Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Sailors in the Vineyard, and a Wedding

by Silas Weir Mitchell

Up anchor! Up anchor!
Set sail and away!
The ventures of dreamland:
Are thine for a day.
Yo, heave ho!
Aloft and alow
Elf sailors are singing,
Yo, heave ho!
The breeze that is blowing 
So sturdily strong
Shall fill up thy sail
With the breath of a song...

We had a wedding over Memorial Day weekend and the launching site was beautiful.

The ventures of dreamland...
The celebration was held in a vineyard.

...are thine for a day
Guests witnessed the couple's vows.

Elf sailors are singing, yo, heave ho!
A host of attendants accompanied them--including great-grandchildren of the bride 
and great-nieces and nephews of the groom. Each one wore a sailor outfit. 
(The ones in the front are four of our five grandkids.)

The breeze that is blowing so sturdily strong...
Photo ops and toasts, sunshine and breezy blessings abounded.

...shall fill up thy sail with the breath of a song.
And many opportunities to savor the moment. What a memorable day!

And the poem Dreamland? It was written by one Silas Weir Mitchell in 1890. Mitchell (1829-1914) was a physician during the Civil War specializing in neurological diseases. He later embarked on a serious literary career at age 50, writing poetry and novels. Quite the varied careers, I'd say! And, interestingly enough, his namesake and descendent all these years later, Silas Weir Mitchell, is an actor, best known for his role in the television series Grimm (which, I confess, I've never watched). Wow, the history that flows through one simple poem.

Dreamland continues for several more stanzas and can be found here. But the concluding lines are:

Then up with the anchor!
Set sail and away!
The ventures of loveland
Are thine for a day.

Quite appropriate for the newlyweds, not only on the day of their wedding, but for the fact that they live in...Loveland, Ohio!

Oh, the coincidences.

The excitement is behind us now and word counts beckon. I'm setting my sails back in that direction. In what direction will you aim your sails in the days ahead?

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Ferries, History, and Imagining

Ohio River, early May 2015
"We should always be aware that what now lies in the past once lay in the future." --F. W. Maitland

It was a picture-perfect day and a perfect vantage point.

We didn't know where we were actually going when we headed across the river to a memorial service since we were traveling in an unfamiliar area. But once there, and after parking the car, this is the view we came upon. Whoa. We weren't expecting that.

The scene is the Ohio River, standing on the Kentucky side looking west; southern Ohio is to the right. And suddenly I was transported back 200 years. I was imagining the characters of my historical story in vivid color since the setting is the Ohio valley.

Anderson Ferry, Wikipedia Commons
Past and present mingled together--my story, the river, and a ferry in the 21st century that crosses at the same spot every day, and several times a day, as did the original one in the 19th century. Yes, we have a ferry that's been in operation since 1817, the Anderson Ferry. Its path cuts right across the middle of the above photo. (Sadly, I missed my chance to snap a picture in transit, but others have recorded spectacular ones, especially here.)

The Anderson Ferry is a Cincinnati icon and historical treasure. Today's ferry transports cars, motorcycles, and bicycles across the quarter-mile distance. 200 years ago we might have been talking about horses and pigs, wagons and carts, women in long dresses and bonnets. The trip takes about 15 minutes.  Of course we have bridges upriver and down but the drive to cross the river at those points is significantly longer. But this? This is convenient for people on the Ohio side to get to the Greater Cincinnati Airport, actually located in Kentucky, and people in Kentucky to get to the city of Cincinnati. It's also a quaint experience just to say you took the ferry. And it's so historical--adding layers to a writer's experience.

What lies in the past once lay in the future, as the quote says. The people of 1817 couldn't foresee 200 years ahead, but, wow, we can dip 200 years in the past. Jeannette Winterson says, "History is a string full of knots, the best you can do is admire it, and maybe tie it up a bit more. History is a hammock for swinging and a game for playing."

History is also a ferry, transporting us back and forth, past to present. I love it!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Wild Geese, Flying Feathers, and Story of the Week

April 2015
"Take any writer you want in the 19th century: they wrote with quill pens, dipping a piece of goose feather in ink and writing. And yet we read those novels today, and if we're sensitive to them, we respond to them with an immediacy that is stronger than anything written today on a word processor." --Walter Murch

I didn't write with a goose feather this week, but I did see geese feathers fly--and up too close for comfort. I raise the question: are wild geese really wild? The answer: ummm, can be (visit youtube for evidence). Thankfully, as it turns out, I didn't have to find out first hand.

It started out with this guy on the neighbor's roof. I was on my morning walk. The goose was trumpeting the neighborhood with his squawking as I approached. Interesting, I thought, though I've seen geese on roofs before (particularly on the barn next door, chronicled here). No big deal, really, but still I snapped a picture on my cell phone camera anyway.

Then came an answering call, and I looked up ahead and saw two additional geese strutting across the road. I heard a car approaching from behind me. Surely the two will take the hint and fly off?

