I Belong to Two Places

A couple of years ago I read a book that has stuck with me, The Conditions of Love by Dale M. Kushner. As I read, I dog-eared pages and underlined passages even though my copy is a hardcover, not a paperback. I couldn’t help myself. It’s that good. Each time I go back to the book, I discover something else that makes me think or appreciate Dale’s writing. As I was thumbing through it not long ago, one line in particular gave me pause, and I’ve thought repeatedly of it since. Here it is: “To learn is to forget, the events of one life crowding out the events of the next.” If that is true, what does it mean to my life? How does that affect who I am? Does it change my identity as a person? A writer? A teacher?

Change is difficult because we have a  tendency to hold onto what we know out of fear or the desire for comfort, but learning requires that we step out of our comfort zones to experience something new, and that can be scary but also exciting and liberating. Since I’ve lived in the Midwest, I’ve felt myself to be on the fringes of society at times, not able to fully understand or participate in the culture here because it is different from what I grew up with and identify with, but also because I don’t want to lose my identity as a Southerner. Just the idea of being any less Southern made me rebel against embracing the Midwest, yet I also pride myself on being willing to experience new things, on learning. I think of myself as an educated woman. I like the challenge of learning something new, but if I refused to change, or to embrace this place, every bit my home as the place I grew up in, what does that say about me?

If I learn how to be a Midwesterner, do I have to forget about being a Southerner? Perhaps, but I don’t like to think of it that way. I prefer to think of it as change. I’ve changed to live here, and the most noticeable way is how I talk. My speech no longer sounds like that of my friends down in Georgia; my vowels are less rounded. I’ve learned to endure the cold, sort of. I complain when it gets humid here, even though at times I still miss the sticky air of Georgia. Heck, two winters ago I was alone the entire month of January in 40 below temperatures with a poorly working furnace and had to shovel LOTS of snow, and stoke the fireplace to help heat the house without my Midwesterner husband around. If that’s not Midwestern, I don’t know what is. In fact, lately people have acted surprised when they find out I’m from the South. Lawd have mercy, I need a trip home to get my drawl back!

Do those things mean I have “forgotten” some of what makes me a Southerner? Maybe. I can hear my Southern friends blessing my heart right now.

Yes, I’ve changed, but the South will always be a part of me. When I write, I write about the South. I can’t help it. The South bubbles up out of me when I put pen to paper or at least hands to keyboard. And that’s when I hear the cadence of my people, no matter that I live so far north of the Mason-Dixon line that I might as well be in Canada. Though I’ve become accustomed to the fast flat vowels of the North, they still seem foreign to me because when I go home and hear a sweet southern drawl or hear my niece and nephew say yes ma’am or no ma’am to me, I fall into that drawl like I never left. I still make tea, though no longer sweet, but flavored with mint. I still love pimiento cheese, fried chicken, The Masters, and good sea food. I still long for the smell of magnolia blossoms and tea olive in the spring; UGA football in the fall, even if Larry Munson no longer calls the games; the occasional 75 degree day in winter; being close enough to the ocean to drive there for a weekend; and having everyone ask after your mama. I know these are only surface traits, but they represent the culture that Southerners hold dear. What keeps me feeling connected to the South is going back and being enfolded into family and friends as though I never left. The open hearts of the people, my people, are what keep me longing for the South.

What keeps me here then? Why don’t I return to my roots? That’s a question I’ve pondered lately. The answer I’ve come to is that I love what my husband and I have built here. I love my home here, my friends, my colleagues and my students, my writing friends, my church, my community. I became a teacher here, built my reputation on my own. I became a writer here and have a community of writers who support me. I’ve built a life here that would be hard to walk away from even though I feel the pull of the South. I look out at the gardens I’ve labored over, the house I see my husbands handiwork in, the town where I raised my children, the parks they played in, the rivers and lakes we swim in, the sunrises and sunsets we’ve seen, the trees we’ve planted that have grown so tall, the farm fields, the forests. Could I leave this place? This place I’ve come to love?

