Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Dec IWSG: Celebrating 2017

December 6. Today's my birthday. I celebrated by pressing that 'publish' button on CreateSpace to finally go live with Rivers of Stone, historical fiction set in 1840's Canada.

Better than a birthday cake.

Now that I'm older than dirt, I'm celebrating 10 years of retirement with this third book, the next installment (roughly speaking) in a family saga that began with the McDonnell family's struggles during the Clearances in Scotland (Standing Stones). The second book, Years of Stone, follows Mac McDonnell (and his sweetheart), as he's transported to a penal colony in Australia. Rivers of Stone tells the story of Catriona who marries Dougal McDonnell -- and winds up in Canada. Each book has taken me roughly 3 years to write, revise, and then publish.

So I'm doing the happy dance today . . . and not just about the writing. My friends and readers are celebrating with me.

THANK YOU to everyone who says an encouraging word to a writer, who shares expertise, and who gives critical (and useful) feedback on rough drafts. Regardless of the hour, whether we're wearing bunny slippers or  not, we all benefit.

And we all learn from each other. So here's the latest gift (perhaps unintended) from author Octavia Randolph who recently posted this gorgeous ad on Facebook for her remarkable story, The Circle of Ceridwen.

I kept staring at the design, the sharp contrast between black and white, the way the eye is drawn to the cover. Hmm. Could I do this? So, I did, futzing my way through PowerPoint, photos taken in Canada, and the cover from Rivers of Stone. For we learn from each other.

What do we most care about as writers, once we're past writing the best story we can? I think it's about connecting with other writers, learning from each other, and sharing our stories. We all doubt. The list is endless. Sometimes we're blocked. But we know that passes. Most of the time. We have stories to tell, words to get down on the page, and those moments to share, to celebrate.

If I were to do anything differently about my writing this last year or in the coming year, it is to cherish these connections with other writers and my readers. Let us persevere, enjoy each day of the coming (mild?) winter, and write, well aware of the ripples we create.

Why not hop right over to the Insecure Writer's Support Group to see what other IWSG writers are talking about. And a special thank you to Alex Cavanaugh, our fearless leader, and his minions, Julie Flanders, Shannon Lawrence, Fundy Blue, and Heather Gardner!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Part 2: Exercise Yourself! Digging into Deep Revision

In my last post, I talked about how I came to teach a workshop on deep revision, defined some common editing terms, and introduced a working definition of deep revision.

Today's post presents an exercise that brings you closer to understanding how 'unconscious' writing may help your own writing -- even deep revision.

FREE WRITE: IT'S ALL ABOUT YOU! Thinking on paper about what you write, how you write, and why, can help you see new patterns in your writing practice. The goal here is to move us to think outside of an outline, perhaps in a nonlinear way.

So, take a piece of blank paper and fold it into 4. Starting with the first square (doesn't matter which one), label it and then jot down your answers to the questions that follow. When you finish with one category, move on to the next square.

1. WHAT: In this square, jot down your answers to these questions: What are you working on now? Note whether you tend to write plot-driven or character-driven stories. What stage is your current project? Idea + content map? Outline? Drafting? First/second/third draft? Revising? First/second/third round of revision? Beta read? Edit stage? Copyedit? Proofreading?

2. HOW: In the next square, jot down a few comments about how you write. Where do you best write? What time do you write? For how long? How many times a day? a week? And how do you write? pen/paper? Computer? Dictation?

3. WHY: In the next square, draft a statement about why you write. Now answer, 'What pushes you to write THIS story? That is your current work. And, can you identify a theme in your current story? Does this theme reappear in any of your other writing?

4. WHAT IF? (Set this aside until AFTER you've reviewed the following:

DEEP REVISION may require you to let go of the 'normal' way you analyze your writing. Our GOAL here is to identify how different levels in your writing connect with each other and reflect each other. All writers, whether we acknowledge it or not, tend to write on several levels. The deeper we go, the less we may 'know' exactly what we're doing. So, how do we encourage that 'unconscious' part of our mind when we write?

And why should we?

In PRE-WRITING, writing faster than we think possible can lead us to get unexpectedly new ideas down on paper. Some writing challenges -- like National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) which asks us to write 1,667 new words a day, every day for the month of November -- can spur some writers to amazing productivity -- and break through writer's block.

At the DRAFTING stage, consider how some writers sprint. These writers write as fast as they can, without an outline, without revision, with little more than a germ of a concept or storyline. Some writers write from outlines, and some are so reflective, they meditate for a time before getting each sentence down on paper.

If we compare DRAFTING with REVISION, drafting fast can draw from your unconscious mind, while revision, a more analytical process, involves more of your conscious mind. Please note, I'm not talking about the right-brain/left-brain dichotomy here. I believe we all have fully functional (most of the time) right (rational) and left (intuitive) brains at work, depending on the situation and what we ask of ourselves.

What activities could help me tap into my 'unconscious' mind for writing?

  • Slow, calm, repetitive activities like walking, driving, showering, or even folding laundry can lead to unexpected insights or ideas that feed right back into your writing.
  • Meditating with a goal for short periods can leave you refreshed and with new ideas. Start such a session with a few moments of reflection. Ask "What do I want to achieve?" and then simply let go with slow breathing for about 10 minutes.
  • Thought-dumping allows you to write fast without editing. Be inspired by Julia Cameron's Morning Pages (write 3 pages each morning without stopping), or Natalie Goldberg's timed writing exercises at any time of the day. Key to both: Simply write without going back and without making any changes.
  • Right before going to sleep, ask yourself a question about your story or think about a specific aspect of the story you've been working on. Or, as Thomas Edison put it, "Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious." Since I typically write first thing in the morning, practically leaping out of bed to take advantage of that quiet hour, I've happily used this particular tip many times, without realizing others also try this.

