Summer Reflections — 4th of July 2015 Weekend, Canada Day, Family Reunion

(In a continued break from my regular writing posts, here is another Summer Reflections post — with things tucked away for some future novel scene or ten.)

2011 hot air balloon by our flag

We lived ten years in Buffalo, NY, a mere fifteen minutes across the Niagara River and into Ontario, Canada. Canada Day is July 1st. American Independence Day is July 4th. Each year the Friendship Festival lasted about a week with numerous activities on both sides of the border and huge fireworks at various locations every night. You really had to pick and choose your activities. The food, the people, the events, all were amazing. I miss my Canadian face-to-face contacts, but always belt out, “Oh, Canada!” on each July first.

Twenty years out from that time, here in Battle Creek, Michigan, each 4th weekend is a Field of Flight. There are hot-air balloons going up each morning and evening (weather permitting), and air shows from 1:30-5 pm for three days. We live two miles from the private airport where the events are held, and often have balloons (with a “fffffft”) or planes flying (with a “zzroommm”) low overhead. Until recently, the U.S. Thunderbirds and/or Canadian Snowbirds (“Oh, Canada!”) would absolutely thrill with their maneuvers and noise. This year we had an amazing, turn-on-a-dime, Raptor-22 fly close overhead. There is much more to see and do during this time, including the orange street signs all over indicating “Balloon Traffic” or “Balloon Parking.”

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Twenty years out from that time to this year, our little family of eight (two sons, a daughter-in-law, three grandkids, husband and me) had a 4th of July family reunion for three days and three nights. We went boating, swimming, made sand castles on a beach, watched balloons and planes and fireflies from our front yard, set off sparkly fireworks in our backyard each night, BBQed, ate and laughed, and laughed and ate. The only thing we didn’t get to was make smores, which causes me to wonder what I’m going to do with all those marshmallows and chocolate! Hmm. When the little ones left for their home, the remaining adults spent a day visiting some of Michigan’s fabulous, friendly, and very tasty wineries, and playing Dungeons and Dragons into the night. All that’s left is loads of laundry, putting away toys, taking out and storing table leaves, returning loaned baby equipment to neighbors, and a longing heart for more family time together.

 

IMG_3529 AA Beach   Balloon Parking 01

Summer Reflections — One Year Ago at this Time — England Trip

0105 London Eye 0107 Big Ben, Parlament, 2 police 0102 S&J Trafalgar Square      0101 Leeds Castle

One year ago at this time, my husband and I took a ten-day trip to England. We spent each night in London, but took several tours around southern England. It was my first trip abroad (not counting Canada or Mexico). Looking over my post trip posts from last summer, I didn’t include many things (how could I include it all?), nor did I show many photographs. I suppose it was still so fresh. So this post is a look back post, including some of the many photos from twelve months ago.

Overall, it was a grand experience. I was surprised that we had so much energy, ate so little, and did so much.  For food, we had one egg, a piece of toast and tea for breakfast; for lunch we split one regular-sized sandwich, grapes, and water; each evening meal (usually eaten after 7 p.m.) was a different cultural experience.

Our hotel only had 16 guest rooms and no lift (elevator). However, it was handily located just half a block from a tube station and a couple blocks from a church we wanted to attend. We climbed the 80+ steps each evening to our non-airconditioned room. Each night we sweat through our pillows and bedding, and several mornings (about 3 a.m.) I stood in my nightgown in the open doorway trying to catch some sort of breeze circulating through our room. We spent all ten nights in London at the same hotel. It was an interesting experience, above a restaurant and pub, and I’m glad for it, but next time we’ll choose a chain hotel…with a lift, if it’s more than three stories high. The sun came into our window at 4:44 each morning, and it only became dusk around 9:30 p.m.. This photo is taken with my back to the reception desk on the first floor landing (second floor in American-speak). The stairway became narrower and the walls whiter as we climbed. Also, the banister disappeared.

0113 Brompton a  Staircase in Hotel Bromton, London

We saw lots of historic places (e.g., castles, cathedrals, celtic grounds, oldest Bible, and the Magna Charta),  and saw first-hand dozens of places we’d seen on “Mystery” and “Masterpiece Theatre” over the years.

