray is writing a series of novels set twenty years after Jane Eyre ends. Her first book, All Hallow's at Eyre Hall, invites the reader into Jane's world, just as her husband, Rochester, lies on his deathbed. As so many others who were enchanted and changed by reading Bronte, I'm looking forward to reading Gray's book.

Luccia's blog links to other writing challenges, and so I discovered Three Line Thursday, a weekly prompt with photograph and rather exacting guidelines for flash poetry. Three lines. Ten words each line. 

I was one day late, but last week's photograph was so compelling, here's my poem:

Image by Julie Jensen

We walked here on the boardwalk so many years ago.
Now, caught between memories of yesterday and the years ahead,
I’d rather return to when seagulls wheeled under bright sun.


I'm not used to writing a strict ten word line which seems to throw the rhythm off, but this exercise was fun and brought back memories of walking with my husband along the boardwalk in Atlantic City, long before the casinos made their presence known.

Otherwise, the writing goes well, and poor Catriona is still making that winter crossing of the Rockies. Here, the snow has melted, and the coming holidays promise time with family and friends -- and a little quiet. May you have a good December, the last month of 2015.

You can read Luccia Gray's poem HERE

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

IWSG: The Challenge

Some days are so hectic, it's hard to keep a sense of balance. What is it that impels writers to make a commitment to writing a story?  I almost don't remember why I began. I only know that this day and tomorrow I will keep trying to put down those words in hopes of creating a compelling story.

These last two weeks have been more than usually hectic with a windstorm that took out power for nearly 200,000 people. For some, power was restored within 36 hours. Others waited a week. That storm tumbled trees into streets and houses. The final count, nearly 800 trees down city wide, and then it snowed. This week felt like Stephen King's quote came to life: "Build empathy for your characters and then torture them." 

And then the relatives arrived for Thanksgiving. Of course, we were more than thankful this year for the restoration of power. I wasn't fully aware of how much I depend on electricity to power my writing.

And so for IWSG (Insecure Writers Study Group), as I begin to reflect on how all this 'real life' affects my writing, to recognize my insecurities that come every day, and how slowly my writing seems to progress, all I can say is don't worry about word count. Just write that one word or one paragraph or one section at a time. 

I'm deep in revision. Some days I question if my characters reveal enough of their true nature through their actions and speech. Other times, I wonder if the history that shapes the story can be reduced to a telling image or anecdote. This week, an entirely new character emerged mid-story, but as I read over what is on the page, I fall in love with the story all over.

Read what others have written for IWSG HERE and leave a comment or two as a way of saying 'thank you' to all those writers who do somehow persevere.  And may December bring only warmth and good memories.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

WIPpet and Crossing the Rockies

Right now I'm working on those scenes that take Cat further west in her crossing of the Rockies in mid November. Sometimes it feels a bit incongruous to be warm and inside while writing these scenes.

Although I've hiked around Jasper and Banff in the summers, sometimes it's hard to visualize what Cat and Kane experienced as they plough through heavy snows on snowshoes. 

My fallback is to read everything I can find and to stare at old paintings and photographs to bring the reality of winter alive.

Winter Hikers in Canada w/Snowshoes (Source)

Today's also WIPpet Wednesday, the day we share a snippet from our work in progress (wip), somehow based on the date (25 minus 11 = 14 sentences).

To set the scene: Catriona, disguised as a boy, travels with a Hudson's Bay Company brigade across Canada to Fort Vancouver. It's 1842. The small party of 7 has made it through the Athabasca Pass. Along the way, I've learned how to make snowshoes from pine boughs and how to build an emergency tent out of a blanket. Here, Cat has her first crossing of the Wood River:

After a short conference, two of the strongest men made a chair of their hands for Mary Lane to sit upon. Cat watched as they carefully carried her across the Wood River, holding her aloft when the water ran shoulder deep. Then it was Cat’s turn. Though she was one of the smallest, she was not carried. Cat gasped as the ice-choked water reached her chest and lifted her. She grabbed the hands of the man next to her. Each man in the chain supported the next as they crossed to avoid being swept away.

“I’m glad that’s behind us,” said Cat as she pressed the icy water from her leggings and jacket.

“Dinna be so fast to celebrate. We have a few more crossings ahead.” Thurston pointed at the snake-shaped river ahead of them, its swift current breaking into little white waves in the center with ice chunks clumped along the bank. Pine trees heavily laden with snow grew near to the river’s edge except where avalanches had wiped the hills clean. The men slid and stumbled along steep banks of icy gravel. 

