Lose the Cape!

Lose the Cape

Friday, October 13, 2017

Having problems "braining?"...

Allow me to paint you a picture with words…
Millions of water droplets are assaulting your car's windshield. Back and forth, wipers work in synchronized motions, clearing the moisture from the glass. Traffic. Of course it would be heavy on hour ten of eleven long ones. As the happy American Bulldog snoozes with your daughter in the backseat, the hubby hums along to the radio and chomps on the cookies purchased at the gas station north of Ocala. Behind the wheel, you navigate the rain storm and automobiles. In a domino affect, taillights shine red - one after another, breaks peeling with their complete stops. Your arms and body tense, taught as the wheel you grasp tightly, foot firm in the heavy push of the pedal, as the Jeep shimmies to a stop. Behind you, the Mercedes is less attentive to the series of events and still approaches, closer and closer, until a jerking action shoves you forward. Lovely. Hour ten. One to go. Pulling over into the wet grass beside the cluttered asphalt lanes, you and the Mercedes roll. Hour ten, with the upcoming police report, now two to go.

We had a wonderful vacation in the picturesque North Carolina foothills last week. A few trees were tipped with red lined leaves, preparing for the autumn peak. With two vehicles for the trip, it meant neither car held all three kiddos (read: MUCH quieter) and the dog was a wonderful traveler! Now, however, I feel like I need a vacation after my vacation! The whiplash of the rear-ending fractured a vertebrae in the upper lumbar of my neck. (At least the X-rays validated that my pain wasn't imagined!) I, as the sole tensed one in the car, was the only injured party, thankfully. Since then, however, I seem to be having a problem braining!

It is a made-up verb, I know; but it is the best way to describe the cobwebs and fog in my mind.  I have read the same paragraphs over and over, walked into many a room and forgotten why I entered, looked at my third grader's math with a puzzled expression - oh, it is math. Hm. The accident didn't give me dame bramage or anything (har har), but the pain just has me "off" in the department of adequate braining. I was going to wait until I felt better to blog (because, frankly, I couldn't think of what to blog about!), but opted to just write whatever popped into my head, instead. My first thoughts, staring aimlessly at the blank post title, was "I am having problems braining!!" So - there you go! Ever have a hard time braining?

The backseat occupants..at the NC rental house. (Photograph contributed by Holly McLaughlin, my sis-in-law. :) )

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Hurricane Irma - In the eye of the storm...

After I sent my sister-in-law a picture of our house - metal hurricane shutters donning our windows, secured up and ready to brace for Hurricane Irma - she said it looked like inspiration for a dungeon story! Although I haven't considered something quite so dark, it did get me thinking about how my unique surroundings could be quite inspirational. Thanks to my dear s-i-l, my mind wandered…away from pantry of dried goods, which were likely to be our next week's meals, far from the bathtubs filled with water to flush our toilets, straying from the spaghetti models of hurricane paths leading right over our home…and onto the details of the observed.

Sunlight filtered in through the small cracks around the metal shutters. Tiny specks of light dared to enter the darkness, sneaking in like shadows in reverse. It was both eerie and calm at the same time. Odd. My creative juices, now on stories instead of meal planning with cold beans and tuna packs, turned towards the possibilities amidst a deadly storm - a murder mystery. What better cover to committing a heinous act than under the veil of chaos that of the wind and rains accompanying a hurricane?

Writing, creating - it is more than a creative outlet or driving passion. It can be balm to the soul…and, in that day, soothing to the sanity! Although I am generally a patient person, the one area in which I inevitably fail is the "hurrying up to wait" type. For example, you rush as fast as the speed limit and traffic will allow to make it to a doctor's appointment on time - only to sit and wait for an hour before being seen. Hurry, hurry, hurry - stop, wait, wait, wait. Nope, just not that great at the art of that type of patience! For anyone who has prepped for a hurricane - from the day that the storm is discovered to be heading your way until it hits - there is a LOT of hurry. Hurry to the store to buy any food you may need (and water). Hurry to the gas station before the rush on gas leaves you without. Hurry to put shutters on, board up windows, put down the sandbags, or whatever needs to be done on the exterior of the house. Inside, hurrying in preparations for electricity and utility outages (AC turned way down (check), fridge and freezer at  lowest setting (check), bathtubs filled with water (check), generator working (check), flashlights, batteries, candles, and lighters all together (check)). Hurrying to clear out safe rooms and fill them with any needed supplies. Hurry. Hurry. Hurry. Wait. Wait, Aaaaand wait! In this past week's case, wait an additional day and half, being the meteorologist were wrong about almost everything concerning Irma - from paths to times to CAT levels! Dealing with worried children: "Are we going to die?" "Are we going to get sucked out the roof it it comes off?" "What happens if my stuffed animals get caught in a flood and disappear?" "What if I have to poop DURING the storm?!" The list goes on - haha. 

