Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Scattered Stones: A Hint of What's to Come . . .

You won't be surprised that I'm working on final revisions for Scattered Stones. This week, I'm inviting you to meet Rose.

As Standing Stones ended, Dylan left Moira behind on Foulksay Island in March of 1842 to seek work in Inverness. Moira thought she might be pregnant, but she wasn't sure, so she said nothing. Despite his best efforts, Dylan couldn't find work on the mainland of Scotland, winding up in Edinburgh and missing Moira terribly.

Moira could no longer stay on Foulksay Island, for there was nothing there for her and the coming baby. She also traveled to Inverness, looking for Dylan. She wound up at a home for unwed mothers, where Rose was born in August of 1842.

Right now I'm working on those baby milestones. Exactly how old is a baby when she starts to crawl? to laugh? to babble and almost talk? Here's a picture of Rose at about one year old that's inspired me along the way. You can see that Rose has her daddy's dark hair and dark eyes. 

Do I have a deadline? Yes, but it keeps shifting as I revise. I'm hoping final revisions will be done sometime this spring.

Now for a snippet of a scene as Moira becomes a mother:

     “You have a daughter,” said Mrs. Harcourt. “A beautiful little girl.”
     Moira’s eyes filled with tears. “Let me hold her?”
     “Yes,” said Mrs. Harcourt. “Ellen, clean her up a little first, and then give the baby to Moira. For now.”
     Ellen washed the infant gently and wrapped her in a white blanket, laying her on Moira’s chest. “She’s beautiful.”
     “Aye, she is.” All Moira wanted was to hold her baby. She held her breath as she looked at that tiny pink face, the baby’s dark eyes now open, and her little fingers moving. Moira touched the baby’s warm cheek. The baby closed her eyes and slept.
     Mrs. Harcourt checked Moira’s forehead again. “Ellen, you know what to do here. Let me know right away if anything changes.”
     Once Mrs. Harcourt left, Ellen changed the bedding, flinging the used sheets out the window, down into the courtyard. “Wish you could help me wash these, but you’ll be busy here with the little one. I’ll check back later. Just rest, all right?”
     Moira nodded. She couldn’t stop staring at the perfect infant she held so close, hardly noticing when Ellen left the room. My life has changed irrevocably, she thought. I’m a mother now. A feeling of wonder filled her. Dylan, I wish you were here to share this moment. 
     “Rose,” whispered Moira. “Your name shall be Rose.”


As it's terribly cold here (a low of 10F with snow still on the ground), I'm sending you wishes for a warm, happy, peaceful and productive week ahead!

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Poems: Process and Challenge?

Is writing a poem so very different from writing a story or a novel?

When I'm working on a story, I feel immersed in my characters' lives, their problems, hopes, and dreams. Outlines, scaffolding, drafting, and rounds of revision occur as the story slowly develops.

When I write a poem, the whole process seems so different. I sink into a feeling, an image, perhaps a photograph -- or a poetry prompt -- and words begin to take shape.

I do write a poem, now and then. Each April, National Poetry Month challenges writers to write a poem a day -- for all 30 days! Last year, mostly because of Covid, I didn't participate. Somehow, this year, the world seems brighter. Here's a poem I wrote in April, 2021, for you to enjoy. 

Lessons from an Elephant

I'd rather be third
in a line of elephants
ambling somewhere
in that endless, grassy savanna,
or the next wet wadi
where I could roll in the warm mud
and not think about change.

Something about elephants
makes me calm.
Their eyes aslant,
their bodies slow to move,
their ears flutter and
their trunks wave
in a language of touch,
close to their companions or
to herd that little one.

I saw an elephant in Tanzania strip bark
from a tree with his expressive trunk
and lift his head to trumpet a warning.
They twist and rip grasses
from the land, as they follow each other,
a measured pace, close together
for protection, undulating across the land.

Never underestimate the creativity
or change that hunger brings.
In times of drought, those tusks
can dig the earth to find water.
Female elephants don't discriminate:
they mother any baby in their herd.
We could learn much from elephants,
though I'd rather not weigh up to ten tons.