Before the afternoon, they crossed the Wood River another thirty-six times.

Again, to peek into the process I use, here's a photo of a sternwheel steamship I found online that was once used to take tourists on the Wood River to see the white water. Dated 1902, the photo inspired some of my description. And it wasn't winter!

The S. S. Revelstoke near Revelstoke, 1902
(Klopp Family Project)

Check out what other writers have posted from their current projects by hopping HERE.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Celebrating Veteran's Day with a free e-book

This Veteran's Day we seek to honor those who have served our Country. 

Over the 200 years of our country's history, countless numbers of men have enlisted or been drafted. 

In the Vietnam War alone, over 9 million served between 1964 and 1975. Many thousands died; others came home wounded or irrevocably changed by their experiences.

The generation of men who fought during the Vietnam War are now in their 70s. Many of their stories are untold.

I remember the headlines and the peace marches in San Francisco in the late 1960's and early 1970's. But I was somewhat insulated from the Vietnam War. No one I knew had been drafted into the Army. I was working full-time at a conservative bank while carrying 8-10 credits a term at night school. Buried in the library and writing that next assignment, I ignored events around me until May 4,1970. Kent State shocked me. The Ohio National Guard shot into a crowd of anti-war protestors, killing four and wounding another nine students.

Then I met Allen. He was footloose, ready to travel south to Mexico to study at the Instituto in San Miguel de Allende and to write his novel, based on his experiences in Vietnam. We fell in love, married eventually, had a daughter, and Allen set his book aside. That was 40 years ago.

Allen's 70th birthday was this past August. Our daughter came to me and said, "Mom, we should publish Dad's book. People need to read it." 
And so we have. 

REACHING presents one man's interpretation of what happened. 

Out of respect for all who have served, the Kindle version of REACHING is available as a FREE DOWNLOAD on Amazon from November 10 through November 12. 

Allen's website is at

Link to REACHING on Amazon

Friday, November 06, 2015

Winter Crossings

This month's project to use NaNoWriMo to finish the draft of Rivers of Stone has meant some rethinking of the overall structure of the story and the emotional journey of my key characters. 

I've been intrigued by this process and am just now working on that winter crossing of the Rocky Mountains. Surprisingly, as I'm writing about Cat's journey from York Factory in Upper Manitoba to Fort Vancouver along the Columbia in Washington State, the story happens to be set just about now, early November. 

In the section I'm working on, it's 1846, and Cat, disguised as a young, male clerk, travels with a fur brigade over the Athabasca Pass to Boat Encampment. 

Once they've successfully reached Boat Encampment, that place where the Wood River meets the Columbia, they must have felt a tremendous sense of relief, as they were greeted by the men from Fort Vancouver, hot fires, and finally enough food to eat. 

Boat Encampment. View from Fred Laing Ridge of the confluence of the Canoe (from upper left), Wood (from upper right), and Columbia (centre right) rivers in 1947 (Rey Marr, 1947 Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies) and in 2010 (Source: CW-201007-11-042). 

Paul Kane painted a quick sketch of the campgrounds at Boat Encampment on September 22, 1847:

'Boat Encampment' by Canadian artist Paul Kane. Painted while travelling with a HBCo fur brigade - Sept 22, 1847, Kane with canoe brigade up the Columbia River and arrived on October 10 at Boat Encampment. [near Rockies on Alberta/BC border] They waited until horse trek from Jasper arrived. Then they switched, the horse team taking over the canoes. They managed to bring all 56 horses safely and without loss to Jasper's House [Alberta]. Pinterest by RobinBodnaruk.

But a nasty, nearly 1,200 mile journey down the Columbia River awaits them, past the long series of rapids at what is now The Dalles and the notorious Big Eddy, a massive whirlpool that claimed many lives in that time when the river was the primary (and most efficient) mode of transport. Perhaps the brigade was inured to further challenges. 

But I still remember skirting a massive whirlpool when white water river-rafting on the Snake and Salmon Rivers. Our boat, just a little larger than a canoe, came within a few feet of the whirlpool, close enough for me to stare into the deep green swirling center. Our guide said if we got caught in the whirlpool, our bodies would not come up until spring. 

