National Parks Birthday – 100 Years Old Today! (Yellowstone National Park)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, U.S. NATIONAL PARK SERVICE!

I took Stu Patterfoot to visit Yellowstone National Park. This was the first US National Park, signed by an Act by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. The park is mostly within the state of Wyoming, but also covers parts of Idaho and Montana.

It displays many geothermal features, like Hot Springs and Old Faithful Geyser, which Stu is sitting in front of. Besides the unique land features, there is also an abundance of wildlife.

This park, particularly is near and dear to me because long ago, between college semesters, I spent a summer in the park. I was a cabin maid at Mammoth Hot Springs.  This was my first time seeing mountains up close, and took me nearly two weeks before I no longer felt like I was walking inside a picture. The entire summer was one wild adventure. Back then, there were a few times at work when my maid-partner and I waited inside a cleaned cabin to allow a bear or bear family to wander on past us before we deemed it safe enough to dash to the next cabin to clean.

Although I haven’t added geothermal features to any of my stories (yet), nor bison or many of the hundreds of unique experiences or near-misses I experienced that summer working in Yellowstone, all my adventures are stored with many of them sneaking into my characters’ adventures. I strongly encourage you all to get out and experience nature, over and over again. The National Park Service has over 400 “units” to explore. (https://www.nps.gov/index.htm) This is our country.

I’ll now return you to your regularly scheduled author writing posts. Keep on writing.

IMAG0003 IMAG0025 IMAG0059

National Parks Birthday – 100 This Month! (Devils Tower National Monument)

Here is Stu Patterfoot visiting Devils Tower National Monument in the Black Hills of Wyoming. You can see this unique rock formation rising dramatically from the prairie for miles as you approach it, growing larger and larger and larger.

Climbers have tackled this formation for a couple hundred years. Although during the month of June, most climbers honor the Native Indians and do not climb these 30 days for related Indian ceremonies and prayers. Stu didn’t get much past the crumbled base.

Using US National Parks for writer inspirations for settings has existed before there were even National Parks. Devils Tower was used as a backdrop for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” but visiting it after seeing the movie was a bit disappointing in that respect. Spoiler alert: FYI, you oldsters or old movie buffs, there are no aliens from other planets on the grounds. But I can’t guarantee the same if you look up.

BB Devil'sTower 04

Are You Still Writing?

At a wedding dinner this past weekend, someone at my table asked me: “Are you still writing?” I responded quickly and without thought: “Always.”

In actuality, the month of May was an unusual off-writing month, except for some revisions. I was busy with three trips and a wedding weekend (12 hours), and included the Anniversary-BBQ weekend. Yet, I am always writing, even when it’s not working with the words of the story. A couple of examples:

During the outside rehearsal time when I was not needed, I took a walk with a boyfriend of one of the bridesmaids. He grew up in the Philippines. I grew up outside. I pointed out a mint plant, crushed and tasted it, pointed out the square stem and told him a story involving mint where I nearly died. I told him history, too, but mostly when I spoke (there was a lot of silently enjoying nature), it was about the land…about flora and fauna. On that walk I was a teacher, a storyteller, a writer in disguise.

Last month I drew and thought a lot about a large-scale map of my fantasy world, including lands and peoples not even incorporated into my tales. I find it interesting how the landscape can “make” a people. People living in milder climate next to a sea are a different sort from those  who live in the mountains with their warm days spent gathering enough food for their long and cold days. Desert dwellers. River folk. Animal farmers. Crop farmers. Each set of people are different, with the land forming who the people are.  I didn’t do much revisions, nor any raw writing at all this past month, but I was working on it, thinking about it, drawing it. That’s writing, too.

There was also new people interactions, which is always handy references for characterizations.

Am I still writing? Always. How about you?

 

National Parks Birthday This Summer – Smoky Mountains Nat’l Park

Writing settings. What a glorious way to experience settings, and then be able to write about them, than by visiting our varied US National Parks.

Here is Stu the Rabbit in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The scenery is stunning with foggy (and clear) wooded mountains for as far as the eye can see, sprinkled with waterfalls and other vistas.

One thing to mind, if going here in the summer time, is that it can be crowded – crowded with both people and with mosquitoes. While in your car, it can be bumper to bumper through the park. While out hiking a trail, you could be covered with the bitty insects if you don’t keep moving and swishing your bandana about your head. But it is all truly worth it. I imagine anytime but summer is less crowded, except for the gorgeous fall.