I have wondered if I would ever feel like I belonged here in the Midwest, and I finally feel like I do. Is it because I was finally willing to? Maybe. People here have welcomed me in their midst and I love them for that. But if I have to forget where I came from to fit in or belong, I don’t think I can. Being southern is part of my identity. I can’t separate myself from that part of me any more than Churchill Downs can separate itself from horse racing, mint juleps, or big fancy hats. I think what Dale Kushner meant is that to fully embrace where you are you have to be present in the moment. I’ve tried to do that, even though at times I long for my people and the place I’m from, the familiarity of home and the love of family. What I’ve come to understand is that I belong to two places now: the Midwest and the South, both lands  whose features have a way of becoming a part of your identity and whose people have the same generous hearts. Perhaps I’ll move back “home” one day. I want to, one day. But when I do, I know I’ll miss the Midwest, my other “home.”

My Writing Forecast

Storm Clouds

Great Plains clouds rolled in this morning like smoke billowing from a great fire dragging their ragged edged cousins along behind them. Rain and storms have arrived this morning and will develop again later today, but that is not unusual here in June. Weather in the Midwest is rarely settled or predictable. One day the weather will be fine and sunny with no humidity, still a source of wonder for this Southerner even after nearly twenty years here. In a matter of a day or even a few hours, however, the temperature and the due point rise making the air sticky and uncomfortable, bringing storms in their wake, a familiar pattern I recognize.

The unpredictable and changeable nature of the weather here mirrors my writing life. Turmoil about whether my writing is good enough, whether I will finish my novel to my satisfaction, whether I will one day be published affects my mood on a daily basis. I’m sure all artists suffer the same angst. I think overcoming my doubts and fears is a process, one which all writers must work through to become healthy and productive. Learning to manage writing and living in the world is a struggle, one all writers are familiar, but because I have the summer off from my job, I have the luxury of tackling my writing full time right now, and I plan to take full advantage of my time. After a wonderful week last week at Write- by-the-Lake in Madison, Wisconsin, under the tutelage of Laurie Scheer, Media Goddess, I’ve committed to two things for the summer: being healthy and being a productive writer. Today was the first day to put my plans into action.Stella and Me after a Run

My day started with a two mile run with Stella, my running partner (See above photo). We managed to outrun the rain today but only just. I can’t help noticing the metaphor there. I often feel just ahead of my doubts and feelings of inadequacy, but I managed to finish the run and write this blog post and work on my novel which (Laurie if you’re reading this) WILL be published soon! The trick to success, I think, whether it is in being healthy or being productive at work or writing is having a plan and putting the plan into action. I have to block out time to do what is important, make time to reach my goals and achieve what sometimes seems impossible. I outran my doubts today just as I outran the weather. Each day I just have to realize that though there will be stormy days full of rain in this writing life, they are necessary because the rain yields beautiful results. Write on people!Peonies in Celadon vase

Overworked and Overwhelmed?

Overworked and Overwhelmed

This weekend I did something radical, maybe even revolutionary. I didn’t work. I mean for my job. Not working is the exception, not the rule when it comes to my job. Ordinarily I work from 7:25 AM until 3:30 PM at school. I commute so I drive half an hour each way. When I come home, I make supper, relax with a cup of tea and then after the news at around 6:30 or 7:00 PM, I pull out my papers to grade. I usually finish up around 9:00. Then I get ready for bed and fall asleep by 9:30 or 10:00.

Weekends are different. I usually have to do housework and laundry on Saturday. Then I devote most of Sunday to grading papers. I’m responsible for close to 130 students. If I spend 10 minutes grading an essay, that comes out to…could someone do that math for me? I’m an English teacher. Just kidding, but you get the idea.

I realize that a certain amount of work is necessary outside of the work day; however, I’m struggling with having any sort of work life balance. I miss my husband. I miss my dog. I miss working out and going for walks. I miss writing. WOW. I really miss writing; it is my release from the stress of life. Right now I don’t have a release because my work takes up nearly all of my free time, and when I get home, I’m mentally exhausted. I have nothing left for my creative pursuits. In fact, not much of anything is left of me intellectually. All I want to do when I get home from work is veg out in front of the TV. I’m not the only one who feels this way either. I’ve spoken to many of my colleagues who feel the same way, and also many people in the work force who are not teachers also feel that they work far too much on their own time, but with the economy the way it is still, they are afraid not to.