After the workshop, one writer came up to me to say, "Here's a tip to tap your unconscious that I bet you've never heard of. Read tarot cards for your character or ask a story-related question." I celebrated the moment with her, for I've done this one too, with quite interesting results, again without realizing other writers would find this a useful or interesting exercise. 

Now, pick up that piece of paper that's been divided into four squares. Go to #4 WHAT IF? Which of the above suggested activities, from morning pages to thinking-while-sleeping to reading Tarot cards would you be willing to try? Write them down in #4.

Please come back in a few more days to read about one more activity to help you map out your own 'deep revision' with Part 3: Mind Mapping.

Or go back to Part 1: Working out with Deep Revision to see how we got started on this topic.

Let me know in the comments or by e-mail what YOU think and if you've tried any of these tips. Meanwhile, may your writing go well -- on all levels!

Fall afternoon at Manito Park (October 2017)

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Part 1: Working out with deep revision . . .

I miss teaching. Earlier this week, I got to teach a workshop on deep revision, and had so much fun prepping, researching, planning activities, and then running the workshop itself with 20 eager writers.  So here's a bit of what I learned with a little backstory.

The back story: I've spilled the beans here in my blog that for my current wip, Rivers of Stone, I had hit a revision wall with the story not jelling at that crucial ending and some very useful but challenging feedback from beta readers. I wanted to be finished, but the story was not done with me.

What my story needed was a major restructuring of one main character and a rethinking of how she interacted with the other characters (and how they interacted with her). That was nearly enough for me to want to put the whole story into a file and forget it. After a few months of waffling and struggling with the 'how' to move forward, my DH came to the rescue.

You should hear us talk. Allen thinks in logical structures and works through ideas the same way. When he writes, he spends a lot of time just thinking and then very slowly writes his story one sentence at a time. I tend to think, debate, and write intuitively, leaping in a nonlinear fashion through my projects.

Allen explained that with literary fiction, the writer works on different levels, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously. As we work deeper into any story, those levels become more difficult to change.

What does Snow White have to do with deep revision?  So let's use Snow White to think about four levels of fiction commonly found in literary fiction.

STORY involves the surface elements of plot and character that are relatively easy to change. In Snow White, a beautiful and innocent daughter is feared and hated by her father's new wife. Dispatched to the forest to be killed, she wanders alone, is taken in by a band of dwarfs only to fall into a coma after eating a poisoned apple. Snow White is saved for her happy-ever-after by the kiss of a handsome prince.

STYLE is that unique voice (or persona) of the storyteller that infuses the story, its point of view, word choice, and mood. Imagine how many times you've heard the story of Snow White and in how many different 'voices.'

THEME is a universal idea that affects everything in the story. It may be expressed in a few words, and the theme shapes the story and is difficult to change. In Snow White, the theme might be 'true love rescues innocence.'

SYMBOLISM are those compelling images/objects that appear in the story. For some, that compelling image might be the poisoned apple or the handsome prince's kiss.

To begin deep revision, we need to look at these four categories in our stories.

What in the heck is deep revision? The Freelance Editorial Association identifies FOUR categories of revision: Developmental (working at the concept, outline or draft to develop the story); Substantive (improving the overall manuscript by restructuring, reorganizing, and rewriting); Copy editing (reviewing style, format, and grammar -- among other elements -- for consistency); and final Proofreading.

I also found this fascinating checklist by Waverly Fitzgerald on deep revision that listed the kinds of questions a writer could ask.

But, none of these categories of revision seemed to fit what I experienced in revising my draft.

For me, deep revision involves the rethinking of a story and its basic elements -- character, plot, point of view, setting, style, theme, and symbolism. This kind of revision can happen at any point in the writing process (planning, drafting, or revision), and, if you're truly unlucky, during final revision.

So, what does deep revision mean to you? If you write more methodically, these questions about revision may not trouble you. Or, have they? If you write intuitively, what has been your experience with revision?

Tune in later this week for Part 2 -- You'll find exercises we used in the writing workshop to analyze what kinds of revision we might need, how the elements of our story fit together, and how we might tap our unconscious for drafting and revision.

As you pursue your own writing, take a few moments to enjoy the transition from fall to winter:

Manito Park, October 2017

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

IWSG: Roads Taken . . . And Not Taken

Robert Frost, in his famous poem, "The Road Not Taken," wrote:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both . . .

That's November for me, for I faced two major challenges and could not decide which road to take, while remaining not quite ready to give up either path.

Goal #1: To finish those final edits and formatting so that Rivers of Stone, Book 3 of my McDonnell Clan series could be published before December.

Goal #2: To get a running start on a new story with NaNoWriMo, starting actually today. I've done a bit of work researching, mapping, drafting character sketches, and am (as a diehard pantser), ready to write -- maybe even write those 50K words in one month.

I began to feel inadequate. Not productive. Caught in that negative downward spiral when the muse sulks and won't soar. A long walk later, and coffee with my dearest daughter, I stopped focusing on who I would disappoint, including myself, if I didn't reach either goal. 

