Write on Wednesday: Beginnings and Endings

I’m having a problem with this third book in the Caribbean series (no title yet, just Book Three). The two most important main characters are young women who are fraternal twins. One of them always seemed more interesting to me. Yvie is impulsive, often thoughtless, and does not want to spend the rest of her life on the small Caribbean island where she was born.  Note: she was named Yvie in the second book of this series written more than ten years ago. I had no idea she would turn out to be Eve, the temptress. Her name was always pronounced the French way with a long E. Scary how the mind works.

Lots has been written about the importance of the first couple of sentences and the first scene in your book. It has to hook the reader as does the last sentence of the chapter. You want your reader to be so intrigued they want to keep reading. I have the additional problem that Book Three is part of a series but also needs to stand alone in case a reader starts with this book.

I need to figure out which twin will begin Book Three.

This is how Book Three starts if I begin with Yvie who is just graduating from Boston University:

Boston, Massachusetts, May 2004

The tattoo parlor, set between a tiny Thai carryout and a shoe repair shop with a windowful of unclaimed shoes, was in a Boston strip mall that should have been renovated twenty years ago.  Yvie Demontagne didn’t embrace the body art trend catching on with her peers. It was too permanent and Yvie was a person who frequently changed her mind.

This is how the first chapter ends if I start the book with Yvie:

The snake tattoo seemed to be calling her. She knew what her Grandmother Bertille would say. When a spirit calls, you tempt fate if you don’t listen! As much as Yvie loved her island grandmother, she was into some seriously weird mystical shit. That had been three months ago, and now that the tattoo was on her leg, it sometimes felt like the snake twitched. “It’s just a tattoo,” Yvie said out loud as she itched her leg. “Get over yourself. You’ve got a bigger problem.”

She pushed an auburn curl behind her ear, closed her green eyes and cupped her chin in her hands. Yvie just needed to get through next week. Her parents and twin sister, Lissa, were due in Boston for her college graduation in three days, and she didn’t know how she was going to tell them. The news was not about her tattoo.

 


The other twin, Lissa, is studious, calm, caring and envies Yvie’s ability to fall in and out of relationships. She graduated college in three years and has been working at her family’s successful island hotel.

If I start the novel with Lissa, here’s how it would begin:

St. Lucia, West Indies ­­– May 2004

It was a half hour run on back roads to the abandoned Rochers plantation site, much of it uphill. For Lissa Demontagne a daily run was part of her routine, an attempt to keep the bathroom scale at an acceptable number. Close to the top she stopped, hands on thighs to catch her breath, inhaling the scent of the citronella lotion she’d applied to her bare arms and legs.

Jagged columns of sunlight pierced openings where the rainforest had not yet reclaimed its territory. Enormous boulders, hurled skyward in a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago, dotted the landscape and rusted hunks of machinery, remnants of a long-ago sugar cane mill, littered the partial clearing where the old house stood empty.

And here is how that first chapter would end: 

Lissa decided she’d bring Grandfather Marcus here. He knew more about the Saint Lucian rainforest, its flora and fauna, than anyone else on the 238-square mile island she called home. She needed to ask him about the snake, but she wasn’t going to tell him how that poisonous fer-de-lance ended up dead — food for the island’s carrion birds.

I’m inclined to start with Yvie. What do you think?

Six on Saturday – May 26, 2018

Here are my Six on Saturday. Lots to choose from in the garden this week so decisions were difficult. The rains have made for lush gardens, however, every single helicopter off my silver maples has germinated in my flower and vegetable beds.   –Imagine silent screaming–   We’re having two dry days so most of the lawn got mowed yesterday and today. We’re still mowing around some standing water spots. I put my tall rubber boots on to go out with my iphone camera.

Tomatoes have been planted in raised beds and have doubled in size. Some have blooms. We are eating lettuce, arugula, kale and should have the first radishes next week. My bean seed germination has been spotty perhaps because I was using old seeds.

Here are the things I chose for today’s post.

  1. Another lovely, but nameless, azalea.

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2. One of the William Peter hostas is huge.  I like the combination of textures with the fern. No slug damage to the hostas thus far. Perhaps ringing them with wood ash from the fireplace (suggested by Fred in France) is working.

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3. This is a climbing yellow jasmine (Carolina Yellow Jessamine – Gelsemium sempervirens). I put it in a pot because I didn’t know where it was going to go. When I figured that out and tried to dig the hole, I hit yellow clay that could have been put directly on a potter’s wheel. Every day I’ve gone out to see if there is still standing water in the hole. Today I was able to make a little progress with getting the hole the right size, but rain is expected tonight. I don’t want to drown this healthy plant, but it needs something to climb on. I stapled some bird netting to my fence as I’d seen in someone else’s SoS post, so I’m anxious to get it in the ground. You can see the baby maple trees that have sprouted in the pot.

