Monday, April 30, 2018

"Z" is for Ze End and Ze Beginning!

Ah, 'tis ze end of April
and poetry for now,
and zat means tomorrow brings
ze beginning. Zounds!
What are you zinking?
All ze music gone?
Zut! Nevair.
Zend me a zinger!

Flaming "Z" (fanpop)

Today's post is the very last entry for this year's April A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Thank you for writing, reading, and making this Challenge possible. We made it! 

What's next in May will bring spring closer to all of us. Future posts here will update you on my current writing project, with stops along the way for an occasional poem, research highlights, and a few photos. May you cherish each day!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

"Y" is for Yesterday

I'm just thinking of yesterday:
we all begin innocent and yearning
for what sweet future
may be possible.
Some of us are quiet fighters,
unwilling to give in,
some of us learn to slide between
those inevitable challenges.
Maybe a very few
go on to have seamless lives.
I grew up blue-collar gritty,
sympathetic to the underdog,
now all too aware of how spring
festoons an old tree with blossoms.

Manito Park (April 2018)
We're very nearly at the very last entry for this year's April A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. I've enjoyed so much writing, yes, at the last moment, these poems and snippets all month long. Thank you for writing, reading, and making this Challenge possible!

Friday, April 27, 2018

"X" is for X-chaser

Back in the day when hand-held calculators
were new, and you were a kid, your father 
put you in the center of the living room
to perform math tricks
for friends. That stopped
after you purposefully made errors.
But your quick mind still does
calculations, relationships, and ratios,
as if solving x were some 
profound problem that
creates order out of chaos.

I never chased x and, I could say,
x never chased me. At first,
math enchanted me, the neat way 
a formula could lie on the page,
suggesting mysteries only I could solve.
And then we moved
and moved again,
and moved again. I was either ahead
or behind, and then forever behind.
Later, in a college required math class,
the instructor's mouth moved, 
spouting words I'd never heard.

Yet somehow, you forgive me this lack,
and I find value with
my hand in yours, 
your hand in mine, 
a very basic formula,
a perfect understanding.

I really wasn't sure what to write about today, for 'x' seems an unforgiving word, for me, rather like math. Then, I found this term, X-chaser in Paul Anthony Jones article, "40 Words That Start With X". Jones writes: "In old naval slang, an X-catcher or X-chaser was someone who was good at math—literally someone good at working out the value of x." And I thought of my husband.

I did enjoy accounting, though, and can't resist sharing this meme to honor a substitute teacher who pretty much responded in shock when she viewed my worksheets -- written in ink!

More about April's A-Z Blogging Challenge here:

Thursday, April 26, 2018

"W" is for Windfall

Today began at 5 am. Yep, I'm drafting finally. Well, almost drafting. Mapping out scenes got me up early, ready to write. This morning felt like a windfall. All that extra time.

I finished today's writing about 8 am, still very early. So early that the two boxes of family momentos I've been meaning to look at, sort through, organize, and identify came into sharp focus.

What a windfall. Pictures ready to be scanned, some I'd never seen before. That's my grandmother, a delicate flower from the east coast (and Sweden). She fell in love with a cowboy back in 1918, just about the time of WWII. He taught her to ride, and she loved it!

Sigrid Henry c. 1920 (Wyoming)

In this next picture, notice the gun holster on her hip -- not just for snakes.

Frank and Sigrid Henry
Elk Mountain, Wyoming (c. 1920)
Once when my grandfather was working out on the range, a big black bear tried to come into their house. My grandmother shot the bear. This scene greeted my grandfather when he came home from work. That's my mother crawling around to play with 'the big doggie.'

Marion Louise Henry with the 'Big Doggie' (c. 1923)
A very few photos I can't identify at all. No notes on the back of the photo to guide me, but I'm scanning, writing notes and sharing, happy to find this windfall of family memories.

Allen on the Pacific Crest Trail (c. 1971)
I fanned through a set of Phillies' Score Cards from 1966, almost ready to throw these old game score cards away to find a picture of my dear husband I had never seen before.

He said the picture must have been taken post-Vietnam, while he was hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail. He looks pretty ornery with long hair and a big smile on his face.

Guess I have another project!

Catch up on what others are writing about for April's A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. We're almost through the month, with only 3 letters to go!

More about April's A-Z Blogging Challenge here:

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

"V" is for Veracity

After all these years, let us not
begin in a vacuum, with veiled venom,
your vocal verbs a volcanic venting. 
How very vexing. 
I want to veer back in your arms 
like a vandal, well-versed
in ways to vanquish your vast resistance,
luring you close with sweet revision,
perfumed with vanilla and violets,
until you truly view me, valiant,
without a veil, and together,
we hear once again those verses
played out by violin and viola,
as we venture once again
to renew our vows.