Thanks to my s-i-l's thought, I now had a sanity soother and saver. Write! Pen in hand (wanting to concerve the laptops's battery, of course), I wrote what I observed. The shape of the shutters against the windows, the bits of sunlight trying to seep inside, the mirror-like image it case on the walls…the sounds of the wind and rain hitting the metal, escalating into higher and louder octaves of chaos and noise…the worried children who eventually found slumber to be their companion, breathing hard, but barely audible against the wind and rain…the feeling of completely quiet and calm, almost eery, surrounding me when I woke, when the storm had passed…all of it.

Although I highly doubt a murder mystery will be fleshed out from this experience, it has fed the imagination with detail and realism that I, most likely, would not have completely considered. Be inspired by the chaos around you - tuck the details into your verbal toolbox. Using them paints pictures of realism, raw and true - not merely envisioned and imagined, but genuine!

Hurricane shutters installed and ready!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Self publishing vs. vanity publishing...

Oh, the wide world of publishing! You have spent those days, weeks, months, and years, soul-pouring.  Trusted extra eyes have perused your pages. Red markings cover sheets of script, running comments from character or plot inconsistencies to the notes of your ever-honest grammar nazi. All criticisms have been taken into consideration; all edits are done. With numb finger tips, eyes blurry and red - it is ready - that labor of love is completed! Although you may not feel 100% confident that your work is publish-worthy, others do. (Let's face it, we are our worst critics.)

Time for the agent tango - that arduous dance of query letters and waiting…and waiting…and waiting. Chances are high that you will never receive a response from an agent - not even a simple "no," will be sent. So, why bother with an agent - well, most publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. What does that mean? Without an agent to solicit, they won't be reading anything. So, back to the agents - look at the requirements for reading query letters - most say that they are not interested in new clients, unless they have published a book! Full circle - no agent = no publisher, nothing published = no agent! (Of course, that isn't always the case, not with every agent or each publisher; however, this is a fair warning, the sometimes invisible rules of the game.)

Before you close this blog, with a sigh of defeat, please read on: There are more ways to be published than through agents and big publishers! However, one is reputable, the other not. When the words "self published" get tossed around, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Probably similar thoughts to those I once had.

First of all, self-publishing is not the same thing as vanity publishing. How so? Vanity publishing is where you pay money to see your book in print. Now, these can be sneaky - a publisher might rave about your work, say they want to publish, BUT that you need to put in some cash (your part) for it to come to fruition. Hmm. Nope. This is a vanity publisher - it would be cheaper to go to Staples and have them print your book in bulk! With self-publishing (or Indie Publishing, as some are called), other than electing to pay an editor or artwork consultant, etc., "your part" is in royalties received, not payments out. (An aside, I went to a self publishing seminar - becoming your own publishing company, taking bids for editors, art consultants, printers - all for their cut in royalties - is also an option. In this case, they make bids for you, therefore are only paid when books are sold. They have investment in your project, as well as you do. Leave a comment and I would be happy to share more about this process. It is more detailed than using a one-stop-shop, but can be more rewarding, as well.)

So - self-publishing looks like an option for you? Do your homework and have a plan before uploading that brain child of yours onto a self-publisher platform. For starters - create a business plan! A what? "I am a writer/author, not a marketer or salesman!" Maybe so, but it is your piece of work, your responsibility. (Another aside - yes, large publishers do promote their own authors and do much of the marketing, but most now want to know what you can bring to the table, as well. They want to know whether or not you already have an audience, promotional ideas, what all you will do, in terms of book signings, readings, appearances, etc. After a friend's first book did well with a publisher, she opted to self-publish her next. Her words, "I was already doing most of the work and the profits were much greater with self-publishing.")

Back to the business plan - research the minimum prices for various formats for your work. (E vs. paper - they all will have different minimums.) Research things like - best search words, best eye-catching covers in small (aka, thumbnail on-line) and print version, most versatile fonts, etc. Yes, research! Then, consider your audience. What places or types of people are featured in your work? Build off of that. Plan to use social media, email contact lists, put it in your annual Christmas letter - think outside the box: Where, to whom, and how can I promote my book. Did you mention a specific cafe or diner in your book? Call them - tell them about your upcoming debut and that it holds free advertising for them. Ask if they will help promote your book with a simple sign: "Check out the XYZ Diner in John Doe's new novel, Bla Bla Bla! After that initial shock wave of friends and family who support your book, who else is going to follow, clicking a purchase button from an unknown author? Having a plan will help in the long term success of your work.

