Be A Writing Example!

I’ve always been jealous of retired teachers who have taught in the same city for 30 to 40 years, and have former students come up to them, remembering them. We’ve moved around too much for that to have happened to me. But today there is the Internet. That changes the entire game. Or can.

A former student contacted me via Facebook. She asked if I was the Sandy Carlson who taught in her elementary school when she was in second grade. She was so impressed that I had a story published in Cricket Magazine that it inspired her to write. In high school, she finished her first novel. She has since finished college and has a job about 2000 miles from our school where we first met. And years ago, my husband and I moved about 1000 miles away from our school in a different direction.

Again, Yay for the Internet! And…boo for the Internet. Her message to me was buried for five years. (Shaking my bowed head in shame.) The good news is she is still interested in writing and still excited about her one particular book even after her one reject. 

I suggested some newbie-writer things to her, like attending a writers conference, joining a critique group, not fretting over a rejection, and then I asked if she wanted to exchange three chapters with me (as author equals), that I would be willing. She is. We will. 

I remember Moriah as an intelligent and observant child. I can’t wait to read her grownup chapters. Yay for the Internet. 

Advertisements

POWER – Imagined or Real

The solar eclipse happened yesterday afternoon here in Michigan. We were not in the total eclipse path, but we knew the sun would be partially covered. Knowing that it’s a bad thing to look directly at the sun at any time, when it started getting dark outside (not quite dusk-like; about fifteen minutes before the darkest it would get here), I decided to sit on our front porch to horizontally watch our neighborhood darken.

Earlier this summer, bees decided to build their hive under our porch. I’d often sat out on the bench, watching their busy goings to and fro. They’d never bothered me. But right at the height of the eclipse for our area, three of the little guys stung me.

This got me thinking about power. Actual or not, I figured the hive thought I was the one causing the disruption in their daylight. In other words, they assumed I, who was not normally that close to them for an extended period, had the power to block out the sun. It was imagined, an assumption. A misassumption, but one they acted upon. Then I felt their response in actual power, in their stings.

A gossip has the power to cause much damage with lies and assumptions. A result can be with actual power when people react to those lies and assumptions.

Think about your characters. What are their powers? Are they real or imagined? Is there a motivating stimulus and a character reaction? A villain and a hero? Bees and an innocent by-sitter? And where is the real power?

Shake Up Your Writing

We have all heard about mixing into our stories unexpected twists and cliff hangers (or “To Be Continued” as the Kdrama “W-Two Worlds” puts it).  Making a list of “What ifs” is another good writing-shaker exercise. I’m sure you know about these, and hope you continue to use them to push your reader further into your story. But by Shake Up Your Writing, I am not talking about any of these good things. I’m talking about turning ninety degrees from what you normally do, and go off on a designated writing tangent.

For instance…

Last spring, a friend invited me to a GoodReads writers group. They have monthly, themed short story contests. I don’t normally write short stories, but I like my friend. She was hosting the contest that month so thought I’d encourage her efforts by joining the group and writing a story for her. Anyone of the 140 members can vote each month. You just can’t vote for your own story. That first month I won first place.

Huh. Did I mention I don’t normally write short stories?

I’ve remained in the group even though I don’t participate each time. The result is that this fall, I will have three of my stories published in two different anthologies. I hadn’t thought about anthologies (or short stories) for a long time. In 2012, two of my short stories were published in an anthology put together by a former writing group (The Black Hills Writers Group). And about five years before that, a non-fiction article got published in another anthology. My WIPs are novels. The present one is a l-o-n-g series. So the DWT (designated writing tangent) of writing short stories has served me well. It has stretched my brain. It has been a lovely distraction so that now I am ready to get back to my poor wandering hero with his war unicorn.

Whether you try your hand at non-fiction, or picture books, or biography, shake up your writing! Then get back to work.

 

Just About All I Know About Poison Ivy

This is just about all I know about poison ivy:

  1. I can identify it easily and quickly, even from other similar 3-leafed plants.Samsung
  2. It really, really likes me, and seeks me out as a host, at least once a year.
  3. I’ve made up songs about the vegetation, and included it in stories, as well as taken many, many photos of it, here, there, and everywhere, in all seasons.
  4. I often get it from gardening in my yard. The sneaky stuff comes in from the neighbor’s wooded lot, or entwines around the base of a pretty but thorny rose bush, camouflages itself in the phlox and hostas and weeds, and even shows up in itty-bitty plants in our lawn. I know I’m in trouble when I tug at some easy-to-pull-out weeds and a poison ivy vine in my grasp acts like a sling shot and warps around my arm like a snake seeking warmth.
  5. I search the yard a few times each summer, scouting for the culprits. I then double-grocery bag my hands, put over my long-sleeved shirt, and gently pull the vine up best I can. Then I turn the bag inside out and throw it in my kitchen garbage, not the lawn waste can.
  6. I’ve never gotten a poison ivy rash by pulling up the plants.
  7. I’ve tried Poison Ivy Round Up, and must say that it does work, but I end up with dozens of brown circles in my  yard or in the untimely death of other plants in my various flower gardens. And then I’m afraid of the clean up. Is the oil still on the dead plant?
  8. I know it’s the poison ivy’s oil which is the culprit to my rashes.
  9. I have received its gift of rashes by putting on my camping hat after I placed it on the ground for a photo (a line of rash down my neck from the hat strap). I developed a rash on my knee in October – is no month safe? – DSC02248when I knelt in my jeans in a swamp for this nice-but-so-not-worth-it-in-the-end mushroom on rich green moss shot. I got it from a friendly dog who nosed my neck and right ear, where the rash broke out the next day. I even got it from gnats. Yep, those itty-bitty bugs in early spring. I was sitting in our backyard, loving the feel the of the sun on my face, when all these gnats started landing on me. I shooed them away and noticed there were many more hovering over a nearby poison ivy  plant. My face blossomed where the gnats had landed. A friend moved to South Dakota and found these pretty red plants in her yard, so picked them for the house. She didn’t know poison ivy leaves were red in both spring and fall.
  10. I’ve learned various ways to get rid of the oil, for instance, by immediately rubbing it off with paper towels, by pouring rubbing alcohol over infected skin, by washing with Dawn dish soap, or by rubbing honeysuckle blossoms over the area. I’ve discovered it I get the oil on my clothing, that I must wash them no less than three times in hot water. I also started laundering them in Dawn this year.
  11. If I don’t get medical help within a day of the rash breaking out, blisters start developing the following day…and the next…and the next. I break out with the itching-oozing love-marks all over my body, where I know there was no way the plant touched. One time, before I realized I had it, but just knew my neck itched (from another close-up nature photo shot). In the shower, I washed my neck with the washcloth. It felt SO good that I rubbed and rubbed and rubbed and ending up spreading the oil around in some not-socially-polite-places to scratch.
  12. Steroids are the only meds I’ve found to stop the rash from growing. Believe me, I’ve tried the lava soaps and straight Clorox and even scraping. Only steroids seem to work for me. That said, when I’m on steroids, I’m more hyper, shall we say, than my usual hyper. This past May when I got the rash, I stripped the wallpaper, patched the holes, and painted our bathroom – three times. This time of getting the rash, I’m starting vacation. You know, the kind where you relax, and just sit, or read, or do nothing? Oh, my poor, poor husband. My poor, poor husband!

A Writer’s Obsession(s)

Whether a writer or not, we all have our obsessions. Here are my top three:

  1. Striving to be a better writer
  2. Giving self-rewards
  3. Balancing writing with “real life”

The ways to strive to become a better writer is first of all read; read within the genre you write and read without. You may also watch; while watching shows, dissect plot or character inconsistences so you won’t. Watch Korean dramas (e.g., W – Two Worlds, or Goblin) to catch unexpected plot twists and characters who pull you out of this world and straight into theirs.

There are writers conferences, books, courses, webinars, writer support organizations (like SCBWI, RWA, NaNoWriMo, etc.), and critique groups. Go to them, join them. Learn, grow, read, make connections.

Of course, to become a better writer, the absolutely top thing to do is to write. A lot.

Giving self-rewards works for many writers. You may write to a word count or within a time frame or have a goal by a certain date. When you reach major goals (e.g., finished with first draft, or ready to send to agent, etc.), treat yourself to a rare and special treat for this milestone.

Balancing writing with “real life” is the trickiest. There may be obligatory events, which you do want to attend, but which take you away from writing, like with school or church or work. There may be children or aging relatives to attend to. Or when the grass climbs to knee-high, you run out of clean dishes to eat off of, or your editor returns your manuscript for edits the night before your vacation, saying she needs it back within the week (true story for me)…you need balance, and wisdom. Prioritize, but do not ignore the most important things to you. (For me, family trumps all, even writing.

Become a better writer. Reach for your goals. Balance your writing with real life.

“Thank you for being honest.”

I just returned from a shopping trip where I handed the clerk $20. I donated the coins change, but as I started out of the store, I realized I held a $20 bill in my hand.

I returned to the clerk serving the customer after me and said, “You gave me a $20 bill.” She looked confused, and then embarrassed. “I should have given you five.” She exchanged it and then said, “Thank you for being honest.”