Corpus Christi, Spring 2016

This year, we honor forty-three years of marriage, not always an easy path, but one of adventure, celebration, mutual respect, and a commitment to talk through those times when we disagree. This last decade, I've wondered if this next set of years will be our last. For now, each day, each month, and each year, I will take joyously as a gift.

More about April's A-Z Blogging Challenge here:

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

"U" is for Underline

What parts of my life shall I underline, 
to unpack the past, memory by memory, each
unique moment caught, uncorked
for your pleasure,
perhaps unexpected or even unusual. I understand
you may be uneasy, but I am an unselfish woman.
Don't take umbrage at this uneven unveiling
of images under that metaphoric umbrella
that unites us. I offer distraction,
like Scheherazade, I have untold stories yet
to utter, my ultimate secrets,
unmistakably unique, at least until
my days are used up.

Masaai Women Ululating with Song, Tanzania (Camp 2012)

                                 Giraffes, Long Necks Undulating, Tanzania (Camp 2012)

This month-long challenge is nearly at an end. What a pleasure it's been to wake each morning and write whatever I can, inspired by the 'letter' of the day. Only a few letters left. I hope you enjoy what others have written as well.

More about April's A-Z Blogging Challenge here:

Monday, April 23, 2018

"T" is for Tenacity

Today is World Book Day, perhaps begun to honor Shakespeare who died on April 23, 1616, and to promote the love of reading books. 

I don't remember when I first started reading, but I have always loved books. When I was a teen, I used to browse through the library, picking the books that were the biggest to take home (they'd last longer). All the classics. Hemingway's For Whom the Bells Toll was the first book that made me cry in public. Celebrating and exploring books hasn't changed much. DH and I still spend far too long at libraries and in used book stores. Our five-year-old granddaughter is beginning to read, and the three-and-a-half-year-old studies books as if she could translate pictures and words into stories.

Thinking about becoming a writer has been a life-long aspiration that truly began when I retired. Intimidated, yet excited, unable to say quite yet that 'I'm a writer,' I persevered through short stories, rough drafts to that first novel. Gunter Grass said he made a mistake in writing his first novel. "All the characters I had introduced were dead at the end of the first chapter. I couldn’t go on! This was my first lesson in writing: be careful with your characters."
As I begin my 4th or 7th book (depending on whether I count nonfiction, poetry, or travel books), I'm remembering advice from many writers (and writing magazines like The Writer and The Writer's Digest):

Write every day.
Study the craft of writing.
Study other writers.
Keep learning.
Write what you fear to write.

Each day, I start with the computer and new files. This week, I'm working on character sketches, keeping the words of Gunter Grass, Natalie Goldberg, and Stephen King close.

And so we writers persevere. Maybe our progress today is not quite what we'd like, but we are inspired by the very act of writing to see more clearly, to dig deeper into meaning, and, hopefully, to tell stories that connect with readers.

May you have a good week -- reading, writing, and celebrating World Book Day!

Some folks are sharing photos of bookshelves in honor of World Book Day. Here's one of my books in the English Library in Merida, Mexico. I wonder if someone is reading it now!

More about World Book Day: 

And more about April's A-Z Blogging Challenge 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

"S" is for Save the Planet!

Just today, you can find a lovely and inspirational maybe one-minute interview with Jane Goodall on Google's main page about Earth Day.

Jane asks, "What can we do to preserve our beautiful planet?"

I immediately think, being less mobile than usual, a lazy person's approach to Earth Day might add these strategies:

___ Put cloth shopping bags in the car trunk and use them.

___ Hang up a cloth bag in your coat closet to store (and reuse) those plastic bags you do come home with.

___Take an empty Kleenix box into the kitchen to store (and reuse) those vegetable plastic bags. Turn these bags inside out and wash/dry them before storing.

___ Donate unwanted stuff by taking it to a charity rather than dumping it in the trash.

___ Clump errands together so car use is less. Ride share when possible. Try not to drive that car every day.

___ Turn water off and on when brushing teeth (Some people leave the water run the entire time!).

___ Recycle all paper/plastic possible.

Yes, all of the above are tried techniques for our family. Still, Jane Goodall makes me wonder, "How could we do more?" Your suggestions?

Originally, I was going to write about "Signs and Symbols" and do a little research on the Mayan language. We saw a beautiful facsimile of a very rare fan-fold Mayan book at a museum in Merida, Mexico. I'd still like to know how much progress has been made on translating this very difficult language. This set of pages shows Chaac, the water god of life and destruction, thus, the color blue and various water symbols.

Facsimile of Mayan Codice at the
Mayan World Museum, Merida, Mexico (Camp 2018)
But I got sidetracked by Jane Goodall. Here are a few more sites with suggestions.

--Inhabitat: "6 Fun and Meaningful Ways to Celebrate Earth Day." Talks about a portable solar panel for cell phones!