There are many self-publishing platforms who work, hand in hand, with bookstores (on-line and not), and offer a plethora of options in guiding you through the process of manuscript to book. Amazon's kindle and createspace are two that are user friendly and free, for starters. HOWEVER - read the fine print and protect yourself and the rights of what you have labored to create! Get an ISBN for your novel or writing collection. Although it may promote more exposure, sharing is an option of which to be wary. (An option that allows anyone to share the book around, fee free.) Be diligent in searching for other stories that surface that have similar themes to yours - plagiarism in the e form is on the rise! :O

Yes, there are publishers and agents who watch the sales of new novels, trolling for potential clients and money makers for their businesses. However, if your work is doing well on its own, do you need them? Only if they can bring to the table guarantees that are worth what might cut into your royalties - such as, in writing, contracts to sell future books, added marketing, etc. Also, again, be wary of vanity publishers who also scout good sales - always research any promising publishers and agents. And hold those rights to your labor of love tightly to your chest - it is YOUR creation!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Why do you write?...

It is a legitimate question - why do you write?

We paint and draw because we like the tactile nature of the activity, pouring colors onto the white and creating something new. We read because we enjoy it - are amused by it, inspired by it. Traveling, swimming, riding horses, playing games, spitting watermelon seeds - whatever it may be, it entertains and excites, relaxes and rejuvenates. Writing, on the other hand, isn't something we label as a hobby. It creates, like other forms of art, it may entertain and inspire, excite and amuse, relax and rejuvenate, like other hobbies, but, for me, it is not - it is a passion. It is my soul's song, bringing to life characters that leave the pages and enter hearts.

But what is the goal of writing for you? All of the above hobbies have an end game, so to speak - a painting to enjoy, another book for our shelves, more pictures to decorate the scrapbooks of our traveling adventures, another trophy or triumph for the mantle. I think that is the difference of why we don't categorize writing as a "hobby." Is "I just enjoy it" enough?

If we are honest, the wide world of publishing comes to mind. It is that proverbial "pat on the back" that legitimizes our hours, days, weeks, months, and years of pouring ourselves into a story or book; our artwork on display in the world's literary gallery. However, here is a question you should ask yourself - what if nothing you write ends up on the shelves of someone's personal library? It comes back to: "Why do you write?" Is it a passion or desired profession? Honestly, I doubt it can be the latter without the former.

Here is another thoughtful question: When you meet someone new, in those obligatory introductions and veiled details of your life, do you expose, "I am a writer," or "I am an author?" If the answer is yes, then it is most definitely a passion, one rooted so deeply in your heart that it is a part of your identity.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a writer is one who writes; an author is the writer of a literary work, such as novels, poems, short stories, and the likes. (My wording.) If you have created literary works, you are an author - publication is not a requirement of the title, did you know that?

Consider the question, why do you write? In my next blog, I want to share with you some opportunities for exposure. For those with the passion, who are willing to go a step forward, and put yourself out there - allowing those words you penned to be read by more than family and friends! Until then - happy writing!
August 21, 2017's Solar Eclipse - Central Florida's View :)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A lot of geek, and a little writing...

I would imagine that most of us have that one subject or activity that truly draws us towards it - a passion, so to speak. If we were to define it as an intense passion, it may even qualify for the "geek level" of interest. My geek level? Genealogy! Yes, I am the one of those who spends hours sifting through birth and death certificates, immigration records, census reports, and the likes. My youngest recently asked me, "Why do you care about all these dead people - it isn't like you knew them!" Hmm, good question.

Part of it is the challenge - the mystery of unwrapping an individual's life who can no longer speak for themselves. Another aspect is the history (and I have mentioned my love for that more than a few times). However, it's the story behind the records that truly intrigues me - the proverbial pulling back the curtain of facts and revealing the details of raw life.

