My Writing Moves Forward as Our Country Moves Backward

Life moves forward, and then I watch the news and am—for a few minutes—paralyzed with grief.

I have never written anything political on this blog, but another blogger whom I read reminded me that hate is not political. I am beyond dismayed that our president is supporting hate and violence and that our political leaders are putting self before country by not calling him to account.

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Today I am biting the bullet and sending off the contract for the first book in my Caribbean novel series to be proof read. I’ve made some very minor changes, but needed to spend the money to make sure nothing is misspelled and all the puntuation in correct before I send it off to CreateSpace. Proof reading costs more than it did ten years ago. I had to wrap my brain around spending the money on a book that had already been proofed and published (ten years ago), but my wise husband said it’s still the proof reader’s time that’s at issue. He is right.  So the contract goes in today’s mail.

Next I have to take a look at the second book in the series (also previously published) and keep moving forward on finishing the third book. Sending the contract to the proof reader means I am really doing this—getting the books republished with my name instead of a pen name.

Another decision is about the covers. I had planned to have new covers done, but other print books are out there with the old cover and they will never go away on Amazon. I don’t want potential readers to be confused. Lots to consider in this process, but I am moving forward.

And in between there are tomatoes to be made into sauce. We’ve had alot of rain and cooler temps so the tomatoes are not ripening as quickly, and they are just not as plentiful this year. That’s okay. I have sauce from last year on the shelf. I am cutting them up and putting them in bags in the freezer for making sauce on a day in the fall when the canning kettle won’t steam up my kitchen.

A couple of leaf casting appointments are still outstanding. My goal is that in two weeks I will be able to get the casting work station out of my driveway.

So my life moves forward, and then I watch the news and am—for a few minutes—paralyzed with grief.

 

 

What Were We Thinking Turned into So Glad We Did

Last Friday Laura and I flew to Los Angeles. Four months ago we had signed up for a two day Dramatist Guild workshop held in Culver City. On Thursday it was one of those “this seemed like a good idea at the time” commitments. Laura had been out of town and flew back on Thursday morning. She had the day to sort things out at her office. I was busy moving sprinklers around my garden every thirty minutes trying to save parched plants. It’s been really hot and dry the last couple of weeks on the Eastern Shore.

Laura had arranged for a driver to take us to the airport on Friday morning. Getting dropped off at the Southwest gates saved a bunch of time and parking hassle. A smooth flight to Los Angeles and we Ubered to Culver City where we had a reservation at the Culver Hotel.

The six story hotel was built in 1924 and considered a sky scraper at the time. The Wizard of Oz was filmed nearby and locals know the Culver Hotel as the Munchkin Hotel as many in the Oz cast stayed there. The hotel was essentially abandoned by the 1980’s and slated for demolition. But by the 1990’s it had been partially restored and placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The renaissance was completed when the hotel was bought and fully restored in 2007.

Today it’s a charming hotel where historical touches remain.

Culver City used to be a down and out area, but has been revitalized. The center of town is full of shops and restaurants. The entertainment company, Sony Pictures, is nearby and fueled the renewal.

The first night we were at the hotel we dined on the outdoor terrace. The weather was gorgeous. We’d left east coast temps and humidity behind.

We had a wonderful breakfast every morning. Tiny croissants, little ramikens of butter  (with a sprig of dill on top) and raspberry jam, fresh fruit, Greek yogurt and granola. And of course, lots of coffee for Laura and a selection of teas for me. That’s my breakfast below. Laura is not a breakfast eater. She had half a bagel with cream cheese. Typically her breakfast is a diet coke at McDonalds that she takes to the office.

We could walk to the Kirk Douglas Theater where the conference was being held. Just 50 participants. We were the only people from the east coast. Most Dramatist Guild workshops are held in NYC but the DG is trying to extend learning and networking opportunities to its west coast members. If you are a member, check out their online classes.

Right away I met Bradetta. See my previous blog. I still can’t fathom the odds of that happening. Add to that the fact that I am a true introvert, so the fact that I actually struck up a conversation is remarkable.

