Write on Wednesday: Make Me Care – August 14, 2018

I learn in small increments. If I can come away with a few new things from an hour long talk, I am happy.  This  virtual classroom Ted talk, by Andrew Stanton, is terrific. Not too long, not too short, but with some compelling suggestions for writing our stories.

Here are my take aways:

Make the Reader Care:

  1. When you tell a story, build in anticipation.
  2. Make the reader want to know what will happen next.
  3. Honest conflicts create doubt in what the outcome might be and make the reader wonder how the story will end.

The Secret Sauce:

  1. The best stories invoke wonder.
  2. A strong theme is always running through a well told story.

Use What You Know:

  1. Capture a truth from your own experience.

Storytelling has guidelines but no hard and fast rules. When you do it right, wonder happens.

 

 

Six on Saturday – Dog Days of Summer -August 11, 2018

Hot and humid  dog days here. Typical Eastern Shore summer weather. Occasional thunder storms may bring rain or just spectacular lightening in the night sky.  The garden work never ends. A load of mulching chips is now in the driveway. We will start moving it a few loads at a time in the cool of the mornings. It’s hard to believe that September is just around the corner.

Here are my six on Saturday, a meme started by The Propogator, a UK gardener. This is the link to the rules if you’d like to join in.

  1. Naked ladies (Belladonna Amaryllis) – I can never remember where this clump of bulbs is, but in August they appear and bloom. This year I found a stray one and moved it to its sisters. Google tells me that there is foliage that disappears before the flowers appear, but I don’t remember seeing that. I’ll put some flags by this clump so I can plant something low around them to hide the stems. These ladies do look undressed.

IMG_7018

2. I saved some seeds from zinnias in a Community Garden bed (not mine) last fall. This is my reward.

IMG_7048

3. The liriope (Liriope muscari) is beginning to bloom although it is becoming something of a nuisance as seedlings are appearing in the gravel drive.

IMG_7024

4. Tomatoes continue in my Community Garden bed. When I picked this morning I realized the strange yellow/white tomatoes were from the Shah plants I started. I tasted one and wasn’t seduced. I’ll throw them into the sauce pot but I wouldn’t can a kettle of just white tomatoes as I suspect they don’t have as much acid as the red ones. The chewed tomatoes were on a plant at home. Squirrels! The eggplant in a pot keeps producing.

5.  A fresh flush of ferns in an area where they all died back when we didn’t have any rain for six weeks. The hosta is a Francis Williams. Still no significant slug damage on the hostas this year which is miraculous considering how wet it has been in between the weeks of no rain. Might it be those fireplace ashes I spread around the hosta? The ashes have not deterred deer in another section, however.

IMG_7046

6. This is an early morning  photo of St. Michaels harbor, a ten minute walk from my house. On the right is the Maritime Museum, a world class facility that is keeping Chesapeake Bay history and waterman culture alive as well as rescuing and rebuilding some of the boats used by the watermen. Every time I go I am astounded that our little town has this jewel. A friend of mine is in charge of the gardens at the museum. He has recreated gardens from different time periods, including what would have been a typical garden at the small home of a freed slave. I’ll take some photos and share them.

IMG_6980

That’s my six for this Saturday. I hope you’ve enjoyed what I have to share in my garden on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Write on Wednesday – The Hook – August 8, 2018

Haruki Murakami, author of Blind Willow and Sleeping Woman asked, “shouldn’t there be cats in a zoo? They’re animals, too, right?” Then he continued, “Cats and dogs are your run-of-the-mill-type animals. Nobody’s going to pay money to see them. Just look around you–they’re everywhere. Same thing with people.”

I don’t know if this Murakami quote was about writing characters, but that’s what it made me ponder.
6242305704_40a0d024d8 (1)

Do all my characters need to have something totally unique about them? Is that what makes a reader turn the page? Do people who buy books want to read about ordinary people? Or is it the hook — the out-of-the-ordinary circumstances in which ordinary people find themselves?

I think it’s the hook.  For me to engage with a character I have to relate to them in some way. Age, gender, personality, vocation, avocation, relationship issues, family drama, memories of a previous time in my life. It could be lots of things, but for me to keep reading I want to know what happens to the character. That’s the hook.

J. K. Rowlings captured a whole generation of young readers with her ordinary kids who had something extraordinary in common. As a former therapist I believe those books are a model for mastery. Living is about mastering the new stuff that shows up daily. And the things kids need to master can be scary. If Harry and his friends can master wizardry and all the associated terrifying events, a reader might realize she can get through a new school year, fail a test, or talk to her parents about an embarrasing subject. Mastering a life experience prepares us for the future. And how I loved those books. I could imagine myself as Hermione. They are some of the few hard covers that remain on my bookshelf.