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4. Sundrops: My mother gave me the original clump and I’ve always know them as sundrops. Now I discover they are Oenothera fruticosa, a member of the evening primrose family. Mine spread almost invasively so last year I pulled out bucketsfull.

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5. This groundcover was left over at last year’s Green Thumb plant sale so I brought it home and stuck it in the ground. It looked terrible all last summer which was quite dry. But this spring it is lush and blooming. Can anyone tell me what it is?

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6. This photo is why you should walk your garden every day. When I went out this morning the hardy gardenia my neighbor gave me was blooming. I had to stoop to get the fragrance but when this gets to be three feet tall it will perfume the garden. Gardenia jasminoides ‘Kleims Hardy’

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

 

 

Write on Wednesday: #Santa

Originally posted on September 22, 2014
#Santa tableread

Yesterday afternoon writers from our critique group, local actors, and friends joined us at Laura’s house for a table read of our #Santa screenplay. Laura’s terrace was decorated with a crab pot Christmas tree, and a small tree graced the table. The weather was perfect with a light breeze off the Miles River.

Our Working Writers Forum members had read some of the screenplay over the last few months, but for others at the table, it was their first exposure. It was wonderful to see the expressions on their faces as the story unfolded. We were interested in which lines got laughs, and which got sighs. After the reading was finished, we had more critiques about the pacing, the characters, and the unexpected ending for a Christmas movie.

I was particularly pleased by the comments of Mike, a local actor (one of the fabulous leads in the recent Easton production of Kiss of the Spider Woman), who thought the lead character in our script, Scarlett Cross, was strong, independent and feisty. Would Laura and I write any other kind?

After the reading, we feasted on burgers and dogs on the grill, drank some wine and had good conversation. Then we cut the cake!

#Santa cake

If you are interested in a quick laugh-out-loud read, you can get the #Santa: The Naughty List script on Amazon, formatted for easy reading on your Kindle. If you like it, we’d appreciate a great revue.

#Santa- The Naughty List

Six on Saturday: Azaleas and Clematis Take the Stage

We had some torrential downpours which flattened many of the bearded iris. That’s a shame, but we needed the rain. I was out early in the week taking some photos and am glad I did. We have now had close on five days of almost solid rain (over 16″) and things are getting beaten up.  Despite the weather, the azaleas and clematis are taking center stage and I will have azaleas blooming until the end of June.

  1. My favorite azalea is Martha Hitchcock. It layers easily so I have propogated multiple plants that are now through out my garden. This is a lovely place to sit unless the wren nesting in the bird house above the bench gets upset. Another wren built a nest in a pot turned on its side on top of the woodpile which is under roof. I don’t know if these are house wrens or Carolina wrens. I’m no better with bird names than I am with plant names. And birds don’t sit still while I consult my bird book.

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2. Clematis Abilene. The perennial orchid below the clematis was given to me by a gardening friend for my May birthday several years ago. I don’t know the name, but I think it is a native. It has colonized enough that I will have some to share. The color of the orchid mimics the color in the clematis and the strappy foliage adds a different texture when both are through blooming. A happy coincidence. You can see more azaleas behind the clematis blooms.

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3. Azalea Rosebud: My high school boyfriend gave my mother this cultivar as a gift when she was first beginning to propogate azaleas. So ever after it was known, in our family, as Rosebud Don Park. None of my other boyfriends — or husbands for that matter — ever got an azalea named for them by my mother.

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4. I bought this clematis on a Green Thumb bus trip. I searched to see if I had been smart enough to stick the tag in the ground, but I couldn’t find it. It is the palest of blue fading to white. The flowers are six inches across. This is climbing on an obelisk on the edge of my azalea garden. Honestly, this photo is just flower porn.

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5. Another nameless clematis is now blooming on one of the trellises at the back of the garden near the shed. These SoS posts are going to shame me into keeping better records. It looks sort of purple where the sun is hitting it, but it is a deep true blue.

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6. False Cypress Lemon Thread: the plant in the foreground in this photo was given to me last week by the same friend who gave me the native orchids in #2 above. She said it would grow 5-6′ tall and 6-8′ wide. I wondered where I could put something that would get that big. I did a little research and those sizes are what it might grow to in thirty years. It will be someone else’s problem long before then.