 

The first day of the conference was terrific. Lots of information, good handouts and engaging instructors. The morning session was The Artist as CEO – Marketing & Social Media. The instructor was Zack Turner. I was thrilled to learn that the only social media he uses is Twitter. I, like lots of other writers, get overwhelmed with social media.

After a boxed lunch, the afternoon session was a panel called Playwrights in the Writers Room. They were all much younger than I, but it was particularly interesting to hear the experiences of the two women panelists in a man’s world. I guess some progress is being made.

That evening we walked to dinner where we met my daughter who lives in the area. What fun to see Kira and connect in person. She had asked a friend, who knew Culver City, for a restaurant recommendation and made reservations for our group at Akasha. We ordered a variety of delicious small plates. (I always forget to take food photos until we’ve made a dent in the items. There were way more shrimp to start.)

Sunday morning’s conference session was a continuation of The Artist as CEO – this time focused on the Business of Writing for the Stage. The instructor was Ralph Sevush. He’s an attorney with years of helping playwrights and was an engaging and knowledgeable speaker.

The afternoon was a Masterclass on Structure, taught by Gary Garrison. What a fabulous teacher! So much of the material also applied to writing fiction. We felt like we were double dipping.

That evening we had dinner with our friend, Shar McBee, who used to live in our area of the Eastern Shore. After years of speaking about nonprofit leadership (because of her book “To Lead is to Serve”) Shar just launched a new project “Leadership & Yoga.”  She is starting with workshops and train the trainer events.  Maybe it’s because she’s in California where there is a yoga studio on every corner, but Shar says she’s stunned at how people are responding to her new material.  It has opened up a whole new path of activity.  The week we were there, Shar had five speaking engagements about “Leadership & Yoga.”  www.JoyofLeadership.com

If you live on the Eastern Shore, you may remember that Shar organized the Leadership for Women Conferences that benefitted Chesapeake College.  Even then, she was including yoga sessions led by Freya Farley.

After breakfast  on Monday, we Ubered to the airport, boarded our flight and got home a little after eight on Monday night. A driver picked us up and took us across the Bay Bridge to the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake. It was a whirlwind trip, but surprisingly relaxing, fun, full of connections, and crammed with learning.

It turned out to be an “I’m so glad we did this” trip.

 

Why This Writer Loves Google

What do tattoo parlors, volcanos, rotis, dinghies, Caribbean soft drinks, and bush medicine have in common? I had questions about all of these things this week while writing.

My first two novels were written pre-Google. I knew the Caribbean island I was writing about, so could fill in most details. I also had a couple of books I could use for historical backstory.

Now, ten years, later I am writing the third book in that Caribbean series and Google is making it possible for me to access information that I would otherwise struggle to find.

Today I’ve been writing a scene set in a tattoo parlor. I always try to add sensory information which puts my reader in the scene, so I wondered what a tattoo parlor smells like. I googled the question and got several answers. Apparently it depends on the kind of tattoo parlor, but it gave me some ideas. In the past, I would have had to find a tattoo parlor like the one I was envisioning in this scene, driven to the locaton, walked in and sniffed. And probably had a lot of explaining to do to the people working there. Just finding one in the Yellow Pages wouldn’t have given me the information I needed. I presume tattoo parlors differ. I might have needed to sniff several.

When describing the tattoo parlor’s waiting room I wanted to know about magazines published in 1984. Were there any tattoo magazines? Yes! Tattoo began publishing that year, so I could put a copy in the waiting room.

This week I also needed to know some information about volcanic activity in St. Lucia where the novel is set. What kind of scientific tools were used in 1984 to monitor that island’s volcano. Tons of information was available on line.

I also had to find out about the dinghies that are pulled behind sail boats and small yachts in that decade. If I don’t get the details right, some reader will know and call me out.