Americans have now surpassed all other countries in the amount of time we work. It’s insane! Why is that? Is it because our jobs are so fulfilling that we only want to work, work, work? I don’t think so. I think it is because we are afraid. If we don’t do whatever is necessary, then our bosses will find someone who will. It’s a sad state of affairs that the 40 hour work week is no longer applicable to our lives. It has become a thing of the past and is ruining our health as well as stealing our leisure, the thing that makes us productive. We need that breather from work to recharge the creative well. If we don’t get that time, we have little left to give at work.

You know what? All of us should take back our weekends and our nights. They are ours to do with as we please; at least they should be. We aren’t paid to work at home unless, as a salaried employee, it is in our contracts to do so. I think what we have is “mission creep,” the tendency for a task to become unintentionally wider in scope than its initial objectives. We are so successful at our jobs that our employers are heaping more and more responsibilities onto our shoulders. I’m not sure how much longer we can keep up this kind of pace, however.

For our emotional and physical health, we should all set aside some time to pursue our hobbies and our passions. This time should come after work, at night and on our weekends.  We should all take time to be healthy. And if some of that work that is supposed to be done doesn’t get done, then it will have to wait for another day. My weekends are mine.

Two Months

srha1987:

Please read this essay by my talented friend Karla, aka K. J. Klemme, author of Tourist Trapped.

Originally posted on View from my backyard:

cemetery2Two months ago friends and family gathered to say goodbye. Choking back tears, they expressed their sympathies, offered their support.

Two months ago.

Time passed and coworkers moved onto the next happiness and sadness. They stopped asking you how you are with expressions filled with sorrow. They forgot you lost the person who made you whole.

I didn’t.

I know your struggle, I know your pain, but you don’t realize I know.

You go home every night to your boys, fulfilling role of father and mother. Consoling and supporting, showing strength gained through years of surgeries, chemotherapy and prayer.

You survived the worst, the moment you dreaded for years. She’s gone, leaving nothing behind except pictures, her personal items, and the memory of the warmth of her skin against yours. Sometimes you can’t bear the pain, and other times you’re relieved you no longer carry the burden of a sick…

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Gatsby and Goosebumps

If you’re a regular visitor to my blog, you know I haven’t been keeping up with it lately. I’ve worked on my manuscript and also prepared for school. I was in rather a funk about losing my writing time and having to return to the classroom. When I started the new school year today, however, I was reminded many times why I love teaching. Early this morning I ran into one of my students who gently scolded me for not keeping up with my blog over summer. I was pleased she had read it, so partly because of Kaitlin’s prompting and partly because I can now breathe a bit easier since the school year is underway, I am writing again.

One of the things I love about teaching is that I learn something every day. Sometimes it is about myself, sometimes about my students, sometimes about the craft of teaching, sometimes about human nature, but I always learn. Today was no exception. Today I started a new class, an AP Language and Composition class. In the course of preparing for that class, I discovered an article by Mortimer Adler called “How to Mark a Book.” The lines from this article that struck me were these: “…marking up a book is not an act of mutilation but of love.”; “Full ownership comes only when you have made it [the book] a part of yourself…”; “…books, too, must be absorbed in your bloodstream to do you any good.”

In the coGatsby 1925urse of reading the article, I remembered the first book that entered my bloodstream and became a part of me. It was The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’m not sure why Fitzgerald’s words more than any others resonated with me, but each time I read it I am in awe. In fact, when I was discussing the Adler article with Nickey, one of my colleagues, I  told her about reading Gatsby and how I felt about the book and my favorite passage. When I read my favorite part to her out loud, I got goosebumps on my neck! Thank goodness she indulged me because I couldn’t help myself. Some words just beg to be shared. Here is the passage from chapter six of Gatsby. Gatsby is about to kiss Daisy, the woman he has pursued his entire life, for whom he built the vast fortune he has acquired, all to win her one day. That one day has arrived, and Gatsby is about to realize his dream.

His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. at his lips’ touch she blossomed like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”

Reading those words, I am overcome with wonder at Fitzgerald’s genius. He speaks to me each time I pick up this dog-eared, second-hand copy of The Great Gatsby I bought at the bookstore in college. Each time what he says and the way he says it takes my breath away and I learn over again why I love reading (and writing) so much. This is art. Fitzgerald speaks to me and to all others who appreciate his words. Mortimer Adler says, “And that is exactly what reading a book should be: a conversation between you and the author.”