One thing which surprised me most about England (perhaps only London?) were the crowds. There were dozens of children tour groups over to the island for the day, and a variety of languages heard every day. Americans were easy to spot – all they had to do was open their mouths. (We American’s are embarrassingly loud.)

Museums in England are free. (Wow and hurrah!) We went to several. They are also packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people. London is not for the claustrophobic. People sat everywhere in the parks, on the ground, mostly. There were only a few benches. Dogs ran loose in Hyde Park, but they were well-mannered and their owners followed, wearing the dog leashes around their necks. Restaurants had tables close enough that you could easily rub elbows with the stranger next to you, unless you were seated at the same table, which meant you were even closer.

London is not for the claustrophobic.

When I commented to a tour guide how surprised I was to see the crowds, “not at all like they show on the BBC,” he informed me that they shoot all their city shots at 5 a.m. With the sun rising earlier than that in the mid-summer, it was easy to believe. We recently revisited a “Poirot” episode where he met someone in the National Museum in the Pantheon Room. Although I had to wait a long time to get this photo sans people, the BBC shot spanned the entire room with only one other person in the background. While we were there, about two hundred people were in the same space as the BBC scene. I felt like my beloved BBC had lied to me all these decades. Yes, yes, I know it’s historic fiction, and it’s a show, not reality. But why didn’t anyone say: CROWDED!

0117 British Parthanon Figures

I loved sitting on the steps of St. Peters and feeding the birds (Mary Poppins) or hanging out around the statue (and, man, are there a lot of statues in London) of Peter Pan. Pushing my cart at Platform 9 3/4 or time traveling (in the only blue police telephone box in the city) were definitely traveling highlights in London.

0408 Tardis 01 (2)   0401 Sandy to Hogwarts (2)

I was leery of the long flights over water. I was leery of public transportation. Both flights were noisy, and each had crying babies for six hours near us, but we actually didn’t mind; adrenaline, I guess. England tube system is amazing, and their trains, too! I never wanted to drive a car again.

We had one flex day. We were going to see the Tower of London at the tail end of one day, but decided to save it for “flex day.” I’m so glad we did. We spent the day there, and didn’t see everything there was to see. It also got way-way-way crowded!

Of all the places we had time to visit in our ten days, our favorite spot was Oxford. We went there for an hour as part of a tour of several places, and later took the train up for the day. Oxford was also crowded on the main streets, but one could escape the rushing students and tourists by wandering the very uneven cobblestone sidestreets to find certain historic locations, or walking Addison Walk on Magdalene College, or paying to visit one of the lesser known colleges. Yes, we went to Christ King College, where the dining room is for Hogwart’s school. Our minds and eyes and hearts were filled with many literary figures and authors. We walked the meadow where Louis Carroll saw his colleague’s daughter Alice play. We played Pooh Stick on a bridge over the Isis River (only called such through the town of Oxford); and I’m sure I saw Ratty and Toad slip into a hole in the bank. Dorothy L. Sayers, Lord Peter Whimsey, Inspector Moorse, Lewis, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien…I know I’m missing lots. But these all have influenced my life. Oxford was like a first oogle-eyed trip to Disneyland for the literary conscience.

We lifted a pint of bitter in a toast to Jack and Warren Lewis and Tolkien and the rest of the Inklings who met inside the Eagle and the Child Pub. Cheers!

0318 Oxford 2 -- outside the Inklings' meeting spot   0319 Oxford Inklings (2)

See you again sometime, sweet England.

Summer reflections – my mini triathlon

Today I did a mini triathlon. It started with a car oil change at a new location. I walked home from the place. Realized I’d dropped my driver’s license (Panic!)  somewhere when I pulled my iPhone from my pocket to mark how far I’d be walking, and put it back in, and pulled it back out. Got on my bicycle and (Hurray!) found my license in the parking lot of the new oil change place.

(An interesting side note sight of the day: two teens riding bikes in the street…while they both cell phones, looking down at them, and seemed to be texting. I wondered if they were texting each other.)

