Coffee Mess

#1LineWednesday #FaithCanMoveMountains

Marshall Lindsay is the antagonist in my novel, Faith Can Move Mountains. He enters the book on the first page, in the first line. He disrupts Faith’s world and resurfaces as an unwelcome and dangerous presence in Faith’s and Josiah’s lives. Here’s a taste of Marshall.

“Mr. Lindsay set his coffee on her father’s desk, upsetting the delicate cup on the open ledger where the dregs stained the paper.”

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Trouble’s Coming

#1LineWednesday #FaithCanMoveMountains

February 1869, River Oaks Plantation

One cold February morning, Marshall Lindsay has come to gloat that Thomas must pay his mortgage, or he will take the property from the Gentry family. When Marshall leaves River Oaks, Belinda knows he’s trouble, just as he was when Faith’s mother was alive.

“He up to no good.” Belinda eyed Marshall’s retreating form.  “Again.”

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Birds of “Paradise”

If winter in Wisconsin is as cold as Dante’s 9th circle of Hell where Satan dwells, then summer in Wisconsin must be paradise.

This summer has been particularly lovely, especially if you love hot weather or are from the South like I am. We’ve had lots of rain this year, mostly in the afternoons and evenings, enough to keep me from having to water my plants and vegetable garden too much. All that rain has made the yard and landscape look almost tropical it’s so lush and green.

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View from the end of my driveway of an imminent storm.

Unlike the South, however, we rarely worry about terrible humidity. Our dew points regularly have been in the mid-fifties to low sixties, except for a few days. Warm enough to go barefoot, but cool enough to wear a sweatshirt from time-to-time and sit by a campfire without sweltering and getting eaten up by mosquitoes. That’s paradise!

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One of my favorite things in summer here is to open the windows and let in the warm air, sweet smells, and birdsong of summer. We sleep with our windows open from late spring until about the end of July usually or until it gets too hot. That means we wake to Aldo Leopold’s “dawn chorus” of songbirds claiming their territory. A sweeter sound I can’t imagine. Unfortunately, summer is ending soon. Many of the songs we usually hear have disappeared from our early mornings. Some birds remain, like tree swallows and cedar waxwings. They still visit each afternoon to bathe and drink from the stream and pond behind out house and fill the air with their whistles, pops, and clicks.

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cedar waxwings

But most of the birds have raised their young and are gathering food to ready themselves for the trip back south. The maple tree my hubby saved after a storm packing high winds partially uprooted it is standing upright again, but we no longer hear the baby robin that he put back into its nest high up in that maple. Even the sandhill cranes aren’t trumpeting their prehistoric calls much these days. They are still fiercely protective of their young. Here is a family of three that I saw in the field I pass when I walk my dog. Sorry the photo is a bit grainy, but they are fierce so I kept my distance.

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Other birds that we regularly see and hear at our stream are indigo buntings, goldfinches, yellow warblers, rose-crested grosbeaks, gray catbirds (usually just outside our window), and just two days ago, a rarely sighted scarlet tanager. I wonder if this fascination with birds is a sign of my getting older. My grandmother and Aunt Marion used to watch birds too. I still remember the rimmed baking pan filled with birdseed they set out on the window unit air conditioner. Watching the birds feed there was my first experience of birds up close. Maybe I’m not getting old; maybe I’m only taking time to notice what I once didn’t take the time to see.

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male indigo bunting

One day I will fly south along with these birds. On the heels of summer I will arrive someplace arm to spend the winter snug in my southern home while Wisconsin lies buried under a white blanket and awaits the colorful birds and warm temperatures that turn an icy landscape into a summer paradise again.

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male scarlet tanager

 

The Pitch

Last year I took some time off writing this blog to concentrate on finishing my novel. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve re-written the first few chapters, but I know I’ve done at least five revisions of the entire book. I’m preparing for what I hope will be the last. Do authors ever finish revision?