I hope my students will understand that as readers we enter into a conversation with an author and learn to read not only the lines but also between the lines as Adler says. We can appreciate the artistry of the words but also come to understand what is left unsaid except in our imaginations, in the way we respond. By reading closely, we learn to read like writers. We learn how language works, how words evoke images and feelings, how they can leave us with goosebumps. That is magical.

What Outlander Taught Me about Writing

Outlander!Three weeks ago I dove headlong into my newest book and read with abandon. I’ve done little else since then. I barely noticed what was going on around me because, once again, I was living in the 18th century with Jamie and Claire Fraser. I’m sure most of you have guessed that I’m reading Diana Gabaldon’s Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. Just as her other books, beginning with Outlander, captivated me, this one has plunged me happily into the past through the imaginary standing stones at Craigh na dun in Scotland and into the American Revolutionary War.

Diana’s books defy description and genre. They are a mix of history, romance, and fantasy, categorized as time-travel romance according to some people. Reading this latest installment has been a wonderful way to spend the last bit of my summer before school starts once again, and I have to turn my attention to work rather than my own reading and writing. Sigh. Mind you, I haven’t neglected my writing while I’ve been reading. I’ve actually learned a lot from reading these books, particularly this one, mainly because I’ve been paying attention!

1. Use interesting vocabulary. Here are just a few memorable ones from this book of the Outlander series.

  • hoik–to pick up of heave something.
  • gobsmacked–astonished, astounded
  • mizzle–misty drizzle
  • buckram–stiff cotton fabric used in book bindings
  • erstwhile–former, previous

Using interesting vocabulary might seem obvious, but we tend to use the same words repeatedly. Paying attention to our choices is important.

2. Make sure readers learn something as they read.

Gabaldon is a research professor, and her vast research shows ! Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser is the main character of the series. She is a nurse and then later a doctor.  We learn through Claire about what amputations are like, how surgeries conducted without anesthesia feel, how to set broken bones, treatment of burns, gathering of medicinal herbs and too many other tasks to count. We also learn a great deal about herbs and plants and their medicinal uses through Claire’s medical practice also. One such example of an interesting tidbit occurs when Claire is shot in this latest book. When her friend has to retrieve the bullet, Claire is awake but under the influence of laudanum. When she discovers that a French general of the Continental Army has sent her some Roquefort cheese to tempt her in her recovery, she has the surgeon pack her wound with Roquefort cheese because the compound the cheese contains is the same one penicillin is made from!

3. Appeal to the senses. I can’t possibly cite the whole book here, but I could. Here is just a sample of marvelous imagery from Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. “We slept that night in the public room of an ordinary in Langhorne. Bodies were sprawled on tables and benches, curled under tables, and laid in haphazard arrangements on pallets, folded cloaks, and saddlebags, as far away from the hearth as they could get. The fire was banked, but it still radiated considerable heat. The room was filled with the bitter scents of burning wood and boiling bodies.”

4. Trouble on every page! To start with, the book begins with Claire married to Lord John (Jamie Fraser’s and Claire’s friend) because she thinks Jamie is dead, drowned on the voyage to America. Lord John is gay, however, and only marries her to keep her from being arrested. Jamie isn’t dead and turns up at Lord John’s house in Philadelphia. While Jamie is at Lord John’s talking to Claire, his bastard son, William, whom Lord John raised as his own son, returns home, sees Jamie Fraser–he is the spitting image of him–and concludes rightly that Jamie is his father. He thought Lord John was his father. William proceeds to punch walls, knock down chandeliers, and break the front door in his anger at having been lied to. Jamie kidnaps Lord John…. Get the idea? :)

5. Give your characters jobs. Diana Gabaldon shows us Claire’s character through her profession as a physician. She responds to situations as a physician, often putting herself in danger to save others. Jamie is a warrior and farmer. Those two professions define who he is and what happens to him. Brianna, Jamie and Claire’s daughter, is an artist and an engineer. Roger McKenzie, Brianna’s husband is a musician and singer, then becomes a pastor. Fergus, Jamie’s adopted son, is a printer. The “jobs” the characters have are much more than just their activities; their jobs affect what happens to them and also what their reactions to trouble are, and trouble abounds in these novels!