There are three family members who presently have my full "geek attention," one based on facts and two on inherited stories, rumors even. Who was great grandpa's real daddy and the truth behind the name changes, after immigration. Although the second of those three might peek your curiosity most, it is what has become of the third that I will share…sorry. ;)

As the story goes, my great, great, great grandfather immigrated to the United States with his mother and younger sister, from Germany, in the early 1800s. No one knew anything about his father, just that he had died before they immigrated….or, at least, that is what was passed down. With little to work with - names, various immigration dates, probable birth dates, possible towns…you get the jist, lots of stories and little facts, I dove into the mystery surrounding the people. Census records, Civil War papers, and marriages in the United States were concrete, but the dates were messy. One census had a birth date of 1828, another 1834. Civil War papers even made notes that the last name was spelled with variations and dates of birth weren't the same. Varied spellings of surnames are understandable - many people changed the spelling of their last names to sound more "Americanized." Birth dates, though? Immigration dates also differed. The one clue that I had was on a single death certificate - a maiden name for his mother - Blum.
To shorten the story, before I bore you into closing this blog - Between a cousin and I, we have connected many dots. For starters, we couldn't find their immigration records with the surname Warner, because they didn't use it - they used Blum. Birth records from Gundelfingen, Baden, Germany unlocked other doors, such as, she had three children, not two, and all their records had this nice little German word under the name. Google translate to the rescue - the word meant "illegitimate." Hmmm, well, that helped a bit. Tracking down the Warner aspect of it was a dead end, after initially thinking maybe that was the lover's last name. Then my cousin told me about a Catholic Prayer Book that the mother had brought with her from Germany, to help her learn English. The inscription was from a Muller to a Frei - neither names were in the mother's genealogy that either of us could find. Also, they weren't Catholic - no records of christenings, marriages in Catholic church, etc. Utilizing the story that the trio immigrated under the sponsorship of the lover's brother, various details fell into place. All three and the Frei brother were found in the 1850 census. Also, in the course of investigating, I found that some of the mother's relatives were buried in Jewish cemeteries. Interesting.

So - what does this particular geek interest have to do with writing? There is a story here - the grit behind the facts, to play with and create. If the speculation comes to fruition, a Catholic fell in love with a Jewess, had three children, then died (or not) before she immigrated with her two living children to the United States. How did they meet? I did some research into having children out of wed-lock in that time and country. Once betrothed/engaged, a couple was seen to be married in the Jewish faith. (Makes sense, if you have ever read about Joseph's questions on quietly divorcing Mary, in the Bible.) If he were converting and they were seen as married, it would be perceived entirely different than a Jew converting to Catholicm and having children before marriage. So, what really happened to him? Did he die or was he pulled back to his family for some reason. (I have yet to find anyone with the last name of Frei or Muller, or any variations of either, who died in that time frame and place.) And…why change from Blum to Warner around 1860? These are still things clouded with speculations…more mystery to unravel, curtains to dust out and open. But regardless, there is a story, seeped in traditions, blending faiths, unexpected love, tragedy. (The youngest child died in a drowning at 2 years of age, as well.) There are heart wrenching swells and valleys in that story, even if I never discover all the facts. It inspires me to pen it, using the knowns and stirring in the questions, chocolate chips in the cookie dough of imagination - concocting a more tasty and textured story.
My great, great, great Grandfather.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

My article, "Embracing the Mess," is featured on Lose The Cape!

http://losethecape.com/embracing-mess/ - Please check it out and give it a read- you may find something familiar in it! (For all you mothers, Lose the Cape! is a great resource for sanity and comrades through the journey of motherhood. :) )

Monday, July 17, 2017

Writing flow and creativity…

With some of the recent submissions I have made, I find myself varying my writing style... quite a bit. I have stepped outside the confines of comfortable and into the poetry of prose. Laying aside the grammar nazi, (deep breath, she is such a part of me!) I am playing with more freely structured sentences. I am a literary fiction fan - lover of the classics, so this is a big step outside my box. However, I am finding it to be very addicting, as well. I have written poems for longer than prose, so being able to incorporate a poetical element into my stories is exciting!

Regardless to the style, formatted to sentence perfection or chaotically creative, there is one rule that should always apply - flow! Have you ever read a book or story in which every sentence started with a noun? No? Of course not! They would never be published! Varied sentence structure adds to flow and creativity. For example:

Harriet likes to paint pictures. She uses both acrylics and oil paints. She usually paints with acrylics on weekdays and oils on weekends.


Let's switch it up some:

Harriet likes to paint pictures, using both acrylics and oil paints. Usually, she paints with acrylics on the weekdays and oils on the weekend.

A bit better - at least they don't all start with nouns.