I found a spot where it will give me a lemon pop when nothing else is demanding attention. The location gets morning sun and then dappled shade through the river birch clump. I’ve learned not to plant dark foliage in the shade where it is difficult to see in the shadows.

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

Write on Wednesday: Hiring a Script Consultant

When Laura Ambler and I finished our movie script for The Santa Diaries, we knew we wanted to hire Dara Marks to help us polish it. Laura had used her in the past on a couple of screen plays. We consulted our checkbooks, took a deep breath and called Dara. We booked an appointment and sent her a copy of the script which was ultimately called Santa, Flawed.

Santa Flawed

Laura and I have used writing consultants in the past. We hired two different editors to look at Big Skye Ranch. It was a better book because of the money we spent and went on to be a quarter finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest. It won international awards at the London and Paris Book Festivals and an IPPY award.

A week ago we had our four hour telephone conference call with Dara. We were nervous. What would her reaction to the script be?  It was a somewhat fitful start because the email outline she sent us got hijacked by some virus scrubber on her computer which decided to scrub at precisely the moment she was emailing us. And her dogs went bananas when the UPS man came calling, but after a few minutes of sorting things out, we got to work.

By the end we were exhausted, but exhilarated. Dara told us our script was “highly marketable, it’s got everything, a really good piece, the writing is terrific, there is a strong structure in the script.”  She really said all those things. I took notes! …and then she told us the plot needed strengthening and we could be clearer about the theme. She said the first 25 pages needed to be totally rewritten. Well, that’s what we were paying her for – brutal honesty.

The theme thing is tricky. It’s the universal denominator and the theme drives the characters, the dialog, the setting. Theme should underscore everything in the script. It’s a little hard to wrap your head around because in the past our writing has been more character or plot driven. That’s not to say there wasn’t an underlying theme, but we didn’t spend time really trying to get that down to the bones.

In this telephone consultation we spent at least half an hour sorting out the theme. Turns out the theme is more elemental than Christmas, finding your inner Santa, nostalgia for small town life, or reconnecting with a lost love. The theme of The Santa Diaries script is “we’re all in this together.” We had not known that! Of course, the flip side of that theme is “we are alone” and that is Will’s fatal flaw. If he doesn’t change, he will be alone.

Will is isolated because he has sold out to Hollywood. He has lots of people around him, but they all want a piece of him. His business manager, Josh, whom Will calls his best friend, is a suck-up. Even his girlfriend has her own career agenda. If Will doesn’t find his authentic self (as opposed to his inner Santa) he will never be happy or fulfilled.

There were a couple of times when Dara pointed out that we were still thinking play, not movie. She was right. In the play we couldn’t have Sandy in the hospital with a broken leg. Heck, we couldn’t even get him staged in a bed in traction which is the way we wrote the original script. Sandy in a wheel chair with his leg propped up on a stool had to do. In the movie script he gets to be in a hospital.

Dara suggested that we start with a clean slate for the rewrite and we did. We are now 22 pages into the first 25 (Act 1 up to the First Turning Point). After that it will be more tweaking than a total rewrite as we make sure any changes in the beginning are reflected in rest of the script. All the characters are slightly different than they were in the original play and the script we sent Dara. We hope that gives them more depth.

Will Hawes is a little softer, more redeemable. His father, Sandy, is no longer the paragon of virtue. We’ve roughed up his edges a bit. Brandeee is smarter and shrewder. We haven’t decided if Brandeee and Will are engaged anymore. It always bothered me that Will broke up with Brandeee and moved on to Jessica so quickly.

The point is, do these changes drive the theme to its logical conclusion? We hope to have that figured out in the next month. Then the script will go back to Dara for notes. After that it should be ready to pitch. We think/hope the investment in using a script consultant will be well worth the cost.

Note: This blog was first published June 14, 2013. Gosh, almost five years ago. The script was eventually titled Santa, Flawed. No one bought it, but you can buy it on Amazon formatted for Kindle for $3.99. Using a script consultant was a great learning experience. In reading this post again, I am struck by the importance of theme. Whatever kind of fiction you are writing, figuring out your theme is paramount.

Six on Saturday – May 12, 2018

This is the time of year when I take a walk around the garden in the early morning and then again in the late afternoon. There is something new to see every day.

  1. Amsonia –  I have several Amsonia hubrichtii, commonly called bluestar. A friend gave me several and last year I shook the seed heads around, but I don’t see any volunteers. I would love to have more because the thread like leaves turn golden yellow in the fall. The fall foliage photo was taken at Chanticleer, a garden in Pennsylvania. You can see why I would want more. The flowers are brief and a pale blue. This year I’m going to save seeds and try to start some plants in pots.

