Sunday, May 29, 2022

A Spring Poem: Entropy

The scientist casually,
far too casually, 
brushes a white coffee mug
off his desk. It shatters and 
a rain of fragments spill on the floor.
Entropy, the scientist explains 
degrees of disorder;
everything dissolves into nothing
at random, over and over again.

What is whole becomes broken,
a one-way process repeated
every day, in every sense of time; 
our earth wobbles as it circles the sun. 
Even the universe expands and expands 
and curls outward
and destroys itself.

Despite my careful efforts
to create order,
only the seasons remain, 
winter, a dusting of snow that melts into spring,
a cycle of fragile flowers that bud 
as green sprigs open into leaves.

We walk slowly along a gravel path 
in a small lilac garden, 
shades of purple and white;
a brisk spring wind hints at winters past
and winters to come.
Entropy, I repeat,
my friend is sick. I stare
at the flowers and wonder
who will come to see the lilacs next spring
or the year after that?

Lilacs at Manito Park (May 2022)

Even so, winter seems to linger longer this year, as we all face unexpected challenges on top of all else that grabs the headlines. Today, a dear friend is sick. My thoughts are hopeful, yet realistic, for we are now in that decade when we must learn new lessons about life that begins and ends.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Writer's Resource: What's a Beta Reader?

Like many other writers committed to a large project, I finally finished my first rough draft of Scattered Stones, set in 1840s Scotland. "What's next?" I wondered, after putting the novel aside to 'marinate' for about a month. "How can I efficiently finish this story?"

At first blush, I knew I needed reader feedback. Did my story work as I hoped? Diving back into research, I discovered so many resources, some paid, some not, to help me reach 'launch date'.

Beta readers could help me reach that goal to publish, but I wasn't quite sure.

What's a beta reader? A beta reader is someone who reads a free copy of a nearly finished novel and agrees to provide feedback to the writer. Said feedback depends on the beta reader's expertise and interest.

Here's what I've learned . . . so far. Surprisingly, the very first step is to analyze more precisely what I need with this story. Do I need:

  • Proofreading or copy editing to check spelling, grammar, punctuation, or consistency of voice or style because my story is just about perfect in every other element? In other words, it's nearly finished! NOTE: Most professional writers will say, "You need to hire an editor!" But some beta readers can copy edit.
  • Developmental editing to analyze my story concept, plot coherence, character development, or story arc to find if something's just off? Because I sense something is missing, maybe a plot hole?
  • Structural editing to analyze the story's plot, pacing, characters, setting, theme, and overall style to discover if the 'bones' of my story are working together effectively?
  • Reader response to simply find out what folks who read my genre think about my story. 
OK, I'm in. Now, how do I find a beta reader? I began by reaching out to writers I know locally and who I've met through writing groups I belong to (for example, Sisters In Crime, the Insecure Writer's Support Group, and Spokane Authors and Self-Publishers). I posted a call for beta readers on my author Facebook Page, and here on this blog. As I have served as a beta reader for other writers, I reached out to those writers as well.

My goal was to create a Beta Reader Team, a group of folks with diverse interests and skills, who would give me feedback. The results have surpassed my initial hopes. Comments from my wonderful beta readers hit every category summarized above, giving me focus and new insight into what's next to revise that nearly final first draft.

Sisters in Crime hosted a fascinating online discussion about how different writers thank their beta readers. In addition to that free copy of a novel, nearly all writers acknowledge the contribution beta readers have made in an afterword. Some give extra, more personal gifts, swag, or gift certificates. A writer I did a beta read for, M. J. Hudon, gave me a set of potholders featuring werewolves, really charming and related to the theme of her book. I'm looking forward to reading her work again.

And that's the point to building that Beta Reader Team. In much the same way that we reach out to our readers and want to connect with them, our beta readers give us valuable feedback as well as a supportive community. Of course, the wonderful feedback I've gotten from about eight beta readers will lead to several more months of hard work, but I'm so thankful for their thoughtful comments. 

I hope this discussion has been helpful to you. If you're a writer, have you worked with beta readers? What did you learn? What questions do you still have? Here's a link to "The Ultimate Guide to Beta Readers" at The Write Practice, if you'd like more suggestions. 

Meanwhile, spring is finally morphing into early summer. May your writing go well. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

May Morning: A Poem

Two ravens soared
down from the sky this morning,
hopping atop the thick green spring grass,
heads twisting as they hunted;
their beaks flicked through pink cherry blossoms
scattered by my walkway.
They did not see me, yet I wondered
what message they brought,
these hardy warriors of the sky,
as they hopped in this moment,
their croaking cry a reminder
these are talking birds. Some believe
ravens connect this world with the next.
Perhaps this small patch of grass
didn't hold enough for their meditations,
for in a flash of black,
they were gone, and I was left
with cherry trees still in bloom, petals falling,
and green, green grass around me,
a sunny morning now too quiet,
as if even the morning waited
for what will come next.

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

You can read this fascinating summary of cultural beliefs about ravens  to understand its complex history. In the same family as crows, these birds are intelligent, perhaps the Creator/Trickster these stories reveal.