--Feeling more practical? Conserve Energy Future presents "25 Different Ways to Celebrate Earth Day." Two of their suggestions: Switch to e-bills. Stop drinking plastic bottled water.

My favorite hint: Get out there and enjoy some natural place. Maybe your ordinary walk through the neighborhood, or bike over to a nearby park, or even your back yard. Celebrate those finally budding trees and flowers. The return of the birds. It's truly almost spring!

Want to read more? Check out April's A-Z Blogging Challenge

Friday, April 20, 2018

"R" is for the Romance of Revision

Here's a cute story about writing.

     A cheeky 2nd grader started bouncing in his seat when his teacher asked the class to write a short story.
     "Now, students," she said. "Your story needs to include four key elements -- religion, romance, royalty, and the big M, mystery."
     Little Johnny got right to work. After just a few minutes, he waved his hands, "Teacher, teacher, I finished my story."
     "Are you sure? Do you have those four key elements -- religion, romance, royalty, and the big M, mystery?"
     Little Johnny shook his head yes. "I got it, teacher."
     "Very well, Johnny. You may read your story to the class."
     Little Johnny stood proudly at the front of the class. Taking a deep breath, he began. "Holy Moses, said the Princess. Pregnant again. I wonder who did it?"

This is a terrible story and a wonderful story. I hope it made you smile. Poor Johnny has yet to learn about the romance of revision.

Writing a novel or story is both an intellectual and intuitive process. As we fall deeper into our stories, don't we fall in love with our characters? Even plotters (whom I admire) say that stories can change unexpectedly as they come to know their characters more thoroughly. As we write, sometimes new ideas, new plot twists, or insights into character, theme, or story arc, shake up what once seemed quite concrete in outline form.

Some writers won't begin writing their stories unless they know exactly how that final scene plays out. Others write lengthy tomes without knowing the ending (an act of courage).

Once that first 'real' draft is complete, however, we begin to revise -- and not just one revision. I think my pea brain can only focus on one idea at a time, so I revise many, many times. I do try to distinguish between two kinds of revision -- one at the CONCEPT level as it appears in chapters and the whole story (think story and character arcs, plot lines, and theme), and the other, more commonly called EDITING, at the word, sentence, and paragraph level. In reality, I bounce between these two types of revision in a quest to 'get the story right'.

Some writers and editors say we 'should' do concept revision first, as in "What's the point of editing a story when it will most likely change?" For me, honing at the chapter and paragraph level (once that first draft is done) takes me deeper into the story. Then, I'll return again to the whole-story level to double-check. That's what I call the 'romance of revision' -- that dream that I can polish my story and 'get it right.' This process takes stamina, tenacity, and time. Most likely, that's why it takes me three darn years to finish most stories.

Even now, as I write the plot summary and character sketches for my new story more deeply than I ever have done before, I'm honing the words, tweaking them, and finding new insights about my story and characters along the way -- from the mundane (she loves to hike) to possibly the more serious (she doesn't trust easily). Ah, I might as well prepare myself for another three years, despite my efforts to improve writing productivity!

Originally, I was going to write about the reality of romance, how little acts of kindness and love hold relationships together. Even writers who join writing groups hope for kindness from their colleagues along with critiques that will help them strengthen their work. 

For we know, again, most of the time, when our story strikes that note, rather like a bell, within us and our readers, we can type 'the end.'

Thursday, April 19, 2018

"Q" is for Quandary

My quandary is that I want to write stories that entertain and inspire people, sometimes with laughter. I mostly write historical fiction, with side trips to science fiction and thrillers.

But when I write, whether historical fiction or something else, dark stories well up. Science fiction turns to dystopia. Somehow I am drawn to those stories about people who are caught up in tragedy or worse. I don't always believe in happy endings or even happy-for-now. Despite a happy marriage that has lasted over 40 years, my research takes me to places where classes of people fight against each other for the privilege to live with hope.

My DH is currently reading Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann, a brutal history of a time in Texas when whites took land and oil money from native Americans through deception and egregious murder. He keeps asking, "How can people do things like this?" And I'm reading Daniel H. Wilson's Robopocalypse, the first science fiction I've read in many years, a mesmerizing tale of war between humans and robots. Most of the time, though, I read those happy-ever-after books by the box or, I should say, by the digital download.

Once a psychiatrist told me that I had successfully constructed a good life by not looking at my childhood. "Denial works up to a point," she said. "You have a choice. You can continue as you are, or you can work to confront what is now hidden." Expediency won. As Nikos Kazantzakis in Zorba the Greek writes: "Wife, children, house, everything. The full catastrophe." I was 30, head of household with a 3-month-old and a 60-hour work week. The house, though it didn't have that picket fence, was like a dream of suburbia, and we were happy there.

