Write on Wednesday – How My Blog Began

This was my first blog post from April 25, 2012. Hard to believe I have been posting for six years. I’ve gotten more focused recently with a gardening focused post on Saturday and a writing post on Wednesday. Next up — Food on Friday. That may or may not happen. This is the season when writing and gardening vie for attention.

Laura Ambler & Mala Burt 9-19-12

April 25, 2012

Laura Ambler, my writing partner, and I were sitting in a Blogging workshop given by Mindie Burgoyne. Mindie said setting up a blog was super easy. Laura leaned over and whispered, “We should start a blog about our writing insecurities.”

“Oh, you mean like how I see life through a distorted body image lens?” I whispered back. (I used to be a clinical social worker so sometimes I talk like that.)

“You’re just neurotic about your body,” Laura said. “It has nothing to do with your writing.”

“It has everything to do with my writing. What if we sell one of our scripts and it gets made into a movie and we have to attend the Hollywood premier? I’d have to lose forty pounds before I could even look for a gown, ” I said.

“You’re just nuts,” Laura said. “But I bet there are other writers out there who are just as insecure as we are. Let’s start a blog called Does This Font Make Me Look Fat? It would be hilarious!”

Actually creating the blog has not been so hilarious. Mindie lied about the easy part. I spent an hour trying to figure out how to change the tag line. I’m still looking for a new headline font. Something puffy and fat. This font is way too skinny.

So, let’s hear from the neurotic, but talented writing community. Your fears, foibles and how you deal.

Write on Wednesday – March 28, 2018

Building Characters Using “Rooting Interests”

This interesting suggestion also came from Jeanne Adams workshop at the recent Bay to Ocean Writers Conference. She credited writer Donna MacMeans with the idea which is explained in a longer form on Donna’s website. By the way, Donna MacMeans writes “seductively, witty historical romance.”

On her website, Donna has a section for writers. On the page referenced by Jeanne Adams, Donna talks about Rooting Interests. (Since I’m a gardener I had to shift my perspective from propagation to writing.) I think by rooting Donna means that readers needs to “root for” a character. She describes the three rooting interests as empathy, humanistic traits, and admiration traits and says readers like characters with a mix from all three categories. The webpage referenced above gives lists of these characteristics.

The lists are a way to think about how to make your characters more interesting. Donna says you should have at least three “rooting interests” to make a character relatable. When readers relate, they turn the page. Check out Donna’s website for more information about this helpful writing technique.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Nova Makes Me Feel Like a Cockroach

We’ve been watching a Nova episode titled Black Hole Apocalypse. Here’s the log line from the PBS website: “Black holes are the most enigmatic and exotic objects in the universe. They’re also the most powerful, with gravity so strong it can trap light. And they’re destructive, swallowing entire planets, even giant stars. Anything that falls into them vanishes…gone forever.”

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I love Nova programs, but sometimes I feel like a dog listening to a human. Blah, blah, blah, Ginger. Blah, Fetch, blah. Especially the programs that are based on higher math. Math was never my strong suit. At Goucher College I was allowed to take an astronomy class instead of college algebra to fulfill the math requirement. Enough said! Note: I’ve never quite forgiven Goucher for taking away 27 art credits when I transferred there.

But this Nova program really made me aware of how many galaxies and stars and planets there are in the universe. Billions, trillions, way too many to count if we could see far enough. Our planet is an insignificant speck of dust among millions/billions of others. And it occurred to me that we are pretty much the cockroaches of the universe.  Somewhere out there another Mala Burt is writing the same book I’m working on. We think we’re special, but almost certainly are not. Note that I have enough ego to hold out some hope.

Alexander Pope said it best in his poem An Essay on Man.

Hope springs eternal in the human breast; Man never is, but always to be blessed: The soul, uneasy and confined from home, Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

Pope probably wouldn’t have written that poem if he’d been able to watch Black Hole Apocalypse. Despite Nova, I have enough hope to be thinking about  starting seeds for my always optimistic and hopeful garden. But that’s another post.