Now, lets make it more creative - use more interesting words, something more colorful, bringing the writing alive. Using a thesauruses when stumped is fine, we won't tell. Also - using those similes, metaphors, and personification. (See the blog post, "The poetry of it all…" for further explanation.) Let's try again:

Harriet's enjoys creating images with brushstrokes of color. Using both acrylic and oil mediums, she paints pictures of the imagination. On weekdays, she sticks to her acrylics and, on weekends, she explores the world of oils.

Ok, still a bit like a biography on a painter, but at least more interesting, right? To try one more thing - a messy sentence structure that will change everything, but keep the vital information of the text's integrity.

Art strokes Harriet's heart passion, like the brushes she holds in her hands. Weekdays, the Monday through Friday of work and labor, leave less time. Just acrylics. Without the clocks clicking, reminders of duties to be done, oils. Blending hues of blues with shades of amber, her pictures come alive.

Play with it, even if you never use the words you pen. Step outside your confines of comfort and write something that borders poetry. Paint the words and make them come alive!

The tactile nature of painting is therapeutic for me. I like to play with textures, layering paints on patterns…rinse, repeat! Charcoal pulls those patterns from the top layers, creating something unintended and new. "Beauty with a broken wing."

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Writing on war...

Happy belated 4th of July to you all!
Last night, as the house almost shook with the noise of fireworks, squealers, pop bombs, etc, I was thinking - this place sounds like a war zone! I went inside and closed my eyes. Why, you ask? I am in the middle of writing a piece for Consequence Magazine, which has an upcoming issue about women writing about war. In story form, I am telling the story about my Tetka Anka and Chicko Branko. (Tetka is aunt, Chicko is uncle, in Serbian) Anka's story is unique, in that she spent four years in a concentration camp (during World War II), and not because of her religious background. It was for her ethnicity, Serbian, and her lack of response to a demand to work in the mines. Her thought, 'I already have a job, why would I need another one?' The naivety of a nineteen year old girl landed her in a living hell, hundreds of miles from home, in Belsen-Bergen.
I am starting to stray from the topic a bit, though. How does our generation understand being in war. Not as the soldier, but the civilians in the war zones? Most likely, we cannot. I suppose we rely on our imaginations, as best as we can…but what can we pull from in order to help make these writings more real?
Sitting in the dark, eyes closed, I listened. The screeching sounds before the boom, the loud pops in rapid succession nearby - all of it. I imagined it was artillery nearby, the sounds of approaching battle fire and war. Even though I knew it all imagined, I must say that this take on July 4th fireworks was a bit unnerving! (An aside, those sounds much really bring back unwanted flashbacks to battlefields for our veterans! :( )
Using these noises of the fireworks to help better imagine the sounds and fear that citizens might have experienced…it makes me wonder what other sounds, smells, sights, etc. that might be utilized in my writer's toolbox. Any ideas?

Monday, June 26, 2017

Story boards...

Hello to all, on this rainy Monday - did I mention I love the rain? :)

Yesterday, after I spilled coffee on my beloved legal pad, its pages covered with thoughts, phrases, and stories, I was a wee bit upset! Now the pages look aged, antique even, and although I can still read the scribbles, I can't use the pad until it is completely dry. Not a bit deal - use other paper, right? But there is something about the tangible, the need to touch pencil to yellow page, that abets my mental process. 

This couldn't have come at a worse time, being I had set aside time to work out story points for a new book. (Yes, amidst the chaos that is three kids home for the summer, I worked out an hour of calm!) As I was erasing the 2x3 foot white board that I use to teach my kids math, I thought of something and jotted it down on the board….a new tactile experience to writing thoughts, not a replacement of white, lined, notebook paper. Having a few different colored white board markers didn't hurt, either. Away I scribbled, erasing here and there, taking a picture before erasing the entirety, adding more. Don't inform my legal pad, but I may have found an even better way to story scheme - a story board! The additional plus is that the pictures are on my phone, which accompanies me almost everywhere; whereas, my legal pad…well, it doesn't quite fit in my purse!

So! There you go. If you are as OCD as I am and something happens to your beloved mind method, try something way outside the box. Grab a paper plate and scribble, get some sidewalk chalk and head outside, or whatever might break your mold. Step outside the usual, you might just find something better than before!
(The rain is gone, so outside I go - the lanai is such a wonderful writing venue!)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Passage of time...

