Thursday, September 29, 2016

Inclination and Connecting the Dots

courtesy google images
"No pen, no ink, no table, no room, no time, no quiet, no inclination." --James Joyce

The fourth quarter of the year is upon us (fourth? what happened to the other three??) and I'm determined to read this quote every day for the next three months. Simple words but very motivating. For the inclination (n: disposition or bent; something to which one is inclined) to write truly starts with something as basic as a pen. Add to that then a place, time, quiet...

And the dots begin to be connected, the story picture we have in our heads begins to be drawn. Inclination is fostered, not squelched.

Nothing new here, but reminders are always good!

What dots do you connect to actually get down to writing?
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Thursday, September 15, 2016

On Unicorns, Expecting the Unexpected, and the BMV


image courtesy pixabay
"Writing is a journey of discovery because until you start, you never know what will 
happen, and you can be surprised by what you do. Expect the unexpected. " --Mini Grey

Funny where you meet the unexpected. This time for me, it was at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles where I went to renew our car tags. It's a place where you wait in line and hope this won't take too long since you have a bunch of other errands to run. You might pause long enough to notice some of the characters...I mean, people...around you and ponder if maybe they'd someday show up in one form or another in your stories. But really, you're just enduring it all until you're out of there.

But this time there was a new element introduced to help pass the time: an electronic slide-show on the screen behind the desk. Not much of note until this line came up: "The national animal of Scotland is the unicorn."

I'm not sure what I expected when I walked into the BMV, but I know I didn't expect that!

And as so happens when we start at one unexpected place, we end up at another...

For example, I never gave much thought to unicorns before other than they were some sort of mythical creature and part of my daughter's My Little Pony collection when she was small. But I found myself wondering why Scotland would name the unicorn its national animal. Research (including here), showed how much of the the unicorn's story is woven through centuries of history, mythology, religion, and heraldry. And so, Scotland's unicorn first shows up in the country's coat of arms as far back as the 12th century. And before that--who really knows where the unicorn came from? The figment of someone's imagination?  The misinterpretations of carvings early on, as some say, that depicted bulls and goats from a side-view showing only one horn? Marco Polo's confusion over the rhinoceros?  Certainly the unicorn's story is woven into symbolism and fantasy. Oh, as Dr. Seuss says, the places we'll go!

And then there's the subject of national animals themselves. Did you know that most countries have one? Ours here in the United States is the American bison. Interestingly, the national animal of Belarus is the European bison. Other countries' designated animals include Australia's kangaroo, Peru's vicuna, Greece's phoenix, Mauritius' dodo bird, to name a few (more here). Each one carries its own interesting story.

All of this also took me on a hunt for a quote and thus the above selection by Mini Grey. Maybe you're familiar with Ms. Grey's work, but this search introduced me to her--and I'm so glad for the discovery. For she is an award-winning children's book author and illustrator, noted particularly for The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon, The Pea and the Princess, and the Traction Man series. She is from Wales (neighbor to Scotland!) whose country's national animal is the Welsh dragon--fiery red--dating back to 1485. And beyond learning all of this (unexpectedly) about her, I had to chuckle at the source of her name. She goes by the nickname 'Mini' because, as she says on her website, she was born in the front-seat of a mini-car. Talk about the unexpected!

Stories, stories everywhere. Waiting to be plucked out of the air, or at the BMV as the case may be. What unexpecteds have come your way recently?
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Saturday, August 13, 2016

At the Lake, with Quotes

Lake Cumberland 2016
"The enormous lake stretched flat and smooth and white all the way to the edge of the gray sky. Wagon tracks went away across it, so far that you could not see where they went; they ended in nothing at all." --Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie, Chapter One

Well, our recent journey was not in the winter as was Laura's nor to Minnesota, and yet our tracks did take us to a lake that stretched far and to a destination that offered new and memorable experiences: Kentucky's Lake Cumberland. This is where we went for a 'mini-vacation,' kids and grandkids all in tow. We did most of those things you do when you go to a lake--fishing, boating, swimming, hiking--but mostly it was all about good family time and beautiful sights and sounds. Sharing favorite snapshots along with accompanying quotes. Hope they brighten your day as the trip did ours.


