Thursday, September 30, 2010

Wanna' Go Back?

I'm knee-deep in some pretty intensive prep work for an upcoming pitch on my MG historical fiction novel, but at the same time I'm anxious to start the next project. It, too, will be historical fiction. Its characters are calling for attention, and I don't want to ignore them much longer! And so, torn between two eras, I took an unscheduled break and opened up Keeping Hearth & Home in Old Ohio, A Practical Primer for Daily Living (edited by Carol Padgett), that I found at the Half-Price Bookstore. (An aside, don't you love second-hand stores--books and, ahem, designer clothes?)

Anyway. The tips come from 19th-century cookbooks, household manuals, and periodicals. And what wise, whimsical, and in-today's-world-odd-sounding gems can be found in its pages. For example...

Developing Good Habits for Personal Appearance: Stock Your Toilet. "No matter how humble your room may be, there are eight things it should contain, namely: mirror, washstand, soap, towel, comb, hair-,nail-,and tooth-brushes. These are just as essential as your breakfast, before which you should make good use of them."

Setting Up Household: Sleeping Rooms."The best feathers for beds and pillows are feathers plucked from live birds. Chicken, goose, or duck feathers may be preserved and used by putting all the soft feathers together in a barrel as they are picked from the birds after scalding. Leave the barrel open to the sun and rain, covering it with an old screen to prevent the feathers from blowing about."

Appointing Your Kitchen: Match Safe. "Keep a stock of matches on a high, dry shelf in a covered earthen jar or tin box where they will be out of the way of children and safe from rats and mice. These animals are fond of phosphorus and will gnaw match heads if they can and often set them on fire."

Care of the Hands. "Always wear gloves when housekeeping, outdoors, sleeping. Sleeping in soft, white kid gloves, after rubbing mutton tallow on the hands, will keep them soft and white. Large mittens worn at night filled with wet bran or oatmeal keep the hands white, in spite of the disfiguring effects of housework."

Butter. "For making butter, strain unskimmed milk into a scalded churn, where the churning is done daily...In summer try to churn early in the morning, as fewer flies are swarming then."

And, finally, Remedies for Household Pests. "Mix a little powdered potash with meal and throw it into the rat holes and it will not fail to drive the rats away."

I could go on and on, but I hate to bore you. Besides, I want to dig a little deeper and find out more about "Developing the Mannerisms of a Lady,"and "Strengthening the Union." Just for fun.

And you? Any books you've read recently, just for the fun of it?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Toolbox Treasure

"I want to suggest that to write to your best abilities, it behooves you to construct your own toolbox and then build up enough muscle so you can carry it with you. Then, instead of looking at a hard job and getting discouraged, you will perhaps seize the correct tool and get immediately to work." --Stephen King

I've been slow in getting to Stephen King's classic On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft, but finally finished it yesterday. One impression that stayed with me is that of Uncle Oren's toolbox, a huge homemade box with leather straps. It contained construction and repair implements that stood the test of time. It also contained a surprise treasure at the bottom--a brass etching hidden away. Once discovered and valued, the etching was found to be of significant worth. Who would have thought?

From the carpenter's toolbox, King draws an analogy to a writer's toolbox, and the tools there that serve us well. His list includes: verbs (and few adverbs!)...elements of style (aka Strunk and White's The Elements of Style)...good description, dialogue, narrative...symbolism...theme.

Reading is also important. "Can I be blunt on the subject?" King writes. "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."

All these things are good. But as in any terrific story, the heart of the matter comes in the last few pages. Many know that King suffered a horrifying--and life-threatening--accident in 1999. At the time he was working on On Writing, and the manuscript was not yet complete. Just to read about his massive injuries and long months of therapy made me cringe. How can a person even think about writing, let alone finish a book, after suffering such a nightmare?

"I didn't want to go back to work," he writes. "I was in a lot of pain...(and) couldn't imagine sitting behind a desk for long...Yet I felt I'd reached one of those crossroads moments when you're all out of choices." Writing had helped before, he says. "Perhaps it would help me again."

And it did. He eventually found that writing continued to do what it always had done--make his life "a brighter and more pleasant place." He had found treasure at the bottom of the box.

He concludes by saying the book is not only about how he learned to write, and about how others can write better, but that with it he offers a permission slip. "You can (write)," he says, "you should, and if you're brave enough to start, you will."

Of course we don't really need permission, but encouragement sure helps. And that's the treasure I found in this little book. Persevere. Remember the joy. Go back to the basics. Continue to learn. Grow stronger from the struggle. I've enjoyed a great degree of encouragement on my journey--in my writer's group, at conferences, from family, and with the great community of writer/bloggers.

Yep, I've collected some super treasures in my toolbox. What favorite tools/treasures are in yours?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Open Eyes, Open Hearts

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the
greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. --Roald Dahl

stock photo: kllproject.en

A great secret, it turns out, was hidden in the plane's belly.