So - today is my son's twelfth birthday! My boy-sandwiched-between-two-girls has reached his last tween year…already! Earlier, it dawned on me that next year, on this day, I will have two teenagers in the house…suddenly, I feel strands of silver appearing amidst the red hair and an extra dozen wrinkles on my forehead and face…yep - older. Why didn't time pass this quickly when we were children? From one birthday to the next, it seemed like decades of years passed…so…slowly. As adults, though - whoosh! Wasn't it his eleventh birthday last week?!
I was contemplating how I might write out his life - spin his story, so to speak, from conception up until this day. What parts would cover pages and which, mere paragraphs. Pregnancy would get at least a couple, being he was the second miracle baby - from a womb doctors thought infertile. Baby days fly by, especially when there is a 19 month old running around the house…little things, like hating his baths or giggling when he passed gas, my boy! Toddler years would get chapters (flooding the kitchen is in the blog about writing about children's antics)…and traumas, like "near drowning" and "could have died that night" stories, of course, would make pages. His life experiences have made him who he is, creates character…
What is the point of this rambling, when it comes to writing, you ask? It would be the stories, the traumas, the antics, the backgrounds - those things are the foundational building blocks. Much like the fiction we write, the grit of what makes our characters who they are - the choices they make and why - those fill the pages. If I was going to base a character around my son…and the setting was a lake, children swimming around, splashing, enjoying the sunshine…he would be the one still cautious, goggles on tight. Why? Because of that backstory, "near drowning." He would also be the kid who is patiently encouraging a five year old girl to wade into the water, assuring her that he understands her fears, but that it will be alright. Why? Again, the backstory.
All of your characters have a history - they have gone through the passage of time…and who they are, when you write them, is because of this. So, get creative with your characters - if they make a quirky decision, explain it to readers, either before, during, or afterwards…paint the picture of their past, what has made them who they are. If you want your characters to come alive on the pages for readers, then animate them with a colorful past!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Using journals and diaries as inspiration...

You are tapped out - your mind has left the ring, nothing new or fresh remains. It is more than writer's block - it is a vast partition separating coherent thoughts and imagination. The dead zone of creativity has arrived.
Ok, maybe that is a bit dramatic. (My drama queen of an eight year old has me in that frame of mind. A sore throat is ending her life - she clearly doesn't have my double G alleled red-headed gene!) But seriously - it is bound to happen to all of us - the creative pit of nothingness.
So - what is the cure? I have found that stepping away from conjuring characters and plot lines from the air and traveling back in time tends to do the trick. How, you ask? I open old journals - snippets of the past that are often forgotten. An antidote of a child, a skirmish between spouses, an odd dream penned to page - whatever it may be, it sparks the fire again. Sometimes it isn't that simple. Let's face it, interlacing the personal details of our lives into the fictitious characters we create can reveal more than we care - naked prose. But - how about non-fiction?
Yes, it is still a genre of writing and, better yet, narrative non-fiction is fed from both the imagination and true life. Presently, I have been pouring heart and soul into this often forgotten genre of writing. There have been opportunities to submit samples of creative non-fiction to magazines - ones that demand truths and savor literary grounding.
With a lifetime of experiences, where does one start? Again, the journals. If you aren't the type to adhere to the structure of keeping them, try closing your eyes and bringing yourself back to a place in time. Are they closed yet? (Bad joke - how do you read with shut eyes?!) You are a child again, maybe twelve or thirteen, detaching yourself from childish things and discovering a new world of prospects. How did you feel? Were you the kid who was counting down the minutes until you could drive a car or were you the one who hid in the closet with dolls, pretending you were still young? Imagine the time you were most excited or afraid. Go there in your mind and write out all that you remember. Don't sweat the small things, the dialogue can be created true to the times later.
Today, I submitted a piece for a literary travel magazine. The topic was a place revisited, holding sentiment of the heart. I wrote about my return to Sequoia National Park - twenty-eight years, two months, and twenty-six days between the two trips. How different our experiences are as we mature - from height perception to the feelings invoked.
Like Barbara Streisand says in her concerts, "Talk amongst yourselves - I'll give you a topic." But instead of butter (yes, she gave the topic of butter :O), how about memories?  The challenge is on!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Penning past the pain...

I don't know about you, but life can really smack me down. Hard. Whether it is personal…health issues, relationship dramas, an unwanted diagnosis in a child… or someone close to us who is dealing with a hailstorm of trials - blind-siding pain and the butt hits the floor. While we are digging the gravel from our knee caps, frantically finding the right-sized bandaids to cover the bleeding, and trying desperately to get back up again…How do we write through that? (I suppose that might even be helpful if you are writing about something similar, but a comedic dialogue? A poignant scene between a mother and young daughter? Hmm, not so much!)