IMG_6126    amsonia in the fall better

I have another kind if amsonia that I dug from a local garden that was going to be bulldozed. It also has blue flowers in the spring but the foliage is different than hubrichtii. It also self-seeds with a vengeance and once a clump is established it is difficult to remove. I keep a couple of clumps in some areas of the garden where not much else will grow, but I don’t let them go to seed. Eventually I’d rather have all hubrichtii.

2. Viburnum plicatum Kern’s Pink  – this lovely viburnum opens with pale pink petals, then turns to white. It is also a plant I brought with me to this house. Another tiny plant purchase that was worth the wait.

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3.  Bearded Iris  – the ones on the right looks more pink than they are. They are not my favorites but they do well in a dry area of one side of the house and aren’t susceptible to borers. I’ll keep them. I have a number of varieties, all of which came from friends or the plant sale at the Woman’s Club of St. Michaels.

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4. Pumpkin contest – my writing partner, Laura Ambler, has a sister who keeps trying to have an annual pumpkin contest. A couple of years ago she gave a bunch of us pumpkin plants and we were to see who could grow the biggest pumpkin. All the plants were doing well and then, almost overnight, all succumbed to borers. Not one of us got a pumpkin. We are trying again and were able to choose our pumpkin plants which Julia had named. I picked  a pot that had two plants. They went into the garden on Tuesday. I am declaring war on borers, so any suggestions are welcome. I will consider noxious chemical warfare.

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5.   A hardy gardenia has replaced the Korean Spice Viburnum (carlesii) which used to be outside our bedroom window. It grew much to big for the spot where I’d planted it. And it bloomed on last years wood, but I never could get the hang of when to cut it back. The gardenia was a gift from my new neighbor who has a blank canvas garden and is thrilled to have anything I dig up to share. She took the Korean Spice and planted it in a more suitable spot in her yard. Last weekend I watched as her husband moved 7 cubic yards of topsoil to the new planting bed by their back fence. Heroic effort! The spots on the leaves are pine pollen.

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6. This is a section of the back yard of St. Michaels Woman’s Club. An activity of the club is the Green Thumb group which meets monthly with a variety of gardening programs. Each May we have a plant sale in which members bring divisions, plants they no longer want, or the extras they have grown from seed. Most of the plants sell for 1 or 2 dollars. We raise a little bit of money for the club, but the real benefit is that club members can purchase plants they know do well in our area.

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For a number of years I was in charge of the plant sale and joked that my garden is a memory garden, planted with the leftovers from the plant sale. I may not know the scientific name of the plants, but I know the names of the women friends whose gardens they came from.

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.

 

 

Write on Wednesday – May 9, 2018

Finding the time…

If you are a writer who is passionate about gardening or a gardener who is passionate about writing, spring is difficult. Finding/making time to write has to be slotted in between garden tasks that must be done at a certain time. And often that timing depends on the weather.

We’ve had a cold, wet spring so many garden tasks were pushed forward. Now there seems to be a brief spell of relatively dry days with temperatures in the mid 70’s. I have tomato plants that need to get in the ground so they can have a week of cooler temps before it goes into the 90’s. And seeds that need to be planted. Some of these tasks can be accomplished when I have a half hour. It doesn’t take long for me to put in a row of pea seeds. And sometimes you just have to spend a little time in admiration mode because gardening can be meditative and therapeutic.

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I suppose there are writers who can write in ten-minute slots. I am not one of them. I must shift gears in my brain and “be” in the story. It’s not always so easy to come out, either. So, unlike planting a row of lettuce, writing for me needs a chunk of time. More than an hour if I’m honest. Otherwise I’m just proofing what I wrote the last time I was at my desk.

And it’s not just gardening that gets in the way. Appointments and volunteer activities vie for attention. My daughter-in-law blogged something that hit a nerve. “Sometimes I wish I were not quite so disciplined. It’s like when I tell the husband that I wonder what it must be like to be incompetent. No one asks you to chair any committees, no one expects you to show up and do what you said you would do…people just give you a pass and you can do whatever you feel like doing. The husband says he doesn’t think incompetence sounds that attractive but I’m not so sure.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve gotten pretty good at only raising my hand for volunteer activities I want to do, but I do get asked because people know I’m organized and will do what I say I will do. And sometimes what I’ve said yes to gets in the way of my writing. The thing I am not good at is putting my writing at the very top of the list.

If you have any tricks about carving out your writing time and putting yourself first, please share.