The Hannah Swensen cozy mystery series is about an ordinary young woman who bakes cookies for a living. She just happens to live in a small Minnesota town where other ordinary people get murdered at an alarming rate. Author Joanne Fluke has recently published book 23 in this series. By now the population of the town should be decimated and everyone remaining obese, but fans can’t get enough. Why is that? I think it’s because Hannah is ordinary and readers can relate. She always thinks she needs to lose ten pounds and compares her looks to her stunning sister. Her mother thinks Hannah can’t be happy unless she’s married. Hannah’s is a loving family with lots of family drama. Who can’t relate? And between helping the local law inforcement guys solve all those murders, she eats cookies for breakfast.

The other thing about cozy mysteries is that while people die in sometimes nasty circumstances the author doesn’t dwell on the details. These are easy reads in a time when many of us need diversion from the real world. In cozy mysteries the good guys always prevail.

Recently I put The Light of Fireflies by Paul Pen on my Kindle. I can’t remember why I bought it but I get alot of “hard to resist” offers from Amazon. I might have gotten it for $2.99. I really have a problem buying any e-book that costs more that $10.

I started the Pen book and stopped reading after thirty pages. It was way too creepy for me.  Burned people living in a sealed off basement with no access to the world.  Hints of incest. At first I thought it was a dystopian novel, but it’s personal not global dystopia. What the hell? It’s gotten thousands of four and five star reviews, but I gave it a one star. I don’t care if it was well written. Later I made myself go back to The Light of Fireflies. I couldn’t relate to these people so I didn’t care what the hook was.  Everytime there was a choice people took the wrong one. I plowed my way through it and then archived the novel on my Kindle. If this is what Paul Pen writes I won’t be buying any more of his books.

My reading habits have evolved since I was an English major at Goucher College (back in the day when it was an all women’s school). I now rarely read novels that are considered literary, rather I read for pleasure, entertainment and diversion. And sometimes to put myself back to sleep in the middle of the night. That requires a book I have read before, sometimes many times, so there are no surprises. Nothing grisly or bloody or one of those soft porn romances. I want to go back to sleep. Jan Karon novels do the trick quite nicely.

Here’s what I’ve read in the last six weeks. The Sewing Machine by Natalie Fergie; The Other Woman by Daniel Silva; The King Tides by James Swain; A Merciful Death by Kendra Elliott; The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry; Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly; Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder and The Betty Davis Club by Jane Lotter. The last two were re-reads. The book I am currently reading is The Key by Kathryn Hughes. Next in the queue is Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.

What have you read recently that you recommend?

 

Photo credit: Szoki Adams <a/ref=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/68549057@N03/6242305704″>Peace on Earth</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

Six on Saturday – August 4, 2018 – Successes and a Flop

It’s been raining…a lot. The lake is back in the back yard, but I’m not complaining except about the mosquitos. The second 6 cubic yards of mulch was put down before the rain started and there is no longer a blue tarp covered pile in the drive. Our neighbors must be happy. That will change in a few days, however, when I get a load of free chips from our local tree people. Most of that will go in the back of the property once it dries out back there.

Here are my six on Saturday, a meme started by The Propogator, a UK gardener. This is the link to the rules if you’d like to join in.

  1. Helenium (Sneezeweed). I didn’t really appreciate this flower until I downloaded the photos from my phone. The actual flower is small and on a very tall stem. Someone gave me one and it’s not yet a large clump. It would be easy to overlook.  It reminds me of a fantasy chapeau designed by a French milliner in the 1920’s. Or possibly an inspiration for a Kentucky Derby fantasy. It might be too overstated for the Queen. I need to save seeds and see if I can get a clump going. I can’t stop looking at this photo. IMG_6947

2.  The garden beds are producing. Tomatoes Amish Paste and Sungold cherry), green beans, carrots (purple and orange), beets, and spring onions. I found a recipe for a puff pastry tomato and cheese tart on-line. I added some ham because I had some in the fridge that needed to be used. It was a little complicated to make despite the fact that I bought frozen puff pastry, but it was delicious. I had a leftover piece for breakfast the next morning.

 

3.  Kinshi Uri or Somen Kabocha squash. Kinshi means golden threads. This is the original Japanese version of spaghetti squash. Burpee picked up this seed and began selling it as Vegetable Spaghetti in 1936. My seeds for Kinshi Uri came from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. I planted some seeds at the end of one of my community garden beds about six weeks ago where I had pulled up lettuces. The squash began sprawling so I put in some upright cages trying to keep them contained until I can pull out the rest of the beets. The plants have been setting fruit but I’ve had problems with borers in the past, so I’m not holding my breath that I will get mature squash. For the moment I’m enjoying the healthy plants with lots of female flowers. That great looking mulch between the raised beds is wood chips from our local tree company, Bartlett Tree Services. The fine mesh around the bed keeps the rabbits out and is tall enough to keep the deer from browsing.