Most of the time, life is simple. Routine. Shaped by commitment and expectation, we move through our appointed days. Have you ever worked where you punched your card in a time clock morning and night, lunchtime and break time? Or perhaps bells rang, At one of my first jobs, I compared new computer printouts (think 1961) against physical inventory counts. My pencil hovered over reams of paper, double-checking a machine. My eyes blurred. I had no clue a computer would replace me. Today, a clerk uses a scanner. How long before that entry-level clerk is replaced? Back then, I worked two jobs and took night classes at any local college, and I dreamed of writing. Someday.

So, what's my quandary? Someday finally came. I began writing seriously when I retired. Three books in ten years. Not a bad accomplishment. Good reviews and bad reviews. Useful critical feedback. Amazing fans. I love the whole process of researching, writing, and revising. So, what's wrong? I don't want to write those dark stories any more. Yet, each day, we are surrounded by darkness -- political, economic, social. How in good conscience can I write those lighter tales that I read with such abandonment?

But I want to try. My current project begins with mystery, romance, adventure. A lost tapestry. A compromised museum. A heroine (art appraiser/curator) and a hero (officer with an art crimes unit). In my working plot summary, they have their happy-ever-after ending. But I've already learned that in the writing, the plot, the characters, even the theme can change.

I remain, as Webster defines, in a state of perplexity and doubt. Maybe I should stop writing, not a good feeling at the beginning of a project. But maybe I should stop writing and enjoy this next decade, simply retired. My experience says stopping the writing lasts about a week or so. My ordered life seems so unsettled when I do not write, as if the very blocks of existence are awry.

Ha! The quandary is resolved. I will write this story. Just maybe you can check back in within a year to see the happy ending! Or, perhaps you have some advice?

Today's post for April's A-Z Blogging Challenge could have been a poem. Click the link to read what other bloggers following this Challenge are thinking and writing about.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

"P" is for Poinsetta

I woke up thinking of poinsettas,
those rich red leaf-like flowers
heart-ease in winter.
April's still too cold for blossoms
on the cherry tree outside my window.
Even the starlings and an occasional robin
circle, perch on a bony branch tight with buds,
and take off. Perhaps they wonder when the fruit will arrive,
rather like that noisy raven I spotted this morning,
his feathers ruffled as he lamented this late spring.
I content myself with red and pink hothouse tulips,
dreaming of cactus blooms far to the south,
where the Pyrrhuloxia rests on cactus,
warmed by the sun.
Pyrrhuloxia near Tucson (Camp 2010)

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

"O" is for Ovation

Let us sing an ovation for this day,
resounding applause for this morning, 
a gray beginning
we can transform 
with any color we choose.
I'm remembering a young girl in a wheelchair
who wrote a book of poems about dancing,
her metaphor, one of movement.
Maybe that's the answer as we fight against
illness, inner and out, that we will seize this day,
this moment, this now, and celebrate
with bright yellow daffodils just beginning
to bud away the gray.

Do we search for omens
to give us direction? Fret about
headlines that spark and slither
with threats of bombs and betrayals,
new facts, each moment slightly different,
all hinting at chaos?
Time to look within: We can choose
our actions and our intentions.
Well, most of the time, we can learn
from the past. We don't need money or time
to begin anew, each act of trust
a promise, a celebration
of what gifts we do have (large or small)
to make our world, this world we share,
a little better today.

Today's poem for April's A-Z Blogging Challenge came from the color of the sky this morning. I could say at least it's not snowing, but the trees are not green yet, the shrubs have no leaves, and the buds are still tightly closed against this cold April morning. Each day offers us an opportunity and a time of re-commitment, renewal, and transformative change. No matter who we are, young, old, able to leap small buildings or not, let us remember our dreams, yes, truly large and small, and work to bring them about. If not for ourselves, maybe for the children.

"Hands" by Denise Docherty
(Free Images/Getty)


Monday, April 16, 2018

"N" is for 'Nearly Normal'

I hit puberty in the mid-1950s,
taller and skinnier than most boys, wearing glasses,
and shy from switching schools so often
I lost count.
I pushed up sweater sleeves to hide the holes
and wore hand-me-downs, trading with my sister
who trailed a year behind me.
I never talked about home.
My mother was not a housewife
in that era of Ozzie and Harriet.
I walked to school past a row of bungalows
with, yes, picket white fences, dreaming about
a husband someday, maybe one
of those cute aprons to go with 2.5 children.
Never happened.
My high school counselor opened our session
by asking, "When are you getting married?"
By the time I graduated, Vietnam was on the horizon.
Army officers recruited at our school, my sister
got pregnant, and I moved out,
ever grateful my aunt took me away. 
The next decade passed in a blur,
as I worked my way through college,
nearly normal.
And, yes, my dear husband came along
when I was 30, a Vietnam vet with his own baggage,
but we persevered, proud parents of the next generation
who would go on to make music of her own.

