Monday, September 30, 2013

Hummingbird Magic and Inspiration

"The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid-air stands still." --Robert Frost

We're going to miss our little friend, the one that visited us so many times this summer and whom we could watch from our porch room window--a small green hummingbird that sipped from our Cardinal Climber vine that trains up the trellis below. We watched it hover and flit many a time and never got tired of watching it, especially when savoring the moment over a cup of tea. The fascinating creature only caused frustration when I tried to take its picture. After many attempts, this is the best snapshot we got.

But just like the season of summer is behind us and September now fades into memory, the hummingbird takes flight to warmer climates as fall's cooler temperatures beckon. But, because I want to carry the picture of the hummingbird with me for a little bit longer, I share some of its story here--mainly so I don't forget its magic.

Some facts about hummingbirds (from Yes I Know That):

  • The hummingbird is one of the smallest and most beautiful birds in the world, weighing only about 5 grams.
  • Hummingbirds can fly backwards, up and down, and sideways.
  • Some of their senses are so much stronger than humans, they can see farther and hear better than we can.
  • Their average life span is about 5 years but most die in their first year of life.
  • They can beat their wings from 10-100 times per SECOND according to their size, increasing to 200 beats per second when diving.
  • Their flying speed may reach 49 MPH.
  • Some smaller species can make their nests on leaves of trees.

Awsome little guys, huh?

Another site with interesting info' on our friends includes "Hummingbirds: The Birds that Kiss the Flowers" (squidoo), an article that shares legends,  a list of the best plants that will attract them, rescue stories, and hummingbird organizations. You also might have bought a Papyrus greeting card and noted their message printed on the back of their cards: "Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy and celebration. Hummingbirds open our eyes to the wonder of the world and inspire us to open our hearts to loved ones and friends. Like a hummingbird, we aspire to hover and to savor each moment as it passes, embrace all that life has to offer and to celebrate the joy of everyday. The hummingbird's delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life's sweetest creation." --Papyrus


Might we learn something from the hummingbird that we can apply to our writing--and to our everyday lives? Things like beauty, wonder, savoring moments, laughter? Maybe something about heart, courage, vision, and focused efforts? It's worth a thought, anyway.

Such musings will carry over with me until we meet again. Happy travels, little friend. Hope to see you next year!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Words of Wisdom from Robert Frost

photo courtesy of

"Talking is a hydrant in the yard and writing is a faucet upstairs in the house. Opening the first takes the pressure off the second." --Robert Frost

I came across this quote the other day, and it gave me pause. One of America's best loved poets, Robert Frost expressed in a colorful metaphor a concept I've found to be so true--if I talk too much about a writing project before getting it down on paper, the idea seems to lose power--and drizzle to a drip. Ah, what else, dear Robert, could you teach me (besides something about being a better poet??). Let's see...

"I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew.Writing a poem is discovering."

"Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down."

"The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get to the office." (Boy, isn't that the truth?)

"Forgive me my nonsense, as I also forgive the nonsense of those that think they talk sense."

"Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words."

"Pressed into service means pressed out of shape."

"The best way out is always through."

Just some food for thought as we continue on this week. Any of Robert's thoughts jump out at you? Do you find that your writing ideas lose their punch when you talk about them too soon?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

22 Rules to Phenomenal Storytelling, by Emma Coates

Maybe you've seen this graphic, maybe not: "22 Rules to Phenomenal Storytelling." In case you haven't, I thought I'd share since it's a visual that covers all kinds of great writing prompts and inspiration--and packs quite a writer's punch in a compact, artistically pleasing form. What do you think? Pretty cool, huh?

I first saw this in a post by Martina, over at Adventures in YA Publishing. Thanks, Martina!

Digging a little deeper, I found that this graphic was originally designed by storyboard artist Emma Coates when employed by Pixar. She wrote the rules herself, but says she learned the principles from senior colleagues while at Pixar. The beauty of it all is that the 22 Rules can also be purchased as a poster. What a neat idea. What better gift for a writer friend, or maybe even yourself? I know I've been inspired by it.

In fact, I've spent a bit of time this week looking over the 22 Rules from the viewpoint of my finished mss, now in the querying process, and my current WIP. What tips have I actually put into practice? Which ones do I understand better now than I did, say, two years ago? Which ones am I currently dealing with? Which ones do I plan to use as writing prompts or avenues of going deeper?

A few of my stats:
1. Those things I can say about my finished mss: #3, #8, #11, #14.

2. Those things I understand better than I did before: #1, #2, #16, #17, #19.

3. Those things I'm addressing in my current WIP: #5, #6, #7, #9, #12, #13, #21.

4. Those things I have made notes of and plan to experiment with: #10, #20, #22.

The poster provides quite a feast, wouldn't you say? Something from which we can take to fill our writer's toolbox, play with, contemplate.

Overall, I'd say my favorite is #11: "Putting it on PAPER lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, A PERFECT IDEA, you'll never share it with anyone."

Which, of course, speaks to the number one cardinal rule of a writer: WRITE.

All other advice simply branches out from that...