"Instructions for living a life: Pay Attention. Be Astonished. Tell about it." 
--Mary Oliver, from her poem 'Sometimes' 


" 'Now shall I walk or shall I ride?'
   'Ride,' Pleasure said;
   'Walk,' Joy replied." 
--W.H. Davies, Welch poet


"The sky is the daily bread of the eyes." 
--Ralph Waldo Emerson


"The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, 
somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. 
Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be." 
--Anne Frank


"Never be afraid to sit awhile and think." 
--Lorraine Hansberry, playwright

Where is your favorite place to sit awhile and think?
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Saturday, July 23, 2016

What's In Your Picnic Basket?

photo courtesy google images
"For a slightly different approach, or for a Victorian picnic, you might refer to Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, in which she lists 'Things not to be forgotten at a picnic.' Our idea of essentials is somewhat different from Mrs. Beeton's in 1859..." --DeeDee Stovel, Picnics with 29 Seasonal Menus (Story Books 2001)

When perusing Ms. Stovel's cookbook recently--one of many cookbooks on my shelf that have in the past few years only gathered dust (!)--I came across this gem of the past. Ms. Stovel continues to quote old-time Mrs. Beeton:

"A stick of horseradish, a bottle of mint-sauce well corked, a bottle of salad dressing, a bottle of vinegar, made mustard, pepper, salt, good oil, and pounded sugar. If it can be managed, take a little ice. It is scarcely necessary to say that plates, tumblers, wine-glasses, knives, forks, and spoons must not be forgotten; as also teacups and saucers, 3 or 4 teapots, some lump sugar, and milk, if this last-named article cannot be obtained in the neighborhood. Take 3 corkscrews."

Ah, glimpses of life in the past. Interesting selection, wouldn't you say? A stick of horseradish? Mint-sauce? Where are the strawberries and watermelon? The potato salad and baked beans? Maybe some chocolate chip cookies?

All on paper plates of course.

So this glimpse into the past begs the question: what's in your picnic basket? How many teapots do you pack? And how many corkscrews?

Hope you're enjoying the summer. It sure is flying by fast!
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Monday, July 18, 2016

Voices of Our Pasts That Show Up in Stories

photo courtesy of Firefly Experience
"If you don't know what voice is, it's tough to define, but here's my definition: 'A writer with voice has the ability to illuminate the ordinary.'"--Kim T. Griswell, Boyds Mills Press Senior Editor

I've been thinking lately of summer nights--those nights as a child when we visited my uncle's place and played with cousins in the darkened backyard. There were the lightning bugs we raced to collect in mason jars, the games of hide-and-seek behind trees at the edge of the woods. "Ollie-ollie-in-free. Come out, come out where ever you are!"

Besides my cousins, I see grandparents and parents chatting away the evening in lawn chairs. I see the home I grew up in and how it eventually expanded from a four-room cottage to a four-bedroom sprawl. I see brothers when they were little, my sister and the room we shared.

History of Reynoldsburg
Some of this comes back as I go through a treasure that was just recently passed down to me--History of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, a compiled history of the town in which I grew up, written by a home-town gal Cornelia Parkinson. The book was originally a gift for my dad who had a stake in the history of the town based on his work with the school district. And now, with the responsibility of sorting through our parents' things falling upon my brother, he has passed it on to me.

And my, what treasures I find between its pages. For example, I didn't know that in the late 1800s (certainly way before my time!), a prestigious horse breeding farm existed just two backyards away from mine. And then there's a picture of a young and beautiful Miss Berry, my first grade teacher in 1955, when she was a beginning teacher in 1939! There are also previously unknown facts about the first Civic Club, formed in 1922, that not only established the first kindergarten in town but also the local library--both institutions I benefited from some thirty-plus years later. Club members even furnished the first teachers' lounge. Many years later, my junior high home economics class helped redecorate the teachers' lounge of its era.

Oh, so many memories, so many faces that march by in the mind. Long-forgotten voices speak.

Newbery Award winner Lois Lowry once said, "I wanted to say something about listening because...each of us has our own voice, and it is not only our own voice but it is made up of all the voices we've heard and been influenced by all our lives. For most of us these will be family voices or people to whom we are, or were once, married. I can hear these other voices in all my books.

"They're not consciously put in by me, but they come forward in various ways. I can hear the voice of my grandmother. Just sitting over there, a few minutes ago, I suddenly thought of her and the place in one of my books where she appears. And the voice of my older sister: a voice, long, long still from a premature death, that has become part of my own voice.

"The absence of my father has become part of my voice. He was a real Army officer who spent years of World War II in the Pacific. I find that that I have wonderful fathers in my books, and I think that's because my own wonderful father was a long time coming back to me. All of those things combine in your subconscious and are part of the voice that will emerge from you."

And so a book highlighting my hometown is helping me listen for voices that might whisper to me as I write my books. Home. Family. Faces. Memories. The life of a writer, although often spent alone in thoughts and words, is never lonely, is it? The voices of our past keep us company and revisit us in our stories.

I'm enjoying the process. Are you? What voices of your past have influenced your writing? Do they come to you easily, or do you have to sit quietly and listen for them?
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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Scattering Summer Smiles

June 2016
What sunshine is to flowers, smiles are to humanity. these are but trifles, to be sure; but scattered along life's pathway, the good they do is inconceivable." --Joseph Addison

It's the smiles on the faces that stand out to me after a busy month of June...