While riding the shuttle from long-term parking to the Northern KY/Cincinnati airport for a trip to California last week, we learned for the first time about the World Equestrian Games to be held in the next few days in Lexington, KY--a mere 75 miles away. "Horses," our shuttle driver said, "are being flown in from all over the world. The first fifty came in that." He pointed to a huge FedEx cargo plane on the tarmac that we could see from the curb.

Fifty horses in one plane. That's a lot. And more to come, over a thousand more (plus 800 riders)--and from 57 countries. That figure blew me away, too. The countries represented run through the entire alphabet at least twice--from Argentina and Azerbaijan to Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Mexico all the way through to Turkey, Ukraine, Uruguay, USA and Venezuela. The games will start this Saturday, Sept. 25, and run through October 10. It's the first time the WEG, held every four years, will be hosted outside of Europe. (You can find the story's coverage and original pictures at Lex18 News.)

I don't know about you, but it sounds like a pretty big deal to me. The world--represented by some of the most skilled horses and riding athletes--has come to our doorstep. For some reason, this amazes me, though I myself have had little experience with horses. (The time in college that I took horseback riding for a phys.ed. credit doesn't count. That experience will remain a secret--at least for now!)

Once we arrived in California, a stroller held secrets of another kind--baby Nicholas, four months old, tooling around the neighborhood with this doting grandma at the helm. I learned real quick that he was not content to just stroll, he wanted to see his little world. As long as he could see out, he was happy. But when a blanket was draped over the stroller's canopy to keep the sun out of his face, he changed his tune. He not only wanted to watch the world go by, he wanted to be a part of it.

One day his world will expand beyond the stroller to airplanes, too. Adventures will be embarked upon, surprises met, secrets revealed. Until then, I savor a specialness that should be no secret to anyone--babies are to be held, cuddled, cherished and loved. I'm so glad my plane took me to him. Our time spent together was precious--and too short.

Now I'm home, and I bring me with me a reminder: watch the world with glittering eyes, everywhere and at every chance. Take in as much as possible. Be open to surprises. Learn from the children. Yes, the greatest secrets are often hidden in the most unlikely places. 

What part of the wider world has opened up to you lately? Any recent surprises that you might even write about?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Storytelling Wisdom

"Literature was not born the day a boy crying "wolf, wolf" came running out of the Neanderthal valley with a big gray wolf at his heels: Literature was born on the day a boy came crying "wolf, wolf," and there was no wolf behind him." --Vladimir Nabokov

There are no wolves where I am this weekend (at least I hope not)--but I thought I'd take a moment to share this tidbit of wisdom as we consider the stories we'll be working on this upcoming week. Have a good one! 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

On Feet, Toes, and Theme

You can't tell any kind of story without having some kind of theme, something to say between the lines. --Robert Wise
It would seem that last week's theme over this way centered around feet and the piggies that go with them. Feet as in the little one who came for a visit and almost immediately shed her small pink crocs to dance, jump (a new skill to a two-year old), and prance barefoot on cool tile. Later Angelica helped apply nail polish to mommy's toes (clear base coat--important to know) before painting her own, and grandma's. But it wasn't enough, and the only others left in the room were grandpa and daddy. Ever see a man with shiny toenails? Hubby had some explaining to do at his physical the next morning.

A few days later, I got blisters on the bottom of my feet. Hard to understand when the sandals have been worn now for two summers. Ouch. And then there were those moments when I had to be careful not to step on toes (think 1 Corinthians 13 here), but that's another story.

Theme. Tying all this together made me think about the role "theme" plays in writing. Theme is not plot. Theme is not story, or character. A great definition comes from Irwin/Eyerly's Writing Young Adult Novels: "A little girl explained theme best when she said it is what you remember about a book after you have forgotten who the characters were and what they did." Jane Yolen, in Take Joy, says, "Some people call the theme the 'meaning' of the story. Some call it the 'subtext.' But then, some people call a basement a cellar, or a bunker, or a foundation...Whatever we call it, it still supports the house.

"It is," she adds, "an overarching idea that encompasses the entire story."

Overarching idea--like love, heroism, journey, coming of age, power, family, good and evil. Your theme will be there, whether you start with knowledge of it at the beginning of your work, or discover it as you go. You'll find it--between the lines.

As long as you stay on your feet!

How do you determine the theme of your story? Do you find it difficult to identify, or does it come easily?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Taking a Moment to Remember

There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief...and unspeakable love. --Washington Irving

Taking a moment this day...
a memorial moment
a remembering moment
a prayerful moment say we will not forget.

