Early Fall Wildflower

This may be my last Friday Flower post until next year because our weather is rapidly growing cooler. Most of my cultivated flowers are gone. Even my pots and hanging baskets look pretty shabby, but about a week ago, I found this flower when I was walking Stella. It was nearly the color of the sky next to early fall foliage. If anyone knows what it is, please let me know!

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In the Midsummer Garden

“A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.” –Gertrude Jekyll
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Summer in the Midwest is fleeting. Here it is, July 25, 2016, and though we’ve been suffering in the heat and humidity (though not as much as you Southerners!), we will soon bundle ourselves in woolen sweaters and goose down to fend off the cold. This spell of warm weather with the humidity induced mists over the fields will be but a memory. That’s why I decided to share with you some of my favorite parts of my gardens, my favorite place to be this time of year.

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When we moved into our house, we had no gardens at all, only sandy dirt and rocks. Over the course of the last ten years, Bruce and I have worked to create gardens all around our house. I cut out pictures from magazines of what I liked. With his own artistic vision and the muscles to help me realize my own, Bruce and I have nearly “finished” our landscaping. Here is the vegetable garden. Two years ago we decided to take up square foot gardening. It has been a qualified success. We don’t get quite as much produce as we once did from approximately the same area, but the garden itself looks beautiful, I think.

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The picture above shows our vegetable garden where we grow all our vegetables in raised beds, except our tomatoes. This year we’ve experimented with growing tomatoes in pots. I’m not sure I like that as well–lots of hand watering–but they have not been afflicted with the diseases they were plagued with before. We’ll see how they taste this year. My hubby is the muscles and brain behind the design of this garden. He’s a landscaping artist! In this area we are growing carrots, parsnips, collards, ground cherries, kale, peas, basil, eggplant, bell peppers, pole beans, cucumbers, mustard greens, arugula, radishes, mesclun mix, raspberries, and just out of the frame, rhubarb and some herbs.

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In the rest of the yard so many flowers are in bloom or have just finished blooming. I love all the natives and the easy growing flowers like purple cone flowers and liatris. I’ve said since I moved here that I won’t have a flower that is not tough enough to withstand a sub-zero winter. If it wants to be in my garden, it has to be tough. I can’t tell you how many plants I’ve tried out that just didn’t have what it takes to withstand the cold and less than hospitable conditions here. I think there is a metaphor in there somewhere….

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Writing Lessons from David Rhodes

One piece of advice new writers should follow is read a lot and write a lot. I try to do both often. My reading tastes are eclectic. Sometimes I read for pleasure, sometimes as a teacher, sometimes as a writer, but always as a consumer of wonderful words. What determines the books I choose is as varied as the books themselves. Sometimes a cover inspires me, sometimes a title. Sometimes word-of-mouth recommendations lead me to pick a book I might not have considered before. That is what happened when I bought David Rhodes’ Driftless a few weeks ago. I knew nothing about this author’s work, but several of my friends who also were Waupaca BookFest board members recommended his work.

I read Driftless in a matter of a few days. It took days only because I didn’t want to rush it. It was a fine meal meant to be savored, allowing each word or phrase or sentence, even at times entire chapters to move through my imagination and leave their footprints on my consciousness. The book consumed me as I consumed it. I can’t tell you how often I stopped to consider a description or a simile, its beauty or aptness, or often both, hitting me right between the eyes. I didn’t use a highlighter or a pen handy while I read because I really just wanted to read for pleasure, so I dogeared the page where the passage was so I could go back to read it again and again.

Driftless tells the story of Words, Wisconsin, and the people who live there, but the Midwestern landscape is as much a character of this book as the people themselves. If you’re not from Wisconsin, you may not understand the title, so David Rhodes begins the book with a prologue explaining that the area where Words is located is in the Driftless Region, an area unaffected by the last ice age which “endured in its hilly, primitive form, untouched by the shaping hands of those cold giants.” The isolation and unchanged nature of the region serves as a metaphor for Words and the people there. It provides a a fascinating look at rural America–something I’ve become a bit obsessed with– in modern times.

I could write volumes on this book, but I mainly want to share some of the passages that arrested me and made me appreciate the poetry of Rhodes writing. I hope they inspire you as much as they did me.