Wherever you live, get out there and experience our National Parks. Be sure to take detailed notes of the landscape – the sights, the smells, the sounds, the feel – for possible settings in your own stories.

Keep on writing.

National Parks Birthday This Summer – Badlands, SD

The USA National Parks are great places to experience setting (for others besides just writers). Here is Stu the Rabbit in Badlands National Park in Western South Dakota.

Hiking the landscape is like walking on a solid rainbow – so many layers of vibrant colors, with little flora or fauna. However, mule deer, magpies, and rattle snakes are often seen within the park.

Once upon a time the government gave acres of this land to homesteaders who failed to raise crops except upon the occasional mesa. Even the Lakota avoided this area. The White River flowing through it is thick with (white) lime. Early frontierspeople tossed cactus leaves into a bucket which make much of the lime sink to the bottom, making it drinkable for their horses, but not humans.

The Badlands are beautiful, but not quite livable for humans.

 

Badlands 01

Little England. Big America.

It was only upon our return to the United States that I realized how big America is. I mean, I knew ahead of time that England was about the size of the state of Michigan, but everywhere I looked on our return was . The driver’s lanes here are wider. The sidewalks here are wider. Even the wastepaper baskets and toilets are bigger. In England, it was obvious who were Americans by their big (loud) voices. Yards, if they exist, are tiny.  Distances between major cities are shorter over there. Semi trucks are shorter in the UK, and even on the motorways for several days, I saw no doubles or scary triples like in the USA. And upon our return, I was surprised to notice how physically big Americans are. I guess my eyes had merely overlooked that fact before, or been adjusted to the sights. But coming home, it seemed that every store I entered, I found big people — big compared to thin Englanders. (Of course, you can find some skinny Americans, and you can find some plumb Brits.)

Therefore, it’s my casual observation that England is little and America is big.

Relating this information to writing…what is the feeling of your setting? Is it large and roomy or elbows-tucked-in small? How would your main character respond growing up in a roomy land v.s. a crowded one? Or feel visiting one the opposite type of setting?

Play with your characters. Play with your setting. Write, rewrite, tweek.

My Happy Place

“Go to your Happy Place!”

How often have we heard that during times of duress? Of course, my Always-Happy Place are the rare times when I’m together with my family. But those times put aside, let’s talk setting, place. Not your Happy Who, but your Happy Where.

Having lived in several states and maturing along the way, I find my Happy Place keeps changing. When I was a child, it was my grandparents’ farm in southern Ohio. Hearing the rooster in the morning. Smelling my grandmother’s cooking from the kitchen. Running and rolling on the tall-grassed hills. Swimming in the cow pond.

Today, my Happy Place is sitting in a warm cottage in the late fall, overlooking a lake through a glass wall in northern Michigan. While we lived in New York, it was either Niagara Falls on the Canadian side if we only had a day, or up to Algonquin Park if we had a week. Hear the swoosh of a kayak pushing through lily pads? In South Dakota, there were hundreds of spots in the Black Hills I could claim as my favorite place to be, most of which I didn’t know the names, so made up my own names for the hills or valleys or rocks. When I worked in Yellowstone, my Happy Place was a sulphur-emitting sink hole. (Alright. I was a teenager.)

My point is… I want you to think about the setting of your own Happy Place. Perhaps you have only one. That makes life simpler.

For this exercise, choose only one. Describe your Happy Place using your five senses.

When you’ve finished describing your own Happy Place, expand it out and think about your MC’s Happy Place. Do the same with his or her five senses.

Happy writing.

Happy New Year! (and a writing challenge)

I’m all about celebrations. It’s a day late, but Happy New Year! Yesterday was the first day of Advent, that is, the 4th Sunday leading up to Christmas. This is the Christian New Year. Happy New Year!

For centuries we westerners have lived with the Julian or Gregorian calendars, that most people forget this little fact of the celebration; and then, that the Christmas season actually starts on the 25th and goes to Epiphany, the time when the wise men (astrologers from Asia) came to find the King predicted in the stars. I state this fact in case any of you wonder why we are the last ones in the neighborhood to take down our tree and decorations. It’s tradition. Christian tradition. We also have Chinese take-out on Epiphany. (Get it?)

Of course, because the story of the birth of Christ includes lambs probably meant the birth was actually in the springtime (so say scholars). But then centuries ago, non-Christians all around celebrated the longest night of the year with light and fire, Christians popped up with the brilliant idea to celebrate the birth of the Light of the World during this same dark time. (All those lights on trees and houses at Christmas? Get it?)