 

 

In the Rearview Mirror

We had a postponed Christmas dinner last night with Laura and her family.

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It was lovely. We toasted with blue champagne, had oysters and shrimp from the grill, country ham on country biscuits and my excellent curried cheese ball while we stood and chatted in Laura’s kitchen.

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I don’t know where Laura was in this photo. On the far right hand side, I think, behind her husband in the Santa hat. Then we made room for tenderloin, potatoes and fresh asparagus sitting at the beautiful dining room table. Laura loves to make a festive table.

I made the desserts. Two Key lime pies at Laura’s request and an apple pie. And because I had eight egg whites left from making the Key lime pies, I made chocolate espresso meringues. I don’t have a pastry bag so dropped the whipped mixture from spoons. They were beautiful and delicious.

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I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. I suppose I used to and they always seemed to be about losing weight. But 2017 was a year when I made a concious decision to step away from many volunteer activities. 2018 is going to be a significant birthday for me and I have a third novel to finish. It’s been marinating in my brain for ten years. That’s long enough. I’m getting close to the end of the first draft, but some of my characters seem intent on following roads I didn’t see, and I have to take the time to see what they want to do. They usually turn out to be right.

I suppose part of my decision in 2017 was because of volunteer fatigue. People come to assume that you will keep doing what you’ve always done. But I knew I was putting my own projects on hold and I didn’t want to do that anymore. The other thing is that I am making enjoyment a priority. If I raise my hand to volunteer, is it something I’ll enjoy doing? There are a lot of things in life that just have to be done, but I want to enjoy the things I choose to do.

Writing is one of those things. I find writing to often be an unconcious process. I get centered at my computer, sometimes using a dowsing crystal to help open my brain to the “movie” of my book. Then I write what I see. My friend, Helen, says I’m channeling and I won’t go quite that far. But I do enjoy the process!

In March of 2018 the Bay to Ocean Writing Conference will happen without me being part of the planning. For the past ten years I’ve been on the planning committee doing a variety of year-long tasks. By the time we’d get to conference day I was too tired to attend sessions. In 2018 I will enjoy attending.

Eastern Shore Writers Association is also going on without me. I’ll just be a paid member. Those almost daily hours spent keeping track of membership are now spent writing. I found some membership software to take over for me and the board agreed to the change. It was time that the organization moved in that direction and I gave them a push.

I stepped aside from my role as co-chair of Green Thumb, the St. Michaels Woman’s Club gardening interest group. It was time for new ideas, and there have been some splendid ones.

I did raise my hand to help at the St. Michaels Farmers Market last summer but it was just for an hour or so on Saturdays and an hour to send out a weekly market update. The market is undergoing a restructuring. I don’t know if I’ll raise my hand in 2018. I want to see what’s going to happen to the market before I volunteer.

And last year I was still involved in the organization of the St. Michaels Community Garden. A friend and I have been sharing the responsibilities for about five years. It’s time to pass the torch. We sent out an email asking for volunteers and got radio silence. The next step is to itemize what we do and send that out. Maybe if people see the discrete chunks, some will raise their hands. If people want a community garden it will survive.

I’ll stay connected with my Working Writers Forum. They’ve been reading what I’m working on for eleven years, and they always give me good advice.

Laura and I are hard at work for the Christmas play we’ve been commissioned to write for The Merlin Players in Faribault, Minnesota.  Collaborating with Laura is a priority for me. We both enjoy the process. It’s FUN!

It is now a little after 8 o’clock in the morning on the first day of 2018 and I’ve been up for several hours. I am at my desk and have just pulled up the file of my novel. I can’t wait to see where the story goes this morning.

I’m going to enjoy 2018. #enjoymylife

 

 

 

Christmas Parade Memories

“Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!”

–Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers

The Christmas’s I really remember are those from my childhood in South Bend, Indiana.  We moved there from Bryan, Texas when I was five. My father had left his teaching post at Texas A & M for a teaching position at Notre Dame. South Bend gave me my first experience of snow and all Christmas seasons ever after have needed snow. Even just the couple of inches we got last night transport me into the spirit of the season.