1. This first passage tells of the moment two of the main characters met and fell in love. They have since lost that connection that Rhodes depicts so vividly here as something quite beyond their control:
“I’m Cora,” she said.
“I’m Grahm Shotwell,” he said, and his voice expanded like summer.
“Pleased to know you,”said Cora. She offered her hand. Grahm took it, entangling them in a mutually inquisitive texture of fingers and palms. The most primitive parts of themselves immediately began speaking to each to her, without permission. Their imaginations entered caves deep in unexplored forests, and joined painted bodies dancing around orange fires. The thin membrane of keeping the watery world of dreams from diluting the hard substance of reality stretched to breaking. Through a quick organization of bodily fluids, Grahm’s face turned bright red, and Cora tried to pull her hand away but found she couldn’t move it.
“Oh, no,” she said.
“Let’s find a place to sit down,” said Grahm.

If that doesn’t communicate the irresistible attraction between two people at the moment they recognize it, I don’t know what does.

2. In this next section, Jacob Helm, who has lost his wife and cannot stop grieving, arrives at Gail Shotwell’s house to work on a lawnmower. He hears music and goes to investigate. She is naked and playing a guitar; she’s a musician who lives alone. He is quite unprepared for seeing this beautiful naked woman and feels “accosted” by her beauty:

“This woman communicated an exuberant compact burgeoning that had years ago departed from Angela, whose bodily form had been consumed in a losing battle against disease. But even in her best days, Jacob feared, before illness had begun to exact its limping toll, Angela had never possessed this creature’s combination of raw visual appeal and unrehearsed grace. She glowed with health. Her neck, stretching out of the extraordinary suppleness of her shoulders, mimicked in every detail the curving stem of a lily rising to its flower. and the problems posed for him by the rondure of her hips were addressed in his imagination, one after another, before they blossomed into conscious questions, only to be posed anew.”

3. Later Jacob is alone looking at pictures of his wife in a photo album. He misses her and still grieves her and the closeness they shared. These lines break my heart.

“He looked away from the album and closed his eyes, as though protecting them from the unbearable glare of memory.

Her illness had driven a wedge between them, interrupting their sacred dialogue, the source of his joy. How he missed that vital center–talking, touching, and living one life in two parts. The disease persisted until what she most longed for she could not share with him at all, and their citadel against the outside world was finally breached.”

4. Throughout passages describe the landscape. These two resonated with me because even after 20 years here winter is such an enigma to me. I still am baffled and assaulted by the cold. Sometimes though, a mild day or two provide a respite from the harsh winter days. These two passages capture each kind of weather in winter.

First one:“It began to snow–not heavily, but persistently. Driven like powdered fog from the north, a dry, weightless snow arrived in Thistlewaite County with a nearly audible sigh, an empty, barren whisper that Upper Midwestern farmers recognized in the marrow of their bones and meteorologists detected through their digital instruments as the kind of snow that could get bad.

A stationary cold air mass perched above Wisconsin. It lingered there for several days, until, like the Owl of Minerva, it stepped off its frigid crag, opened its monstrous shadow wings, and came south, squeezing water out of the air.”

Second one: “Sometimes in the theater of winter, a day will appear with such spectacular mildness that it seems the season can almost be forgiven for all its inappropriate hostility, inconveniences, and even physical assaults. With a balmy sky overhead, melting snow underfoot, and the sounds of creeks running, the bargain made with contrasts doesn’t look so bad: to feel warm, one must remember cold; to experience joy, one must have known sorrow.”

5. In the chapter Finding July, the reader is privy to Jacob Helm’s thoughts in finding his friend, July Montgomery, who has died in a farm accident. If you’ve ever experienced the shock of something that altered your world, you will recognize Jacob’s emotions.

“There are some things, he later reflected, that change everything else. Their breaking makes no sound yet fractures the world. Afterwards, nothing can be restored to its original order. It’s Gone. But at the time, at the moment of domestic impression, Big Events don’t appear to have any power at all, a single leaf falling. They don’t seem as if they will be important. Their terrible reckoning is hidden from view.”

6. Toward the end of the book, we see Grahm Shotwell again. He is at July’s house walking through the outbuildings of July’s farm. He is lonely for July and grieving in his own way. Rhodes manages to express the ineffable feeling of absence just after someone passes away.

“Everywhere, things that couldn’t move waited for July to touch them again. The Mason jar of arrowheads that July had picked from his fields sat on his tool bench, longing to be reseeded into the ground. Wrenches wanted to be picked up  and fitted around a nut. It wouldn’t be long, he knew, before they would be auctioned to someone else, along with the cows and everything else.”