6. Give your characters quirks. Claire uses a peculiar turn of phrase. When she is upset or surprised or taken aback she says “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.” Certainly not ordinary swearing. It’s memorable and endearing, not to mention odd. Jamie, on the other hand, has a couple of quirks. He rubs the bridge of his nose when he’s making a decision and he drums his fingers on the table or on his leg when he’s agitated. He also calls Claire Sassenach, the Gaelic word for an outlander or outsider.

These are only a few of the lessons I’ve learned from reading Diana’s books. There are many. If you’ve never heard of Diana Gabaldon, you should go right now to your local book shop or library and check out the first novel in the series, Outlander. These are hefty books. The one I’m currently reading contains 825 pages, so if you love a long book that transports you to a world with unforgettable characters, these books are for you! After reading, you should  watch the new series on TV! That’s right. The STARRZ network is producing Outlander, a show based on Diana’s books. I don’t get cable out here in the boonies where I live in Wisconsin, but I can get Netflix and will so I can watch this story come to life! Here is a trailer for you! Enjoy!

Hello Faith!

20140708_134313My muse just dropped in to say hello, and I mean that literally! I was sitting at my desk getting ready to write, but as sometimes happens (at least to me) I was dawdling on Pinterest, a favorite activity that sometimes yields productive ideas. Not today, however. Instead, I was lost on a board reading a recipe for double chocolate hazelnut cookies. Sigh…

It’s a windy day here, after summer storms last night, and the window next to my desk is open so I feel the breeze. Atmospheric since I am about to edit a scene which takes place aboard a ship. My muse, at least the representation of creative me, usually sits on the side of my computer, but since I rearranged my desk a few weeks ago, I moved her to the top shelf for a bit more room and organization. I found her at one of my favorite places, Junk Bonanza, but that’s another post entirely. :) One gust of wind later she fell from her perch and landed with a thump right in front of me. If she wanted my attention, she certainly got it!

As my heart rate returned to normal, I read the words printed on the canvas: imagine; a creative mind is rarely tidy; listen to your inner whispers; create; be open and alert. Immediately I opened my blog and started to write this post. Sometimes, I guess, it takes a lot more than self-discipline to get me going! It takes a nudge from the unknown.

Now I’m back editing my manuscript (Love that word!). I have a schedule to keep which includes sending queries to several agents before the end of July and also sending my edited manuscript to a friend’s book club for review. I have to thank my muse and her creator, Lauri Jeanne, in addition to the my own Creator for reminding me I should put my buttocks in the chair and write!

Since my “muse” literally fell in my lap to remind me what I should be doing with my time, I’ve decided to call her Faith, after the heroine of my first book and because every time I begin the creative process I begin with faith that the words will come, no matter how bad they are to begin with. Each word I write is better than the blank page, and each time I revise the story, I hone not only my skill as a writer but also the words on the page to more closely say what I mean. And that’s what I’m going to do right now.

See you when I’m finished for the day!

“This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.”
― Steven PressfieldThe War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles

 

10 Reasons I Love Summer

In the summer months I revel in the weather, my writing, and the freedom of not answering to a schedule dictated by bells. I realize as I write this my family down in Georgia is sweltering with the heat index ranging between 105 -110, and I must say I don’t miss that at all. In fact, I complain a lot about Wisconsin winters and springs because–let’s face it–winter lasts too long and we have no spring. Well, sometimes we do, but not this year. We rolled directly from late winter into summer in a matter of about two weeks. But since I’ve moved to Wisconsin, summer has become my favorite season of the year.

Yesterday I was reflecting on what I love about summer, and I had no trouble coming up with a list.

1. Waking to the sound of birds singing rather than an alarm ringing. With a river behind us and a stream running through the backyard, our yard is a haven for birds. And they wake up at about 4:30-5:00 AM to sing their little hearts out. It’s lovely!

2. Falling asleep to the sound of peepers and frogs singing and croaking. That little stream in our backyard empties into a pond where said peepers and frogs like to hang out. They put on a nightly concert just for us. Once, one of the tree frogs got stuck in the window next to my youngest son’s room. He couldn’t figure out where the sound was coming from and struggled to fall asleep each night the singing was so loud!

3. Thunderstorms. Through some trick of nature or topography, my town doesn’t get a lot of severe weather. When we do, the storms are doozies, but usually we just have a gully-washer as my mama use to say.