"Elephants" by Alex Strachan (Pixabay)

April gives writers a chance to play with poetry. I hope you will check out the poetry prompts created by Robert Lee Brewer, of Writer's Digest fame. He posts a poetry prompt every day (PAD) for National Poetry Month, and you can check out his poetry prompts posted every Wednesday at Writer's Digest.  

Meanwhile, happy Wednesday. May your writing go well. 

Will you join me in April for National Poetry Month?

Wednesday, February 09, 2022

About Maps and a Bar . . .

Just checking in on Wednesday to give you an update of writing on the road. Truly, I can only say thank goodness for the internet!

I didn't think I'd need a map to find my way around Edinburgh for Scattered Stones. After all, we had stayed in Old Town for about a month several years back. But as the story unfolds to final draft, that bar where Murphy holds court needed a specific location. The old street name (Cockburn Street) I'd pulled off a map months ago simply didn't work. What was I thinking? I can see my readers blushing even now.

So, this morning's writing session began with that great Search feature on Google Maps as I worked the neighborhoods between the two oldest railway stations in Edinburgh (Waverley and Haymarket) where Dylan and Michael worked and lived. I felt like I fell down a rat hole! After an hour of searching (and drawing a rough map), I finally found my neighborhood bar in Old Town, just off Cowgate Street, and aptly named The Three Sisters. Sadly, we never visited, but we definitely will on our next visit to Scotland. 

The Three Sisters is perfect! Nestled in a courtyard with 19th Century cobblestoned tenements on all sides, complete with tables out in the courtyard (exactly as I have described in my story) and with a stone arch, this popular bar (see picture to the right) is precisely the place where Murphy, the wardman for City Centre, would hold sway. 

Only, in my story, the bar is named the Highland Inn. Hmm. Maybe I should rename my fictional bar The Three Sisters. I'd have to ask for permission. What do you think?

Stay well. Stay safe in these hopefully waning days of Omicron. See you next week!

Wednesday, February 02, 2022

IWSG: Did it begin with a poem?

The first Wednesday of every month brings the Insecure Writer's Support Group (IWSG)'s writing challenge. Here is our opportunity -- as writers -- to share our thoughts, struggles, and dreams, perhaps to encourage ourselves as much as we wish to encourage others!

ISWG's question this month is a doozy and took me way back: Is there someone who supported or influenced you that perhaps isn't around anymore? Anyone you miss?

I thought instantly of my aunt. She changed my life. Irrevocably. And there's no easy way to write about it. 

My mother, a beautiful and charismatic woman, said, "We never talk about what happens at home." 

I didn't, and I still don't easily share. I grew up in a family of chaos and alcohol. When I was about 11, my stepfather beat my mother. My sister and I lay in bed, terrified and helpless. Sometime in the early morning, he brought her into our room and said, "Take care of your mother." We wiped the blood off her bruised face and did our best. Roughly nine months later, we had a baby sister. That didn't stop the drinking. But Seattle had a serious recession back in the 1950s, so Wayne joined the Air Force, and we were relieved. For a time. But the next year was chaotic, for mother loved to party. When Wayne returned from Okinawa, stationed in Arizona, mother asked us if we should move south. We looked at each other, not eager to spend any more time in a foster home. How could life get any worse? We said, "Yes!"

We drove down to Glendale, just outside Luke AFB, and settled into our new home. They still drank and fought. Then, Wayne moved out, and mother got a job as a bar girl. All was reasonably well until the night he broke down our front door with an axe. "Don't worry, girls," said mother. "Everything's fine." The next morning, he was still there and just before we left for school, he began arguing with mother. I cut between them, but again, mother intervened. "Just go to school, girls." We did, but I stopped and called the cops on the way.

My sister, one year younger, was pregnant and getting married. I didn't have a clue. I had dreams of college, but no hope. My high school counselor on that mandatory meeting before graduating, asked me, "You look like a very nice girl. When are you getting married?"

So what does this have to do with my aunt? She came to Glendale to visit with her new husband (a dentist), just before I graduated from high school. I wrote poetry and short stories and shared a poem with my aunt. The first verse:

There's no such thing as a future
whether good or bad;
There's only the past taunting you
with things you've never had.