As I wrote this post and read again David Rhodes’ words and sentences, I realized I don’t want to parse them. I can’t take apart what he put together to understand how I might do what he did. I will soon, but I am still too awed by the images he evokes to examine them too closely. I want to savor them a while more. What I can say is that  if we want to be writers who can do this sort of thing with our words, we must read books like Driftless to  absorb through osmosis, through touch and sight and sound, how he makes us feel. Read. A lot. Immerse yourself in glorious words, my friends, and write.

 

 

The “Wilds” of Wisconsin

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Although technically we are past the dog days of summer, we are still enjoying warm weather here in Wisconsin. The beautiful warmth is fleeting, but during summer all sorts of plant and animal life thrive. Though many of the songbirds that I adore hearing this time of year have already fled for warmer climes, other animals and plants are just about at their peak. Here is a sampling of what I see around my home or on my walks with Stella. All this beauty is part of the charm of living in Wisconsin–that is, if you like peace and quiet and beautiful scenery!

Grandpa Ott morning glories growing on the trellis right off the patio out back.

Grandpa Ott morning glories growing on the trellis right off the patio out back.

These are my favorite morning glories. They self-sow each year. In fact, I transplanted these from another area of my garden. I never have to replant, and they are beautiful each year with virtually no pests or problems. They are thought to have come originally from Bavaria. I bought several seedlings from Turners Farm Market, and I’ve had them since!

Just down the street, my neighbor Keith has planted his backyard in native prairie flowers and grasses. Each time I walk down our street I’m treated to a new display of flowers and grasses as they bloom and grow. This year these yellow flowers were in bloom next to the lavender bee balm. I think they are called yellow prairie cone flowers.

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Queen Ann’s lace blankets the roadways here this time of year in advance of the goldenrod that bursts forth from fields and ditches.

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Along the way Stella and I pass the river and enjoy the eagles, deer, and sand hill cranes we see along the way. I never want for beauty when I’m here.

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Just another day in Wisconsin.

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Graziano Gardens

 

Graziano Gardens

Last Saturday I was feeling lonely because my hubby was away, my friends were camping or otherwise occupied, and I needed a little inspiration for my house and garden. I’ve also been trying to do something creative other than writing to, as my husband says “keep my saw sharp.” We writers need to use our creative energy in more than one way to keep the creative juices flowing. Since the main character in my book is also a gardener, I thought getting back into gardening would not only be good for my creative spirit and let me feel some of what Faith feels, but it would also be a good way to be active, a real challenge when I sit so much at my desk writing. It is definitely a workout.

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I use to really enjoy gardening, but the past few years I’ve been overwhelmed with the amount of work I need to do, and I’ve been lazy and uninspired. We have lived in our house now for nearly ten years, and all our landscaping needs overhauling. After a time, shrubs reach their full height and need radical trimming or removal, perennials need dividing–especially when you neglect doing that year after year, and some overzealous plants reproduce and take over–Siberian irises anyone? That’s where my gardens stand right now. I’d really like to pay someone to come in and redo everything, but who can afford that?

20150801_143255That’s why on Saturday, August 1, I went to visit my friend Shelly Christie, the owner of Graziano Gardens.  That’s us: she’s in pink looking lovely even in the heat! People display their creativity in numerous ways, and I’m glad Shelly lets her creativity shine in the garden. You can see it even in my less than stellar photography. Last Saturday was the first in her new Super Saturdays at Graziano Gardens. I visited to get some inspiration for planting and also to go to the Barn-tique sale–the barn on the property has all kinds of antiques and collectibles to restore and up-cycle into some new treasure for your house or garden. Pinterest anyone?

In addition, I listened to the very knowledgeable Rob Zimmer discuss gardening and designing with native plants. Rob is a columnist for the Appleton Post Crescent and is also known as the Yard MD. I did get some inspiration for next spring, but still have too much to do with what I already need to divide and move to buy anything else, except for two daylilies–there is always room for more daylilies, and Shelly had some beauties. I purchased two called Pardon Me (love the name!) miniatures with cranberry red flowers with green throats. They are re-bloomers too. I can’t wait to get them in the ground. Today, I promise.

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If you need an injection of creative inspiration and haven’t been to Graziano Gardens yet or haven’t been in a while, I urge you to go. The gardens surrounding the garden center will inspire you as will the numerous plants and pots for sale. Shelly and her crew are wonderfully  helpful and friendly! Also mark your calendars for the next two Super Saturdays this fall. The weather will be cooler, perfect for gardening. Here’s the info! I hope to see you there!