IMG_6974

4. The verbena in two big pots had stopped blooming. I gave them a serious haircut and within a week had new blooms. I need to pay more attention to deadheading. The variagated liriope was dug from another spot in the garden. Soon there will be purple flower stalks which will look lovely with the lavendar and pink cleome and play off the bright cherry red verbena flowers.

IMG_6955

5. This mum is a favorite. It makes a compact plant that doesn’t need to be cut back and has come back every spring for probably eight years. It will soon be covered with bright yellow flowers but I don’t know why it is starting to bloom at the beginning of August. Isn’t this too early? I wish I knew where I had gotten this variety so I could buy more. I’ve taken pieces from the edge of this plant and put them in the ground, but they have not survived. I’ll try again by putting the starts in small pots so I have better control over watering.

IMG_6971

6. I am giving up on hollyhocks. I don’t buy alot of things for the garden but I bought these from a catalog last fall.  I think they were called something like Farmhouse Medley. How could I resist.

They looked fine this spring until the rust took them. I guess it’s just too humid in the Mid-Atlantic. Then the rabbits did in the rest, chomping off remaining green leaves. I remember Hollyhocks as a child in Indiana and thought they would look great against the lattice which would also provide support. Too bad.

IMG_6942

This was not my first attempt at hollyhocks, but it will probably be my last. (Notice the equivocation from my beginning sentence.) Of course  I say that about squash every year and I keep buying new varieties to try. Which brings to mind the saying about the triumph of hope over experience…  Either I am a slow learner, or a fast forgetter… or perhaps an eternally optimistic person. I think I’ll stick with the latter.

I hope you have enjoyed the photos of some successes and one total (but not totally unexpected) failure in my garden.  Until next week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing Like Stephen King*

One of my favorite books is Stephen King’s On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft. King talks about how most of his books were written when he was drunk or high – or both – and listening to heavy metal music at ear splitting decibels.

Stephen King

My writing partner, Laura Ambler, and I wondered if we could write better if we followed King’s writing process and tried writing under the influence. There are always places in our scripts where we put an MB (make better) or MF (make funnier.) This was an hypothesis that needed to be tested. We already had a control of sorts as we’ve completed quite a few scripts without any drugs or alcohol.

We ruled out the heavy metal music. Intrinsic to our writing process is that we talk to each other; loud music would make that a problem. We also ruled out drugs. Too risky and we didn’t know where to get them anyway. Although as I’ve talked to several people about writing this blog post, a surprising number of them told me they have had a ‘connection.’ Who knew!

That left us with alcohol. I just have to open my wine fridge, and, if Laura prefers a martini, the ingredients are already on the bar.

Now we have the means, but logistical problems present themselves. Laura usually comes to my house for our writing sessions. She can’t drive home under the influence. That would be totally irresponsible. I was recounting our dilemma to my husband and he said if we really wanted to pursue this experiment, he would pick up Laura and drive her home. (He is remarkably supportive of my writing, whatever the process, and I know he is much too nice to make a YouTube video of us being silly and post it online.)

As for me, two glasses of wine and I fall asleep which might not be conducive to inspired writing. This plan was beginning to remind me of my woman’s conciousness raising group from the 70’s. This was back when the head of NIH (National Institutes of Health) was saying cocaine was okay. Somebody in my woman’s group came up with the bright idea that our group should try cocaine. We debated that issue for a year. I suppose it took that long because any topic we decided to talk about always circled back to our mothers. Anyway, we finally decided we had talked about it so much that actually doing it held no allure, so we didn’t.

Laura and I haven’t talked the writing a la Stephen King thing to death yet, but we might be getting close. I’ll keep you posted.

*This was first posted on July 24, 2014. We never did get around to testing the King hypothesis.

Six on Saturday – Summer into Fall

Our six week drought ended with a week of rain. We were lucky because we didn’t get flooding like some other areas nearby. The parched soil drank in the water, and all the plants perked up. The grass could be seen getting greener by the hour.

1. The things blooming now in my garden remind me that fall is just around the corner. Colorful crepe myrtles adorn my yard and neighborhood. Mine are white, a deep pink and a smaller purple. I bought the white and purple, but the pink were plants that someone had put out for the trash. So I snagged them. I really love the exfoliating bark. The old bark reminds of the black snake skins I used to find in our barn back in Harford County on the Western shore.