I do cherish that experience on these two rivers, for I learned to read the river -- which sections required portage and which V-shaped waves predicted safe journey ahead.

Yesterday, it snowed here in Spokane, just a light sprinkling to remind us that winter closes in. But in the mountains north of here, the real snow begins. I'm happy to bring Cat down out of the mountains and closer to her journey's end.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

IWSG: November Challenges

The Insecure Writers Study Group invites writers to post their thoughts about writing challenges/insecurities the first Wednesday of the month. Here are  mine:

Challenge: NaNoWriMo. Every writer dreads the words: writers' block. When this happens, we may find ourselves stuck for days or weeks or months for an annoyingly long list of reasons. Because real life does happen outside our imaginations, and we cope the best we can. Sometimes that translates into fewer words on the page than we want. Enter NaNoWriMo to the rescue!

I do appreciate NaNo very much because my efforts to meet the goal of writing 1,600 words each day -- even crappy words -- pushes me into new territory. I mean this quite literally. Generally, I'm a recursive writer, going over scenes instead of moving forward. 

My current wip is close to that editing stage, but I discovered in the read through up to NaNo several problems in the main character's story arc which led to a major restructuring of the plot. And that led to missing chunks -- scenes, characters, plot points. All those tidy 3x5 cards on my corkboard came down. New cards went up, and I'm writing those 1,600 words a day . . . so far.

Challenge: Marketing. The other challenge I'm confronting is the dragon known as marketing. I have mapped out steps to take, but like many other writers, I'd rather be writing! Encouraged by what other indie writers have done, I've set up a GoodReads giveaway, scheduled three free days on Amazon through KDP, and sent out my first e-mailed newsletter this year. See links below. 

If it were only for myself, I wouldn't feel so inadequate. But over the summer, I editing and formatted my dear husband's (DH) Vietnam war novel for launch during Veteran's Day week. The book is not an easy read, but tells a story that I really believe needs to be out there. 

Challenge: Being an active part of a writing community sometimes seems like one commitment too many. Setting measurable goals and then assessing my performance is never easy. 

But in the process of setting those goals, something happens. I make progress. I gain insights about the writing and marketing process, and, hopefully, my comments help other writers.  

So I will continue my commitment to online groups like the Insecure Writers Support Group, A Round of Words in 80 Days, NaNoWriMo, and WIPpet Wednesday -- and face-to-face groups, like Spokane Authors. 

If any of these groups are new to you, why not check them out?

Now back to the writing. For WIPpet Wednesday, here's an excerpt from Rivers of Stone, based on today's date: November 11 = 11 + 4 (for today's date) = 15 + 2 (for my second post for IWSG):   In Rivers of Stone, my heroine, Cat, disguised as a boy, crosses the Rockies with a fur brigade in the winter of 1846:

After a short conference, two of the strongest men made a chair of their hands for Mary Lane to sit upon. Cat watched as they carefully carried her across the Wood River, holding her aloft when the water ran waist deep. Then it was Cat’s turn. Though she was one of the smallest, she was not carried. Cat gasped as the ice-choked water reached her chest. She grabbed the hand of the man next to her. One by one, each man held hands to support each other as they crossed.  

“I’m glad that’s behind us,” said Cat as each man pulled the next onto the bank.

“Dinna be so fast to celebrate. We have a few more crossings ahead.” Thurston pointed at the snake-shaped river ahead of them. Before breakfast, they crossed the Wood River another thirty-six times. 

“We’ll halt here for breakfast,” shouted Lane. “Rum to warm us, a bit of food to lighten our load, and then we’ve got the swamp.” He waved at the open, marshy area that opened ahead of them. “’Tis about three miles. That should be easy,” Lane said, “after all we’ve done.” 

Athabasca River near Jasper, Wikipedia

As the picture suggests, I'm with my characters on a winter crossing of the Rockies. Make it a good week!


Allen's website for REACHING: A Vietnam War Novel and links to the GoodReads Giveaway (November 4-15).  NOTE: Reaching (Kindle format) will be offered as a freebie November 10-11-12 to honor Veteran's Day.

Links to my GoodReads Giveaway for Years of Stone (paperback) (November 4-12), and my first newsletter of the year through MailChimp. 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

#23: What spirits roam this Hollow-e'en?