Instead, I asked: What is it that I really want to achieve?

The answer came almost immediately. Finish those edits/formatting first. Commit to just 250 words a day on NaNo until I can write more. I'm ready now to work on both, filled with a sense of optimism and joy. So much for the 'road not taken,' at least for November.

This month, the Insecure Writer's Support Group (IWSG) asks us to share whether we've ever finished writing projects we started in NaNoWriMo, and, if so, have any of our NaNo projects gotten published. For me, the answer is yes to both, for that month of pushing for 1,667 words a day, every day, has given me delicious drafts. And as an older-than-average indie writer, I publish when that revise-revise-revise process is complete.

May November be filled with joy and thankfulness -- and many words. As the month unfolds for you, why not check out what others have written as they check in for the IWSG HERE.

November Afternoon at Manito Park, 2017

Friday, October 27, 2017

October 27: A Long Journey Ends

A long journey ends:
African violets bloom
a purple welcome.

Outside fall leaves shift
red and gold to barren trees.
And now, winter comes.

But I remember
the way the sea and the sky
hold the world as one. 

Today’s poetry prompt from Tamara Woods, OctPoWriMo, suggests remembering flowers and then writing a poem following that classic form of a Haiku – that is a poem with 3 lines, with the first line having 3 syllables, the second line, 7 syllables; and the last line again having 5 syllables.

When I think of flowers, I most remember the African violets that grow in my office. They give me comfort and help me balance a sense of beauty with a constant use of technology. This last trip, 14 days down the coast of Mexico, reintroduced me to the limitless sea. Now home, I'm still adjusting to that time change!

Why not read what others have written at OctPoWriMo in this month-long poetry challenge.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

October 26: Coming Home

After weeks away, I come home,
opening doors and seeing anew
unfinished projects, beloved books, beloved you.

We’ve traveled far, you and I,
suitcases emptied once again,
after weeks away, I come home

To water the plants and gather the mail.
I stand for a moment beside the patio,
opening doors and seeing anew

The leaves outside so quickly changed to red.
I pick up the threads and find the words for
unfinished projects, beloved books, beloved you.

Manito Park (Fall 2017)
Today’s prompt for OctPoWriMo comes from Morgan Dragonwillow. The form of this poem, Cascade, is new to me. The underlying theme is ‘receptiveness.’ As we’ve just returned from two weeks away, these images seemed very dear. 

Learn more about this poetry form HERE or stop by to read what others have written HERE

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

October 25: Desayuno

A guilty pleasure:
Hot, dark coffee, half milk,
little croissants, 
fresh fruits cut small, pineapple, 
mango, banana, melon.
No daily newspaper to distract me.
No internet.
Nothing but the wide blue sea,
calm from horizon to horizon
as I sit quiet in the early morning, isolated.
After a week of cruising down the west coast of Mexico,
the ship turns north into the Caribbean;
we’ll skirt Cuba, come home to New Orleans.
This temporary bubble will pop.

Breakfast on the Norwegian Pearl

What I went through to get that breakfast!
My morning table on a good day (before the crowds)
Today's prompt from Amy McGrath for OctPoWriMo asks us to write about the taste of satisfaction. My first (and mixed) reaction was recalling last week's lovely early morning breakfasts on board the ship. 

Why haven't I made such special breakfasts at home? Maybe because I worked beyond full time. Breakfast was always hurriedly assembled and eaten. Would it be so difficult in these low-fat days, perhaps once a week to plan a breakfast with those lovely, not quite as good as 'real' croissants, but still, coffee, croissants, and fruit?

Yes, we're home, struggling a bit with time change (I'm still getting up at 3 am), but underneath this poem is that sense of how living on a cruise ship, even for 14 days, is isolating. Perhaps that's the point of going, but a part of me is uncomfortable being surrounded by people eager to be entertained  and served, with no respite. I did enjoy the sea, as did my DH. The ship did have a library, and the staff was made up of young people from all over the world. But it's good to be home, catching up with those I love -- and those projects!

Let's go see what other OctPoWriMo poets have written this morning!

Thursday, October 05, 2017

October 5: Letting Go

Perhaps I do understand what I didn’t know yesterday
as the suitcase fills up, the airline tickets
print, the alarm set for 4:00 am.
Everything that I know and love
will remain here for now;
for the next weeks,
we sleep aboard
a ship,

Today’s OctPoWriMo prompt is to brainstorm a list of the things you now understand that maybe you didn’t quite comprehend before. Distracted by preparations for our coming trip that leaves this Saturday at 4 am, I couldn’t see a way to respond to the prompt . . . until I found Robert Lee Brewer’s list of poetic forms online on The Writer’s Digest website

The Nonet, a nine line poem that starts with a 9-word line, with each following line one word less, intrigued me because Brewer says this poetic form is a sort of ‘count down’ poem. We are certainly counting the hours down just now before this trip begins.

Tomorrow’s poem will be my last posted poem until August 26th, for we will be traveling down the coast of Mexico without any access to internet. 

Meanwhile, here's the link to OctPoWriMo poets. May you find poetry every day and everywhere!

Pigeons of San Miguel de Allende (Camp)

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

October IWSG: Have I Slipped?