But I’ve only listed two of my triathlon sports: walking, then cycling. What could make my third event?

I’d considered swimming in the lake across the street, but that required too much work to change out of my clothes, into a swimsuit, out of a wet swimsuit, and back into clothes. Instead, I decided to mow our needy lawn. I’d only gotten the side and back yards done when dripping sweat stung my eyes too much to continue. Went back into the house where I had to change, anyway, out of my soaking shirt and underwear. I’d accidentally mowed down some wild shasta daisies, so got my reward from competing my walk-cycle-mow mini triathlon with some daisies sitting pretty in a vase on our table.

May you, too, have mini triathlons throughout your summer.

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Summer Reflections — An Early Summer Woodland-Bog Hike

Waterloo June W06     Waterloo June W04

My husband and I normally don’t hike in the summer. Too many bugs and too many people (who can bug us). But it had been a long time since we were woodlanders, so I packed us a lunch and we headed off ninety minutes from our home to Waterloo-Pickering State Park west of Ann Arbor, MI.

 

We stopped at the bird sanctuary, but didn’t see any birds. We passed the small cemetery, which we’ve explored before, with some gravestones in a wooded ravine away from the others on the hill. We ate lunch at Portage Lake, for the first time we didn’t freezing our tails off there. We drove the pleasant, winding, dirt backroads to the Gerald E Eddy Discovery Center, passing various trailheads we’d hiked before. We decided to take the short Bog Trail.

 Waterloo June W02    Waterloo June W03

The last time we were on the Bog Trail, there was a group of young boy scouts with a den mother. They were all in shorts and short-sleeves. The mom nearly begged us if we had any mosquito repellant. Amusing, considering the Boy Scout motto to be prepared. The pack used up our supply, but we’d already put some on ourselves before starting out.

 

Several observances on the trail this time. It was lovely green from all the rain we’d had. Yes, there were mosquitoes and gnats, but there was also a breeze now and again. And I keep my handkerchief in continuous motion around my shoulders, head and neck in bug country to discourage any landing parties.

 

They had put up new boardwalks for half of the walks. You could see the cross boards of the old one below, covered with moss.

 

The end of the trail was a boardwalk into the bog. It had been a couple or more years since we were last there. I shouldn’t have been surprised to see that the bog had grown up. Before we used to be able to look across it to the wooded hill beyond. Today, you have to know there’s a wooded hill way back over there and search for it between the tamrack trees and other bush growing seven foot tall around the walk.

 Waterloo June W07  Waterloo June W08

I also discovered a new flower. Over the years, we’ve hiked hundreds of miles, and I’ve never seen this particular flower before, with a two foot stem and brilliant upsidedown maroon bloom. At first I thought it was a pitcher plant flower, but DH pointed out that it wasn’t consistently coming from the plants. I decided to name it after us like all new scientific discoveries – a sanjef bogster. Back at the Discovery Center, we discovered it is indeed a pitcher plant flower. Surprisingly, although not quite since we don’t do many summer hikes, we’d never seen one of these before. But it will still be known to us forever as a sanjef bogster.

Summer Reflections — Early June Motorcycle Ride

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(Varying off my normal writing posts–probably because I’m in a writing funk at the moment–I’m starting a new series this summer of adventures, reflections, and everyday observations, even though I know it’s not officially summer yet. This first post sums up our motorcycle ride this morning.)

The cottonwood seeds are floating in the air, which make it necessary to keep my helmet shield all the way down. Getting one of those fluffy white things under the helmet would seriously tickle, I mean, distract, in a not too good way, for one must drive or even ride, defensively while on a motorcycle. And, yes, we always wear helmets.

We’re not in any motorcycle club, not even a “family” one, because DH works about 70 hours per week, many nights and every weekend (except vacation), so we only can take off when he is free for a couple of hours and when the weather says, “Why not?”