What spirits roam this Hollow-e'en? 
From Celtic times, we put out soul cakes
for the poor, and treats 
to placate spirits in the dark.
Watch out for wise witch-owls and
a man named Jack. 
His lantern's flickering light might
entice you away 
from that narrow path between houses. 
If you follow him, 
you'll be doomed to wander o'er the earth, 
forbidden entrance to heaven or hell,
a different kind of death
than that foretold by owls' shrieks:
they do not know who will die,
only once the sun rises,
a soul will be lost.

"Too scary. Let's go to the next house!"
Photo by Paul L. Dineen at Flickr

Today marks the end of October and the last 'official' poem I'll post for OctPoWriMo, with special thanks to coordinator Morgan Dragonwillow for her inspiring posts. I do still need just 8 more poems to complete a poem a day, but NaNoWriMo begins at midnight today.

NaNoWriMo is that most likely crazy commitment that some writers undertake to write some 1,666 words a day, finishing the month with a 50,000 word novel. Try it, if you haven't.

Today, I wanted to write something about Halloween, so started with a look at Random Facts' post: 40 Fun Facts About Halloween. For some reason, I was drawn to the darker facts and not the amusing factoid that most trick-and-treaters pefer chocolate, that Halloween is the second biggest grossing sales (after Christmas), and that black and orange are the colors most associated with Halloween, marking that transition between the harvest season and winter.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 30, 2015

#22: Ghoulish Senses

At the brink of Halloween,
fear skitters along the aisles
of shoppers, planning parties,
or seeking tricks
or treats, that chocolate cake
laced with spiders,
that bright orange pumpkin 
smelling of the grave,
and gummy worms
red and black that stick 
in the throat,
a sugary death
redeemed by melting masks
and an unrelenting howl.

Just today, I will wait for callers, 
begrimed with green
and a pointy, witch hat, 
reaching out with gnarled fingers
and a loud cackle to terrify
those who dare to knock
at my darkened door.

Bloody Halloween Cake
Today's prompt from OctPoWriMo is nearly the last prompt, though I am a little behind in writing a poem a day for October. We're asked to write a poem involving all five senses. 

But I've been inspired as well by Halloween. And though I write historical fiction, I saw a cake that has me thinking of a very dark tale, for I'm  tempted and wondering -- who would bake a cake like this?

Check out what others have written at OctPoWriMo. And have a delightful Halloween. Knock at a stranger's house, if you dare!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

#21: Morning thoughts on fall . . .

Oregon's Red Hills by Sandra Brown Jensen
Suddenly the hills are red with color,
even in soft rain, low lying clouds,
we can see change 
from Indian summer to those last, 
precious days before winter.

Let's walk then, you and I,
out early, before the winter birds wake,
those last clusters of crows scavenging
our neighbors' yards before the snow comes, 
while above, Canada geese 
sing their way south.

Manito Park by Jeffrey Stemshorn

I have no time this morning for poetry, and yet these two photographs by friends inspired me -- as did the sound of Canada geese flying south on this cold, foggy, rainy morning. Busy day ahead, but take time to appreciate:

Sandy's wonderful video celebrating friends and fall.

What others have written today for OctPoWriMo.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

OctPoWriMo: About that video challenge

Today, Morgan Dragonwillow challenged the writers participating in OctPoWriMo to post a video of a poem they had written this month. 

Here's my favorite:  "If I Had a Wish. . . " (also posted at YouTube)

If you'd rather read this poem, it's posted below.

Now let's hop over to OctPoWriMo to see if any other writers courageously posted their work!

Technical note: My computer doesn't have that camera option, so I used my well-travelled Olympus (eyepiece missing, duct tape holding parts together) to make this little video.

#20: Sometimes morning . . .

Sometimes morning
comes too early,
or late,
or not at all.
Darkness moves in:
the shadows of intention rise up,
shaping what could be
into remorse.

The challenge remains
to simply breathe,
one breath at a time,
to notice first the flowering violets,
vibrant with purple and pale pink
in my winter office,
to set aside the clutter for later.
Instead, a meditation on now,
what is possible.
Outside the last fall leaves
shimmer golden in the sun.
Morning truly begins.

Sometimes I think that writers constantly wrestle with ways to make time for actual writing. Poetry, for me, involves that focusing inward, almost a meditation that seems impossible to schedule. Yet without discipline or a timeline of some kind, how do we find those words that reach to the essence of what we are trying to communicate? Perhaps today is the hope. If not today, perhaps tomorrow. As the sages have told us, “It is not required of you to finish, but you must start.”