September 11, 2001

The following list links to tributes, photo galleries and lasting images of that tragic, heartbreaking day just nine short years ago:

The Washington Post Magazine: "This special issue is a meditation, in a few pictures and words, on what has happened to us all since the morning of 9-11. Many of the photographs are from The Post's prize-winning staff; the captions are by staff writer Tamara Jones. We have sought to step back from the events themselves, to capture the human face of the tragedy and its aftermath, and to produce a modest tribute to the living and the dead."

Christopher Casciano: "Look elsewhere for words. I have not yet found any that does what I saw justice."

Make History: "Make History is a collective telling of the events of 9/11 through the eyes of those who experienced it, both at the attack sites and around the world."

A Time Magazine Exclusive: "Shattered--A remarkable collection of photographs by photojournalist James Nachtwey."

World Statesmen. org: "September 11, 2001--In Honor of the Victims and the Heroes," including a timeline.

And a touching YouTube tribute posted by Sandra Heska King, "Words Then--and Now." It's one that will trigger the tears anew.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Blogger Awards

Blogging has been such fun these past few months--with challenges, learning curves, and amazing discoveries on writing that are only key strokes away. More than that, tho, is the fantastic writer's community to be found in the blogging world.

And surprises! One of which came the other day from Catherine at The Writing Room when she awarded me these:

And so to Catherine I say thanks! Your kindness is much appreciated.

I understand that a few rules come with the acceptance (although I also understand each awardee may tweak them as they see fit).
1. Thank and link back to the blogger who gave the award.
2. Share seven things about yourself.
3. Pass the award on to fifteen bloggers, newly discovered or those you've been following (I'll do ten).
4. Contact the bloggers that you selected for awards.

What I like about this is how the award provides links to new people and places, widening the circle. And so, without further ado, I pass the awards forward. Some have received these awards before, I know, but this is my way to express appreciation for the inspiration, encouragement, and fun that has come my way from meeting and sharing/reading about writing with them. And please note that this comes with said appreciation, and without requirements. So do with as you wish!

 1. Karen at Write Now
 2. Lindsey at The Write Words
 4. Sandra at Sandra Heska King
 5. K.M. Weiland at Word Play
 6. Jeannie Campbell at The Character Therapist
 8. T.Anne at White Platonic Dreams

As for seven things about myself:
1. I started out a journalism major in college but ended up graduating with a teaching degree.
2. The one movie in all my life that impacted me the most was Life is Beautiful.
3. In my BGM (before-getting-married) life, I worked part time in the Apiary Division of the Ohio Department of Agriculture processing beekeepers' registration forms. In my AGM life, I filled out those same forms for my hubby, the beekeeper, and mailed them in for someone else to process.
4. I love hummingbirds, goldfinches, and windy days. The latter may be because I met hubby in the Windy City?
5. Sometimes I think I am too windy. Need to write more/talk less.
6. I have both fantastic daughter (university Spanish instructor) and daughter-in-law (photographer)--each of whom are the world's greatest mothers to my 2 1/2 grandchildren (# 3 is due in December)--and of course fantastic son and son-in-law who are the world's greatest fathers to those same children.
7. I have visited 45 of the 50 states. My husband says maybe, possibly we'll make a trip to Hawaii in a year and half for our anniversary. I'd say that qualifies him for the world's greatest husband!

That about wraps it up...

Friday, September 3, 2010

On September, Skipping, and Suzie

How Many, How Much
How many slams in an old screen door?
Depends how loud you shut it.
How many slices in a bread?
Depends how thin you cut it.
How much good inside a day?
Depends how good you live 'em.
How much love inside a friend?
Depends how much you give 'em.
                          --Shel Silverstein

Just a bit of Mr. Silverstein's inspiration (Where the Sidewalk Ends, The Giving Tree, A Light In the Attic) to share before skipping off for the long Labor Day weekend. Hope you have more slices in your bread and less slams of the door as you go--and good inside the day, love inside a friend.

Oh, and real quick, an update on my Suzie story. After another vexing walk in which Suzie stopped a school bus, provoked drivers, and prompted me to commiserate with other walker friends having the same problem, I said a little prayer and approached Emily, the dog owner's wife (name changed to protect the innocent!). Turns out she was very frustrated herself--not only with the dog, but with her husband. "We argue about this every morning," she said. "I want to tie her up; he says just let her run." She was near tears. "And I'm going to be late for work again," she said as she went off to look for a rope.

How many slams in an old screen door? On my way home, I said another prayer--not only for a solution to the Suzie problem, but for the young couple's relationship, too.

And then today? No Suzie! What made the difference? Emily pulled up next to me on her way to work with happy news. "My husband finally listened," she said. "When I told him that the whole neighborhood goes crazy after we both leave for work, he agreed to tie Suzie up. Hope this helps." Off she went. Me? I skipped the rest of the way home.

How much good inside a day? Depends how good you live 'em. How much love inside a friend? Depends how much you give 'em.

Happy weekending to you--and happy writing, listening, communicating and loving in the new month ahead!