That has been me, for the past few weeks. Personal and someone(s) close - double whammies. I haven't stopped writing, but I do find the pain of life to be very distracting, to say the least. For example, I have started to blog no less than 5 times in the past few days and…yep, not happening. So, when I opened up the post page today, I just decided to write about this - penning past the pain. Maybe it should be penning past life, but me and my darn love of alliteration, right? ;)

Sitting on the lanai today, staring at the sand around the lake - sand I didn't even know was there until the water dried over it - I found myself checking my weather app, hoping for rain. With so many wildfires in FL, we truly need it right now! Upon closer inspection, however, I also discovered large rock formations under the water, right beside the sand. Shaped smooth from the lake's moisture, they formed what almost appears to be a stairway leading into the depths. I would have never known this hidden beauty if there wasn't a drought. Hmm. It doesn't take a large leap to link that metaphor of writing in pain or struggling distractions. When life knocks us flat on the ground, extinguishing our energy…if we open our eyes and look around, what might we discover from that perspective that we wouldn't see standing up-right? Every uncomfortable moment, unwanted drama, unwelcome chaos - all of it - is an opportunity to expand our portfolio of life experiences. To actually experience something is better than imagining it (albeit, we might prefer to just conjure, instead). There is truth…a raw reality that makes us acutely aware of what it is to feel something - how it affects all the senses in such a tangible way!

Although I may be still digging gravel from my knee caps today, I am taking new notice of it's texture, the colors it leaves, how it smells, the small ridges it leaves on the skin…I will be standing again, soon enough.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Rainy Days...

I live in the Sunshine State - Florida. True to it's name, when the snow is falling, blanketing the North/West, we have sunshine and warmth. Usually, the the rain we experience arrives on summer afternoons - just enough to lower humidity and temperature to that "not too hot" level of enjoying the back lanai and lake views. (Lanai - I laugh at the fact that I am officially used to the term. It is, what I refer to, as the pretentious name for a screened-in porch!) Needless to say - waking to a May morning of dark clouds, followed by a rapid down pouring, is not usual! (I am penning this a couple hours later, with the sun shining again - so much for the "rainy days" title of this post - but, at least, it did start as one.)

As long as I didn't have to drive or run in and out of the storms, I have always enjoyed them. It is like a heavenly stamp of peace, rest, and reprieve for me. Yes, even if the lightning flashes wild and the thunder sends shivers down the walls of our home, I enjoy it. Although it might not be some people's ideal of peace, it is mine. It is the "stay inside and watch the wonder," the inspiration of the pen…there is something about the chaos of wind whipping leaves and branches around, waves glistening on the lake, birds scurrying around to find retreat - all of it - that I see stories. Actually, for writing, my most ideal "weather" is a storm. Maybe it is because it keeps me at home (if I can help it). With eyes glued to the horizon, the imagination runs as wild as the clouds outside.

My mom (I must give her credit for this phrase and did request permission to use it) texted me something this morning. "I can almost hear the gulps and sighs of the earth giving thanks to God." What a poetic line, Mom! It is true, there has been a need for rain here. Rocks, those we didn't know existed, have been exposed in our lake - it has been too shallow. Perhaps the lack of rain and storms have caused a similar draught to my imagination…as I have trudged through the dry sand of creativity these past couple of weeks?

I probably should have titled this blog, "Weather of Creativity," or something of the likes. It is the point of today's ramblings. It also raises an interesting question: Does weather affect your writing? Do you thrive in the sunshine or rain? Cold or heat? Waves or calm seas? I suppose that what you are writing would be affected, as well. It is easier to write catastrophe in chaotic weather and pen happiness in the sunshine. However, if you had to pick a climate that most inspires you, what would it be? For me, I realize this day, it is a storm.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Making use of useless moments...

This past week. It was one of those well-planned, fine-tuned, sequence of days that ended up in a flat, chaotic chord. Meals were planned, lists were made - even lists for each list! Groceries purchased, laundry done, bulk of cleaning complete…all ready for a week of company, arriving Monday evening. The only things left on the lists were setting up rooms - you know, fresh sheets on the beds, candles burning (to cover any unwelcome scents), newly laundered towels hung in a clean guest bathroom…Instead of greeting my company, playing hostess-with-the-mostest, on Monday night, though - I was laying on a very uncomfortable hospital bed with an IV in my arm, admitted, and ready to roll to my "room." Although I did get out of the hospital while our company was still visiting, beach and pool trips were replaced by doctor's and diagnostic appointments.

Lovely, huh?