Today's prompt from OctPoWriMo is a challenge, inspired by a quote from Lila Gifty Akita, "“I have accepted the challenge of life, to be all that I can possibly be.” Morgan Dragonwillow has added another level for we shy, introverted writers to embrace: To post a video or audio of our favorite poem. 

Check out what others have written HERE.

Maybe tune in later today to see IF I have met Morgan's challenge. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

#19: Sunday afternoon at Manito Park

Just this afternoon, walk with me
along this tree-graced block,
down to the Japanese gardens,
where formal plantings embrace
the turn of summer to fall.

We'll cross the bridge and turn,
surprised by colors everywhere,
the reds, greens, and yellow
shadow the water
where koi slumber.

Perhaps we'll sit for a moment 
to ponder the paths not taken.

We'll watch new mothers
with toddlers cross that bridge again,
posing against the brilliant red maple,

as if they could hold 
this moment still, 
like the last red leaves
that invite this light 
against the darkness.

Today's picture poem was inspired by a walk in Spokane's Manito Park, where the trees so quickly have transformed from summer green, to golden fall, to those precious days of color, just before the first frost, that first recognition that true winter is on its way.

I'm not writing a poem a day any more, having gratefully become immersed in writing. But please do visit OctPoWriMo to celebrate and enjoy what others have read.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

#18: Sometimes an Umbrella . . .

"Gulls by the Sea" by Morgan Dragonwillow

Sometimes an umbrella cannot hold back the rain,
or the gulls fly away before I catch their image.
What remains? A shadow, a memory, the umbrella
collapses, the sky above me empty of birds, 
yet those soul-healing blue waves 
surge in, warm over my toes, 
as I make my own flight,
umbrella forgotten, 
sketch book wet on the sand,
connections to sea and sky and you
now deep in the sea,
never forgotten.

Today's poetry prompt from Morgan Dragonwillow's OctPoWriMo came as a welcome surprise. For as Morgan reveals her struggles with balancing other commitments with her writing, I find myself in that same place. The prompt? Overwhelmed. 

Perhaps I will not be able to write a poem a day, but I have found inspiration to face down my own writer's block with this post from Joe Bunting, The Write Practice, called "How To Defeat Writer's Block and Write With Courage," also posted this week.

The lessons distilled for me are simply:
1. Put my writing first.
2. Accept my writing will be imperfect.
3. Save editing for later.
4. Persevere.

My favorite quote from Joe Bunting: “Instead of trying to be perfect, strive for the opposite of perfection: vulnerability, the courage to tell your story with your whole heart.”

I'm finally back to work on Rivers of Stone, feeling grateful for this online community of writers.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

#17: If I Had a Wish . . .

I could be a bear, 
outside all tooth and claw,
furious brown; inside 
a down comforter, hand sewn,
fluffy and warm, 
tucked in on myself
for the long winter to come.

Elephants are equally appealing,
sturdy, calm, that golden eye reflective,
a round of grasses, water, 
and rolling in warm mud baths
to cool the summer sun, 
perhaps leaning 
into the one you love; 
those tusks tell of something different,
night rages, screaming battles,
no, not an elephant.

How about a violin, strings awaiting 
for the bow, the music fills the air and ear,
notes streaming, harmonious,
each leading to the next, and then
set aside, to reside in memory.
Ah, now I've found my home:
words on a page,
words on your lips,

Neatorama, Let Me Play You The Song of My People
Sandy Brown Jensen introduced me to this wonderful picture of a Russian bear playing a harp. It seemed just right for today's prompt from OctPoWriMo to write a poem about something unexpected. Why not visit to see what others have scribbled on this rainy Sunday?

Saturday, October 17, 2015

#16: Windows . . .

Why do I need to change?
Inevitably, inexorably,
Never is not an option.
Do not imagine this transformation is complete!
Oh, awe-ful moment!
Windows into the future,
Static no more.

An acrostic confirms I have joined the millions . . . and upgraded to Windows 10. So far, not too difficult. But now, when I’m writing in Word, these messages pop up on my screen, breaking my concentration, which as I am tired from today’s quilt show (over 500 quilts!!!!), is about as steady as a gnat. 