Today we were gone about two hours on our yellow Suzuki 650. Dear Hubby gets the wide made-for-butts driver’s seat, and I ride behind him, legs at a 90 degree angle and squished up against his spine on my flat seat, which is 9 1/2″ long by 8″ (near the driver’s seat back) narrowing to 6″ at my 6″ x 8″ seat back. Before I ride and when I get off, I always do leg exercises. Even so, I sometimes cramp up when we ride too long at one stretch. He’s been talking for years about getting a bigger bike with a real seat for me, but I’m the one who hems and haws about getting another one. I rather like our little bike.

An unexpected  nice thing about the past two times out is that he either reaches back to feel my leg or I catch him looking down at our shadows…to see if I’m still behind him! You see, I’ve lost some weight this spring, most specifically in the belly area, so my sweetie, who can’t always feel skinny me, is checking to see if I’m still there. :)

We rode east along the Kalamazoo River and discovered a park built by Endridge Company when they spilled thousands of gallons of oil into the river in 2011, the largest inland oil spill in the nation at that time. They created or enhanced about six small parks along the Kalamazoo in our area for good public relations. Sort of like what Rockefeller did for his PR after too many coal miners were dying in his mines. His advisors suggested he do a humanitarian project, like providing libraries for communities. So to replace all the death caused by the spill, instead of books, we get little parks next to our poisoned river. They say it’s clean, but just dig down 6″ into the river muck, and you’ll strike oil. At Paddler’s Park, we read a history sign that there used to be a dam at that point, forming a little lake. In the 1800’s, black bass and eel were four feet long. Fish in the river today are about five inches.

There are also a modern canoe-kayak ramps in these little parks. The picture illustration show a man in a wheelchair sliding over the bench and getting into his kayak before rolling down the ramp into the river. Questions: How did the wheelchair bound man get his kayak off his truck-car to the launch? What did he do with his wheelchair after he got onto the bench? Obviously, it takes more than the single person in the illustration…right?

 

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There are many small farms still in this area of the country. There are old barns, half-covered with vines, and new one, freshly painted or made from metal. The corn in the fields is about shin high. The old expression for a good crop of corn is “Knee high by the Fourth of July.” Barring any hail storms or drought, these family farm fields look like they will make it.

In June, besides the cottonwood seeds, there are also miles of roads covered with tunnels of maple, elm, and oak. We also were surprised to see two sand hill cranes still hanging about. One stretch of farm road had “Loose Stone,” which makes the road slippery for narrow-wheeled bikes; plus if you go the speed limit, stones can kick up and around and strike your back or helmet. Obviously, DH did a U-turn and we changed our route.

We rode west of town to small Roof Cemetery in Kalamazoo County. We often stop there. This time I wanted to explore the one corner we’d not walked before. We found several tombstones of people born before the Civil War, with names like Emmet, Patience, and Liza. A few stones had GAR markers with American flags flying with it. We were surprised to discover a few people who had made it into their 90’s, and there were the expected babies and young children under 7 years old also resting there. And then there was poor Frank who never died, but is still remembered with flowers. It was a reflective time for us.

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Big companies, river environment, family farms, and graves of those who died 150 years ago…maybe there are more reasons why we don’t ride in a club.

 

Write Alone, but Don’t be Lonely (the purpose of a critique group)

This past spring, I was at a book signing with several other authors. The woman beside me was part of the local Writer’s Guild and tried to get other authors to join. I asked if they did critiques with one another. Her eyes lit up and drifted off to the left and up before looking back down at me. “Having someone else read over your story first? What a wonderful idea!”

She is self-published, and was popular with the locals who came to the event, but as sweet as this woman was, I couldn’t get myself to buy one of her books  — without an editor or even other writers giving their imput before publication. I could be wrong. She might be one of those rare gems who is truly a word-wizard, and I missed my chance. I actually met an elderly woman once who caused my jaw to drop with her on-the-spot writings, but she wasn’t at all interested in getting published. How sad for the world.

For those of us who write and rewrite and delete and toss and revise, and revise a few more times, often doing all this before presenting anything to our critique groups, writing is a struggle. It’s time-consuming and hard work. I simply cannot imagine doing this all on my own. I need my critique group. I value their eyes and their thoughts. For me, I see five main reasons to participate in a critique group:

1. Someone other than your mother or spouse can look over the manuscript for plot structure or story arch or clarification.