If I ever get this book published, I’m sure I’ll find places where I would change words or phrases even when it’s in print. Maybe that’s the nature of writing or any other art form. But at some point you have to let it go. That’s what I’m preparing to do with my book baby.

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Most of my writing life is spent in solitude, sitting at my desk surrounded by the world and people of my imagination. Although it seems real to me, I often think the fact that I’m a writer doesn’t seem real to other people because I don’t have a tangible product–a painting or a sculpture or a photograph–to share with them, showing what I do. I hope that’s about to change.

Last week my writing life was exciting. I took part (virtually) in a pitch event with the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, a fantastic group of writers who support me and my writing on a daily basis. If you write women’s fiction, you should join right now. As soon as you finish reading this post! Joining this group is the best thing I’ve done for my writing since I took a class to write my first novel at UW Madison Continuing Studies with Christine DeSmet, novelist and writing teacher extraordinaire. At last year’s WFWA pitch event, I found my  critique partner Natalia. She and the other two women in our group have helped me shape my book into something I can be very proud of. I hope I’ve given them half as good advise as they’ve given me.

Crit Group

During this year’s pitch event, which took place last week, I wrote a new 50 word pitch for my book. Eighty other writers and I posted our pitches along with the first 250 words of our manuscripts for agents to read. Then, wonder of wonders, an agent who likes Civil War era stories requested to see more of my story! I sent it out two days later aftergoing through the pages one more time using Natural Reader to check for errors and rhythm. My writer friend Kristin Oakley gave me that tip!

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I’ve learned so much in the course of writing this book, mostly about writing, but also about myself.  About seven years ago, I started writing  Faith Can Move Mountains without a clue how to write fiction. I muddled through and took classes to learn the craft. In the process I discovered that few things are as satisfying as when the writing comes, when the muse visits and gifts me with words I don’t recognize as mine when I reread. I’ve found what I love to do.

My novel is a work of historical women’s fiction  called Faith Can Move Mountains and is complete at 104,000 words. It represents seven years of work, mostly summers and weekends, while I was teaching and one one year when I was out of work and finished the first draft.

Here’s the pitch:  In 1869 Charleston South Carolina, unkempt, free-spirited Faith Gentry reluctantly marries former Confederate soldier Josiah Hamilton to save her beloved plantation from a vindictive banker with ties to her past. Her decision triggers events which uncover secrets that threaten her identity, her marriage, and those she loves.

What do you think of my pitch and my title. Would you read my book?

 

An Artful Summer Weekend

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This is the first thing I saw after the rain on the way to Arts on the Square

I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity, not just creativity in writing, but in all aspects of life. I think exercising our creativity could mean the difference in living a happy life versus a mundane one. Plus, it has been a while since I’ve engaged in art for pure delight. I think that’s why I’ve been struggling to find a routine that allows me to get in a creative flow. Last week I checked out two books to help me tame the monkey mind and engage my artistic mind. You may have heard of them: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I’m finding out a lot about how creativity works as well as being reminded of what I knew already, which is that we must play to awaken our creativity and let our minds “romp like the mind of God.” That’s what I did this past weekend, one of the best summer weekends in Waupaca, the annual Arts on the Square weekend, which is put on by the Waupaca Community Arts Board.

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More morning glories because they make me happy.

From Shuvani Tribal Bellydancers to poured metal tiles, the 10th Annual Arts on the Square had something for everyone, and it only gets better with each passing year. This year the festival began with events every night last week and culminated in a weekend of music, art, food, and exercise. The Waupaca Triathlon and Ride Waupaca were also held over the weekend, so this area was chock full of things to do!

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Dave Sullivan on guitar.

The only problem was that, sadly, rain was forecast all weekend. I didn’t arrive at the festival until about ten in the morning because of rain. Heavy downpours had already erased the beautiful chalk drawings on the sidewalks in front of downtown businesses by the time I arrived, but they didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits. The organizers were prepared and had moved the artists who were there to display and sell their wares into the Rec Center (Waupaca Recreation Center), and musicians took shelter either in tents or nearby stores. Music echoed from the food tent, and jazz flowed from the Union Street Emporium where Erin Krebs knocked me out with her vocals! I also watched Dave Sullivan perform his smooth jazz guitar.

