Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving

image: pixabay
"Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse." --Henry Van Dyke

Happy Thanksgiving to all!
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Thursday, November 17, 2016

Tale of Tables, Twists, and Thanksgiving

source: google images
"The fabric of history is often woven of surprising threads: the chance meeting, the extravagant whimsey of fate. No better illustration of this can be found than the string of events surrounding the table in Wilmer McLean's parlor upon which Ulysses S. Grant drew up the terms that brought the Civil War to a close." --Mary A. Benjamin

November is the month of tables--dinner tables, Thanksgiving tables, tables spread with a feast, baking project tables, maybe craft or gift-wrapping tables. Certainly this month of the ongoing NaNoWriMo challenge, computer tables (or desks) could be included.

Continuing the quest for more word count in honor of this month's NaNoWriMo, I've been reviewing old files in order to jump start ideas. A story in American Heritage magazine, dated April 1965, caught my attention. It's a story about how a special little table that would otherwise have been slated for obscurity now holds a place in American history all because of a chance meeting. Mary A. Benjamin wrote about it the issue's article, "Tale of a Table."

The main story revolves around the events of Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865 when General Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the Union army, met General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate forces, to compose and sign the terms of surrender ending the Civil War.

terms of surrender drawn up in McLean parlor
courtesy google images
The man who owned the house where the historic meeting took place there in Appomattox Court House, Virginia, was Wilmer McLean. Wilmer was no stranger to the war. At the war's onset he lived close to where the first major battle was fought--Bull Run, July 21, 1861. His house at the time was used as a hospital for the injured. He subsequently moved his family to Appomattox, seeking a quiet place "where the sound of battle would never reach them." By a twist of history four years later, it would be his house, his parlor, in which the meeting which ended the war would be held. That in itself is an amazing fact. But there's more.

McLean table given to Ord
Following the historic meeting, some wished to acquire mementos of the event and began offering McLean money for some of his furniture. One man, however, did not participate: General E.O.C. Ord. This man had a large family back home and didn't have any money to spare. Imagine his surprise then when McLean offered him one of the small tables as a gift. Why? McLean was described as a pacifist with Southern sympathies; Ord was on the Union side.

Ms. Benjamin digs into the back story by sharing from an Ord family biographical sketch. Written by Ord's granddaughter Lucy Ord Dunlop, a story is told of a young Confederate soldier, desperate with hunger and homesickness, who was said to have bolted for home and ended up stumbling into a Union army camp. "...He was grabbed by a sentinal," the granddaughter wrote, "and taken for questioning to the General. Shivering in rags, hungry and shaking from fatigue, the boy told the General that he did not know anything and did not want to find out anything...he was sick and just wanted to get home...The fierce looking General wanted so badly to get home! They were talking the same language. 'Get him a blanket, there!' he roared. 'Give him some food. See him through our lines and put him on his road home... (Oh) what a war to ruin boys like this! Good night, son, and don't come back.'"

The general? Edward Otho Cresap Ord. The boy? Wilmer McLean's son.

And so Wilmer McLean gave the table to Ord as a symbol of his gratitude. His thanksgiving. At a time when the nation and its families needed to start the long road to healing, one man forgave an offense, another reached out in a spirit of reconciliation and appreciation.

General Ord did insist on paying McLean for the table, giving him all that he had in his wallet, $40. In his lifetime, the table stood in the general's parlor, eventually being passed on by family to the Chicago Historical Society where it can be found today.

The image of a table is often used as a symbol for family. For home and shelter and place. But the table also represents a place of setting aside differences in order to grow closer to one another, to share, connect, forgive, appreciate. And to offer thanksgiving.

The humble table is surely underrated.

Hope the gatherings around your table this Thanksgiving season are blessed in many ways!
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Monday, October 31, 2016

Revisiting the Basics: Scene

courtesy google images
"The lack of a scene goal is the number-one reason plots stall. There's nothing for the protagonist to do to drive the plot forward. She doesn't want anything, isn't trying to stop anything, she's just living her day or performing random tasks that aren't leading to anything." --Janice Hardy, featured at jodyhedlund.blogspot.com

Well, it's that time again--National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, in which participants work to write a novel in the month of November to the tune of 50,000 words. While I'm not that ambitious this year, I do see it as an incentive to get back to a WIP that's been languishing for awhile. I'm determined to add word count this month as a personal tip of the hat to this month's challenge. We'll see how it goes!

As part of the process, I'm brushing up on novel-writing basics, starting with thoughts on scene:

1. "Scenes are the stepping stones and the chapter is the river, with the opposing shores being two different phases of your plot." --Deborah Halverson, Dear Editor

2. "Each scene has a structure, beginning, middle, end. This implies that something is happening." --Darcy Pattison, Scene 2: Elements of a Scene (Darcy ran an awesome 30-day series on scene a few years back. You can catch the entire series here.)

3. "Scenes are small time capsules. They are potent because they contain more than is openly revealed." --Mary Carroll Moore, "How Chapters Are Built"

4. "The shape of an effective scene is this: First, it orients us in time and place...(it) introduces a question we want answered... (it) finishes on some sort of slightly rising note: another question or a heightened emotion or a new complication or a change of situation--something to keep us reading into the next scene."--Nancy Kress, science fiction and fantasy author

5. "Think of a memorable scene as an inner tube designed to keep the larger work afloat." --Raymond Obstfeld, Novelist's Essential Guide to Crafting Scene

6. "Understand scene and you begin to understand the essence of plot." --Martha Alderson, Blockbuster Plots

Time to rev up the motors and get this story moving, starting with the scene I got bogged down on in the first place. It will take more than luck; it will require getting serious. Don't want to be like the protagonist described above by Ms. Hardy--or the lady in the picture sitting on the sidelines...

Where are you in your writing--moving at a fast clip or in a stall? Will NaNoWriMo give you an incentive to move forward? What are some of your best tips for writing scenes?

p.s. Want some great links for National Novel Writing Month? Check out these links:
Tips for Surviving the Agony and Ecstasy of NaNoWriMo, by Jenny Hansen
4 Visual Tricks for Writers Who Want to Rock NaNoWriMo, by Robin Rivera
15 Story Beats to Keep Your NaNoWriMo Novel on Track, by Heather Jackson
How Word Sprints Will Help You Win NaNoWriMo This Year, Writersedit.com

Enjoy!
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Friday, October 14, 2016

October Gatherings

October 2016
"I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers." --L.M. Montgomery

There is just something about October. I always thought September was a special month, but October days--especially for taking morning walks--has been simply beautiful this year. Getting out in the air, clearing cobwebs from the mind, gathering thoughts, collecting ideas and images, going forward a step at a time in both distance and in plotting the story...

October is my inspiration month this year!

Thus a gallery of a few images and quotes I gathered along the way:


"I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house. So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air." --Nathaniel Hawthorne


"Even if something is left undone, everyone must take time to sit still and watch the leaves turn." --Elizabeth Lawrence


"October gave a party, the leaves by hundreds came--
The Chestnuts, Oaks and Maples, and leaves of every name.
The Sunshine spread a carpet, and everything was grand,
Miss Weather led the dancing, Professor Wind the band." --George Cooper


"Anyone who thinks fallen leaves are dead has never watched them dancing on a windy day." --Shira Tamir


"Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting, and autumn a mosaic of them all." --Stanley Horowitz


"Autumn, the year's last, loveliest smile." --William Cullen

Hope October is bringing you smiles, too. What things are you gathering this month?
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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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