Cathy and me, 1961
Today's poem for April's A-Z Blogging Challenge came from playing around with words that begin with "N". I really wanted to riff on Edgar Allen Poe's poem, "The Raven" for 'nevermore.' Instead, nearly normal popped into my mind for a memoir-type poem. But the week's goals push me forward on my writing project. So have a lovely day, believe in today and tomorrow, and check out what others have written!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

"M" is for Memory, Macaroni, and all Things Maudlin

I wanted to start this morning with macaroni,
that despised twist of powdered yellow cheese and
funny flat noodles that lay congealed on plates
from the night before so many years ago
when there was nothing else to eat.

Instead my memories turn to yesterday,
those five fabulous women who came to drink coffee with me
and nibble on croissants. For those few moments, we shared
all that had passed in the last decade, a word or two,
smiles, embraces, connections never severed. We know
truly nothing and everything about each other, a turn
of the word, a visit now and then, yet we were together
in that timeless way. No tears as decades pass,
our time is short, but we pretend the future spreads
out before us, as untrammeled as spring.

And now I am drunk with memory. I regret nothing,
even as I construct a peaceful life, far from you all, my
dear friends, you are with me.

The Two Fridas, 1939 (Wikipedia)

Friday, April 13, 2018

A-Z: Inspired by "L"

Last night, I walked lost along a lakeside trail,
feeling the lack of something, a half-forgotten
lullaby linking me to this shallow pool,
almost a lagoon, dark and deep, when
a reflection of the moon
floated on the low waters.
The lovely distraction shimmered
before me, a lesson unlearned, an unfolding
legacy, as I loitered, lured closer
to a ledge, all too ready to launch myself
and leap, when the light illumined a lowly cave,
where a lady lay, lush and lazy,
her lyrics lost in sleep, her allure a promise
of something within us all,
a lovely creative light,
that urge to make something new.
With a lilt to my step, I'm loathe to leave
this lovely dreamlike lake, my lesson learned,
I've left the labyrinth of doubt, 
filled with light,
renewed, alive, and loved.

Ophelia by John Everett Millais (Wikipedia)
I don't always associate this well-known and well-loved painting of Ophelia with drowning and death (and Shakespeare), but the image remains so full of promise, a hint at the unknown, and perhaps of beginnings rather than endings. We've had a long winter this year. I'd rather write about spring.

Today's poem for April's A-Z Blogging Challenge came from playing around with words that begin with "L". 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

K is for Kill Zone

Each morning, I've begun by thinking about today's letter for the A-to-Z April Blogging Challenge. Sometimes I wind up writing about writing or travel or a poem emerges. This morning, all I could think about was K is for kill. Why?

My husband, Allen, served in Viet Nam nearly 50 years ago, during the Tet Offensive. He wrote a book loosely based on his experiences there called Reaching. It's a well-written and tragic story about a young man drafted into military service.

But last night, Allen woke me up with his shouting. He was back in Viet Nam, arguing with his lieutenant about sending one of the men in his unit into deadly fire. "How could you do that," he shouted to the young, inept, and inexperienced lieutenant just assigned to his unit. For the lieutenant would not listen to his men or his sergeant, as Allen's unit held cover near an open rice paddy. Allen's friend was shot by the enemy, picked off by a sniper, and killed.

This last week, we've been on the road, to help friends following the death of a dear friend of more than 40 years. We've slept in a different place nearly every night, my own writing has been put aside, and the headlines suggest diplomacy by tweet whether we careen closer to war in Syria or rattle missiles in the Asia Pacific.

What kind of kill zone will we create? Whose lives will be lost? Another generation of young men and women forever tainted by a politician's war?

And the rest of us, what is our responsibility?

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

"J" is for Jaguar

A few years ago, we followed our guide through the steamy and hot ancient site of Tikal in Guatemala. We climbed nearly to the top of one of the ancient ruins there, marveling at the steepness of the steps and the intricate carvings of glyphs.

Entertained by the cries of howling monkeys and shrieking parrots, we were all stunned to silence by a loud roar.

Suddenly, the rain forest around us was quiet.

Our guide reassured us. "All is well," he said. "It's unusual to hear a jaguar during the day, but he's about five miles away."

But the jungle remained quiet.

"We'll just stay here for a while," our guide said.

Very slowly, the sounds of the jungle around us resumed. We were quite happy to stand at the top of this old Mayan pyramid, peering out into the underbrush that covered the ground, and wondering if we would catch a glimpse of this amazing and feared predator.

Jaguar (Wikipedia)
For each trip we've taken, we've experienced something unexpected. This jaguar roar was unique. Unforgettable. Something to remember once we are safe at home, grateful once again for running water, doors that lock, and wildlife that stays in the forest.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

"I" is for Indecision

Indecision is that moment
before commitment,
when all is not known and
when all is risked.
Without a word, we choose to act
or not. I'd rather take that flying leap
all by myself,
than dither between,
waiting for someone else to decide.