2. They can point out where the characters work or don’t work, where the author has the character say or do something, but isn’t in that character’s voice or POV.

3. They can show where you’ve repeated a single word four times in two paragraphs, or have a convoluted sentence structure, or have told, not shown, etc.

4. Struggling alongside others, and each wanting to improve your writing, you can do group studies on various books of writing craft, or of books in your genre, and share the insights and promote discussions and then apply what you’ve gleaned to your own writing.

5. Critique groups keep you producing, month after month.

I’ve been in several critique groups, one for over a dozen years. I’ve also had beta readers checking word for word errors. And I’ve had editors who point out things which none of the others mentioned, and who strive to make my writing absolutely shine.

Writing is a lone business, but it doesn’t have to be lonely.

Writing When You Don’t Wanna

This week I signed up with Book-in-a-Week to force me to be accountable to others about writing on my WIP. Each writer sends a page-goal for the week, and then every night participants report how many pages they’ve written, culminating on Sunday night with the total pages for the week.  Sometimes, without others saying, “How’s the writing going?” I can be quite lazy or find about anything else to write about or think about or do than work on my WIP. Even though I’ve not met any fellow BIWers face-to-face, it’s still a nice push to hold me accountable to produce something this week, or make me feel guilty if I didn’t reach my goal.

Mind you, some writing days flow like warm, sweet honey, during which I can crank out 2,000 words in a day with no problems. And then there are other days (like today) when getting 250 words, or one page, completed is a struggle. It’s not like I’m stuck in a plot problem. It’s not like I don’t know where the novel is going or what’s going to happen. I just don’t wanna work on it.

I suppose writing is a lot like dieting. Instead of losing pounds, you’re trying to gain word count. Dieters may put signs on refrigerators or keep written track of every single calorie intake. Writers also may put signs up, like sticky notes on computer screens or at the breakfast table. We can also record every single word written in one day to mark the progress.

Whatever method works for you — having other writers give you a push, putting up reminders for, or anything else — just write! So quit reading this, and guess what you’re supposed to be doing now?

Writing AND Marketing — It’s All About Relationships

In fiction writing, character-driven stories are quite popular. These stories are about characters relating to other characters (as well as nature and self). All around you are characters from which to draw, each individual. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle based Sherlock on an actual professor he had. When neighbors of Samuel Clemens read Mark Twain, they laughed as they identified which characters were based on people in their own town where the author had lived. “The Big Bang Theory” was created from real people the writer knew in grad school.

So you don’t have to do a lot of making up of individuals from your own imagination. There are unique characters all around you. And they make for very interesting characters. However, you may want to change the identity to protect yourself. For instance, that mean neighbor who terrorizes the willy-nillies out of you? My,  how he’d make a lovely troll. That boss who accuses you of things you never did? She’d make a great character who whines and screeches and threatens, “I’m gonna tell the teacher.” The ordinary boy who did a small kind act, like stopping in the hallway to help you pick up your books? Oh, yeah. He’ll make a nice YA love interest.

Relationships for writers is more than just our characters. How could I continue writing another word without the encouragement of my critique group or other writers I’ve met over the years?

And now that I’m published and involved in the crazy world of marketing, I’m finding relationships continue, but in an entirely new area. I have multiple contacts and relationships with school and library visits. What a joy it is to work with these people who want the best for their people and believe I am the best for them.

I have multiple contacts and relationships with booksellers which have developed over the years. Just last week, I met an indy bookseller who has regularly reordered my books since the first one was published in spring of 2013. Even though her store is in a delightful touristy town, it’s still ninety minutes away from my home. In the past, she was always gone when I was there. This last week, meeting Pam Haferman face-to-face was a delightful and emotional experience and I left her store bouncing from cloud to cloud — a feeling which stayed with me all the way home.

So whether you’re experiencing potential characters, writing about characters, or working with others to make an event be superior, it’s all about relationships.