It was my turn to feel embarrassed. She’d given me too much change. It wasn’t quite an unusual occurrence over my decades of shopping. But it got me thinking. I wondered why anyone should be thanked just for being honest? Shouldn’t honesty be the norm, the line below which ought to have repercussions and shame, the line above which ought to have respect and thanks?

I might have to wait another decade for the chance to “be honest” with another clerk, but as a writer, I can have my characters be honest – as the norm!

I see my books like society’s teeth braces, ever so slowly, over time, straightening out the line, the line of what should be normal. My characters go through difficult times and sometimes create trouble for themselves, but in the end, my good characters are better than the norm of good. (And my bad guys below that line, the farther down, the more interesting on my poor main characters.)

I know from my thousands of folk tales that other cultures honor and respect different virtues, like lies and trickery. In my fantasy or historical fiction worlds, goodness is expected. It’s the norm. Even so, there are some characters who prefer the lies and trickery, feeling that is the norm. For if my main characters didn’t have something to overcome, it would make for some awfully dull reading.

As far as the real world goes, all of us may make mistakes, like today’s clerk, but being honest is, and should be, the norm.

Thank you for listening/reading.

A Day in the Life of an Author

Yesterday, two days after Easter, I rose at 6 a.m. with hubby. Sunny day. Felt perky. Great day for writing. He went to doctor apt; me, grocery shopping for food, also bought some Easter candy 50% off, for company coming in two months.

Celebration waffle breakfast for hubby’s good report from doc. Besides, a hearty breakfast is good for getting your brain going and doing some creative writing.

Hubby off to work. Remembered my Sunday singing obligation, so went to basement, got my guitar, and set it out on the living room couch. Went to find the music.

Hubby returned home because the power went off at work; expected to be off all day. He needed to work from home, on our den computer, where I would write. His work this day entailed watching several video clips to choose the best one to use, and pacing the house as he thought, as well as writing away on the computer.

I hid in a corner and checked my email on the laptop. Replied to an email about a school visit next month. Yay.

Thought about writing again but the sun begged me to come out to play. Plus, my hubby was in too close proximity for me to write-think. And, well, it was sunny.

Trimmed and pruned two apple trees I planted after the storm of 2011. Hoping for apples this year instead of feeding the neighborhood bugs apple blossoms and leaves as in previous years.

Sat on the chair on the patio resting from my labors. Opened a bag of tiny jelly beans and nibbled on a handful. Thought about my writing WIP (work in progress).

Refreshed, I needed to complete my job. I gathered the cut branches and set up a deer fence to block the herd’s present route through our yard.

Went into house to make my second pot of green tea. Grabbed another handful of jelly beans (they’re so tiny) and looked at my guitar lounging on the couch.

Scrolled down FaceBook, replying to or liking several posts. Checked my email again, with the open bag of jelly beans next to me. Replied to my friend in Texas about her upcoming heart surgery, and sent a note of encouragement to a writing friend about her change in direction from writing novels to scripts for her church. And, replied to a prospective agent, requesting my first 50 pages of a new novel. Yay.

Thought more about writing. Checked a Goodreads writing contest. Last month I won first place. Yay.

Hubby passed by and asked if I wanted some healthy soup, but my tummy was full of beans. Drank more healthy green tea.

Still sunny out. Hubby still working in.

I opened a jar of super sticky gunk to put on pieces of cardboard to hang in my apple trees, intending to trap those tricky hungry insects. I am determined not let them get the better of my trees this year!

Carefully opened doors with my pinky fingers to get into house. Rubbed soap over my hands, but only succeeded in spreading the gunk. Rubbing alcohol? Didn’t work. Rags? Sort of got the bulk off. Then went about house rubbing gunk off from door and cabinet handles, faucets and containers, hoping I’d removed enough so hubby wouldn’t stick to the handles as he passed through.

Finished off the bag of tiny jelly beans.

Thought more about writing, but sticky gunk on keyboard = not such a good plan. Playing guitar not such a good idea, either.

Made healthy hamburger helper from scratch. Gunk wearing off my hands as I spread it around.

Went to an informative 2-hour meeting on the Food Bank serving an 8 county area.

Home to watch a few minutes of a K drama with Korean speech and English subtitles. It’s a very, very, very addicting show. It has great character and plot. Good writing research. Found some more half price Easter candy I was hiding. Hubby found me to watch a crime show together – where the good guys win! Yay. We like that.

Walked the house for 17 minutes before bed, thinking of all I did today…and knowing that the following day, with the forecast of cloudy and rain, and with power back at hubby’s work, it would be a great day for me to write.