Company plans aside, it felt like the entire week was a series of useless moments - a waste of time and energy where I could get absolutely nothing productive accomplished. (Unless you count racking up medical bills, steady strides to hitting that out-of-pocket insurance max, and reading the first page of "War and Peace" at least 10 times as being productive? (By the way - "War and Peace"doesn't mix well with anti-nausea and pain medications, especially being the first page does have a decent amount of French mixed into the English!)

But…were they really useless moments? Every life experience, each new venue visited, all of the new faces gracing the characters around us…all of it can be used in writing. Although I would never attempt to include this past week in personal memoirs (the memories are too hazy and laced with emotion to be accurate), I can make use of the setting, the personalities, smells/sounds/tastes, the emotions - all of it, in any scene that a character might be hospital bound. I suppose I have entirely too many hospital memories, with all the above accompanying them. However, no two were ever alike. (Unless you count the three times in the hospital while having babies - those were fairly similar, only the players looked different as the years passed.)

I penned this today, before beginning a self-made writing assignment. I do this - write out what may only be useless words, strung together…but, occasionally, they end up gracing the pages of a story, as well. :)

           Blinking in and out of a hazy consciousness, she could hear the syncopated screeching of the monitors attached to her chest. The scratchy fabric of the hospital gown fell loosely around her frame, an open-back reminding her that modesty was not a commodity where she now lay. Nausea mixed with hunger as she reached towards her aching stomach.
            “Try to hold still,” an unseen voice instructed.

            She felt a pinch in her arm and the taste of stale saline entering the veins of her right arm. As warmth encompassed her body, she shut her eyes again, pretending to be anywhere but there. Hospitals were like prisons to her. Locked behind the key-card doors, strapped down by IV poles and heart monitors, incessant noise and lights bombarding the senses.

It says "Beauty", pulled through the white with charcoal, accompanied by a dead dragon-fly. I suppose it my "artistic" way of making use of what might be useless - a re-used canvas and bug that my daughter found outside on the ground.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A journey into the writing world...

So - here it is - nearly a month since my last posting! To say life has been crazy would be a gross understatement. Some of it has been my choosing, but mostly - not so much.

This sums it up - head in the dinosaur's mouth?!

I have been waiting for one day, ONE day, to pass without some sort of drama - whether injury, sickness, trauma, or emotional upheaval - ONE day to come and go without something derailing life. Today is already shot - but maybe Thursday will break the 29 day streak? 

Enough complaining - onto the crazy of my choosing! Writing. Deadlines. There were many. Honestly, though, what should have been a foreboding forging of words, finger strokes on the keyboard, ended up being a much needed refuge from reality. Leaving the chaos around me, I could slip into another world, alive with characters requiring creation and settings to observe. For those hours (or moments - unfortunately motherhood doesn't come with a "pause" button, rendering children independent and without some constant need), I could travel far away from the disaster bombs exploding around me. 

All that (finally) leads me into the topic titling this blog entry - A journey into the writing world. I have plans to discuss publishing in an upcoming blog, so the journey I speak of isn't about that. It is the oftentimes slow process of getting to that point. I have discussed editing, extra readers' eyes and ears, and a plethora of other things concerning writing - but this is about "putting it out there." Blogging, for instance. It is a bare display of our thoughts and words - the way we say things. I have been writing since I was old enough to hold a pencil and poorly spell words, but I rarely showed anything I wrote to others. I suspect some of that was due to privacy and the desire to freely put pen to paper, without fear of who might read or judge. As a child, poor topics and designs can be chalked up to being, well, childish. But for the adult? Not so much. I had no problem with sharing thesis papers in college - they were topical, focused, with a purpose. There were criteria that had to be met, specifications. Creative writing is very different, though. It is what comes from the soul - all mistakes, misconceptions, quirks, and the likes included. Again, bare. Blogging was my first attempt to step outside my comfort zone, revealing words and thoughts to an unknown audience.

Next, the world of writing competitions and submissions to magazines. Those were the deadlines I mentioned. Two poems, two short stories, one narrative non-fiction, and one novel, to be exact. Being these only accept unpublished stories, I decided to submit something different to each one. I truly enjoyed the challenge and flexing my mental muscles of creativity!  
If you are interested in finding out more about upcoming competitions, the Poets & Writers website is a great place to start. Their calendar link is: https://www.pw.org/submission_calendar

Blogging, competitions (with obvious hope for catching the eye of some readers), and publications in magazines, even small ones, all create a writing portfolio - more importantly, a public one - something that will be a useful tool for publishing!

So - are YOU ready to step outside your comfort zone?
(Sorry, Shane, but this was the best picture with a skeptical challenge look that I could find! :) )