So here is my second, catch up haiku, today’s prompt from OctPoWriMo, on spending the day with my dear sister at the 37th Annual Quilt Show here in Spokane. The Haiku follows traditional syllables for each line 5/7/5, but doesn’t quite catch the sweetness of spending this day, the first in two years, with her.

A Haiku for my Sister

Five hundred quilts and
you, lovely, dazzling, sore feet.
Next time, stay longer!

"I Feel Like a Witch . . . "
My favorite quilt at the show, made by Marty Lou Weidman and quilted by Pam Clarke, is "I Feel Like a Witch If I Have No Time to Stitch." Mary Lou is a nationally recognized quilter; she has her own website and designs whimsical quilts that invite you to dance with fabric, smile, and create!

And here is my quilt, 12 blocks of pueblo pots, ready now to use after the show.

Friday, October 16, 2015

#15: Sea Elegy for a Mermaid

The ship tips into waters deep, and I float down, near sleep
The ship tips into waters deep, and I float down, near sleep
The sea streams, bubbles past; deepest green to deepest black
The sea streams, bubbles past; deepest green to deepest black
The green ship bubbles near and tips down, streams into black
Deepest waters, deepest sleep, I float past the deep sea

Down to the depth where pale pink coral gardens abound
Down to the depth where pale pink coral gardens abound
Sea grasses reach to blue waters beyond my vision, rimmed with tears
Sea grasses reach to blue waters beyond my vision, rimmed with tears
To coral gardens, rimmed with tears, pale pink sea grasses abound
Where my vision reaches beyond the depth down, to waters blue

In that lost kingdom of stories untold, you wait for me
In that lost kingdom of stories untold, you wait for me
Where the yellow fishes swim; my heart’s desire found at last
Where the yellow fishes swim; my heart’s desire found at last
Where the yellow fishes wait for stories, my untold desire lost and found,
At last, you swim in my heart’s kingdom for me

The ship tips into waters deep, and I float down, near sleep,
The sea streams, bubbles past; deepest green to deepest black
Down to the depth where pale pink coral gardens abound,
Sea grasses reach to blue waters beyond my vision, rimmed with tears
In that lost kingdom of stories untold, you wait for me
Where the yellow fishes swim; my heart’s desire found at last

Today's prompt from OctPoWriMo sets a poetry challenge of a fixed form -- the Paradelle. Trust me, this one is so complicated, with doubled lines AABB setting the words for CC in each stanza. That last stanza is supposed to be made up entirely of every word in the preceding stanzas -- but in an entirely new form. Sorry. I ran out of time.

When I went snorkeling the first time, the instructor in an amazing adventure off the coast of Honduras, began our lessons in waist deep water. We were then taken to waters about 30 feet deep. And then our little boat took us to that place where the bottom of the sea slanted down to an abyss. Not everyone wanted to snorkle along that ridge, looking down into the black, past the fantastic coral reefs and shifting schools of fishes.

The drawing? Into the deep -- by me.

Read what others have written for today's challenge at OctPoWriMo HERE and more about the Paradelle at Shadow Poetry HERE.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

#14: The Mermaid Candle

If I could simply sit
by your side for these final hours,
I would offer my hand.
Each decade teaches its own lessons:
but how do we let go of those we love,
father, mother, lover, child?

Take me down in memory
to where the wild iris grow,
to the first time I knew you,
when all was possible.
And then we went adventuring,
your arms, your heart, my solace.

For now, I'll burn the mermaid candle,
and count the hours we share,
knowing for as long as I breathe,
I will carry you with me.

Today's prompt from OctPoWriMo is simply to imagine what a day would be like IF we could do anything, how would we conquer the world. Too many friends just now are faced with serious illness, and one friend holds vigil beside her dying father.

So I was reminded of that time in southern Mexico, when we were young. In the little house we rented in San Cristobal de las Casas, we found this large tree of life. A crowned mermaid surrounded by fishes stares implacably into the future, simply accepting what is. 

Originally, such trees of life, made of simple coiled pottery, were to teach stories of the Bible during the colonial era. But like many forms of art, the maker transforms the message. Perhaps one day I'll know why stories and images of mermaids are a comfort to me. For now, a friend gave me a mermaid candle, and it is that which I will light.

And in other news: Hooray! Years of Stone is being featured by Underground Book Reviews on its Pitch Perfect Picks Showcase.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

#13: Between Yesterday and Tomorrow . . .