I typically spend about three years in writing my historical fiction stories, all set mid-19th Century in times of great upheaval. My characters struggle, and I love to write about them as they fight their way out of despair to a new life they’ve crafted.

In Standing Stones, Mac McDonnell protests evictions by the new landowner of a tiny island in northern Scotland. As Book 1 ends, Mac is jailed, sent to a prison ship in London, and then shipped to a penal colony in Australia. 

Years of Stone, Book 2, follows Mac as he struggles to survive a seven-year sentence in Van Diemen’s Land. Mac doesn’t know that Deidre, his sweetheart, has followed him. Do they get that ‘happy-ever-after’ ending?

That leads me to Rivers of Stone, Book 3 of the McDonnell clan. 

I loved researching and planning the story of what second brother Dougal McDonnell did as he left his island home. But Rivers of Stone is really about Catriona’s journey. She disguises herself as a boy and, with Dougal, is hired by the Hudson’s Bay Company (based on a true story). Once they land at York Factory in Upper Manitoba, Cat and Dougal are separated. 

Catriona’s inventiveness, and chance meeting with Canadian artist Paul Kane, take her all the way to Fort Vancouver in the Oregon Territory, a wonderful story that essentially asks: Will Cat and Dougal get that ‘happily-ever-after’ ending.

In the earliest drafts of Rivers of Stone, I struggled for months over how to stage that ‘happily-ever-after’ ending, for essentially Dougal abandoned Catriona at the first opportunity. How could she forgive him? After the first draft was complete, I realized (with the help of beta readers) that I had profiled an abused wife. This was not the story I wanted to tell.

I do write intuitively and then work as logically as I can. With Rivers of Stone, for some reason, my characters played out the drama of my childhood. I didn’t realize how toxic and how long lasting these underlying issues were. Despite many years of a solid marriage, I still painted the picture of a woman who was mistreated, undervalued, and abandoned. 

Deep revision followed, and I am happy to report that Catriona displays the strength and personal growth of a true heroine.

This month’s IWSG question is: Have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose? 

My answer is yes, but, thank goodness for editing and perseverance! Working on the emotional bedrock of a story, its subliminal message, is not easy. But maybe that’s just what readers take away after they finish reading that last page.

Thank you to IWSG October co-hosts Olga Godim, Chemist Ken, Jennifer Hawes, and Tamara Narayan! Read what others have posted for the Insecure Writers' Study Group HERE.

Have a great month reading and writing. Remember that NaNoWriMo is just a few weeks away.

October 4: Where Does Poetry Hide?

I’d like to think that poetry
hides under my bed,
inspiring dreams. Early in the morning,
just before I wake, words dance 
along my eyelids, 
bringing me to that half-life
of awareness.

I can’t quite remember anything
after I’m awake,
other than the shape of the words
laid out on a page,
staggering toward some meaning,
rather like a paint by number,
the colors not filled in,
and my brush strays outside the line.

Street Art in Sao Paulo, Brazil (Camp 2009)

Today’s OctPoWriMo prompt invites us to explore where poetry hides in our life. Thank you, Amy McGrath, for your lovely photos and invitation to write. 

Most of the year, I do wake with words and images for the morning writing session, but, for me, poetry hides throughout the year, except for October and maybe April. The rest of the year, I'm writing and editing stories!

Click HERE to read what others have written -- and enjoy!

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

October 3: Untitled Cherita

after packing my suitcase one more time

Tucking your postcard
into my daybook

A packet of letters on thin paper
comes unbundled,
little cherished histories

Cherita is the Malay word for story. This stylized poem is presented without a title. Its three stanzas are centered and have one 1 line, 2 lines, and end with 3 lines. I hope my little poem gives the sense of a story in this tradition. 

Today’s OctPoWriMo challenge was to write a cherita, perhaps around the theme of metal. Click HERE to read what others have written -- and enjoy!

The photo is by Liz West on Flickr of a packet of letters she bought at an auction. They were written in the 1860's.

Monday, October 02, 2017

October 2: Maybe the First Time

Maybe the first time,
some rhythm of song
resonated to your bones,
and you noticed you were different.
Or was it the shock
of a blow
that led to stars,
white stars that circled as spirals
into words only you could hear.
You became an observer,
watching, not dispassionate,
but once removed,
recording for some unseen audience
you knew would listen
to these words
that finally spilled out on the page,
well before laptops or i-pads or texts,
words that the heart knows. Sometimes
we write because we must.

I'm posting a little late with today's poem (and picture taken earlier this summer in Manito Park), for it's after 11 pm here on the west coast. A busy day, but OctPoWriMo's prompt for today was to free write for ten minutes stating, "We write because we must."  Click HERE to read what others have written -- and enjoy!

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Oct 1: How Did I Get to This Place?

Manito Park, Spokane (Early Fall 2017)

How did I get to this place?
Every day edges closer to the end of my days,
from west coast to east, across oceans,
north and south, other languages tumble
in the wind of this journey. I remain
always grateful for each year with you.
Seasons wind round again and again,
while I, fueled by the blood of Vikings,
fight down night terrors to make
our home, a respite.

Today’s prompt from OctPoWriMo included these jumping-off words: family tree, DNA, roots and branches, origin story, ancestry, heritage, and the question: “How did I get here?” Click HERE to read what others have written. 

This year, we'll be traveling once again -- far from internet! So while I can only post these poems written for OctPoWriMo through Friday, October 6, I'm taking a journal with me and will post on our return -- after October 25.