Super Saturdays, September 5th & October 3rd

  • Super Specials & Sales
  • Barn-tique Open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Linda Otto Peeters of Willow Farm – Wet Felting / Jewelry Making
  • Mum Arrival
  • Fall & Seasonal Decorating Tips
  • WE-SHARE-A-COUNTY Fall Driving Tour

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Wisconsin Wednesdays

During summer I’m amazed by the beauty of Wisconsin, especially the rural areas where I live. It comes fast and furious because there is a finite number of sunlit, warm summer days here up north. All of us appreciate each of them and spend as much time out in the fresh air and sunshine as we can. To showcase that beauty, I’ve decided to do post pictures each Wednesday highlighting some aspect of Wisconsin. I hope you’ll enjoy what I choose to show you. I’ll also use the hashtag #RuralAmerica, so if you want to post your own pictures in the comments or on Twitter, I’d LOVE to see them!

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These are my purple cone flowers or Echinacea purpurea, a perennial flower in the sunflower family. In my garden it is one of the easiest plants to grow, and it also grows in the wild here in the Midwest. Most of these I never even planted. They came up from seed form the original two or three plants, but they look so pretty where they were that I left them there. They have blessed us with numerous blooms that attract lots of honeybees and butterflies.

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Two of our “neighbors” who live within a couple of miles of us raise honeybees, and my cone flowers are a great source of nectar for the bees who pollinate them each summer. I wish you could smell them; I wish I could make a perfume of their scent!

Cone Flower with Honey Bee

Cone Flower with Honey Bee

 

 

 

 

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!

Why I Live in Wisconsin

This winter I’ve not had much good to say about the weather in Wisconsin. In fact, those of you who know me  know  I don’t care for winter, so as the saying goes, if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all. I was relatively quiet about my dislike until recently. I grew up in the South, land of balmy breezes and gentle rain, so after a winter of 49 days of below zero temperatures and as of yesterday, the second coldest winter in Wisconsin on the record books, I need to remind myself why this state is a good place to live. This winter has made me want to decamp permanently. I’ve even begun to peruse the real estate listings in Athens, Charleston, Greenville and many other southern cities dear to my heart.

Let me just put what has been happening here in Wisconsin into perspective. Back on January 6th when I woke up, the temperature was 15 below zero. When Bruce woke up half an hour later, it was 18 below. He started a fire in the fireplace to help our heater along. Academically, the cold was fascinating. The house made creaky, groaning noises that spooked our dog Stella, and the snow hit the house like pellets blown from many pellet guns at once. I didn’t have school that day or the day after, but not because of snow or ice on the roads. No.  School was cancelled because the temperatures were so low that if anyone spent more than about ten minutes outside, they could get frostbite on exposed skin. The cold was dangerous! Veterans of cold weather know the only defense against cold the sort I’m talking about is to stay indoors or to wear down and lots of it with a gaiter and a hat covered by the hood on your coat, mittens, snow boots and insulated snow pants. Here it is February 28th and the cold is as relentless as it was back in November when it began. This morning when I got up, the temperature was 17 below zero.

Even my husband, who loves winter, has had enough, this from the man who actually enjoys clearing the snow from the driveway. And I thought I was the only one going crazy! Cabin fever has set in officially at our house, and it has me thinking about why I still live here, especially when I once told my husband I would never live north of the Mason-Dixon line. Coming up with some of the reasons below took me a while, but you’ll notice that not one of them involves the season we are currently experiencing.

1. Summer–Summer in Wisconsin is a glorious three months of nearly perfect weather, long warm days and cool nights, simply heavenly. And flowers literally grow overnight they are so happy to see the sun. The trills and calls of songbirds fill the silence that blanketed the landscape like snow during winter.

2. Few bugs–Can any Southerner say this too many times? Wouldn’t everybody want to live where there are few bugs?

3. Clean, clear rivers and lakes— A river flows behind my house, and honestly, it is one of the most beautiful rivers I’ve ever seen. In fall the banks are lined with hardwoods in brilliant colors, in spring deer, foxes, bald eagles and the occasional bear and coyote join the new leaves on the trees and the greening grass to celebrate the warmer weather. In summer people and animals alike call the river home. Cedar waxwings and swallows drink from its waters and swoop and turn in the air above to catch flies and other bugs. The sounds of the river fill the evening air and float up to our open windows to lull me to sleep. Right now, deep in winter, it is frozen, but I promise it’s pretty in every other season!

