My Garden and Writing Process Evolves

Last Sunday was a beautiful day. Saturday’s rains had blown through and my gardens are lush and blooming. I took my iPhone with its wonderful camera out to take some photos. The back yard looks like a park. Although we live in a neighborhood and have houses on three sides of us, the garden I have created over the last ten years now gives us a sense of restful privacy.

None of this was here eleven years ago this August when we moved in. I found a photo I took of the back of the house when we bought it. We had a double lot (almost 2/3 of an acre0, seven wonderful old maple trees and a little landscaping in the front that had been planted through landscaping cloth. I spent many hours removing that.

And this was the shed.

To my gardener’s eye the property was a blank canvas, but it needed some definition and I knew that we needed some place to put compost heaps, unused pots, garden stuff that you don’t need right now, but might in the future. Things you don’t want to see. I installed sheets of wood lattice attached to 4×4 pressure treated posts across the back of the property about 10 feet from the property line. Eight of them. I staggered them to create the beginnings of paths. Along the property line between us and the neighbors I installed three more. One property line has a privacy fence as the next door house was fairly close to our property line and it looked like their backyard was a big chunk of our back yard.

By the shed I installed white plastic lattice to make the shed took more important. We put window boxes on the shed and painted them yellow. This is what it looked like four years later. Unfortunately that gorgeous Golden Shower pillar rose never looked this good again. I’m now trying some alternatives.

A year after we bought the house we did renovations and added a deck out the back of where we had installed french doors flanking the fireplace. Now I could think about some landscaping.

The next year we added benches around the deck, and two years ago some railings by the steps. This is what the back of the house looks like now.

I’m thinking that my gardening process is not unlike my writing process. I spend time in the garden looking at it and thinking, visualizing. Then I plant and sometimes it’s successful and sometimes not. I move things around. A small decorative maple now happily located near the deck was moved three times. It will stay where it is.

I continue to work on book three in the Caribbean series. I spend a lot of time thinking about the characters and the story which is FINALLY revealing itself to me. I had to make a time line because I knew scenes were out of sequence. The story takes place in the summer of 2004 and thanks to the internet I could print out a calendar of those months and even find out when the moon was full. That full moon is important in making one of the bush medicine potions that is part of the plot. What the heck did writers do before Google?

At any rate, my garden evolves as does the story I am writing. The garden will never be finished. I am hopeful the novel will.

 

 

Juggling Writing and the Garden

Being outside is where I want and need to be, but my characters are tugging at me. I still don’t know how this third book in the Caribbean series ends, but I am writing small chapters about things I think need to happen. The flow isn’t there yet, but it seems to be helping me move forward.

Yesterday I printed out all the scenes separately. That will allow me to rearrange them and insert new scenes where I think they should go. I have a board with post-it notes of the scenes on it, but that doesn’t seem to do it for me. I’ll try this and see what happens. It reminds me of my wonderful daughter-in-law who is, among other things, a talented quilter. She puts the pieces of a quilt on her wall and is able to look at it to see if the pieces need to be moved around.

I am 200 pages into this book and it may be 300 or 350 before I get it all down. It won’t be that long when it’s finished because this is a first draft. Then the revision work begins.

Revision in the garden is ongoing. A small maple has grown to the point that things I had planted around it needed to come out. There were two Limelight hydrangeas near the deck that always got taller than a wanted and blocked the view to other parts of the garden. One of them was destroyed when we dug it, but the other one was moved to another spot where it is leafing out nicely. My spring and fall blooming iris have made their spring appearance.

I am also potting up volunteers and divisions for the plant sale at a Green Thumb meeting at the St. Michaels Woman’s Club the second week in May. I noticed a small Shademaster locust near the mother tree in the back. It is about the size as the one I brought home from that same plant sale eight years ago. It is now 20 feet tall. A fast grower.

Writing in the Fog

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At last week’s writing critique group, one of our members brought in this quote. “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”  — E. L. Doctorow

It was applicable to what I am working on right now—the third book in my Caribbean romantic suspense series. It’s been ten years since the last book (Circle of Dreams) and it often feels like I am driving in the fog. So it was heartening to hear a writer like E.L. Doctorow remind me that the whole book can be written that way. Then perhaps the sun will illuminate the second draft.

I now know how the third book ends, but getting there is still kinda foggy. I just have to keep writing.

Five Senses

On my bulletin board, just to the left of my desk, I’ve pinned the following words in large, bold letters. I see them as I write.