Delphiniums by my soon-to-be complete vegetable garden.

4. Flowers–everywhere! I don’t know if all southerners are gardeners, but in my family we are or, at least, we profess to be. I love flowers, especially roses. What I’ve learned from gardening in the Midwest, however, is that my gardens don’t tolerate weakness of any kind (I think that may be a metaphor for living in the Midwest.) I don’t grow tea roses which were my daddy’s favorite, specifically Tropicana tea roses, but I do grow Knockout Roses. Ironically, they were developed by the brother of Tom Radler, the wonderful teacher I student taught with years ago.

5. The river and water in general. I grew up on Lake Sinclair in Georgia. We had a lake house (read trailer with an attached screened porch) where we spent nearly every weekend and a lot of weekdays for years. Once we even witnessed a tornado from inside–I know. It’s a miracle I’m still here after surviving a tornado in a trailer! We also spent a lot of time at Jekyll Island on the beach with two other families. Those are great memories, but I’m making new ones on this river behind my house. Once Bruce and I got caught in a thunderstorm while we were floating down the river! Scary but exhilarating!

6. Running and walking with my Stella. During the school year I don’t get nearly enough exercise. I usually put on about ten pounds. All summer I work to take that ten pounds back off! Luckily I enjoy the heat and humidity and also working up a good sweat. As I’ve grown older, it has taken longer to get back into shape, but I keep at it. Not only does Stella like to go with me, but she also gets to swim in the river to cool off. sometimes I wish I could join her!

7. Farmer’s Markets! I will feature my favorite one on my blog soon and show you all the beautiful flowers and vegetables we have available.

My favorite wine and my favorite husband!

8. Relaxing with my hubby on the back porch. We both love to garden, and when we finish, we often relax on the back porch after a dip in the river to cool off. One of my favorite things is spending time with my husband, and summer means I can devote quality time to him without being distracted  by grading papers in the evening.

9. Long days–really long! The sun rises here at about 5:00 and doesn’t set until nearly 10:00 at night. If my Norwegian relatives are reading this, they are probably laughing right now! When we went to Norway last summer, the sun never set because we were above the Arctic Circle. I went outside at our cousins’ house at about 3:00 AM, and it was light out! That was a little weird, but we adjusted. I love how long it stays light in summer here because in winter it’s often dark by four in the afternoon, and I thrive on sunlight.

10. Writing–for as long as I want every day! I saved the best for last. I am so excited about the work I did today. (I love calling writing my work!) On Twitter I found two new agents to query for my completed novel, did research for the one I’m planning at the moment, received a book I had requested for research, wrote one blog post and started another one!

Summer is definitely my favorite season here in the Midwest. I’m free to pursue my passion and enjoy the beauty all around me!

A Sign of the Times

Yesterday I ran some errands downtown. In Waupaca, a town of just over 5,000 people,  we are very lucky to have a thriving Main Street with almost everything we need offered by local merchants here and in the surrounding area, no Walmart or other large big box retailers to speak of. We even support three bookstores! I know! It’s unheard of! Unfortunately, in another couple of weeks, that number will shrink to two.

Book World in Waupaca

One place I stopped was Book World to buy a copy of a book I’ve been waiting forever for, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon, (yes, hardcover, and I paid full price and am so excited to read it!). I did get a 20% discount, however. When I asked my friend Maria, the manager, about it, she told me they were offering a discount because Book World will be closing several of its stores. Waupaca’s store is one of them.

I didn’t ask about profits or traffic or the recession or anything like that. I’ve read enough about what is happening in the publishing world and the economy to know how difficult it is to sell books these days, especially with the competition of Amazon and Barnes and Noble to deal with. As a result, small, independent booksellers are a disappearing breed, even small chains like Book World. Although Dragonwings Bookstore is still hanging on ( thank goodness!) as is The Book Cellar, I am saddened to think that a community like Waupaca will have one fewer choice at which to browse the shelves for books and magazines, calendars and bookmarks. We will have to look elsewhere to find the perfect book for a gift or experience the thrill of purchasing the latest book in a series that has taken years to read, as I just did.