4. Gardening–The older I get, the more I want to tend my garden only about four or five months of the year. If I had to tend it longer, I’d have to pay someone to help me keep up both the yard and the garden. Once the weather cools toward the end of August, school starts. Then my days are governed not by the natural world but the sound of a bell. I have an excuse to stop gardening and don’t feel guilty about allowing the weeds to spread.

5. My husband–I realized a while back that my husband probably couldn’t survive living in the south as easily as I could adapt to living up north, so I stay here with him. Of course, not long ago I told him one day I was moving back  where the winter is not something that threatens my very survival. I told him he could come with me if he wanted to, but that I was moving back to Georgia or somewhere else in the South. I am serious about that.

Five reasons is all I can come up with at the moment. I’m sure there are more, but my brain is too addled with cold to think straight right now. It is snowing yet again. Maybe when I thaw out some time in June, I’ll amend my list. In the meantime, if you know some good reasons to live in Wisconsin or anywhere else up here in this vast tundra of the Midwest, I’d love to hear from you. When I look at my thermometer and see -12F and the wind chill below zero, I need a few more reasons not to pack my bags right now. Help!

Seven Things I learned at Write by the Lake Workshop and Retreat

Revision is Hard!

Everyone who writes must revise. It is a universal problem we writers have that we can’t see the errors in our writing or we are so involved in our writing we can’t see when we aren’t saying what we think we are saying. That is why I signed up for a conference in Madison, Wisconsin, last week called Write by the Lake. I’m FINALLY finished writing my book and knew it was time to revise it, but I had no idea where to begin.

I applied to be in Christine Desmet’s master class called Finish, Polish, Publish—Mainstream, Literary, Genre novels. Best decision I ever made. Not only did I meet other writers who were in the same position of revising their pages, but we also were at the same stage of our writing journey and understood the struggles each other faced in the revision process. I never realized how critical that understanding was until this week. All of us were writing different books and fleshing out different genres, but we were tackling the same basic elements in our writing. So here is what I’m working on for the rest of the summer!

What I Learned About Revising My Book

  1. Make Setting Vivid: My setting needed to be almost another character because the book hinges around saving Winterhaven, my main character’s home. I had description in there, but it wasn’t full and lush. I am working on adding more setting details to my book so readers experience the setting with all their senses. I want them to know it as well as they know the characters in my book.
  2. My villain must be in the action throughout the book: My villain is baaad, really baaad. I need to give him more time on the pages so readers can see all aspects of his character, even his tender side. He also must be more involved in the trouble my main character faces. I want him to be a well-rounded character, and I want him to be human rather than a cartoon villain. I’m working on all that.
  3. Backloading: I have learned about this term before, but it didn’t really sink in until this week! I think I must be thick or hadn’t reached the point where backloading mattered. Anyway, I am trying to end my sentences and paragraphs with a “loaded” word. For instance, when I am describing the house in my book on the opening page, I say this: “Deep green ivy crept up the red bricks and into the cracks between the windows and under the eaves where the lead flashing had been removed to make bullets for Confederate guns.” I ended with “guns.” That’s backloading, ending sentences or paragraphs with strong words to add emphasis and psychological impact.
  4. Hooking my reader: This is a tough one, but I’m working on it. To hook the reader, the writer must end the scene or the chapter at a suspenseful or dramatic point. The writer must make the reader want to read on. For example, I originally ended my first scene with this line: “He tipped his hat to her, his expression smug, then cantered back down the sand drive toward River Road.” Bleh!!!! I revised it this way: “I’ll go, Thomas, but this isn’t over.” Much better!
  5. Clear the Clutter: Writing is ALL about voice, and voice is a tough nut to crack. One of the ways to improve your voice is to cut the clutter words from your writing. Words like felt, so, then, smiled, half-smiled, turns, slowly, walked, said, replied, thought, wondered, seems, just. The list goes on. I wasn’t even aware I was using some of these words until my classmates circled them! Do searches for words like this you haven’t even noticed you overused. I bet you’ll be surprised! I was. There’s a lot more to clutter than this, but if you do a Google search for cutting clutter from writing, you’ll have many articles to choose from which help with the concept.
  6. Objects: Make sure the objects you introduce in your book have significance. I introduced a bracelet in my book, but I realized it has no significance. I’ll write it out of my book, but later (about half way) in the story I introduce a handkerchief that my main character embroidered as a child. On her wedding day her nanny gives her the handkerchief back. It comes to represent my main character’s struggles and her home and the people who believe in her, and I need to play up its significance in the story.
  7. Endings: Beginning your book at the right place is important as everyone knows, but ending it at the right point is also important. My book’s last scene is very dramatic: it’s a shootout in which the bad guy is shot, but so is the heroine. OH, NO! Oh, yes. I don’t have enough of a resolution at the end to satisfy readers. Those who read it wanted to know more about the lives of the people who were involved in the story, so I need an epilogue. Christine suggested a point a couple of years from the last scene for the epilogue, so I need to write a bit more for my characters at a future date to complete my story. I’m working on that as well.

