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.

A Busy, Busy Week

There’s always one week in June that’s packed. It was last week. It started on Monday with a trip to my husband’s hearing aid guy. It’s just a trip to Easton, but the appointment is thorough and long and I like to go along so I can tell Mike Canary MY experience of my husband’s state of the art (and very expensive) hearing aids. It seemed to me I was again having to repeat things two or three times so some adjustments were needed. We are finding out that hearing loss is very complicated and the aids, even with all the bells and whistles, don’t make it easier for my husband to hear in situations with more than a couple of people. Restaurants are a nightmare.

On Tuesday I helped a friend make 17 small arrangements for the annual Woman’s Club of St. Michaels luncheon that was on Wednesday. These were gifts for the incoming officers and board of directors. I always learn something about flower arranging when I work with Barb Colledge. This time it was how you determine the height of an arrangement that will go on a dining table. No higher than your fist when you place your elbow on the table.

Wednesday was the luncheon at which the club of presents its annual scholarship. This year the $6000 award was split between two deserving students from St. Michaels High School.

I did a press release and sent this photo and one of the incoming board to our local paper, The Star Democrat.

On Thursday I drove to Annapolis for a chiropractic visit and then to Costco in Glen Burnie to pick up my new glasses. Traffic over the Bay Bridge was fine both ways. This time of year that’s always a concern. It’s an hour drive (on good days) to Annapolis, so I try to fit in a visit to Trader Joe’s if I can.

On Friday was a Hats in the Garden Party at the Woman’s Club. This year I have been the co-chair of Green Thumb (the gardening group at the club ) with Carol Meholic and we made a fantastic team. We divided tasks and every monthly event went smoothly. At this party, guests were asked to wear hats they already owned or created and people voted for their favorites. These were the two winners, Joanne Buritsch and Barbara Rose.

We had lovely weather for the party in the garden behind the Woman’s Club – a garden where I spend a lot of time weeding. Almost fifty club members attended.

Saturday my husband and I helped at the Farmer’s Market in the morning and that evening there was a pot luck supper for our neighborhood association. I made a rice salad, and forgot to take pictures.

And on Sunday Laura and I and two other friends went to Center Stage to see Jazz and then out to dinner. The show was an adaptation of Toni Morrison’s book and it was too confusing to be enjoyable. But dinner after was, as always, wonderful.

This week has been much less busy. There has been time to write every day and get some yard work done early in the morning. We had a couple of very hot days and we could really use some rain, so I’m hauling the hose around. While I do that I think about the next scene I’m writing.  I’m past the middle of the book and am making steady progress.

 

My Characters Shout at 4 A.M.

I had my alarm set for 6. Plenty of time to jump in the shower and put on my yoga clothes for my 7 a.m. class. Perhaps even time to read the local paper or take a quick turn around the garden to see what’s blooming.

But at 4 a.m. the characters in my novel started shouting at me. At 4:30 I gave up and got on my computer. They wanted to tell me a couple of ways my novel could end, and I knew if I didn’t start getting documenting them, the story lines might evaporate. That’s happened before although who knows if those brilliant ideas in the middle of the night are all that brilliant in the light of day.

Now that I have several pages of notes, I’m hoping Yvie, Lissa and Dez will let me sleep until at least ten of six in the morning. Does Dez really need to die? Probably, but won’t Lissa be devastated? Depends on the scenes to be written before those things happen – or not. I’m not planning on writing The French Lieutenant’s Woman with three different endings.

I promised to submit something to my Writers Forum for June 6 so I need to pull together 15 – 25 pages. At this point, the scenes don’t flow seamlessly. This is the first draft, after all.

Note: I didn’t have a picture to go with this blog post, so will use one from my garden. That’s a yellow achillea and a purple ground cover geranium. Notice the three leaf clover that should have been pulled, but it adds a different green to the photo.

 

 

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.