After soaking in the visual arts and the jazz on the square, I stopped off at the We Love Waupaca mixed media and collage workshop to make a collage. I wasn’t really sure how to do what Martha Duerr, the person in charge of that tent, wanted me to do at first. We were supposed to think of a place in or near Waupaca that we loved and try to represent it in collage form on a Waupaca map, but we were supposed to leave part of the map showing. Then we could use pastels to finish it. When I’m faced with an “assignment” like that that requires creativity, I rebel against the constraints. I know enough about artistic temperament and creativity to know that rebellion is nothing but resistance, and resistance manifests itself in fear. I was scared to let myself go, to do something someone might think was stupid. But I’m stubborn enough to realize that, because I felt resistance, I had to make a collage.

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The humidity made the tissue paper hard to handle, and the scissors were tiny kid scissors with glitter and glue stuck to them. I felt decidedly uncomfortable. I watched two little kids at the table near me working diligently on their collages and wondered if I could forget my own inhibitions like they had. I remembered what I had been reading about creativity and decided to have fun and see what happened. I thumbed through numerous copies of National Geographic Magazine and bags of pre-cut images and chose the ones that appealed to me. I didn’t know what I wanted to create, but since Bruce is a pilot, I started with an airplane. Then I found a picture of a spillway, and the idea of Hartman Creek State Park came to me, so that is what my collage is supposed to represent. Here it is above (Please excuse the awful picture). Something interesting happened while I was creating the collage. The weather had been sticky and hot for most of the day, but as the collage came together, the rain stopped, the wind picked up and the air cooled way down. The change was palpable, both the change in the weather and in my attitude and release of fear. Coincidence? I’m not so sure.

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Wisconsin Poet Laureate Kimberly Blaeser with my friend Bill after he recited his haiku “The Paperclip.”

In the poetry and storytelling tent I bought  a book by Jerry Apps to read by the fire during our long Wisconsin winter. It’s called The Quiet Season: Remembering Country Winters. In addition, the current Wisconsin Poet Laureate, Kimberly Blaeser, recited some of her moving poems.  Again in the storytelling tent, I used a manual typewriter that poet Paul Wiegel brought with him. He used them to write poems on demand for anyone who wanted one. I did my best to write a snippet using one of the more “modern” of the machines and hung it on the bulletin board with the others. Let me just say that I had forgotten how clunky and difficult manual typewriters are to use. Thank goodness for computers! In the picture below is my friend Barb on the left in the foreground writing her thoughts, and that is Paul in the hat sitting on the back left.

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The last thing I did was to witness the Waupaca Foundry operate a portable foundry onsite to pour metal tiles. That was really something! People made etchings in sand, and the skilled workers from the foundry poured molten metal into the etched molds. After they cooled, people could take their tiles home. The Waupaca Community Arts Board brought back this project for the second time after the success of the community art project, Tell Your Story in the Tiles, was installed at Waupaca’s South Park.

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This past weekend was rejuvenating and fun. I was able to reconnect with my own creativity and enjoy the talentsof so many artists and musicians and and the hard work of friends and volunteers that make Waupaca such a special place to live.  I ended it yesterday with dinner on the Waupaca Chain o’ Lakes cooked by my friend Mary.  That’s her husband in the above photo with the poet laureate. Bill and Mary own the office supply store Office Outfitters here in Waupaca. I can’t remember when I’ve been so content to call this little town home. 🙂

 

The Kitchen House and Beyond

20160817_135242As most writers do, I read all the time, magazines, internet articles, newspapers, whatever is handy. But nothing is as satisfying as finding a really great book I can dive into and remain submerged in for days. I’m not picky about genre, but I prefer historical fiction over most other genres simply because I’m fascinated by history and the way people lived in times past. I’m always on the lookout for books of historical fiction, especially ones that offer a new perspective about a subject I thought I knew already. The last book like this I devoured was All the Light We Cannot See  by Anthony Doerr, which won the Pulitzer for fiction. If you haven’t read it, it is a World War II story from the perspectives of a blind French girl and a German boy. The characters will linger in your mind long after you finish. No surprise I liked that one, but  the latest book that caused me to lose sleep and do little else for a couple of days was The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom.