I took this picture of the Japanese Garden in Manito Park in early fall. Why do I love participating in OctPoWriMo? Because it's a nice break from writing historical fiction. Because I enjoy that nonlinear connection with images and ideas that seem very different every day. I hope you join the challenge!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

September 28: The Role of Poetry?

When words emerge
in a certain shape on the page
or rhythm within, close to the sounds
of each vowel of my heart,
I think poetry is a little anchor
to this moment, something small,
so personal that
what remains on the page
is hard to share with others
and nearly impossible to read aloud.

But these words help me recognize
my own white hair in the beginning of winter
in that line of snow birds heading north,
and to see again the ending of summer,
as we walk along this tree-lined path,
leaves above us curling red and yellow to brown.

I do not count words in a poem
or rage as much as I should
against all those worldly wrongs.
Some stories, some poems resonate
larger than life, then slip away,
one line at a time. Like a crane,
Its steady walk profound,
I move without regret . . .
as yet, unfinished.

Today’s poem tries to answer Tamara Woods’ question, “What is the role of poetry?”, in her post for OctPoWriMo HERE. The picture of that beautiful white crane comes from Jeffrey Stemshorn, a Tucson photographer with the vision of a poet who is dear to my sister.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

September 27: Follow the Flower that Bends

Even in early spring,
one flower always seems
to bend in its own direction,
as if to say, “Follow me. I know
where I am going.” 

Over the years, I have followed you
here and there, everywhere,
at home in a world of other-ness,
affirming we are one community, at peace.
And then nature blows the flowers away,
the houses, the wires that connect us so well,
bringing death and destruction.
“We know death is
inevitable,” one forlorn wife says,
“But that does not mean
we are ready.”

I am wishing for
that one flower that points the way,
bending slightly to a path
that few follow.
In the spring, we will shake loose routine.
A lot older now, we cannot quite travel
as we once did. But our hearts
are together,
here and there,

Today's poem came early this morning as we prepare for a trip that means we'll be far from internet from October 7 through October 25. Despite my commitment to OctPoWriMo, I won't be able to post that daily poem. But I will write in my journal and post on our return, hopefully with pictures and new adventures to share.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

September 23: Lost in Translation

She stood center stage
and began to sing in Spanish,
that song she wrote over the summer.

I caught a word here and there,
mi amor perdida, a tale
of love lost unfolding,
and I recognized in that lilting beat
set by her hands in tandem,
guitar and voice,
a stylized dance, answer and response,
her voice quavering with passion. 

The audience remained largely unaware
of nuance or pain,
or how much we lost by not knowing the words,
those words that spun away.
She had no CD, and I had no way to remember
this moment of performance,
the young guitarist who sang from the heart,
of her lost love and all
that lay before her.

Today's poem honors the singing and songwriting Brigid Walsh who sang at September’s POETRY RISING gathering here in Spokane, hosted by Stephen Pitters. The next POETRY RISING is set for November 15th, 6:30 pm, Barnes & Noble, Northtown.

Friday, September 22, 2017

September 22: Between

Something of beauty:
Isn’t that what we aspire
to make concrete
the indefinable?
Somehow between and
out of the bits and scraps of our lives,
whether hours in an office or at home,
we do create harmony out of chaos.
Yes, sometimes ‘tidy’ will win.
But, who paints
with abandon at 3am?
Who makes the moment come alive
by tracing a line of pine trees
against a star-filled sky?
Or dreams with the tenacity of a writer,
who word-by-word
builds a poem?

Fall at Finch Arboretum

Today's poem came along because I had no time. Meetings ahead. A long list of to-do, longer than I can do today. So I thought of all the times when we work to make space for others and ourselves, those moments that do nurture us.  And somehow this picture I took at Finch Arboretum talks to me of the change of seasons and what we do 'between.'

Please consider joining the month-long poetry challenge that begins October 1 by writing a poem a day. Find out more HERE for OctPoWriMo

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Sept 20: On Rocks and Spines

Who can see the turn of seasons
in the blossoms that turn to brown
here in the desert?
We pick our way past cactus
in every form.
Even guardian Saguaro promise
months of heat ahead
while palm fronds wither.
The rocks remain,
sedimentary in layers,
sturdy, persevering.
We return each year,
snow birds who warm our bones
in this land of rocks and spines. 

"Secret Garden" by Jeffrey Stemshorn

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Today's Poem: "Cosmos"


Sometimes we forget
the stars spin above us.
As we wheel through the sky,
an unending cycle of stars circles us.
We turn again and again,
day to night and night to day.
We burrow into each precious day,
encumbered by schedules and routine.
We take this round of days for granted
until we count the hours to that moment
when time stands still
and we see the stars anew.

Eagle Rock Sunset & Milky Way Time-Lapse

Yesterday's poem "Rockpile" is still at draft stage, but the images in this one-minute video led me to write "Cosmos" as I explored Flickr and found Kevin's video of "Eagle Rock Sunset & Milky Way Time-Lapse."  See more of Kevin's work HERE, including some stunning shots of the eclipse. 

Expect to read more about rocks . . . a little later.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

POETRY on the road . . .

That poetry writing challenge, OctPoWriMo, starts October 1. Am I ready to write a poem a day for the entire month of October? 