Premonitions or Worry-Warts

I just read the true story of a Great Lakes crew member who walked off the docked Charles F. Price ore carrier in 1913 because of a feeling of dread. Five days later he was called on to identify the bodies of his shipmates who had drown when the ship sank.

My father-in-law was a Merchant Marine during WWII. He, too, had a premonition not to reboard his ship while serving in England. When he reported “late,” he was reassigned to another ship. His former ship got torpedoed.

Once in Yellowstone a fellow employee and I decided to take a hike when I suddenly froze at the trail head, refusing to step further. It was a “funny feeling” I had. An argument ensued because of my illogic…and then a landslide, right at the spot of the trail where we would have been had I not refused to go on.

Premonitions give me chills, but they’re feel-good chills, like that all creation is connected and that all is right in the world.

Then again, I tend to be a worry-wart. Therefore, I cling to the fact that 80% (or is it higher?) of what we worry about never comes to pass. And nobody, I mean, nobody, likes to listen to a worrywart. So is it only in hindsight that a worry which comes true becomes a premonition?

Fictional Star Wars (the original) repeated the phrase, “I have a bad feeling about this.” And getting characters into (and out of) trouble is what interesting reading is all about.

I occasionally write scenes in my books with premonitions. That’s fun to do because I know I’m foreshadowing events for my readers. Do your stories also have premonitions, or foreshadowing, or some other way to let the reader know of things to come?

Now…not to worry in real life, and just get on with things.

Plant Truth is Stranger Than Fiction

When I hear the expression “truth is stranger than fiction,” I usually think of either unusual people or events. Not plants. But besides making up flora and fauna for my stories, I’m always open to the unusual, in reality.

While in Arizona last January, I was gifted a group of unusual plants. My first thought upon seeing them was that of European sand snakes.

I encountered European sand snakes at the Buffalo New York Zoo. To me, they are the creepiest of all snakes. Not that I think all snakes are creepy, mind you. These particular European sand snakes blend in perfectly with the sandy-brown soil, and only have their top inch or two rising out of the dirt. Dozens of unblinking, glassy eyes would stare at me from bodiless forms plunged under the same-colored dirt so you couldn’t tell how long they were. Staring, staring, watching my every step past, turning together as though they were all connected under the soil to one body. Harry potter, go away!

I thought of European sand snakes when I saw these unusual plants because they were camouflaged the same color as the soil they were stuck in, and actually nearly the same dull brown color of a certain afore-mentioned reptile.

My second thought of my gift was that they looked like stemless mushrooms. I love the wide variety of shapes and colors of mushrooms found in Michigan woods. These plants are uniformed, rather flat and quite round.

However these plants are neither snakes nor mushrooms, I tell myself as I observe them. They are South African button cacti. Cacti without spikes, mind you, but they  do look a lot like buttons. Well named.

photo

My gifter told me they would bloom in March. He instructed me to put them in the sunshine “with no awning.” He has never been to Michigan. Awnings are used where there is sunshine. Michigan has very little of that. I placed my new cacti in a south-facing window of my kitchen where they get about four hours of daylight, if not sunlight, a day.

Mid-February I noticed they started splitting down their centers. Or perhaps because of all the sunshine (ahem) they were starting to blossom early?  I’ve seen many cacti flower and they are gorgeous and brightly colored. But my south African button plants merely split their tops right down their centers and then shed the top layer of membrane – just like a snake might do. Like, say, a European sand snake of the same color.

I’m holding out for an actual flower blossom instead of a split-and-shed-the-top-skin bloom. I could do the research and look it up. That’s the easy way out. That way takes away the wonder. I’ll just continue to observe and come to my own conclusions, for truth is stranger than fiction even in the plant world.

Marketing…Again

I have a book getting published in March. I just remembered that today. Oh, silly me. I was just so relieved that the editing and publication process is finally over and done with that I let my mind get all mushy about other things. (Although I have a right to blame some of that mush on being sick with a lingering cold. <cough, sniffle>)

powder-horn-of-mackinac-island-300dpi

I have spoken at two conferences about how to market and promote your book. I have pages of suggestions to fellow writers about what they can do in these areas. Now it’s time to remember what I should do and start marketing already. I should have started months before this.

Today I’ve been working on an overall strategy, my target areas,  a press release, and a few more specific ideas.

To add to my complications, I’m in the revision process of another book. I resisted, though, and only spent about 90 minutes this morning on a gotta-do-this-now bit of revision. I need to have an undivided mind. Marketing…marketing…marketing…again.

BTW, my March book is a mid-grade (4th grade) reader, a time travel with a paraplegic boy. It is family oriented with genealogy research tossed in the mix, and takes place on one of Michigan’s island gems. The Powder Horn of Mackinac Island will be available March 3.

On to do some marketing planning.

.