Wednesday’s Words from Faith Can Move Mountains

In this excerpt Faith is waiting for the sun to rise before she goes to Charleston to see Josiah Hamilton about mining phosphate at River Oaks.

“The sky and the river shone quicksilver in the twilight, the clouds pink and lavender above their gunmetal undersides. The weak light washed the sky and burnished the spartina grass of the marsh.”

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Real life vs. Social Media

For awhile now, I’ve been contemplating giving up Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, or at least curtailing the time I spend on it. I started participating in these platforms because I wanted to stay in touch with friends, and I’ve done that. I’ve reconnected with childhood friends, my friends from college and my time as a military wife. I’ve also remained connected to others I’ve met more recently, especially my writer friends. I’ve joined quite a few online groups to connect with other writers through Facebook and on Twitter, too. Writing is such a solitary occupation (especially when you practice it in a rural setting) that connecting through the internet is invaluable and validating. There really are others out in the world who write!

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A secondary reason I became involved in social media was to build an audience for my book(s) when I am published one day. I don’t really know if I’ve managed to build an audience, (perhaps a small one) and my books aren’t on the market yet. Though I still like being on social media, I spend far too much time following my interests down the rabbit home of information and curiosity. I will intend to spend only a moment checking updates but find that an hour and a half has passed before I realize it. I no  longer have much time to do other things!

Also, I’ve noticed something about myself and the time I spend on social media. I feel scattered. I struggle to concentrate. I am disconnected from life rather than connected to it. I don’t engage with my writing as readily as I once did.  I have trouble concentrating on long passages of reading or writing for extended periods of time; whereas, I used to read and write for hours. I also used to draw, sew, garden, watch birds and myriad other pursuits. Ironically, my world and my interests have narrowed even as the internet has brought the world to my fingertips.

Once I wrote from a place of deep introspection. When I sat down to write, the words bubbled up from deep within. Not at first, but it didn’t take long to enter the mindset necessary for the magic to happen. Sometimes hours would pass, but it only felt like minutes. Characters appeared seemingly from the ether. Experiences, voices, descriptions, scenes, dialogue, all these passed through me. I was the conduit for the story. I didn’t think it up. I simply waited for it to come to me, and I wrote it down. It was glorious, like a runner’s high, endorphins exploding inside me and filling me with deep satisfaction. When I found that I could disappear into the words and rhythms of the story I was writing, I knew I had found my release, my meditation, my art. I want that back.

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Now I struggle to write because I inhabit a place of frenetic activity, sound bites, and frequent interruptions. I think my characters into being rather than being open to the muse and letting the action and the characters appear as they once did.

If the creative act of writing is a meditative, relaxed, art-minded state of being, taking part in social media is the farthest thing from it. When I have written, I usually discover something about myself or gain some insight into the writing process or human nature. But on social media those moments of insight are rare. When I hop on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, I tell myself I will only scroll down my feed (disgusting term, that) for a few minutes, but I so easily succumb to the seduction of reading articles, looking at pictures of cute puppies, watching videos–you name it–that I often spend far too long there and come away feeling less happy, less settled, less satisfied with life than when I began. I should have more will power, but I know that social media sites do a lot of research to keep me clicking.

I have decided to conduct an experiment. Starting today, I am going to limit my time on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Oh, and definitely Pinterest, that black hole of a time suck where I tend to dawdle! From now until further notice–at least a month or longer–I plan to be on social media only AFTER I have worked, written, read, cooked, gardened, walked Stella, visited with friends, and generally enjoyed my life.

I am going to live my life, rather than share an edited-for-media version of it. I want face-to-face conversations with my friends at dinner parties over good food and wine. I want to float down the river with my husband and walk with him in the forest to pick berries or see the leaves change. I want to visit with my children and really hear what is going on in their lives. I want live music, art, and travel. No more distractions, no more staring at a phone or a computer screen.

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I’m making a change today to save my brain from the constant barrage of ads and negativity I find on social media. I will continue to write this blog, and I hope you’ll follow me here, but I am limiting myself to an hour each day of activity on all media. I know it will take a lot of willpower to make this happen. All habits are hard to break, but I hope to be a happier, more productive person, a better writer, a more attentive wife, and a more loving mother, sister, daughter, and friend. I’ll check in and let you know how it’s going. You’ll still find me on my social media platforms, but not as often as before. If you feel compelled join me in sharply curtailing your involvement in social media or have done so already, leave me a note and tell me how your life was changed (or not). I’d love to hear your story!

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. 🙂