Young people today don’t realize that the Christmas season didn’t use to start until after Thanksgiving. And on Thanksgiving, in South Bend, it usually snowed. By the time we were finished with turkey and dressing, we were bundled up and took our sleds to the slopes of a nearby area the neighborhood kids called The Trails. It was where we played ball and hide and seek in the summer and built pirate forts year round. When it snowed, several small hills were perfect for our Radio Flyers. At least that’s the way I remember it. I can’t imagine it always snowed on Thanksgiving, but in my childhood recollections, it did. And that’s when the countdown to Christmas began.

It might not be correct that on Thanksgiving weekend there was a Christmas parade in downtown South Bend, but that’s the way I remember it.  Overnight Christmas displays appeared in store windows, and at our Swedish Lutheran church the children’s choir began practicing songs for the Christmas Eve service.  It was an eternal month of anticipation. Would Christmas never come?

Living in a small town brings back those memories. On Saturday we went to St. Michaels main street to watch the annual Christmas parade. Three small children next to us were bundled into blankets as they waited for the parade to begin. It was snowing and I remembered the wonder of being that age.

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What I don’t remember about past Christmas’s in the snow is my hands and feet turning to ice. On Saturday I was trying to take photos for my blog. My gloves got wet and by the time we left, my hands were so cold I couldn’t feel them.  I wasn’t feeling joyful, I was freezing.  That’s me with my own Santa.

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The parade had everything. Marching bands, dogs,  floats, fire trucks and llamas. And because we live on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, there were quite a few boats.

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We waited for Tom Campi, St. Michaels perennial Santa Claus, who had a special bay built into his garage for his sleigh. Tom is the inspiration for the Christmas play Laura Ambler and I wrote. The year it premiered at the Avalon Theatre, Laura and I walked in the St. Michaels Christmas Parade with some of the cast. It wasn’t as cold given how people are dressed and it wasn’t snowing.

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Apparently Tom’s Santa Claus was the last float in Saturday’s parade but we were standing much further down the parade route and thought the parade had ended. Everyone left. Someone later told me there was a big gap in the parade before Santa’s float. I was worried that something had happened to Tom, but he was okay and spent the rest of the day with kids whispering Christmas wishes in his ear.

This is a photo from a previous year’s parade. This Santa is the real deal!

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After the parade, my husband and I went home to our own fire-side and thawed out.

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Minnesota Calling or Why You Should Read Messages to the Bottom

Three years ago Laura and I went to Faribault, Minnesota to see the Merlin Player’s production of our play, The Santa Dairies. We’ve kept in touch with the director and some of the performers.

That’s characters Sandy Hawes, who has the ‘Santa calling’ and Martha, one of the Hot Dish ladies.

At the beginning of September I received a text from Julianna Skluzacek who directed The Santa Diaries in Faribault. She asked if Laura and I had a new Christmas play. We didn’t have a new play and knew we couldn’t do something in a month. I replied, “Sadly, no.”

Then a week or so later I reread the text more carefully and sent an email:

Julianna, I just reread your message and realized you said 2018. What do you need? Laura and I would love to collaborate on something. Mala Burt

Julianna replied:

I’m looking for something that is like “Santa Diaries” in that it has a great love story, funny, some kids maybe but not necessary. I would need a title by October as that’s a deadline for a Paradise publication for 2018. Do you have something you could turn into a holiday show?

Laura and I talked. We had a funny holiday movie script called #Santa. We thought we could turn it into a play, so I sent an email to Julianna attaching the script, synopsis and cast list.

Julianna, we have a Christmas movie script that we could turn into a play. It’s called #Santa. It’s the story of a celebrity PR “reputation manager” who is arrested and sentenced to community service answering childrens’ Letters to Santa.