What points jump out at you? Anything you want to do, or do better? Which rule is your favorite?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Generations, History, and 90th Birthdays

Sandy, Mom, me, Grandma, Great-Grandma

"Every age has a keyhole to which its eye is pasted." --Mary McCarthy, On the Contrary

My mom turned 90 this week, and as we gathered to celebrate--son/son-in-law, daughter, grandchildren, great-grandchildren--we tried to peek through the keyhole of the past to what interesting history those 90 years carried with them. We pulled out photos taken through nine decades. We laughed over fashion styles. We wondered who looked like who then and now.

A favorite picture for the four generations present was this one of four generations past. At the time the photo was taken, my sister Sandy and I were two oldest of a number of great-grandchildren. Mom is the one in the futuristic (or retro depending on your point of view) sunglasses. Doesn't she look like fun?

Fun, however, is relative and not always the best choice of words when describing a long life. There are times of great pain and loss (including that of a beloved child, Sandy), disappointment, unfulfilled dreams. But there are also long-term values and legacies to pass on--things like commitment, dedication, the lighter moments (like fancy sunglasses), love, and hope.

A peek into the history of others is often full of those things, too.

For example, I've been reading a small little book entitled, Kiss the Children For Father, Letters from a Civil War Prisoner at Fort Pickens. Lucius Merritt was a confederate civilian held political prisoner in Pensacola, Florida during the Civil War. Family members in subsequent generations were not only able to save and pass down the letters he wrote during that time, but a descendent, Merrit Nickinson, compiled them for others to read. Talk about history! This book's a treasure.

In one letter, addressed to his wife and dated November 14, 1862, he wrote: "Dear Wife, It is hard for me to pourtray (sic) my feelings--when I saw you and our children fading away in the distance on the steamer Sykes we have been parted so little during our ten years marriage-that our separation is much more painful now. But Providence orders all things for the best and we can extract from adversity the essence of good."

"...extract from adversity the essence of good..." I haven't finished Kiss the Children yet, so it remains to be seen if Lucius carried that sentiment throughout the rest of his life, but I'm going to guess he did. A pretty special legacy to pass along to future generations, wouldn't you agree?

More thoughts on the subject of history:

"Professor Johnston often said that if you didn't know history, you didn't know anything. You were a leaf that didn't know it was part of a tree." --Michael Crichton, Timeline

"History is a novel for which the people is the author." --Alfred de Vigny

"History is a symphony of echoes heard and unheard. It is a poem with events as verses."--Charles Angoff

"Hope is the other side of history." --Marcia Cavell

And, for my mom and all the other beautiful ladies who've shared such loving and giving lives:

"History is herstory, too." --Author Unknown

Are you a history buff? Did you like history in school? Do you enjoy reading history, writing about it? Do you celebrate longevity, cherish and record the stories of those in your family who have passed through decades of history themselves?

p.s. we also threw a "card shower" for Mom. To date she has received 56 cards. Now that is fun!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

From a Kid's Eye View

The giggles of a five-year-old are infectious. And the things that tickle them tickle us. I can't help but share the latest, most favorite ticklers of the five-year-old in our family--which, in this case, are these two jokes:

"What did the boy octopus say to the girl octopus?"

"I want to hold your hand, hand, hand, hand, hand, hand, hand, hand."


"Why is 6 afraid of 7?"

"Because 7-8-9."

Can't you just hear the giggles?

Oh, and one of her (she's our oldest granddaughter btw) favorite stories? Well, Grandpa started it all by entertaining the kids with story after story. The made-up tales always started the same: "Once upon a time Angelica Bellica Boo and Grampsy Gramps (and of course Little A, Little Nick, and later Little C) decided to..." (fill in the blank)--and off they'd go on another adventure. In each story they did something different: explore the creek, climb a tree, go to the circus, eat Grampsy Gramp's chocolate bread. And as these kinds of stories were pretty predictable, the ending was always the same: "The End."

Well, the day came when Angelica Bellica Boo decided she wanted to tell a story. This is how it went. "Grandpa," she said, "I have a story to tell. Are you ready? 'Once upon a time. The End.'"

That's it. Six words. Six simple little words. But to a five-year old, six of the funniest words you ever heard. We loved how her own little joke tickled her.

Imagine our surprise then when we learned there is actually a book out there by that title. Once Upon a Time, The End, by Geoffrey Kloske. From BookList:

"'Is there a pea under your bed?/then what's your excuse?/Go to bed.' Reading at bedtime to his kid, who refuses to fall asleep, a desperate dad shortens the old stories, twists the nursery rhymes, and adds his own messages ('Why are you still awake?') in hilarious, short, fractured fairy tales and verse."

That's the gist of the book, but in our case the five-year old couldn't get past the title when we saw the book on the library shelf. "Once upon a time, the end?? We have to take this book to Grandpa!"

And so we did.

And the fun continues.

Writing books for children? Do you get a chance to get down on their level to see what makes them tick? Or giggle, as the case may be? It's good exercise!

Any kids tickle your funny bone lately?