People worldwide love festivals and celebrations. So why aren’t there more of them in our stories? How b-o-r-i-n-g to go through life without celebrations of reminders. Long ago people started festivals to help the illiterate to remember dates of the year.

Rural Ethiopians don’t have birthdays. Well, they are born, of course, but they don’t have annual reminders of that date, not unless they were born at a missionary hospital where records like that are kept. The older I get, the smarter I think Ethiopians are in this matter.

So my writing challenge to you readers is to center a scene or chapter around some sort of festival or celebration. You could even make up one. I give you permission. We Carlsons do that all the time. We’re all about partying.

Oh, and happy new year.

 

 

 

Exposed!

Literature Blogs

Today, I took a raking-break in and from our backyard. I sat on the swinging bench in the shade on our patio, looking north. The storm (tornado or 100 mph straight line winds) has changed our yard from 90% shade to 90% sun. Today I noticed our next door neighbor’s shed crushed beneath a tree. Before the storm, the shed was hidden by woods. Another strange thing is to see a neighbor’s blue tarped roof – so common a sight around here these days. The thing is, I never realized there was a house that close to us! Then, during my work break-pause, a ‘dart’ caught my eye. I looked out and realized I can now see and hear traffic on busy four-lane Columbia, three blocks away. Before the storm Columbia Avenue was also hidden from our yard by one hundred foot tall oaks.

I feel so exposed. Of course, getting dressed each morning in the living room, because that’s where our dressers are while our bedroom walls get replaced, doesn’t help.

With our trees gone, I no longer feel I am part of a quaint, forested neighborhood, but now part of a city. My eyes have city vision from our property v.s. the wooded park-like area we moved into seven years ago.

Okay. The good side to being exposed? (Think. Think. Brainstorm.)

First, I get to see my neighbors more – physically. It makes us more neighborly, I think, to have to eyeball one another.

Secondly, I get to see Baby Hawk, who is also exposed. The red-tail hawk couple built a nest in the tree across the street a couple of months ago. As the trees leafed-out in early May, I’d lost sight of the hawks, although I could occasionally hear them. Their tree survived the storm. The baby chick flaps to the top of a tree at the end of our driveway, and sits on the top dead branch for most of the day. Yes, it sits. I’m not sure it’s coordinated enough to call what it does as roosting.

Thirdly, when the hot air balloons come, like they do every 4th of July, and I hear the “fffft” overhead, I’ll be able to run out and see where the balloons are right away v.s. having to hunt for them through the leaves and branches like some grand puzzle search.

And fourthly, on clear nights, I can see constellations, entire constellations, instead of merely a star here and a star there.

So, how can I pull this back into writing? Setting. This post is definitely all about setting, and perhaps a bit about what a person’s (character’s) reaction is to her surroundings.

Where I Get Story Ideas

 Literature Blogs

I find bits of story ideas from history, from news, from something I did or heard or saw, and from nightmares or by daydreaming.

I wrote my first historic novel from a fascinating bit of news I heard which happened in 1873. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and what it must have been like to have gone through that event and in that setting. So I researched and wrote about it.

I’ve had nightmares and scary visions of the end times lately — of man destroying this world not by nuking it, but by greed, causing gushing oil to ruin the water world we live on. YIKES. Some things are too close to reality for me to write about! I’m very thankful that after 86 days BP finally found a solution which seems to have stopped the leak in the Gulf of Mexico. What the effect of all that oil damage is yet to be seen. (Even more daydreaming fodder.)

Yesterday, my husband and I drove through what we later found out was a thunderstorm watch. But I wasn’t watching. Mostly, I had my eyes closed! Instead of going 75 on the interstate, people who hadn’t pulled over (like my husband and a truck driver or two) were driving 40 mph in the sideways pelting rain, gripping onto the steering wheel which the wind threatened to take control of. Lots of interesting story ideas could come from that experience alone. However, I’ll share here on my writing blog a really fascinating thing I saw for the first time in my life. That is, to me it was fascinating, and therefore writing fodder.

We were heading west. As we came out from under the storm, although it was still raining, we hit sunlight and blue skies. My husband commented, “There’s got to be a rainbow somewhere.” I knew that in order to see a rainbow, you needed two things: sun and rain, and that the sun had to be at your back. Because of our van roof, my vision was very limited. I looked out my side rearview mirror and found my rainbow. It was following us. The rainbow was made in the spray shooting up from our tires turning on the wet road.

There are ideas all around each of us. Storytellers can’t help thinking, reflecting, weaving. It’s half of the fun of being a writer.