Even so, spring brings early pink blossoms:
we breathe change in with each passing day
and exhale, not always aware of the gifts
around us. We hesitate, perhaps we talk again,
or make travel plans on paper.
I'd almost rather hold hands than decide our future,
unfolding before us, for after all,
what remains is just this precious now.

Spring at Manito Park (Camp)

Monday, April 09, 2018

H is for Happiness . . .

Happiness is sitting in a hotel room by the patio window,
Outside a small sailboat, moored by the pier,
rests ready to go fishing up the Columbia Gorge.
On either side of the river, the hills
(Easterners would call these mountains),
are tipped with pink against a yellow sky.
Those gray streamers shift and
change in the steady wind of early morning.
The sky lightens, and traffic thrums across the bridge,
commuters early to work,
But here, laptop nearby, I watch the river, 
its surface calm,
yesterday’s whitecaps not even a memory.

NOTE: Today's entry for the A-to-Z April Blogging Challenge reflects my sense of safe haven. We found this lovely hotel along the Columbia River after driving down 4.5 hours from Spokane. We're now in a more temperate zone. The trees and shrubs along the wayside actually have green leaves! Yesterday's blustery wind made the driving challenging. I swear we landed at the hotel and collapsed immediately for a nap! This morning, the river is calm, and we'll continue on to Portland, ready to see friends. Meanwhile, for just a little while longer, I have the quiet of the river.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

G is for Galápagos

I wouldn't mind being
a tortoise, slow-moving,
land-dwelling on an island,
yet close to the warm blue sea.
My thick, hard shell would protect me
from various predators. I can just
sink into the sand, pull my head in,
duck down, no need to worry about
deadlines, or
writer's block.
My brain is too small.
Instead, I would live to one hundred and fifty years,
long enough to become an oracle,
my wordless spirit song connecting
the sea with the sky.

A dome-shelled Galápagos giant tortoise
Matthew Field on Wikipedia

Today's post is for April's Blogging from A to Z Challenge is inspired by the letter G. Instead of a topic related to writing, this poem came along. Why not see what others are writing about?

Friday, April 06, 2018

F is for Fearless Fiction

Sometimes we writers circle around a story. We're not quite willing to face down the challenge of writing this particular story, and we're not quite ready to set it aside.

Just yesterday, a writer complained she's blocked from working on her project and can't see a way to start work again. She wants to write her memoir, but it's truly too dark and would upset family members. So she's planning to fictionalize her story and change names. She's concerned that those who know her will recognize the source of her story. Plus, she will have to confront what happened to her all over again, not an easy task. Really quite enough to scare away the muse.

I had no advice for her other than to suggest that if she wants to write a family history for others in her family, write that. But if she wants to fictionalize her story truly (and she does), simply start writing scenes. Or outline the key events in a simple outline to get started and begin getting those scenes down on paper. I'll find out next month what she decides.

I also have a novel in the drawer, already written and close to final draft. It needs maybe one or two revisions before it's ready to go, but I hesitate. Like my friend, this violent story is outside my comfort zone and not at all close to the historical fiction I typically write. In these stories, most of my characters do go to dark places shaped by history: the Industrial Revolution, class wars, economic exploitation, prison, abandonment, and sometimes abuse. I love that journey to a better place, where my characters conquer all to reach a happy-for-now ending. Isn't our human experience about struggle, to reach some sort of compromise between what fate brings us and our dreams?

An internet search brings much advice on writing fearless fiction. Natalie Goldberg's oft quoted, "Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak of," invites me to reconsider my story that's stuck in a drawer. And I'm not ready.

This morning I found an inspiring article by Carmelene Siani, "Four Simple Suggestions from a Buddhist Teacher on Living a Full Life Even When Your World Falls Apart." Ms. Siani had heard a lecture on the lessons Natalie Goldberg learned on discovering she had cancer. I found two additional articles to read and think about that may be interesting to you: Laurie Halse Anderson's “Write about the emotions you fear the most," and  Sage Cohen's "10 Ways to Harness Fear and Fuel Your Writing."

I don't have cancer as Natalie Goldberg did, though some of my friends do. The reality is that as we get 'older than average,' we do confront death (and the process of aging) in its many, not always pleasant forms. I wonder how many more books I can write, which ones, and whether that story stuck in a file drawer will ever come out.

But each morning begins with a session at the keyboard, and I write, perhaps not as fearlessly as I could. 

May April be good to you and your writing. Today's post is for April's Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Why not see what others are writing about?

Thursday, April 05, 2018

"E" is for Editing

When I daydreamed about becoming a writer, I never thought about revision or editing. Fingers poised over the keyboard, I just began to write.

After ten years of serious writing, I now realize that those planning, drafting, revising skills I taught in freshman composition apply to creative writing as well.

When I'm deep into revising and editing, I tweak my words at macro and micro levels.