Our church hosted first a festival then a children's week-long day camp. There were rides, game booths, hamburgers and hotdogs, live bands, and a guy on stilts at the festival. Games and dance, songs and crafts, creative ways to share stories and lessons filled the camp. But overall, what impressions lingered? The memories of beautiful faces and big smiles.

Antonia, Ne'veah, Adam, and Anthony. Erin, Luke, Elana, and Michael. Nicholas, Andy, Gia, and Lily. Beaming faces of those I know and of those whose names now escape me. Fifty kids at last count, including a couple of grandkids--and their new-found friends. The welcoming, the inclusion, the team work, the enthusiasm--all stand out. A microcosm of what we'd like the world to be.

Can we build on this in families, friendships, community? In stories we write, in our books? Not ignoring or sweeping away the realities of the harshness of life, of course, but offering hope and a sense of caring? Can it all start with something so simple as a smile?

It seems like it's possible, especially when you read the evidence. Some examples:

The Day I Learned the Value of a Smile, by Maya Angelou.

Have We Forgotten the Value of the Smile?, Lynn Morrison

Researchers Measure the Value of a Smile, provided by Bangor University

The Value of a Smile, GetMotivated.

What has been your experiences with smiles? Does a smile--yours offered or one received--make a difference? What stands out to you in your summer so far?

Cheers to all. Here's to going forward on our writing goals as the summer marches on--hopefully with a smile.

But I think perhaps without the stilts?
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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

On Rainbows and Inspiration to Get the Job Done


May 10, 2016
"I really love writing, but I am very easily distracted: my two cats fighting, a rainbow, a TV show...
I have to use every trick to keep myself at the computer." --K.A. Applegate, author of the 2013 Newbery Award-winning The One and Only Ivan

Awesome. That's all I can say: awesome. While we rarely see one rainbow, in this past month of May we saw two. (Well, technically three since the first was a double). Awesome is often an overused word, but the images took the breath away both times. Where's the camera?!
May29, 2016
Like Ms. Applegate in the above quote, I may be easily distracted when I'm supposed to be writing. I may not always focus where I should focus. But I believe I'll always be in awe of rainbows. Super inspirational in my opinion...

Speaking of inspiration, here are a few links to articles, along with tips, that can help us stay focused on our writing (and stay at that computer!). I know they've helped me get back on track since the recently fantastic--but intensive--April A-Z Challenge 2016:

From 7 Tips to Write More with Less Will Power, by Joe Bunting: Make a plan.

From Write That First Draft, Six Ways to Generate Material for Your Book, by Lisa Tener: Make a schedule--an appointment--with yourself (and keep it!).

Recovering the Joy in Writing, Barbara O'Neal: Rekindle the wonder (think rainbows here).

Barbara Kingsolver: How I Write, by Noah Charney: Stay eager.

Can you identify with Ms. Kingsolver when she says (from above article): "My morning begins with trying not to get up before the sun rises. But when I do, it's because my head is too full of words, and I just need to get to my desk and start dumping them into a file. I always wake with sentences pouring into my head...It's a funny thing: people often ask how I discipline myself to write. I can't begin to understand the question. For me, the discipline is turning off the computer and leaving my desk to do something else."

Or do you see yourself in this quote from Psychology Today's article, Procrastination: Ten Things to Know, by Hara Estroff Marano: "Procrastinators actively look for distractions, particularly ones that don't take a lot of commitment on their part. Checking e-mail is almost perfect for this purpose. They distract themselves as a way of regulating their emotions such as fear of failure."

Or, continuing from same article: "Procrastinators tell lies to themselves. Such as, 'I'll feel more like doing this tomorrow.' Or 'I work best under pressure.' But in fact they do not get the urge the next day or work best under pressure...Another big lie procrastinators indulge in is that time pressure makes them more creative. Unfortunately they do not turn out to be more creative; they only feel that way. They squander their resources."

What's the better choice: distractions and procrastination, or finding ways to stay at the computer? I have one more example of inspiration: my friend, Peggy Harkins, author of children's and YA fantasy. Peggy and I met a number of years ago at an SCBWI regional conference. She emailed me last week to share in her rainbow: all of her hard work has paid off and she now officially has an agent! I'm celebrating with her--and hope you do, too. It's been a long road to this point but, along with finding her own set of tips to stay at the computer, she has another strength: perseverance. Congratulations, Peggy! (Peggy doesn't have a blog at this time, but we expect to hear more about her in the future :-)

What tips can you share in the fight against distractions? Do you struggle with procrastination on your writing journey?
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