Don't know, but here's a warm-up poem inspired by Daily Write:

On the Road

Slam shut that lock on the suitcase:
We’re ready for another trip.
I don’t care.
Just shake the dust
off those tired beds
that slant to one side,
those early mornings
that roil with routine.
Am I too old to travel without a destination?
Don’t think so.
We’re all headed to our own unique ending,
with or without grace,
as fast as we can go.

from Daily Write

Sign up to participate in OctPoWriMo by October 2  
(or learn more about this poetry challenge)  CLICK HERE

Friday, September 15, 2017

Taking a risk: Radio Interview!

Stephen Pitters, congenial host of Spokane Open Poetry (and sometimes prose), kindly interviewed me today for his radio show on KYRS! This half-hour show features poets, writers, and musicians and is broadcast locally and world-wide through Radio Free America.

I showed up with notes and printouts ready, uncertain as to what would happen, for this was my very first radio interview.

Stephen invited me to sit in front of a massive microphone as he tested my sound levels.

"Louder!" he said.

"Like I don't want the back row to fall asleep?" I replied.

We laughed.

Stephen's friendly welcome put me right at ease. His interview format, a balance of chitchat alternating with my reading made that 25 minute recording session fly by.  I read a short story, "The Last Mermaid," and three poems from a soon-to-be published poetry chapbook. He was a wonderfully appreciative audience. This reinforced my sense that Stephen Pitters works hard to create a nurturing environment that promotes art and culture right here in Spokane. What a wonderful resource.

Stephen's interview with me will air Saturday, November 18 on KYRS from 11:00-11:30 am.

You can also listen to his interviews (including mine at some point), right on his Open Poetry Spokane webpage at:

Some tips Stephen shared with our local authors' group, Spokane Authors & Self-Publishers last month:

  • Listen to the show ahead of time to get a sense of tone, substance, and style.
  • Avoid date stamps when I talk (since the interview would be broadcast at a later date).
  • Use those filmy paper protectors for your script to avoid paper rustling.
  • Lay out your script (printed in a BIG font; I used 16) in the order you wish to follow.
  • Use family-friendly vocabulary or risk getting bleeped!
  • Consider what listeners would be interested in and select readings that let the listener know why and how you write, what you write about, and hint at my storytelling style.
  • Bring a little more than you will use for the time (approximately 25 minutes) and include a short piece for the very end of the program.
So, how did I really do? I loved sharing my poetry and short story. The interaction with Stephen was so very comfortable. His focus made it easy for me to talk about what inspires my writing. I forgot a few things . . . like including my website or that my books are available on Amazon and Smashwords. Bottom line? I feel welcomed into a new community of people who love poetry.

Just in time for next month's poetry writing challenge hosted by Morgan Dragonwillow, October Poetry Writing Month OctPoWrMo, in which we try to write a poem a day . . . Why not join in?

If you are in the Spokane area, why not join Stephen Pitters as he hosts Poetry Rising at Barnes & Noble, Northtown Mall, on this coming Wednesday, September 20th, 6:30-7:30pm. This reading features Laura Read, Spokane's poet laureate.

Friday, September 08, 2017

IWSG: Have you ever . . . ?

September's question from the Insecure Writer's Support Group (IWSG) is: Have you ever surprised yourself with your writing? For example, by trying a new genre you didn't think you'd be comfortable in?

'Tis true. I've always written something, and I've often been surprised by what I write. Poetry. Short stories. Flash fiction. Not until I retired did I begin writing those longer stories that turned into books. But I still like to play with genre fiction, science fiction, thrillers, even as I commit to writing historical fiction, a process that typically takes me 3 years to finish one novel.

So now, when I'm very close to finishing the last (and third novel) of a family saga, I'm feeling a bit itchy. So many directions are possible . . . and yet, how will I know which is the 'right' one for me?

Don't you admire those writers who find their niche and simply tell wonderful stories that lead from one to the next, seemingly so seamlessly?

That's not me. Just as much as I love traveling and living in other countries whenever possible, I enjoy playing with words and contexts that don't really seem to have much to do with each other. Well, except for the previously mentioned three-novel family saga set in Scotland, Australia, and Canada.

For example, when we traveled in Turkey for a month, we discovered two pillars from the Roman era hidden in an out-of-the-way waterworks in Istanbul. The head of Medusa instead of being at the top of the pillar, was now reversed. Her eyes blank and unseeing, her hair of twisting stone snakes. And her story not known.

This next month, I will finish Rivers of Stone. Perhaps I'll be writing a poem a day (or a flash fiction a day) for the month of October. Maybe it's just OK to work a little on this or that, knowing that one morning, the story that began as a thread of an idea will take me on an unexpected turn. 

For I believe that IF Medusa was once a girl with dark eyes and beautiful long hair who bewitched all who saw her, that she never expected to find herself so feared and, finally, upside down and hidden deep in a cistern in Istanbul.

I'm not feeling so insecure about where those next writing ideas will come from or what I'll be writing next, for each morning begins with promise. For now, I appreciate those writers and readers from the Insecure Writer's Study Group who blog about what we all care about: the process of story telling. 

May you all have a good month. And a special thank you to this month's IWSG's co-hosts: Tyrean Martinson, Tara Tyler, Raimey Gallant, and Beverly Stowe McClure!