I needed to find out if Rotis (an island fast food staple – sort of an island burrito) ever included fried flying fish. Apparently not, but sometimes conch is used. That worked for me. I also required details about bush medicine for high blood pressure and the kinds of soft drinks available on St. Lucia in 1984.

There’s a Russian mob connection in the story so Laura recommended I read Red Notice. That wasn’t the same time frame, but it gave me some good ideas about how to weave that part of the plot line together. Red Notice is an amazing true story thriller. I read it last week and this week a bunch of the names of people in the book were in the news.

So this week, when it was too hot to cook or be in the garden after 9 a.m., I was at my computer researching and writing. I’m making progress thanks to Google. What did writers do before the internet? I know we spent alot of time at the library, but some of the information I needed wouldn’t have been available, or I wouldn’t have had a clue how to track it down. I love Google.

Bay to Ocean Registration Officially Open

Registration for the 20th annual Bay to Ocean Writers Conference officially opened today. At 6 a.m. I sent out a MailChimp email to our list of over 1000 who may be interested.

Here’s the link for the BTO sessions. I spent months pulling faculty together with the help of my committee, Ann Wilson and Loriann Oberlin. Then I began asking, nudging, bullying presenters for the information we needed and put it on the website.It had to be ready to go by today.

This year a new speaker on the topic of memoir is Glen Finland.

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Her book, Next Stop: An Autistic Son Grows Up, about helping her young adult autistic son cope with being out in the world has won multiple awards. Memoir is just one of the craft topics available at the conference. If you are a writer or have been thinking about writing, this conference has something for writers of every level. There’s always something new to learn.

Registration is through EventBrite (handled by ESWA Treasurer Charlene Marcum) and yesterday I registered my husband just to make sure that worked. It did! Phew! That’s always a relief.

This conference wouldn’t happen without the hard work of people who’ve done specific jobs for a number of years. At this point it’s a pretty well oiled machine, but it’s very exciting to be involved in the 20th year of this conference.

 

A Busy Week

It was a busy week. Cleaning out garden sheds, a Green Thumb Garden meeting, a writing conference,  a new project, and some gardening.

The family of my friend who died a week ago called to ask if I could use any of the items in her garden shed. They suggested I take anything that women in the Green Thumb Garden Club could use, so last last Wednesday and Thursday another friend and I sorted and hauled things to the Woman’s Club. They were at the club house  for the Friday meeting where people took things they could use and made a donation to the St. Michaels Woman’s Club Scholarship Fund (we give a 6K scholarship to a St. Michaels High School graduate every year).

In the afternoon I attended a meeting for something we are calling Growing Bay Hundred. It will be a collaboration of the Farmer’s Market, the Community Garden and the Stm Michaels Community Center. Lots of good ideas about how to get people to come out. For those of you who don’t know, the Bay Hundred historically refers to the area from where Harris Creek almost intersects with The Eastern Bay (in the area of Claiborn), all the way down to the tip of Tilghman Island. By the mid 1670’s Talbot County was divided into “hundreds” for administrative purposes. The term “hundred” survived from medieval England when shires were divided into segments that could each produce 100 fighting men. The Bay Hundred area is now one of the few Hundreds left in Maryland as a description of a voting district. Now you know.

Saturday was the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference, sponsored by Eastern Shore Writers Association. This was the 19th annual conference! Thirty hour-long sessions on a variety of writing and publishing topics were offered. It’s a lot of work throughout the year, and Laura and I have been involved for ten years. This year Laura wasn’t on the committee because of her work load. Most of the rest of us soldier on but it’s time to bring in some new (younger) people with fresh ideas.

This is Anny Williams who greets attendees each year. They start the day spying Anny’s yellow sweater from the parking lot and know where to go. Her big smile sets the tone for the day.

BTO 2016 Anny Williams

Below is one of the two students I sponsor each year. A budding writer, I’ve been sponsoring her since she was fourteen. This year she’s a high school senior. She’ll be attending college in the area next fall so I can continue to sponsor her. I’ve got a young man who will be a sophomore in high school next year who I’m hoping to also sponsor. It’s a little young for the conference whose attendees tend to skew middle aged, but mature, interested students can really grow from this experience.