Not for a long while have I read a book that has so captured my imagination from page one.  And, might I add, it started with a prologue, something publishing professionals usually caution against. I found the book, which I had never heard of before, stashed in my classroom on a bookshelf, probably part of another teacher’s classroom library. I picked it up several times over the last three years but never bothered to take it home to read. When I left my job this year, however, I couldn’t leave this book behind, so I packed it with my other belongings when I left at the beginning of summer.  At home I shelved it on my bookcase with others of its genre, intending to read it “one day.”

Last week, after revising my work-in-progress in which I also use the words “kitchen house” to describe  the area where Belinda works at Haddon Hall,  I remembered it and finally sat down to read. For two days I rarely was  without this book in my hand. The story hooked me right away. Here is the first line of the prologue: “There was a strong smell of smoke, and new fear fueled me.” There is unknown conflict here, and I like the first person narrator. The novel spans about twenty years of the main character’s life. Her name is Lavinia, but at the beginning we don’t know that because she has been so traumatized that she doesn’t remember anything of her life. And she’s only a child. The reader learns she is Irish, and that her parents died on a voyage across the ocean, so in the late 1700s Lavinia becomes an indentured servant at Tall Oaks plantation to work off her passage to America. She is set to work with the slaves in the kitchen house. It’s no surprise that Lavinia becomes attached to those who look after her and call her Binia, and therein lies some of the conflict of the book because Lavinia is white and her”family” is black. Again, there are some similarities to my own book here, which is why, I  think, I was so intrigued throughout the book.

The Kitchen House opened my eyes to a new aspect of the Southern plantation era and defies the mythology that grew up around it. Kathleen Grissom does not sugarcoat the ugliness in this book, but the beauty, grace, and redemption she includes keep the story from being too dark. Here is an excerpt from Grissom’s website that gives a synopsis of the story but doesn’t capture the author’s artistry or the emotional response I think you’ll have to the characters:

“In 1790, Lavinia, a seven-year-old Irish orphan with no memory of her past, arrives on a tobacco plantation where she is put to work as an indentured servant with the kitchen house slaves. Though she becomes deeply bonded to her new family, Lavinia is also slowly accepted into the world of the big house, where the master is absent and the mistress battles opium addiction. As time passes she finds herself perilously straddling two very different worlds and when loyalties are brought into question, dangerous truths are laid bare and lives are at risk.”

Even now, three days after I finished the last chapter, I find myself thinking about the characters. I wonder about Lavinia  and Will, Belle, Beattie, Papa, and all the others. I understand why other readers wanted Kathleen Grissom to write what happens next because I wanted that also. After I finished the book, I hopped onto Amazon to see what else she had written. I was thrilled to find a sequel to this novel was released in April of this year. It’s called Glory Over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House. Guess what my next book will be! I just reserved it at the wonderful Waupaca Public Library!

If you are looking for a really good book and don’t mind losing some sleep here in the last days of summer, I highly recommend The Kitchen House, Kathleen Grissom’s wonderful first novel. I’ll let you know if her second book about the people of Tall Oaks lives up to the first.