Well, no. In fact they began heading my way. At this point I'm actually chuckling a little. 

But in seconds I begin to think maybe this isn't so funny. Not only did they come toward me, they made it clear they were agitated by MY presence.

I began to get a little nervous. "Go away!" I hissed (a sound not to be confused with their hissing).

They continued to advance. By this time I'm thinking maybe this isn't going to turn out so good. I backed up then turned away, hoping against hope they'd finally retreat. Then (oh, and btw, I'm not taking pictures at this point anymore), I heard the first goose--the scout on the neighbor's roof--squawk really really loud as it flew off. An ominous rustling sound, webbed feet on the ground and frantic wing action on the wind, ensued. I was sure I was a goner at the hands of three geese.

Just at that moment, I felt the wind rush over my head, and the three ascended and passed overhead almost near enough for me to touch them. At least that's how close it seemed. They flew a distance away AND THEN circled back over! Not once, not twice, but three times they did this, honking all the while. I mean, they really didn't want me there.

Finally they disappeared in the distance and I could breathe again.


Well, now I know: geese can exhibit aggressive territorial behavior, especially if their nest and young are near (wikipedia), and they have been known to charge and can inflict bruises with their beaks and wings (Living with Wildlife). Students were forced to take cover from an angry mother goose on the campus of the University of Warwick (Daily Mail), and employees at Hewlett-Packard, Boise, Idaho once got a memo titled "Boise Site Communication: Avoiding Geese Attacks" (Huffington Post).

So I count myself lucky to have gotten away unscathed. I think I'll choose a favorite 19th century novel to read--Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights comes to mind--and seek to regain my equilibrium.

While I have no plans to continue my WIP with a goose quill pen, I might find myself wishing to pluck a few feathers.

Any exciting stories from your week? What's your favorite 19th century novel?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Happy National Jelly Bean Day, Among Other Celebrations

fabric facsimile of 1950s jellybean dress
"Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen." --Willa Cather

Today, April 22, is National Earth Day which, along with its original intent in the environmental movement, is special over this way because hubby and I met on the very first Earth Day 1970, (ahem...) 45 years ago. April 22 is also National Girl Scout Leaders Day and National Administrative Professionals Day (source: National Day Calendar). Somewhere along the way I also saw where the month of April is not only National Poetry Month but "Distracted Driving Awareness Month."

But what I'm celebrating today is National Jelly Bean Day. (Check out the link for ideas on how to celebrate!)

Yes, Jelly Bean Day, April 22. Jelly beans can be celebrated anytime, of course, since it's like they bring their own party to town when you eat them, but it is nice they have their own day. For me however they carry special significance--and not just because they are a favorite candy. That fact was proved this past Easter season when I gave into the impulse to eat more than I should. Thankfully the stash is finally gone.

No, it's because I am transported back to the five-year-old-me whenever I eat them--and all because of a dress.

I can still visualize it. The top was a pale pink trimmed in black piping, pretty basic and plain. But it was the skirt that was special. Oh, the splash and array of those colorful jelly beans floating and skimming and swirling on the black background. Mom said it was all she could do to get me out of that dress as a kindergartner. She said she washed it out in the evenings so it would be ready for me to wear the next day...and the next...and the next. I wish the school picture that year captured the whole child and not just the typical portrait setting. For there it is, in this picture, sans the skirt. But the memory is forever in my head. Isn't it interesting the things we remember?

And speaking of interesting, in reading up on jelly beans I discovered that the confectionary actually came into play during the time setting of my WIP--the Civil War era. According to Jelly Belly's Origin of the Jelly Bean: "The exact origins of the jelly bean are lost in time, and only a part of its history is known. Most experts believe the soft center is a descendant of a mid-Eastern confection known as Turkish Delight that dates back to pre-Biblical times. The shell coating is an offspring of a process called panning, first invented in 17th century France to make Jordan Almonds for the Royal Court...Somehow the two processes made their way to America. The earliest known appearance of a jelly bean is a 1861 advertisement for William Schrafft of Boston that promoted the sending of jelly beans to soldiers in the Union Army during the Civil War."

Ah, will I use that tidbit of history in my story? Who knows--it hasn't made its way in yet. But it does pique my interest and I wonder... Is it a tempting idea because it could be integral to the story or because in my childhood I had a jelly-bean dress? Is it part of discovering my story, or because nostalgia drives the idea and I want to make it work?

Was Willa Cather right in saying most of a writer's basic material is acquired before the age of fifteen? Hmmm, something to think about.