If your community still has a book store, I beg you to support your local independent bookseller, even if it costs a few dollars more to buy from them. The experience of browsing the shelves in peace and quiet as you sample the worlds within the newly inked pages, of smelling the perfume of new paper, glue, and ink  which is unique to books, and of looking for a title and finding several you weren’t looking for but which you, ultimately, can’t live without is priceless. I don’t know anyone who would find going to the Amazon warehouse and browsing the shelves  comparable to being greeted by name and having books recommended by a friend.

 

“I have gone to [this bookshop] for years, always finding the one book I wanted – and then three more I hadn’t known I wanted.”
― Mary Ann ShafferThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Pantster or Plotter? Maybe Both

How I feel when inspiration strikes!

I’ve started a new writing project! It has been a long time since I thought I had a viable idea, but now I think I do. At least I hope so. I’ve spent the morning researching my idea and can’t find anything that remotely addresses my topic!

My trouble is that when I get an idea that I really like, I tend to start writing before I really know where I’m going. That isn’t bad in and of itself, but I could save myself a lot of backtracking and changing if I planned just a bit, which is what I am trying to do this time–at least to begin. :)

My Plan:

1. Research my topic (which I’ve started already) and the related titles. This is not something I did before I started writing my first book, The Scent of Jessamine. I would have saved myself some time, but I also would have had a better idea who was writing books similar to mine.

2. Do a preliminary Hero’s Journey to flesh out the idea. Christine DeSmet introduced me to Christopher Vogler’s book The Writer’s Journey five years ago. Here’s a link for The Writer’s Journey that gives explanations and examples to follow. I used Vogler’s template for my last book (changed my life!) but not until I had written about 60-70 pages. The previous book contains perhaps 100 words from my original pages, but that may be a stretch.

3. Create a character sketch for each of the characters. This is not something I did when I wrote my first book. Since then I realize how important knowing my characters is, their motivations and quirks, what they think is important. The trouble is that bits and pieces come to me. That’s how my muse works. All I know is the name of my main character so far! I am of two minds on character sketches too. I love the act of discovery, of seeing what my characters will do when they are under pressure, but perhaps that happens anyway?

4. Decide where to set the novel. For this book I’m really not sure. Jessamine was so oriented toward setting that all I had to do was inhabit that place in the book. This time I think the setting will be in the South somewhere, but I think the subject matter may determine setting and character to a certain extent. I have learned a lot about setting and how important it is from workshops I’ve attended such as Weekend with Your Novel and Writer’s Institute, both in Madison Wisconsin. So I know I will spend a lot of time on setting and may have to go there to get a good idea what the place feels like as I did with Jessamine. Field trips are a perk I like!

5. Write when inspiration strikes as I proceed. I still plan to do this. I can’t contain myself when inspiration strikes me. I have to to record that initial “lightning strike before it’s gone. It seldom reappears if I let it slip away.

6. Create an outline of scenes. Doing this will be new for me. My writer friend, Geri Gibbons, put together a beautiful outline of a book she is working on. I remember seeing it at a class I took with her and was impressed with how much detail was depicted. I envied her knowing exactly what she would write about. I’m going to try this (she says doubtfully). I’ll see how far I get. I’m notoriously poor at planning.

7. Put my butt in my chair and write! Treat writing like my job, which it is in the summer and, one day, may be year-round!

When I started The Scent of Jessamine, I had no plan to speak of. I knew where I wanted to end up, but no idea how to get there. However, I don’t want to spend another five years on this book, so I am planning before I write. I will not be a complete pantster this time! When I started Jessamine, I had no idea what I was doing! Although I don’t profess to know what I’m doing now, I do have a better idea now, thanks to the tutelage of Christine DeSmet, Kristin Oakley, Laurie Scheer and many others who’ve taught me so much about writing and the business of writing.

I’m not giving up on The Scent of Jessamine. I still believe in Faith and Josiah and their story. I will still try to find a home for them with an agent and a publisher, but I miss the creative process.

Revising is an entirely different beast from writing; a whole other part of the brain is required, and it doesn’t leave me fulfilled afterwards the way that the act of creating does. I need to connect with my creative side, and I’ve missed that lately. I won’t give up my pantster ways entirely, but plotting will make my life easier so I can spend more time writing and less time revising! Is there anything you think I should add to my list? I’m so excited about this new project!