Attend a Writing Conference

If you are a writer serious about your craft and haven’t attended a writing conference before, I urge you to sign up for one as soon as possible, preferably one of the UW Madison Continuing Studies conferences like I did. I’m partial to those. I found my voice there. Here’s the link. http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/lsa/writing/wbtl/index.html  Christine Desmet is an awesome teacher and writer as are Laurie Scheer and Bridget Birdsall, the other members of the staff there. They are all published writers. In fact, Christine just signed a three book deal! Her first book of the three comes out in September. They are cozy mysteries set in Door County, Wisconsin, the Cape Cod of the Midwest. Here’s her website if you’d like to keep up with her release dates and any other news she might share! http://christinedesmet.wordpress.com/

Attend a writing conference at least once. I promise you will be inspired and energized afterwards.You will take your writing to the next level and spend quality time with wonderful people who think the way you do. Feeling like you’re among your own people is invaluable!

Sneakers with Implications

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My birthday present this year was a brand new pair of Nike running shoes. Purple ones! I love them, but I didn’t think about the implication of having a snazzy pair of running shoes. Think about it. Who has really cool running shoes? Either a serious runner who is pretty fast or really in shape or someone who really isn’t a runner at all, but likes the fashion statement. I see myself as the former, but I’m afraid I might just be the latter.

I’ve had to face some pretty sobering ideas as I’ve aged. Gray hair has been hard to get used to especially when I see myself in photographs. Gaining weight around my waist has been no picnic since I always had a small waist until I turned forty. Not being able to have a couple of drinks without getting a migraine has put a real damper on my social life too especially since I live in Wisconsin (the state with more taverns per square mile than any other).

Maybe the most egregious insult of aging though is my lack of stamina. I just can’t work out the way I once did. I used to be able to go for a long run, then come home and work in the garden for a couple of hours, shower, cook supper, and then help the boys with their homework. I told Bruce the other day how I felt about my lack of energy and stamina after I had taken Stella on a run. Afterwards I could only shower and collapse for a couple of hours. He just looked at me skeptically and said I needed to get into better shape so I would have more energy. Can you see my crabby face?

Anyway, back to the purple running shoes. I fell in love with them instantly, but today when I was running, I had the notion that since I had such spiffy shoes, maybe I need to be able to back up the implication that I’m a good runner. I had this notion while I was walking, of course. My friend Amy and I are in a challenge of sorts to get back in shape after the long winter of sitting on our duffs. I end up doing this every summer, but at least this year I don’t have my usual five to seven pounds gained from teaching every year. So far Amy and I have stuck to the plans, and I’m seeing gains in both my energy and my fitness. It’s a painful process but the rewards will be evident long before the end of the summer when I disappear behind the walls of my house to prepare for the winter season of indoor activities.

Although the discomfort I still have after I run will last  a while longer, I am beginning to like running again. I started logging miles when I was sixteen to get in shape to play basketball and have been at it off and on over the years. Later in my life I ran to feel good, to sweat out too much beer in college, to shed weight after having babies, to be healthy. I have even run one marathon, The Chicago Marathon, and one half, The Fox Cities Half.  But the best running memory I have ever had was when I had the elusive runner’s high. That wonderful rush of endorphins made me feel as though I could run forever with no effort. It has remained the holy grail for me and is the reason, I think, that I remain in a pair of purple sneakers with implications.

What I realized today as I watched my feel hit the asphalt beneath me is that no matter what color my sneakers are, no matter how old I become, no matter how energized I feel, I will always be a runner whether that means I am svelte and competitive or plod along the breakneck speed of a turtle. And I love my purple sneakers!