And we would work with you to make any changes you’d need for your geographic area. Cast list is based on the movie script and would be pared down. This would be fun!

Then we waited impatiently. After a week or so I forwarded the email above with this message.

Julianna, I just wanted to confirm you got our email. (the one with the script, etc.)

She replied she wanted to talk, so we set up a phone call for September 28. Julianna told us that she loved the script, but had some concerns. Our script was for a racially diverse cast and the Minnesota community wasn’t very diverse. She also thought there might be some expensive production challenges.

Toward the end of the converstion Laura wondered out loud what it would be like to do a play with the Santa Diaries characters but five years later. Light bulbs ignited in our brains. Who is Timmy’s father, anyway? It turned out the October deadline was really in November so we suggested sending her a one page synopsis of the arc of a new play.

Laura and I met, brainstormed, pulled together a synopsis and sent it off to Julianna. Then we waited.

And waited. (We aren’t very patient.) I knew Julianna was in a two week production and figured she was too busy to focus on our proposal. Waiting was hard. Laura and I really wanted this to happen.

Yesterday, early in the morning, I sent an email to Julianna. I knew her show had closed over the weekend and wanted to congratulate her on that, but I really wanted to know if she had any response to the synopsis. After all, this was not just her decision. It had to be presented to the theater board for approval.

She said she’d met with the board and they’d approved moving forward with the project. Then said she’d had a dream about the play and outlined an addition she thought might work. Actually it was brilliant if we can pull it off. (It invovles some cast diversity.)

Laura and I are over the moon! Of course we will go to Faribault, MN next December to see the premier production of our play – name to be determined. We would have missed this opportunity if I hadn’t gone back and reread that original text. Read to the bottom, folks.

 

 

 

Overlooking Plein Air

Easton, MD has a Plein Air painting event that is considered one of the best in the country. People paint around the area for a week and significant prizes are awarded. On the Saturday of Plein Air week, activities center on Harrison Street. This painter was smart to put down a piece of cardboard to keep his feet off the hot asphalt.

About six years ago Laura had the idea to get a small group of women together to have lunch at one of the restaurants on Harrison Street and people watch. The first years we had lunch on the porch of Masons. Two years ago the restaurant closed so the following year we had lunch on the porch of The Bartlett Pear. People on the street wondered who we were to have such a great viewing location. Some asked if we were judges. We just nodded.

Bartlett Pear is now on the market and its restaurant is closed. Laura, being the master negotiator, rented the porch for us and we collaborated what each of us would bring for lunch. We started with cheese, crackers and fruit. Betty Ann brought two large pitchers of white Sangria. That was followed by a chilled carrot soup. Then a tomato filled with chicken salad. A mini-croissant completed the main course. Dessert was cookies I’d bought at the St. Michaels Farmers Market that morning and cut into quarters.

We had extra sangria so we shared it with the band. The left over cookies were given to the Bartlett Pear owner’s daughter to share with her friends. While we were still on the porch, artists would occasionally make their way up the stairs to get out of the sun and have a glass of sangria.

One of the signatures of Plein Air is that it seems to occur during the hottest week of July. This year was no exception. Temps in the high 90’s with Eastern Shore humidity. We had an occasional breeze on the Pear porch, but most of us were wearing as little clothing as possible that women of a certain age can get away with. After lunch we walked the streets for a little while and then took shelter in the air-conditioned Armory and the Art Museum where juried participant’s work was displayed and for sale.

I often think the palettes should be framed and sold.

By mid-afternoon we had sweltered long enough and went home. I took the remaining sangria fruit thinking I would cook it up, strain it and use the juice to make jelly.  I never want to waste anything. The juice is in the fridge and I will make Plein Air jelly tomorrow. There were so many kinds of fruit in the sangria that there won’t be one dominant flavor. I’ll see what kind of liquor I have in the cupboard that I could add to make a palate focal point. Peach schapps? Cassis? Port wine? Cointreau? I’ll let you know how it turns out. If it doesn’t jell, we can eat it over vanilla ice cream.