You may read more about Medusa from the Smithsonian or from my own Travel Blog

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Author Interview: Chris Loehmer Kincaid

Today, I’m happy to introduce Chris Loehmer Kincaid, author of the newly released Where the Sky Meets the Sand, a terrific read.

Her moving novel about a young woman’s transformative visit to Africa (now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble) will release in paperback format on Friday, September 1.

Chris has kindly answered a few questions about how her experiences in Africa shaped her writing, her commitment to the people of Kenya, and her next novel.

Thank you, Chris, for sharing your thoughts with us. I'm already looking forward to reading your next book!

How did traveling in Africa affect how your story developed? On my various trips to Africa, I've met so many people who are happy despite the deplorable conditions they live in. They all have a story to tell. I hope that by incorporating at least a few of their stories into my characters' lives, that others will see their lives as well.

My first trip to Africa was with my daughter and a mission team from Wisconsin in 2006. I had such high hopes that this trip would change the lives of all the people we worked with in Kenya, but I came home disappointed, asking myself, "Did I really make a difference?"

I wrote about that experience in my first book, the memoir, A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven. My daughter had returned home after that trip with much the same feelings. A few years later, trying to find her place in life, she journeyed back to Kenya to volunteer for six months. As I began writing my memoir in 2013, both she and I were called to return to Kenya again, this time to begin forming our own nonprofit organization, Tumaini Volunteers. I guess, though, the simplest way to answer your question, is to tell you that Kenya is a beautiful country with beautiful people who appreciate everything we do for them. I will continue to return to Kenya just to see their smiles.

What do you want readers to know about Tumaini Volunteers Foundation? Tumaini means hope in Swahili, the language spoken in Kenya and much of eastern Africa. When founding our nonprofit organization, Tumaini Volunteers, our main goal was to bring hope to those living in dire conditions. Currently we are working in a community of approximately 2,500 people, very few of whom are employed. The need in this community is so great it seems overwhelming, but our hope is that if we can introduce a few sustainable projects, the community can begin to develop on its own.

If you could give your younger self any writing advice, what would it be? Be patient and keep submitting. When I was in college, I submitted a half dozen or so pieces to various places, and none were accepted. I gave up on writing for a long time, thinking I would never get published and that no one would ever want to read what I wrote. At the time, I think mostly that I didn't have anything to say. Now, with so much more life experience, I don't think I'll ever stop having stories to share.

What's your current project? I am currently working on a novel set in northern Wisconsin in the mid-1970s. It is similar to Where the Sky Meets the Sand in that one of the main characters is also struggling with a difficult past. He is a Vietnam War vet fighting PTSD, which was not even a diagnosis until 1980. Few of the other characters in the book understand what he is going through. I haven't had nearly as much time to write this story as I would like, and the whole time, I picture this young man in my mind, imploring me to tell his story.

For more information about Chris Loehmer Kincaid, visit her page on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble. For more information on the Foundation, visit Tumaini Volunteers.

Here's her video trailer for Where the Sky Meets the Sand:

Friday, August 25, 2017

Visiting the Wall . . .

Today we drove about 20 miles to visit the traveling version of the Vietnam War Memorial from Washington, D.C. On this sunny afternoon, we walked along the roughly 300 foot replica to find a soldier's name who served in Vietnam with Allen. On Panel 43E, 53 lines down, we found his name and stood quietly for a few moments.

We were then told to go to the KSPS booth for Allen had something to talk with them about and perhaps give them.

KSPS, our local public radio station, sponsored this traveling exhibit as a community service event tied to Ken Burns' upcoming series on the Vietnam War.

While on patrol in Vietnam, Allen's unit came under fire from a bunker. Three men were sent to clear the bunker, one on each side and one from the front. Allen was one of the three men who charged the bunker, killing the man inside. The translator told Allen he wanted him to keep the man's helmet as a memory of this young man, wounded and far from home, with photos of his family and his sweetheart in his pocket.

It was this helmet that Allen gave to the people at the KSPS table. They promised they would do their best to return the helmet to the man's family in Vietnam, or make sure it found its way to the Vietnam Memorial Museum. He also gave them a copy of his novel, Reaching, which includes a chapter about the helmet in more detail.

I'm not saying today's visit to that open, grassy field where the replica monument had been set up was easy, but as we watched others look for names of loved ones, we were moved and at peace.

Peonies at Manito Park (Spokane 2017)
For more information about the Vietnam Traveling Wall:
Or, for information about Ken Burns' program on the Vietnam War:  Or, read the KSPS article about the Traveling Wall here in Spokane: 

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

August IWSG: I hate tailgaters

So I'm tooling along at my usual 5 miles above the speed limit, when someone, typically in a RAM truck, starts pushing my back bumper and gesticulating wildly. I have 3 options: Stay at my current speed, go faster, or pull over. Sometimes I use the flasher lights to say, "Back off." If the person doesn't slow down, I pull over. And I wonder what happened to the world of courtesy to other drivers? When did drivers simply stop following posted speed limits (especially in school zones)? Or ignore stop signs? Or 'forget' to use their turn signals? 

Sometimes I daydream that we could all use paintball guns when someone's driving is reckless. But that RAM truck driver probably has a real gun ready to use. Sigh.

So what has my pet peeve about other drivers have to do with writing? This month's question from the Insecure Writer's Support Group is: "What are your pet peeves when reading/writing/editing?"