A few weeks later, my aunt called and invited me to live with her in northern California to go to community college there. I left Arizona and never looked back. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had stayed -- but college opened up so much more. Libraries. People who cared about learning. Yes, it did take me about ten years working full-time and going to school part-time to finally earn my four-year degree, but without my aunt, someone who practiced art every day, I would never have gone to college. 

She died, nearly a decade ago, but her paintings hang in my home, and I remember her generosity and her nurturing. She is part of the reason I write nearly every day. 

I have no one lesson, really. Except my fiction tends to be about characters who struggle with seemingly unsurmountable odds -- and yet survive. I hope this bit of my history helps you reappreciate where you have come from, what you've accomplished, and re-vision those dreams you have for the future.

Now, consider joining in by writing your own monthly blog post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group? You could answer this month's question, go visit 10-12 other folks (see the links HERE), and celebrate your own writing progress! Why not visit and thank our co-hosts for this month: Joylene Nowell Butler, Jacqui Murray, Sandra Cox, and Lee Lowery!

As our Ninja leader, Alex J. Cavanaugh says:
 Let's rock the neurotic writing world!

Tuesday, February 01, 2022

Author Interview Part 2: Shannon Alexander

Today is Launch Day for Shannon Alexander's new book, The Business of Short Stories: Writing, Submitting, Publishing, Marketing. 

Thank you, Shannon Alexander, for talking with us about how you came to write short stories, and for your advice on how to write a short story!

What inspires you to write a short story? How do you tend to begin writing a short story? With characters? A setting? A problem? a genre?

I'm a pantser, so it starts with a spark or an idea. It can be something simple, like seeing a themed call for submissions. For example, one story was born because a call was put out for a zombie story from the zombie's POV. Or for a story that's releasing soon, I was reminded of the term coffin birth, and I was off to the races, writing a story that ended up being about so much more than that. I typically just start writing and see what comes out. I've thought of a line out of nowhere and started a story based on that single line as the opening. When that's not the case, though, it's me going in, knowing that this single idea will need to show up at some point. I then start writing a character, which leads to figuring out the setting around them, and how they're responding to it, and so on. 

Has a short story you've written ever morphed into a novel?

I have two short stories I've set aside to one day turn into either novellas or novels. Other than that, I go in with the idea for a short story, and it stays that way. Typically, people who are going in to write a short story and end up with a novel never had a short story to begin with. It was always too big to be a short story, and they were trying to squeeze their story into a hole it didn't fit into.

What did you learn from the first short story you wrote?

Honestly, my first short stories were in elementary school. I learned I enjoyed writing AND enjoyed my teacher's reactions to the stories I wrote. Even then, I tended toward the dark, which made for some interesting feedback on my papers. I always got a kick out of freaking my teachers out. But I also learned that no matter how great I might think that story was, someone else might read it in an entirely different way. Plus, they could find issues with it that I hadn't realized existed, so no matter how shiny I though it was, there was probably something that could be improved.

What advice would you give to a newbie short story writer? Why?

Try to write as much of the story in a single sitting as possible, without editing as you go. Short stories are a different creature from novels. They will need to be more powerful in fewer words. They need to have a single overall tone and mood. A single voice. Writing it in one sitting and waiting to revisit it can help contribute to that and keep your creativity flowing. It helps you remain in the story while you're writing, which will help the reader remain in the story all the way to the end in one sitting.

You can read Part 1 of Shannon's interview HERE. Or visit her wonderful, funny, resourceful blog, The Warrior Muse, HERE. In fact, that's how I met Shannon, blog-hopping!

A little more about Shannon: She has made a career of short stories, with over a decade of experience and more than fifty short stories published in magazines and anthologies. In addition, she's released three horror short story collections with a mix of new and previously published stories. Her true crime podcast Mysteries, Monsters, & Mayhem is going into its third season.

Podcast Website:

Thank you for reading Shannon’s interview. What advice would YOU have to a newbie writing short stories? 

And why not visit your favorite online store (see links above) and check out Shannon's The Business of Short Stories!