IMG_6887

img_6885.jpg

2. A friend gave me a small cutting of a Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) that came from her father’s garden. I didn’t realize Rose of Sharon was in the Hibiscus family. This plant is tucked back in a shaded corner of the garden and would like more sun, but it’s where there was an available spot. The flowers are lovely. In my Google search several places noted that these could be used as container plants. I might try that and get this beauty into the sun.

IMG_6869

3. I am seeing some Japanese beetles, so I put a little dishwashing detergent in some water and flicked them into it to drown. The only reason I can think that this SunPatiens is looking so sick is that one day — when it was so hot — I poured the detergent water on that end of the window box. Won’t do that again! All the other plants look fine. What I really need to do is go to the garden center where I bought the bedding plants and see if I can replace the sick one.

IMG_6895

4. The hyacinth bean vines are just beginning to flower. The seeds were saved from plants a friend gave me. She passed away two years ago, but is remembered in my garden. The hose was put away later, but I forgot to go out for another photo. It seems there are always spots in my garden that make everyone know a real person, with a real life, lives here. I was inside making tomato sauce from tomatoes grown in my bed at the Community Garden.

I just realized looking at this photo that I have a replacement for the sick SunPatien mentioned in #3. It’s in a pot at the lower left of this picture. I now remember I had a couple left over from the flat I bought.

IMG_6865

5. The Limelight hydrangea has started to flower. And the Arabella clematis, which has been blooming since spring, is now weaving its way through to the other side of the lattice.

IMG_6871

6.  Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a milkweed native and mine are now setting seed pods. I haven’t seen any Monarch caterpillars, however. Monarchs cannot survive without milkweed as their caterpillars only eat milkweed plants, and monarch butterflies need milkweed to lay their eggs. Google tells me that Monarch butterfly populations have dropped more than 90% in the last twenty years because of a loss of host plants, so growing milkweed plants is very important for future of monarchs. I’m trying to do my bit. These plants don’t mind some drought once established, so I will plant some of the seeds when they are ready. I wouldn’t mind having a whole bed of these. They would be a nice complement in front of the yellow rudbeckia.

IMG_6877

That’s my six on Saturday, a meme started by The Propogator, a UK gardener. This is the link to the rules if you’d like to join in.

 

Plein Air Quick Write*

Would you be able to write if you were outside (maybe under an umbrella to protect you from the scorching sun or a deluge) and had to complete a writing assignment in two hours? And your writing project would be judged and then put up for sale. This is what artists at Easton’s annual Plein Air Festival Quick Draw do. And to make it more difficult it’s a juried show and artists have to submit work in order to even get into the competition. This year the contestants were challenged by downpours.

plein-air-in-the-rain-2012

So it made me wonder…what would a Plein Air Quick Write Festival look like?

The very thought of trying to write something with other people watching makes me want to throw up. I’m an introvert and I covet alone time. Being closeted with my computer qualifies, and I could never share office space with my husband even though he’s a really nice guy. I know how to do social stuff, but it drains me and I have to have alone time to recharge my batteries. When Laura Ambler and I collaborate on a writing project these lines are blurred, but I have to say there is a huge amount of trust that she is not going to be judgemental when I blurt out something that just wouldn’t work. I grant her the occasional eye roll, but that’s it.

Two hours doesn’t give much time for editing or what I like to call marinating. Sometimes something I’ve written stays in a drawer for a long time before I take it out and look at it again. I read it and think, not too bad, or I read it and wonder why I wasted the paper it was printed on. Usually marinating doesn’t take that long, but, for me, it’s a really important part of the process. It gives my brain time to work without me trying to force it onto a particular path.

Writing using prompts might seem similar to a quick write. There are people sitting near you (which I find really distracting), but you only have to share if you want to. However, your words are not all out in the open for the world to see like a painting would be. I don’t like to think that I am a competitive person, but at the few writing prompt workshops I’ve attended the notion that I want mine to be WONDERFUL always manages to intrude when it’s time to share. When I hear what others have written I judge my effort as unworthy and keep my mouth closed. I am probably the classic neurotic, introverted writer.

A Quick Write Festival doesn’t seem to be in my future, but I’m curious. Would a Quick Write Festival appeal to you?

* This was first posted after Plein Air 2012. There was intermittent rain that year and the Quick Draw exhibit was in the street as it usually is. This year (2018) there was such heavy rain that the Quick Draw viewing was moved into the Tidewater Hotel. Laura and I had lunch with friends on Masons’ porch, as we have done for many years. Over a lunch with Bloody Marys and Bellinis, we judged umbrellas as they passed us by.

IMG_6843

This one deserved a prize. We have reserved the porch for 2019 and hope for better weather.