Most of the time, REVISION -- that stage where I look at the chapter level and the whole book for issues like logical structure, character and story arcs, transitions, and/or plot holes -- comes before editing. Why edit sections that may be dropped or changed significantly? I'll read through that nearly final draft several times over several weeks (and sometimes months) to thoroughly analyze what needs to be changed.

EDITING for me happens at the word, sentence, and paragraph level: grammar, punctuation, and word choice (style).

I hate red pencils, but after teaching writing for 26 years, I can ink up a draft with the best. Here's where I want to slow down my focus by reading aloud. Of course, sometimes I'm distracted by issues better considered during revision, but step-by-step, I polish, analyze, and polish again.

Can I edit my own work? Yes, but let us appreciate those beta readers and professional editors who bring their skills to further polish our writing by catching revision issues and editing mistakes. I'm not a grammar witch, but I do think correct grammar and punctuation is important enough to motivate me to take just one more pass through my manuscripts before hitting that publish button.

Some self-help writing books adopt a somewhat dictatorial tone (Ah, you must . . .). I've learned to set these aside. For sheer comprehensiveness and a consistently positive tone (plus checklists at chapter ends), I recommend Elizabeth Lyon's Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore 

May your writing go well, your stories entertain and entice the reader to new understandings, and your final versions be error-free!

Today's post is for April's Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Why not see what others are writing about?

April IWSG: A Tip for Project Management

Do you ever feel a little overwhelmed by too many commitments and not enough time? Especially when working with a committee, new projects may be presented, but no one wants to take on a leadership role. Yet interest is high in pursuing the project. What filters can we use to assess and prioritize the proposed project?

Here are 4 questions my daughter scribbled on a sticky note for me after attending a recent conference.

1. How does the proposed project serve our membership?
2. Am I personally interested in this project?
3. What are the positive and negative impacts?
4. Do I (and others) have the time, skills, energy available to support this project?

In just this last week, I've adapted these questions to plan a presentation and to facilitate a goals setting meeting -- with less stress and more focus.

For example, here are those key questions adapted for a group of writers interested in audiobooks:

1. How do audiobooks help me reach my overall writing goals?
2. How interested am I in converting one of my books to an audiobook?
3. What skills do I have, need to learn, or need to hire?
4. What are the positive and negative impacts? (visibility, reaching audience, my budget)
5. How much time can I commit to this project?

This week has been incredibly busy, but the two mornings of getting up at 5am to prep for meetings and a presentation today on audiobooks for our local author's group are over. Now I can dive back into my current writing project. Yes, I took on the A-Z Blogging Challenge for April. This means I'm one day late with the post for the Insecure Writers Support Group, but I hope these questions help you analyze and manage any unwieldy projects, reduce stress, and focus on those projects that are most meaningful to you!

May April bring you warmer weather and uncluttered time to work on your goals!

Mountain Goat, Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson (2011)

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

D is for Drafting 3x5

Some writers talk about the drafting stage as that dizzying period when fingers can't quite keep up with those words that push to get on the page -- whether by hand or keyboard. Even November's National Novel Writing Month turns into a month-long writing immersion with 50,000 words as the goal.

Does drafting a story begin with an idea? an outline?

I want to say . . . depends! Some stories rest a long time in that folder, awaiting attention. I'm working on such an idea that began about ten years ago with a visit to the Museum of the Middle Ages (Cluny), in Paris to see the famous 'Lady and the Unicorn' tapestries. But now, after several fits and starts, I want to begin drafting. I have some characters. I have a working plot outline. At least this time, I know how the story ends! Or how at this point I'd like it to end. Writers know that once in full throttle, stories tend to shift and develop in unintended directions!

SIDE NOTE: Most writers fall into two categories, with each side yearning to know at times the secrets from 'the other side.' We're either 'plotters' or 'pantsers.' Plotters plan. They execute outlines beautifully and work straight through to that coveted finish. Revision is part of their methodical process. Pantsers, on the other hand, might begin with a scene and write another, not necessarily in sequence, and add another, take a break to write a character's back story, then write another scene, rearrange all madly, until 'the end' appears magically on the last page. And then revision begins. Much revision. Some call those plotters logical writers, while pantsers are intuitive.

Well, I'm truly a pantser trying to learn from those oh-so-productive plotters. After working through Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake method for the last two months, my fingers are itching to draft. Probably well before a plotter is ready to draft. I'm also setting aside time every day to study writing craft, and I'm working slowly through James Scott Bell's rather wonderful book, Just Write: Creating Unforgettable Fiction and a Rewarding Writing Life. Chapter 2 is all about how to develop your ideas and prepare to write. I'm not posting a spoiler, because this chapter is chock full of strategies. Bell's suggestion about 3x5 cards, though, intrigues me.

Usually, I use 3x5 cards on a cork board about mid-way through the story. Each card gets a scene as I doublecheck logical development, transitions, missing scenes. It's rather fun to rearrange, make sure character arcs work, pull the story apart, and put it back again.