Update: Now that that month-long challenge of writing a poem each day is over, I'm back to writing and revising Scattered Stones, feeling I have "miles to go before I sleep," and hoping each Wednesday to post a little something, like today's poem. 

May Spring bring you warmer days.

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

IWSG: Balanced between the best of times . . .

Today marks the first Wednesday of the month with a writing challenge, the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Nearly 140 writers, including me, post our thoughts today to celebrate writing in some way -- maybe sharing doubts or concerns, maybe celebrating our writing achievements, or offering encouragement to each other.

If you'd like to participate, please sign up, post your own thoughts on your blog, check out the guidelines on the IWSG LINK, and visit about 12 other writers! Why not start with our co-hosts for this month: Kim Elliott, Melissa Maygrove, Chemist Ken, Lee Lowery, and Nancy Gideon.

Now, here's the May 4 question: It's the best of times; it's the worst of times. What are your writer highs (the good times)? And what are your writer lows (the crappy times)?

The best of times: Spring. I can almost truly believe that winter's snows will not reappear this year -- at least not until Thanksgiving. Every day, new flowers bloom, trees greener than yesterday, and the sun a little warmer, a little more present. 

The best of times as a writer, for me, are when:
  • The words simply fly off my keyboard into scenes that truly work.  
  • A reader sends me a note, even about a typo, that connects to my story's intentions. 
  • I can see steady progress towards my writing goals.
  • I finish a major project and hover over the new story, researching and building possibilities.
  • I write in the morning so the echo of ideas and new information follows me all day.
And those worst of times are when:
  • I wait and wait and wait for feedback from beta readers, wondering if my story really works the way I hope.
  • I doubt every marketing decision or step taken (and not taken).
  • I accidentally delete that new scene.
  • I can't write because my 'to do' list is far too long.
When I don't write, I almost feel as if something important is missing. I have so many blessings to enjoy that I don't need to write. I could quilt, instead. Or read, or plan a family dinner, or play with the grandkids (we've downsized, so no garden to nurture). Yet the writing anchors me. There's some small kernal of stubborness that says: I will write because it truly gives me an excuse to explore ideas, create something new, and connect with others in unexpected ways.

Given our current political arguments, the war in Ukraine, global warming, I find much that is depressing. Yes, I feel helpless to 'fix' or 'change' much of anything at that level. And so I write, paragraph by paragraph, and quilt, block by block, just because it helps me find meaning. In the process, I try to cherish each day, cook meals, clean house mostly, and  love my family. What more is there?

Block 3 of Jason Yenter's "Enchanted Garden"

May the coming month be good to us all. Write on!
And just a little plug: If you enjoy reading art crime mysteries,
check out The Seventh Tapestry, set in Scotland.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

May 1: May we begin . . .

How do we begin a new month? Especially in the first blush of spring? (I'm remembering snow on the ground just two weeks ago!) With optimism and planning, yes?

About the writing: While waiting for comments from beta readers (holding my breath), I've stepped away from writing, focusing instead on April's challenge to write a poem a day. Now, inspired by Anne R. Allen's newsletter/blog, I'm asking:

  • Do I have a SERIES BIBLE for my art crime mysteries that began with The Seventh Tapestry, set in Edinburgh, Scotland? The short answer is no, and I'm poised to begin research on book 2, The Lost Sarcophagus. According to Anne R. Allen, a series bible will help keep track of key characters, plot lines, conflicts, and settings -- for each book. Sounds helpful when the two lead characters encounter their next art crime set in Egypt. 
  • When drafting, how can I bring SECONDARY CHARACTERS to life? Again, Anne R. Allen suggests defining their goals and motivation as these shape dialogue, action, and even images.
  • I'm working on FINAL REVISIONS for Scattered Stones, that last story (?) in my historical series that began with Standing Stones. You know, waiting for beta reader comments is really hard, even with writing gurus suggesting I put aside that final draft for a month. So, I'm now working on launch plans and lining up advance reviewers. If you are interested in receiving an ARC (advance review copy) of Scattered Stones, please drop me an e-mail!
About travel: Our family is gathering near Banff and Lake Louise, Canada, in late June to celebrate a combination reunion/anniversary/graduation. We'll drive up and along the way, stop in a few favorite hiking spots. Meanwhile, I'm daydreaming about another stay in Merida, off the beaten tourist path on the east coast of Mexico, and planning ahead for a stay in Las Cruces, New Mexico next winter (avoid the snow). Rattle those suitcases!

Image by Jörg Vieli from Pixabay

And other preoccupations: Well, health could be that first preoccupation, but we all face health challenges at one time or another. Plug along, do what the doc says, and hope for a good outcome. I'm feeling grateful for loving hugs from family and friends -- and coffee! Would love to have a kitty to pet, but then I'd have to give up those suitcases.

Quilting update: After drooling for nearly a year over his gorgeous pattern, I've finally started Seattle quilt designer Jason Yenter's "Enchanted Garden." Oh, those tiny pieces, a lovely distraction. Here's the first block, with 11 more to create.

I'm wishing you a happy spring, one with many satisfying projects, time with family and those you love, and most of all, appreciation for each beautiful sunny day, even gardens -- all without snow!