Bkst owner Pam H 'n Sandy 4-2015

Pam Haferman of Black River Books, South Haven, MI, and Sandy Carlson, April, 2014

TAXES (for and by writers) (You can do it!)

Two years ago I started my own publishing house because several writers I knew had done it and praised doing it. What they didn’t talk about was, well, lots of the pitfalls of owning your own business, but mostly no one spoke of…TAXES. (Da-da-daaaaah!)

Until last year, I’d never filed income tax in my life. Let me amend that:

Until I graduated from college, my daddy filed my income taxes; when I was single and teaching, I dumped all my tax info to a tax person who figured it all out for me; and when I got married, my husband filed our joint taxes. So it wasn’t until I was in my 60’s (!) that I filed taxes, by myself, for the first time ever, for my new writing business.

I have to admit that I dreaded the thought of doing taxes. I was terrified of it. What if I did something wrong? Would the government swoop down upon me and fine me for an error I missed or for something I forgot or for something didn’t understand? I mean, taxes on my earnings have been filed my entire life. It wasn’t like I was avoiding them (like some people nominated to political offices; oh, let’s not go there). I was just nervous about making a mistake. Yes, that’s true, but I was even more concerned that I was too stupid to figure out this government form which every American citizen needs to file, every year.

Guess what? I’m smart!

Even with all the record keeping necessary with running a business (buying and selling books, advertizing, traveling, etc.), filing taxes is more about time consumption than doing it wrong. With everything available on-line, tax time is good. Well, do-able. Just make sure you remember from year to year tiny details, like you want a Schedule C form for a small LLC business, not a Section C form for deporting aliens. It’s the tiny details which can confuse.

My tax filing suggestions for writers:

1) Keep accurate and records. I keep a monthly hand-written log of expenses and income and giveaways. I also have a zip-lock bag I keep for the year’s receipts — upon which I write what the purchase was for on the top of the slip before putting it into the bag.

2) Download the right tax form. :)

3) Don’t be afraid. Take a deep breath and focus on your task.

4) Read the line-by-line instructions, one section at a time.

Dialogue Writing Techniques

When I was in high school and college, I was involved in theatre. I was never pretty enough to be one of the leads. Not ugly, mind you, but not pretty, either. Plus I was quite shy. I did a lot of stage work, which my busy hands loved, but often got a bit part in the plays as well. Perhaps because I spent so much time behind the scenes, my biggest dream in high school was to write a play — a grand play, a play to be remembered. That dream has not been realized yet. But plays have mostly to do with dialogue. (Oh, okay, the stage hands have a lot to do with “setting the stage,” if you will–providing appropriate props, costumes, and sets. But let’s stick to the actor dialogue for now.)

For me, writing dialogue has never been a problem. There were the plays. But also, as a kid lying in bed at the dark of night, I used to have dialogues with people who weren’t there. You know. Coming up with that better comeback than I had during the day. Or imagining a conversation between a boy I liked and me.

One of the techniques I use today for dialogue:

Picture the face of your character. This could be done in your mind, or with a photo or magazine (what are those?) picture or an actual small figure. Decades ago, we used to play D&D, so I have over one hundred metal characters to pick from. You could also use stuffed animals. Think of the distinct characters in Winnie the Pooh. I have also pictured my characters as different animal with their traits. The large and strong, but silent and loyal elephant. The sneaky, gang-like dingo. The sparrow who is many, and argue like crazy.

Picture your characters and then put them together at a party, or going on a quest, going to algebra class together when the fire alarm goes off, etc. Even if your own story doesn’t have a scene like this. You can get to know who they are better in other situations. What are their reactions to events, to each other? What do they say?

I’ve also been known to talk into my iPhone. I put a space between the dialogue lines to distinguish the different characters, or adding the person’s name who’s being spoken to. I later cut and paste it into my story and add all the other stuff, like grammar and punctuation, like tag lines, like emotional reactions, like a view of the setting to keep the characters grounded. I also have carried a notebook and pen as I walk the house, physically writing out the dialogue or scenes. It’s that eye-hand movement and charges up to the brain thing.

Whatever technique you use, make your characters distinct.

Off to play with some D&D figures.