"Last Sunday's Dawn Light" by Sandy Jensen
For every decade we've sought
the wilderness, 
around lakes, remote and near,
through forests, pine and cedar,
and made our nests in different towns,
learning new languages as we 
walked up and down cobble-stoned streets
in hilly towns located 
at the edge of the compass.
For every doubt I've had
about keeping up with you, 
only this remains:
We shared yesterday;
you are with me today.
Only a fool would grab for tomorrow,
but I hold hope
close to my heart.  

The most mystical walk we've had was around the base of that mountain in northeast Montana, famous for many reasons, but popularized by Close Encounters of the Third Kind. We followed the trail around Devil's Tower, called Bear Lodge by the Lakota, and long a national monument. 

At one point, the trail branched, and we decided to explore. A crow or raven flew against us on the path. It happened so quickly, we weren't sure which. But we persevered to discover the trail ended around a perfect tree; from its branches hung many prayer bundles. We reverently circled the tree and left quietly. Just ahead of us on the trail back, a cloud of butterflies escorted us to the main trail.

The picture above, taken by Sandra Brown Jensen, a former teaching colleague and digital storyteller, is one of her many inspirational photos and videos.

See what other OCTPOWRIMO writers have posted today!

Devils Tower (Wikipedia)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

#12: A Pair of Earrings . . .

San Miguel de Allende at Sunset (Adam Ive at

I remember the first time
I wore earrings: small pearls 
given by a grandmother
I never knew.
I used to change my earrings 
to match the moment.
Today, I wear earrings that are
forgettable, that I can sleep in
without thinking,
But I keep my jewelry 
in an old Japanese box of carved mahogany
filled with mementos,
these keepsakes of travels here and there,
friendships, and gifts from my love: 
tiny frogs or silver medallions, 
dangling with turquoise and amythyst,
found in a small jeweler's shop
on a sidestreet in San Miguel de Allende.
Just for today, I shall wear these vintage
earrings from Mexico. They remind me
of a time long ago, 
when we sat out on the roof,
before us, the lights of a small town, 
overhead the stars, 
and you beside me.

Vintage earrings,
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
about 1980
Missed writing a poem yesterday so here is today's poem, inspired by Antiques Roadshow. A young woman brought her 'junk jewelry' she'd found to discover the earrings were French fillagree with cameos, dated 1775 and worth several thousands of dollars. I know women (and men) have worn jewelry for millenia. I do treasure mine, even if these possessions are so temporary, but they carry memories. 

Find out what those other writers for Octpowrimo are up to HERE.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

#11: Halloween Fancy . . .

Jack O'Lanterns
Mary Beth Griffo Rigby (Flickr)

At the end of October,
little boys dress up as ghosts
or caped marauders,
and little girls as bumblebees 
or princesses with fairy wings 
and magic wands,
sweet innocence
on the search for plunder.
Ring around the rosey . . .
The Great Pumpkin rises
under a full harvest moon,
as door to door we skip,
down the darkened streets
from house to house.
Pockets full of posies . . .
Barren trees line the sidewalk
by the witch’s house,
her cornucopia hangs above us
on the sloping porch,
full of sweet meats.
She beckons us in:
Ashes, ashes . . .
We all fall down.

Don’t we all have memories of Halloween, that frisson of fear that underlay our quest for candy, the darkened houses just a little strange on the one night no one counted how many chocolates we ate? 

My sweet granddaughters are getting ready with costumes and yet this night carries darkness all by itself. My little play poem links to that time not so long ago when witches were feared (and burned), when people had no easy answers for death or plague, and when children were not children at all.

Read what others have written for OctPoWriMo.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

#10: Hesitation

Johnston Canyon, Banff (Summer 2015)
Sometimes we go ahead,
feeling hesitant about the risk, and yet
the bridge holds firm.
Far below, the river cuts deep through limestone
and the green water roils white.
I'm glad to have come this way
where few travel. The quiet spreads out
around us, broken only by the hiss
of the water below.

Today the sun is warm on my back.
I cannot imagine winter in this place,
the river landlocked with ice,
the jays and green-backed swallows long gone.
This may well be our last trip,
hiking along Johnston Canyon,
before that long journey home.

We did hike in Banff and Jasper this summer, doing research for my current book. I can't resist sharing some of the photos I took along that narrow trail up Johnston Canyon. Click on any photo to see it a little larger.

And check out what others have written for OctPoWriMo HERE.