See     Touch     Smell     Hear     Taste

Adding these details can pull a reader into a scene through the senses of a character. What does that person see, what details do they notice? Do they touch something that feels like velvet or sandpaper. Do a few notes of a melody evoke a senior prom disaster? Does a smell resurrect a memory?

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A friend brought me gardenia blooms from her home in Florida. I floated them in a shallow bowl and their fragrance filled the room. They reminded me of corsages my mother wore when she and my father went to formal dances at Notre Dame where he taught. I remember one particular tea length gown with large red roses splashed across the gossamer fabric. I can’t remember if her corsage that night was gardenias, but the fragrance of the flowers on my table brought me that lovely memory.

She died seven years ago – just a few weeks shy of her 96th birthday. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I miss you.

 

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.

Getting Into the Zone

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In our last Working Writers Forum one of the members talked about getting into the zone with his writing. He said when he was in that place he seamlessly moved forward. Wikipedia gives this definition: zone is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.

I’m working on the third book in my Caribbean romantic suspense series, but getting in the zone has been difficult. In part because it has been ten years since I wrote the last of book. It’s set in the Caribbean on the island of St. Lucia. We had a home there for many years and I was on the island frequently. It was easy for me to imagine the settings, the smells, the sounds. We sold that house about the time the second book in the series was published. It’s harder to get into the Caribbean zone now.

My other problem is that my zone doesn’t happen all in one stretch. It comes and goes. Something like what happens to our Direct TV when we have a heavy rainstorm. This morning at my yoga class we settled into savasana, the deep relaxation at the end of the class. Suddenly I was in St. Lucia, in the Castries market place on a busy Saturday morning. This was not relaxing! I walked through the outside venders, past women under colorful umbrellas, piles of produce arranged around them. Past the fish guy, his cart full of this morning’s catch. Inside the market building, I headed for a booth in a dark corner where an old woman was selling herbs and bush remedies. I seemed to know where I was going. Clearly this was a scene I’m supposed to put in the book. Bush medicine is part of the story. But, accessing the zone during savasana?  Hello, Brain. You are not cooperating.

Why can’t I be more in the zone when I’m at my computer? Why do those moments seem to happen in the middle of a steamy shower, at 3 in the morning when I’m snugged into a warm bed, or on a long walk when I’m a mile from the house with no paper or pen in my pocket? It’s probably left and right brain issues. I’m wondering how I can make my computer space more Caribbean. Maybe that would help get my zone on a more reliable schedule.

My Critique Group

Last night was the monthly meeting of my critique group, the Working Writer’s Forum, that both Laura and I belong to. It’s where we met and started working together. For the last five years almost all of my writing has been done with Laura and most of it has been screenplays.

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Since Laura has been very busy with her day job, I recently pulled out the first chapters of the third novel in my Caribbean series. I last worked on it almost seven years ago, but like to think I am a better writer now, so I submitted the first 25 pages to the group.

One of our rules is that you have to say some nice things before you make helpful suggestions. So my writing friends said some nice things, and then pointed out that I had forgotten some fundamental rules and made some beginner mistakes.

“I don’t know what these characters look like,” one of my critique group said. Of course I knew what they all looked like. They’d already been in two books. How could I have forgotten to describe Lissa and Yvie except to say they had green eyes?

Another reminded me that “she said” suffices most of the time. Descriptions of how someone says something is not usually needed.

“How about something more exciting in the first couple of pages, a hook for the reader,” a third person suggested. I thought I had a hook, but obviously it was too many pages into the first chapter.

As we went around the able, a number of the group noted some problems with dialogue so I went searching for help. The Writer’s Digest had some suggestions on their website.

“If you want to learn how to write effective dialogue, study the best plays and films. If possible, study dialogue both in performance (live or video) and in print. Read plays and screenplays to get the feel of writing on the page.

And, in the best scripts, what writing it is—pure dialogue unadulterated by music, actor expression, pictures, or narrative transition supplied by an author. Read it aloud to get a flavor of the emotion contained within the word choice made by the writer of the screenplay. Playwrights and screenwriters who succeed at their craft are probably the best writers of dialogue you can study. By looking at such refined gold, you can learn more than from any ten books that tell you how to write dialogue.”

Well, duh, Laura and I have been writing dialogue for several years now. I should be able to do this better. I am grateful to my critique group for letting me know there are things I need to attend to. The pages I sent for last night’s meeting were a reworking of what I had written all those years ago. I need to scrap that version and start from scratch.

When our moderator called for submissions for our next meeting, I said I’d like to submit a reworked draft of my novel’s opening pages. That gives me a goal with a deadline…thanks to my critique group the Working Writer’s Forum.