Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Sept #5: To Revise That Cover or Not . . .

Got some really good news this week about a long project (over two years) of working with a voice actor to create an audio book for Years of Stone. I'm now reviewing the final recording and am so pleased to report the pacing, characterization, and overall sound quality is excellent.  

But, I've been looking at book covers for historical fiction. Many of these covers feature people -- that is, someone the future reader could identify with immediately and a mood that introduces the theme of the story.

So, my question for you is this: 

Does my current cover for Years of Stone introduce Diedre's heartfelt quest to marry her sweetheart who's been transported to Van Diemen's Land (Australia) -- and capture Mac's experience as a prisoner there? Can readers anticipate being caught up in their story and the history of these convict times in the 1840's?

I don't think so. Not when readers will be drawn into a story because it's about a relationship that grows, a fight to overcome insurmountable challenges, and a story that hopes to end happily, the quest of us all (even during these times of pandemic).

So, stay tuned. You just might find a cover comparison coming up -- with another opportunity to let me know what you think!

Meanwhile, may the month of October bring you adventures (safe ones), and good memories.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Sept #4: Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow

Today, after two weeks of not walking at all, we ambled along a wide trail in Lincoln Park. Fall colored the trees and the hills with brown and bright yellow and red. Haze covered the hills to the north and south, but the air quality was good enough so we didn't worry, at least about air pollution.

Yet, cases of Covid-19 continue ramping up steadily in our county, as do deaths, each one a ripple of loss. Fire season is not truly over here in the West until the rains come.

With 41 days left before the election, I expect a ramping up of general hysteria, misinformation, and worry. I switch between news channels, hoping to find a voice of reason and calm. Most of the time, I read the news rather than watch, because the reporters infuse every story with emotion that blurs the underlying facts.

So, how is the writing coming along? Are you surprised if I say slowly? But day by day, I do sit down at the computer and write. For my characters are facing into their unique losses with courage and hope. November is just a little over a month away with National Novel Writing Month challenging writers to write 50K words in 30 days. Are you in?

Just as our election is now 41 days away, with rumors flying that the current occupant of the White House may not go gently into that good night.

I console myself with a Scottish proverb: "'Tis a long road that's no' got a turning." Or in other words: Don't lose heart in dark times. Things can't keep going in the same direction forever.  And we can celebrate whatever brings us light and comfort.

                                      Image from Valiphotos on Pixabay.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

#BlogBattle: Conceal

 Writing challenges can be . . . a challenge! They take me in unexpected directions. 

This week's prompt comes from #BlogBattle. Writers are asked to post a short story (under 1,000 words) in response to one word. 

September's word, CONCEAL, led me to this dark tale, just 279 words.


    Mary was eleven. As she walked to school, past the hedge that marked the line between the duplex where she lived with her sister, her mother, and her stepfather, up five blocks past a narrow sliver of a park, and leaned into the steep climb of the last five blocks that led to Harrison Elementary School, she thought about her teacher. Mrs. Montgomery.

    The other kids said Mrs. Montgomery was mean. Maybe she was, but Mary thought she was kind. Her face never squinted in a horrible scowl. She never raised her voice to shout or her hand to hit. Mrs. Montgomery was poised. Once she quietly gave Mary lunch money. “If you ever need to talk to someone, you can talk to me.”

    Mary knew better. Her mother liked parties. She didn’t like neighbors. After one long night, her mother had pushed her face close to say, “You don’t tell anyone ever what happens at home. Do you hear me?”

    This was her last year at Harrison. Next September, she would follow the same route up the hill, past a row of pretty cottages behind a picket white fence, and then down the other side of Magnolia Hill to a newly built junior high. 

    In another two years, she wouldn’t walk to school anymore. Mary shook her head and smiled. She would take a city bus to high school. Maybe they would have a library. After that? She shook her head. She couldn’t think ahead that far. 

    Mary pushed the sleeves of her sweater up on her arms to hide the moth holes and wondered what Mrs. Montgomery would say if she asked to go home with her.

Image by Lorri Lang on Pixabay

Why not tap the link to #BlogBattle to read what others have written this month?

With thanks to #BlogBattle admins Rachael Ritchey and Gary Jefferies for setting up this monthly writing challenge that’s meant to inspire and encourage writers and readers. 

Why not join in? Just write under 1,000 words around this month's prompt and follow the rules HERE. Meanwhile, have a good month, stay safe, and write on!

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

September #2: More on A Gentleman in Moscow

Why is it that writing challenges are so appealing? For September, the #BlogBattle challenge is simply one word: Conceal.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about being enamored by reading Amor Towles, A Gentlemen in Moscow. Truly a leisurely read, one that inspires reflection of what those years from 1917 through about 1950 brought Russia – in sweeping change and on individual lives. Towles’ story-telling transforms the reader as he reveals how Russia, within a generation, despite its history, was transformed. 