Have you found any surprising tidbits lately that you are considering adding to your story? Are there any leftovers from your childhood that have find their way your pages? (Hopefully they don't include any stale jellybeans!) What is your favorite flavor of jellybean?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Clear the Deck: What Creativity is Not

photo courtesy
"Clear the decks (idiom): a.) to prepare for combat, as by removing all unnecessary gear;  b.) to prepare for some activity or work, as by getting rid of hindrances."--dictionary. com

Last time we talked about creativity, and what it is. I thought it'd be interesting to discuss what creativity is NOT. Creativity is not:

1. Fear of failure. "An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail." --Edwin Land

2. Fear of being wrong. "To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong." --Joseph Chilton Pierce

3. Self-consciousness. "Don't think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It's self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can't try to do things. You simply must do things." --Ray Bradbury

4. Negativity. "Negativity is the enemy of creativity." --David Lynch

5. Self-imposed limitations. "People put limitations on their creativity, believing they have to rely on what they know and what they have done." --Bertrand Piccard

6. Status quo. "Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun." --Mary Lou Cook

7. Routine. "Routine kills creative thought." --Scarlett Thomas

8. Lack of curiosity. "The creative person wants to be a know-it-all. He wants to know about all kinds of things--ancient history, nineteenth century mathematics, current manufacturing techniques, hog futures. Because he never knows when these ideas might come together to form a new idea. It may happen six minutes later, or six months, or six years. But he has faith that it will happen." --Carl Ally

I'm sure there are many other things that creativity is not, but for starters, let's clear the deck of fear, self-consciousness, negativity, limitations, lack of curiosity. There's too much to enjoy in writing to be bogged down with those kinds of hindrances!

What on the cluttered deck of your writing holds you back?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Up for Discussion: How Do You Define Creativity?

photo courtesy pixabay
"Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way." --Edward de Bono

Agree? Disagree? How would you define creativity?

Monday, March 30, 2015

Road Map to Plot: 13 Thoughts on Getting Where You're Going

photo courtesy pixabay
"Ay, now the plot thickens very much upon us."--George Villiers, The Rehearsal (drama, 1671)

Travel has certainly changed over the years. When we were first married, we found that the best resource for planning a road trip was the local AAA (American Automotive Association), a place where you could sit across the desk from an agent who would meticulously line out a flipchart map--famously remembered as the "triptik"--on which she would highlight the route with a yellow marker and even make note of the stretches where road construction might slow us down. In later years we made use of Of course now there's the GPS and even more recently, all you have to do is ask Siri.

But I still like to hold a printed map in my hands and watch for upcoming landmarks on paper as we putter down the road.

The process I go through for plotting a book is similar: I like a hands-on, up-close approach, seeking help from those who have gone before and from whom we can draw on expertise. Over the years, I've collected a number of definitions, explanations, and "mile-markers" that have helped map my process on the road to plot, starting with the basics:

1. Plot (n.)--"1. Also called storyline. the plan, scheme, or main story of a literary or dramatic work, as a play, novel, or short story; 2. a map or diagram."

2. "Traditional plot has this structure: 1. exposition (setting forth the beginning); 2. conflict (a complication that leads to a climax); 3. denouement (literally unknotting, the outcome of the conflict, the resolution)." --An Introduction to Literature

3. "The greatest gift the Greek dramatists bestowed upon humankind was this: ascending action, climax, denouement...In writing, it's the classical plot outline." --Steven Taylor Goldsberry, The Writer's Book of Wisdom 

4. "Plot is nothing more than the way you organize your story--the way you fit the puzzle pieces together to form a connected and coherent picture for the reader." --Nancy Lamb, The Art and Craft of Storytelling

5. "Essentially and most simply put, plot is what characters do to deal with the situation they are in. It is a logical sequence of events that grow from an initial incident that alters the status quo of the characters." --Elizabeth George, Write Away

6. "All fiction is about people, unless it's about rabbits pretending to be people. It's all essentially characters in action, which means characters moving through time and changes taking place, and that's what we call 'the plot.'" --Margaret Atwood

7. "Plot springs from character in conflict." --Martha Alderson, Blockbuster Plots

8. "Plot is the crucible in which character is formed." --Stephen Roxburgh, Editor

9. "What happens is the plot. Someone is the protagonist. The goal is what is known as the story question. And how he or she changes is what the story itself is actually about." --Lisa Cron, Wired for Story

10. "Plot is what happens in your story, and structure is the shape of that plot." --Laura Witcomb, Your First Novel

11. "Let us define plot. We have defined a story as a narrative of events arranged in their time-sequence. A plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality (cause and effect)...It it is in a story we say 'and then?' If it is in a plot we ask 'why?'" --E.M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel

12. "Cause and effect: that's what makes a plot." --Ansen Dibell, Plot

13. "A textbook definition of plot would be 'the sequence of narrative order.' Or, 'the sequence of events showing characters in action.' But in fact, when thinking about plot, it's best to remember what some British school children said when asked what writers they liked to read. Enid Blyton, they said--because 'there's always something going on.' Always something going on. In some ways plot boils down to those four words. Always something going on." --Jane Yolen, Take Joy

So to plot includes a plan, organization, action, sequence of events, outline, cause and effect, character in conflict, and a story in which there's always something going on.

Wow, that sounds like quite a trip. Are you ready to get your map together? What road signs along your route have helped you with your story's plot?