BTO 2016 Birdie

BTO also sponsored three Chesapeake College students in conjunction with a grant from the Talbot Arts Council. They are required to write a short essay about their experience at the conference so the organizers will be interested to see what they thought.

This year we backed the conference date into March gambling that the weather would be less of an issue. When you have 18 years of missing weather bullets that would cancel the conference, you begin to get a little paranoid. The weather was great, everything went smoothly and the comments we heard were wonderful. The evaluation sheets are being tabulated and we’ll know more in a few days about which sessions and faculty had the most value to attendees.

This year I actually attended two inspiring sessions on social media with Eastern Shore Writers Association President, Mindie Burgoyne. Usually, after getting to Chesapeake College at six in the morning, I don’t have the energy. This year we started a little later, had three morning sessions, two afternoon and the conference ended at four instead of five. It made a big difference for me and I don’t think we had as many people who left before the last session of the afternoon.

On Sunday I tried to sleep in but it was the move to Daylight Savings Time which always throws me for a loop. It was supposed to rain all day, but the weather was good for working outside and I spent most of the day clipping and cleaning garden beds. This time of year is always a race to get beds cleaned up before perennials start to pop. I let fallen leaves remain in the beds as plant insulation for the winter, but it makes more work in the spring. The rain didn’t come until Sunday night so I got a lot done. Of course I was very grateful for Monday morning yoga class so I could get the body moving again.

I have lots on my desk and some conference boxes in the garage to be sorted, but I’m back to working on the next thing. That just seems to be the way I roll.

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Visioning a Writers Group

Mindie Burgoyne is the new President of the Eastern Shore Writers Association. Both Laura and I are very involved and we are thrilled to have Mindie at the helm. This writers’ group is thirty years old this year and in the past year, under the stewardship of Jerry Sweeney, has grown. However, it is time to take stock and make sure the association’s projects reflect the member’s wishes. Most writers are introverts who work alone. I’m lucky that most of my writing is done with Laura, but people who write with a partner are few and far between. They need the community of a writers organization to keep them informed and motivated.

wind turbineOn Saturday, at Chesapeake College in a new building by the wind turbine, Mindie held a Visioning meeting which was open to the membership. About twenty-five people attended. That’s not bad for a group that is geographically spread throughout Maryland, Virginia and Delaware. In fact, that was one of the things we discussed. How can we serve members who are far away from where most events are held? We came up with some ideas to explore.

Mindie had created a survey on Survey Monkey to ask questions of the membership. Eighty people responded out of about 250 members. That’s a decent sample which gave us an idea of what’s important to members.

Clearly the new ESWA board will need to focus and some projects may be eliminated. That ongoing evaluation is an important part of growth and change in any organization. Both Laura and I are on the new board and we were excited and energized by the visioning process. Our first board meeting is tomorrow night. I’m looking forward to it.

When the Ordinary Becomes Mythic

Poet Barrett Warner spoke to a meeting of the Eastern Shore Writers Association last week. He talked about the ordinary events in our lives that resonate with our readers, sometimes becoming mythic in the process.

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It made me think about the themes in the screenplays and the stage play Laura and I have written over the last five years.We have a body of work of six screen plays and one stage play.

I’ve been formatting them so they can be put on Kindle, and in the process reading them one after another. It’s been instructional to see the the recurring themes in our work: the importance of “family” (whoever who choose that to be), reconnecting with family and friends, acceptance, listening to others, being nice, and doing the right thing. I like to think these themes grow from our own moral underpinnings.

Nice people in stories can be boring, so we give our characters flaws. It’s overcoming the flaws that creates the conflict that carries our stories forward. And by overcoming flaws, or trying to, our characters become real.

So thanks, Barrett Warner, for reminding me that our best stories come out of ordinary events. And that mythological elements are embedded in there somewhere.