The photo below is completely unrelated to The Kitchen House, but I couldn’t believe my luck seeing a herd of six deer in my yard this morning, so I had to include it here. These three ladies are moving pretty quickly, but they were followed by three bucks with velvet still on their antlers. They were beautiful, but, alas, that picture was too blurry to post! I guess I was too excited to hold still!
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Tall Ships and Research

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Recently I was revising and editing a portion of my book. When I read the section where one of my characters ends up on the Outer Banks of North Carolina by way of a ship wreck, I realized the details were thin. I don’t know much about the Outer Banks, but I know someone who does.
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One of my college friends grew up sailing the Outer Banks near Manteo and Nags Head, North Carolina. I sent him a Facebook message to ask for his help for more information about that part of the country and to ask him some sailing questions. We ended up talking on the phone for awhile instead, which was so much fun, since I had not talked to him since college! He talked about sailing the inlets around the Outer Banks, how treacherous they are, and how they close periodically because of storms and tides. He told me an interesting story about residents in that part of the Outer Banks “pirating” goods from shipwrecks. I was fascinated, so I delved a bit more into that history and found some interesting information to include in my book.

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Because I was also trying to rework this section, I also spoke with my good friend and author, Kristin Oakley, about the problems in my manuscript. She helped me brainstorm some solutions and make the decision to include some interesting history of the Nag’s Head area. The idea I decided to include came from my talk with John and also from my research. When I researched the Outer Banks, specifically Nags Head, I found that the reason it bears that name is that during storms the people along the beach would tie a lantern to the neck of one of the coastal ponies. They would lead the pony along the dunes while the lantern bobbed, mimicking the motion of a boat safely anchored. Ships at sea would see the light and steer toward it believing there to be safe harbor, but, of course, they crashed into the shoals  and foundered. Subsequently, the Nag’s Head locals salvaged what they could from the ships! John told me of someone he knows who has a sterling punch bowl and cups from just such a salvaging trip as this. If you are a big fan of Poldark, as I am, you’ll recognize some similarity to what happened on Cornwall’s beaches. Perhaps this is only legend, but I did hear it from a Manteo local. I was intrigued, and so was Kristin.

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After these conversations I moved the timeline of my story to earlier in the year of 1869 so that a big storm could be expected to cause sailors trouble along that stretch of ocean, and also I decided for continuity and plausibility the story needed a scene on board the ship that Josiah, one of my main characters, is on to communicate that trouble. I want that scene to include the light bobbing on the beach that the inexperienced sailor follows rather than waking the captain of the schooner, which results in the wreck of the schooner Josiah is on.

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Since I know nothing of sailing and my knowledge of the ocean is limited to walking the beach to look for shells and sand dollars or swimming and body-surfing in water only up to my neck, I wondered how to make that scene realistic. Enter The Tall Ships Festival in Green Bay. I love how serendipitous this festival was for my research. My husband and I went to the festival on Sunday and climbed aboard several ships, two schooners and a clipper. We took lots of pictures and stayed on board as long as we could. I really would have liked a complete tour, fore and aft and below decks, but I’m not comfortable with throwing around “I’m writing a book” to get special privileges. I just hope being on the ship, walking the length of it, seeing the height of the masts and feeling the wooden decks and rope rigging were enough to lend authenticity to my scenes.

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Although my research only required going on the schooners and clippers, the stars of the festival were not the ships I boarded. The stars were the Spanish galleon El Galeon and the Viking ship, Draken Harald Harfagre . We tried to wait for the Viking ship and the Spanish galleon, but the lines were long, it was hot in the sun and very dusty, and the best brewpub in America, Titletown Brewing Company, was right behind us. Plus, and most importantly, there were only porta potties. So we packed it in early and had a delicious IPA in The Tap Room before heading home. If we could have had a beer on board one of the ships with the crew and asked questions that way, maybe that would make me rethink tossing around the “I’m writing a book” idea. No such luck this time.20160807_134018

I thought when I was in the last stages of editing for my manuscript that I was finished with research, but I’ve realized that revision brings up a host of issues that I thought I had put to rest. I actually like this part of the writing process, not as much as writing the first draft, but giving characters more depth and improving the setting and logic of the action is well worth the time I’m spending on a little more research. 20160807_130248