One scene highlights how a revolutionary’s idea of a ‘poetry of silence’ came about. For in the beginning of the Russian revolution, we can recognize the purity of those early, idealistic comrades who overthrew the oppression of the long established aristocracy. 

Over decades, though, Russia transformed itself into a world power at tremendous cost, its new leaders susceptible to the same glamour of world dominion (and comfort) those comrades had originally challenged and, for a time, set aside. One character, Mishka, rebels against a ‘request’ that he revise his translation of Chekov’s letters so that it falls in line to ‘newer,’ always positive images of Russia. No criticism allowed.

Mishka realizes if he refuses to change his translation, he might be lined up against a wall and shot. A poet himself, he knows at that moment, nothing could be more powerful than to act himself, not with words, not with a poem, but with a self-inflicted death, a revolver at his own chest. He chooses not to create this ‘poetry of silence.’ Instead, Mishka rages. He protests loudly and is sent to Siberia. Is it a character flaw that he didn’t choose death? And did he stop writing or was his writing, his ability to write, taken from him?

A little later in Towles’ story, another character recalls visiting Pushkin’s apartment, carefully maintained in its ‘original’ condition – even to an unfinished poem left on a desk for any visitor to see.

Once, while Allen and I traveled in Brazil, we had the absolute privilege of staying in an out-of-the-way, tiny bed and breakfast, just down a side street in the small town of Ouro Prieto, where Chilean poet Pablo Neruda had stayed many years before. We slept in the very same room and looked out the window at the hills. His letters were framed on the wall. Later, we visited Valparaiso, Neruda’s house on the hill, perfectly preserved, now turned to a museum. On a side desk, a poem, the words written in ink, by Neruda's own hand, still lay. Was it half finished? I do not remember.

Somehow this connects to this month’s #BattleBlog prompt for September, though I’m not sure yet how. What do we conceal? How are ‘true’ stories revealed?  Come back next Wednesday for my story, if you like.

Just for your reading pleasure, you can read a poem I wrote about Pablo Neruda and a translation, for what happens to words in a poem when they move from one language to another? 

Meanwhile, be safe and follow your dreams.

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

IWSG Sept #1: On 'Beta Partners'

 Each month, IWSG challenges us to share our thoughts around a question (or some other issue that preoccupies us), to support and encourage writers at all stages of their careers.

Here's the September 2 question - If you could choose one author, living or dead, to be your beta partner, who would it be and why? 

This month’s question sent me back to those earliest days when I dreamed one day of becoming a writer. Then, my ‘beta partners’ were the classics. Hemingway, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Steinbeck, even, quoth the Raven, Edgar Allen Poe. And the women came along, starting with Louisa Mae Alcott, Ursula LeGuin, Pearl S. Buck, Amy Tan, and Joyce Carol Oates.

I looked up to all of them -- until at a writer’s conference, I stood in line to ask the keynoter a question. She glared at me. “Don’t do that. Don’t put me on a pedestal. I’m a writer. I got here by hard work, and you will too.”

Maybe like you, I tried various writer’s groups that ranged from outright attack fests to unending praise. Once my writing was greeted by someone saying, “A new star has come to San Miguel.” I nearly giggled. None of those experiences led me to trust my own voice. And then I taught writing for 26 years and learned from my students.

A few published novels later, I still fall into the current story and rewrite until it seems reasonably complete. During the pandemic, those times to meet face-to-face with my ‘beta partner’ are rather few. But even now, once a month, I pack my folding chair into the car and head to a local park where Annette Drake and I sit the proscribed six-feet apart and share our current writing.

What I appreciate about Annette is that she listens and responds first as a reader (does this scene intrigue her?) and as a writer (does this scene work on as many levels that a writer can revise?). Most helpful are her comments about authenticity of characters and plot, and about opportunities to improve pacing and conflict. I try to do the same for her, for I treasure Annette’s thoughtful analysis.

When I go home to my office and lean back into my story, her comments energize my writing. When I look back to all those years ago, when I dreamed of becoming a writer, I realize the simple act of writing that next story has become my daily reality. Deep down, I'm happy to be a writer, thrilled when readers like my stories, and ready for tomorrow, pandemic or not!

Now that staying at home, quarantine groups, and the ever-present mask seem almost normal, how are your writing projects coming along? 

Why not join IWSG and post an update or visit other writers by going HERE. Or, you could visit this month's IWSG hosts to be inspired: PJ Colando, J Lenni Dorner, Deniz Bevan, Kim Lajevardi, Natalie Aguirre, and Louise - Fundy Blue! After all, September begins another season of change. 

May this be a good month for you.

"Autumn Teacup" by congerdesign on Pixabay