When I'm reading what someone else has written, what turns me off faster than someone who tailgates:

--Errors in basic punctuation in any published work. 
--Stories that blatantly exploit sex or violence in any genre.
--Stories that end without resolution or leave characters hanging but tag to the next book.
--POSITIVE: I love good writing that immerses me in the story world, even with lapses as noted above.

Horses at Eagle Crest, Oregon (2016)
When I'm writing (or working with a writing group), what pushes me away:

--If I don't have the right research to write the scene. Solution: Jump sideways slightly to find what I need.
--When my characters are like ghosts. Solution: Write dialogue and/or character back story to find out more about them.
--If the writing group is too positive and my only benefit is from reading aloud. Solution: Ask questions for more critical feedback.
--If the writing group is so negative so I go home nearly in tears, not believing in my story or myself. Solution: Find a new writing group.

When I'm editing

--I wish I could work on more than one project at a time, for example, start the next story while editing the current one. For me, the editing of a novel takes discipline, months of time, and a different way of looking at story. 

So far, I haven't been able to work on more than one major project at a time, not even writing poetry while editing a novel. Solution: Work consistently on the editing. Yes, I write nearly every day, early in the morning. No interruptions. Quiet. Sounds like heaven.

Now writing this post was fun. At first I was a little worried it would be too negative, but two surprises: For every peeve, there's a solution (except for tailgaters). And I'm thankful once again for online writing communities like the Insecure Writer's Study Group and A Round of Words in 80 Days that connect me with other writers. 

Why not go visit a few, join in, and celebrate YOUR writing.

Summer at Manito Park (2017)


Wednesday, July 05, 2017

July IWSG: Revising the Past . . . Again

This week, I met with my small writers' group and told them about the post due today -- and my ambivalence in writing it. At the name, The Insecure Writer's Support Group, everyone said, "Oh, I need that," and "Send me the link, Beth."

I was reminded again how difficult it is to write a story. We may quibble over plot and conflict, character arcs, degree of backstory, authenticity of setting, or even correct grammar. But when we share our stories, we may not control the theme.

I'm in deep revision just now of Book 3, Rivers of Stone. That doesn't really describe what I'm revising or why. For somewhere along the way in generating this story, all the way through the first and second and third drafts, I fell back into a theme I thought I had long left behind. Instead of writing a serious historical romance, I wrote about an abusive marriage in the 1840s. Ugh. This subtheme did not fit my story. It made my characters unlikeable, and a happy-ever-after ending unthinkable.

So I'm working through all 70 chapters, reshaping, recasting, and re-imagining. I hear the echos of my childhood in all I've written. I'd like to forget (and have done my best to do so) that morning when I was 9 and my sister 8. We were awakened by the sounds of my mother being badly beaten. We huddled in bed, too frightened to do anything. At dawn, my stepfather brought my mother into our bedroom and said, "Take care of her." I'd like to say she left him, but she didn't, not for another decade.

My dear hubby says that very good writers write intuitively, drawing on their subconscious. Oh, that didn't work this time. But I still believe in my story. Maybe the revisions will be done in roughly five months. That's not so long a time to get it right.

Your turn: Have you considered what themes run deep through all your stories? Have you ever been surprised by a turn one of your stories took? And what did you do?

May the coming month be a good one for us all. Don't forget to go exploring on the list of some 230 followers of The Insecure Writer's Support Group. Find out what we've been up to this last month. Be inspired -- and write!

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

June IWSG: Why write?

This month's writing prompt from the very helpful resource: Insecure Writer's Support Group (IWSG) simply asks: "Did you ever say 'I quit'? If so, what happened to make you come back to writing?"

I have always written, short pieces, poetry, flash fiction. I wrote 'between' all else. The year before I retired, I began writing seriously. After 26 years of teaching others how to write essays, research papers, and technical reports (and writing a business writing textbook), finally, I thought, I could follow my dream of becoming a writer of novels.

So much to learn. I took classes, participated in small and larger writing groups, read how-to-write books, attended writing conferences, and met other inspirational writers. And I wrote. Ten years later (I didn't say I was a 'fast' writer), I've written 4 novels (2 in much need of revision). That learning curve stretches steeply in front of me, but I joyously pursue my writing -- most days.

Twice, I've nearly quit writing. Each time, someone has critiqued my drafts so furiously, I doubted my ability to tell a good story. But each time, I've returned to writing after a break of a few weeks to several months.

Because . . . 

My world seems in balance when I write. It's what I've longed to do all my life with that deep, never-goes-away kind of longing. I write because I love to delve into history and figure out 'what life was like.' I don't really care about becoming rich or famous. When I can craft a story, a chapter, a paragraph -- sometimes even a sentence -- there's a sense of peace and joy that makes that next writing session possible. My writing (and my other passion, quilting) keeps me creative, observant, and connected. 

Somehow I got stuck in mid-19th Century, partly because of a fascination with the Industrial Revolution. Just now I'm researching gangs in Edinburgh and the lives of indentured servants in Virginia. I write most mornings between 6 and 10, sometimes until 11. Then the rest of the world enters, and 'normal' life resumes. 

I hope that my stories will move readers who are drawn to history. For that's what I'm working on now:  How do my characters come alive? How do their emotional journeys connect with readers?

Oh, and I probably write because I'm stubborn and just want to show those folks who said to me, "You can't."

Click HERE to see what other writers are doing in this monthly update for the Insecure Writer's Support Group. And why do you write?