But, Bell's idea has the writer sitting down pretty early in the process.

Imagine you are at your favorite coffee shop with your laptop and a pile of 3x5 cards. Take a sip of that dark brew we all love and simply start drafting scenes, one scene on each 3x5 card. Mind you, the draft has not been written. You may only have the sketchiest outline (if you have one at all). But you're going to draft some 30-40 scenes. 

Now comes the magic. I can't tell you for sure this is magic, but this exercise sounds like a lot of fun. Once you have those 30-40 scenes, you pick just TWO at random and look for connections, writing a new scene. I've got my 3x5 cards ready -- and maybe a little later today, I'll start jotting down those scenes. NOTE: I think this strategy just might drive the plotters nuts. 

And that's today's post for Blogging from A to Z April Challenge. Why not check out the link to see what others are writing about?

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

C: Writers and Character

When a writer looks at character,
those slippery descriptions
build a conundrum:
and the oft talked of
(and carefully constructed)
A piece of cake. Ha!
I offer you a view from the castle,
full of cautions.
For when the page is complete,
do our characters sing or dance?
Talk to us when the lights are out
and the computer is shut down?
And do our readers e-mail love letters,
asking for more?

Some writers pursue a long getting-to-know-you checklist that itemizes every possible 'reality' for their characters. Others hop into story, hoping their characters will morph -- through dialogue and action -- into something more than shadows of their own past.

Some writers are able to bring their characters to life with that telling detail that aches with precision and echoes in your memory as you turn the page.

Do our characters ring with truth when we create a hero who is male when we are female? Or, vice versa?

I was surprised how much my character's motivation and actions changed when I flipped genders for my hero/heroine. Shades of long ago: my female character is far too submissive; my male character too easily leaps to rescue. But I didn't 'see' what needed thinking about until I changed genders (and will, most likely change them back). 

For I'm still working on those lists and random drafts of scenes and character sketches, circling around how I create that authentic voice of my character.

Source: Nicholas Brealey

Today's post is for April's Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Why not see what others are writing about?

Monday, April 02, 2018

A to B: Ambivalent Beauty

A is for ambivalent, that tweak
of mourning yesterday, missed deadlines,
stalled story. Where is ambition?
I've lost my agenda. Again.
Before I fall into despair, today's letter
beckons. Because I can
break through this barrier:
Beauty beckons.
Defends that inner life.

Spring, Manito Park (Camp 2016)
This morning (and last night too), I was feeling discouraged about my writing. Does that happen to writers? Yes? Do we talk about it? Not often. I've been marching through Randy Ingermanson's SNOWFLAKE, having fun with a new story, but somewhat protesting along the way against the lockstep outline approach, sliding some days into nattering away.

Should the hero be male or female? Should I write a contemporary story when most of my writing has been set in mid-19th Century? Why am I drawn to the dark side of history, class conflicts, the struggle to make 'things' better? Why do I need to write at all? Aren't I at that age when it's quite permissible to simply 'play' through this next decade, perhaps my last? And how can I resolve all of these questions truly, for each day is different, yet the same?

One of my marketing goals is to send a monthly newsletter. If I were to construct a persona for reaching out to readers, this wouldn't be me. I do love spring flowers, quilt, occasionally drink tea. I'm not exactly the cheery soul my picture predicts. "But you look so nice!" I've heard that a time or two. When I think about the 19th Century, before birth control, before women's votes, before the law changed the definition of women as property, I wonder how women survived, how they created a life, fell in love, raised children, and how they achieved their dreams. And perhaps how they said 'yes,' when they wanted to say 'no.'

This current story I'm working on, The Seventh Tapestry, draws me into settings I love (Edinburgh and Paris), a web of medieval history, contemporary crime drama, and maybe impetuous love that doesn't recognize consequences. Sometimes we are driven along by our passions. Or we are not brave enough to test our boundaries. Sometimes we don't see what we risk when we welcome change. Note: This last statement seems ironic when I take such joy in living out of a suitcase with my own DH, eager to explore new locales, museums, and old towns.

On one level, the theme could be: Love triumphs! One man and one woman learn to trust each other and fall in love. Happy ending: We caught the bad guys! But what did this couple leave behind? What lies ahead? And did they truly catch the bad guys? Perhaps they feel grateful they've found that one person to build a life with. Finally. Maybe that's enough. For the true goal of genre fiction is to entertain -- with characters we can care about and hope they find, at the very least, that happy-for-now ending.

Botanical Garden, Edinburgh (Camp 2009)
Along the way, I hope my writing celebrates all those artists who with words or paint or thread somehow made and make something of beauty.

Beauty: That's today's word.
Find and nurture beauty in all its forms.
Share. Repeat with kindness and joy.

An added note: Today's post is the first for April's Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Why not see what others are writing about?