Writing Toward Home

Writing , Ideas, and Encouragement

Month: September 2017 (page 1 of 3)

Thirty in Thirty Day 29


Thirty in Thirty Day 29   What I’ve Been Reading

 

Anyone who is serious about being a writer should also be a serious reader.  What should you read? Anything and everything. I believe that a writer should read widely, in many formats and many genres, paying close attention to what the author of the book, essay, or article is doing regarding style, theme, and format. This is known as reading like a writer. Everything one reads changes the person in some way.

I attempt to read a wide variety of texts on a monthly basis. Here is a summary of my latest reading:

The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis  A debut novel. The narrator is writing about his father, a brilliant but tortured writer. This book is set  in the NW mountains of North Carolina, which is where I am currently living, so that made it a compelling read for me. This is a character–driven tale with an unreliable narrator. A very Gothic feel and a mystery as well.

The Underground Railroad  By Colson Whitehead. This was the community read for the local literary festival. Fascinating, but difficult  to read due to the subject matter. Reminded me of  Beloved By Toni Morrison.

Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff  Story of a Jewish woman working in a circus in occupied France during World War ll. Another great, but harrowing read.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware  Classic mystery story. A page turner. A bit of a respite from some heavy reading.

The Queen of Katwe by Tim Crothers  True story of a young girl from Africa who becomes an international chess sensation despite great odds.

Final Vinyl Days  by Jill McCorkle  Short story collection by a writer from Lumberton, NC.  The stores are funny, heart-wrenching and enjoyable.

How To See by David Salle Essays on art.

Patron Saint of Dreams By Phillip Gerard  Wide-ranging essays on death, grizzly bears, hurricanes and more.

Horoscopes for The Dead By Billy Collins Poetry

Sunday New York Times.  Essays, news, op-ed pieces, book reviews and more.

What have you been reading?

Thirty in Thirty Day 28

Thirty in Thirty Day 28

 

Today I am recalling a special place from my childhood, my grandmother’s kitchen.

 

My Grandmother’s Kitchen

 

My favorite place as a child was Granny’s kitchen on Holly Street in Grove Park, a section of Atlanta. The house where my maternal grandparents lived was a small bungalow built in the 1930’s. It had two bedrooms, one bathroom, a living room, dining room, a breakfast room and that wonderful kitchen.

 

The kitchen was not large, but it is where all of my best memories take place. It had a long yellow formica counter where Granny created  culinary magic turning out pound cakes, biscuits, fried chicken, pies, and more. It was at that counter that I learned how to make apple pie and cornbread dressing just like my grandmother’s. She did not use a recipe or measure for anything she cooked so I spent many hours watching her work. She taught me to go by the smell of the combined ingredients before cooking to know when things were seasoned correctly. Whenever I make apple pie or dressing, I feel Granny’s presence with me as I take a sniff of the mixture.

I also spent many hours at the large white porcelain sink when I was younger. I loved washing dishes at Granny’s sink because she never worried about me breaking anything and she didn’t hover. She would drag up a stool for me to stand on, gird me with an apron tied under my arms and fill a plastic dish pan with soap and water. I would don a pair over large yellow rubber gloves and plunge into the suds. It was more like play than work. When I finished with the dishes, Granny would toss some empty wooden spools into the dish pan so I could blow bubbles through them. I still prefer to wash dishes rather than load and unload a dishwasher. Whenever I have a large load of dishes in the sink to wash I am transported back to that kitchen.

 

Another favorite spot in the kitchen was the drop leaf table that sat in the center.

Granny kept it covered with a white oilskin table-cloth. Even though there was much more room in the dining room or breakfast room on Sunday afternoons most of the family would end up in the kitchen clustered around that table. The leaves would be pulled out and all of the ladder back chairs from the dining and breakfast rooms were dragged up to it. The table would be covered in cups and tea glasses and plates, until my Uncle James lit up his cigar. Then the table was cleared and he would hold court. He would set to work telling stories and drawing and doodling all over the tablecloth with a blue ballpoint pen. He would draw caricatures of politicians and cartoon characters and speech balloons and funny animals as he smoked his stogie and told jokes and spun tall tales. The following Sunday the tablecloth would be miraculously clean and ready for the next installment. I started housekeeping with that drop-leaf table and 10 years later my brother took possession of it when he bought his first house.

Whenever I think of Granny, my mind drifts to that kitchen. It is a touch stone of my childhood memories.

 

What childhood place holds significance for you?

 

 

 

 

Personality Types: They Matter More Than You Realize

Personality Types: They Matter More than You Realize

 

My review of Reading People by Anne Bogel

I was privileged to be a part of the Launch Team for this book and received an advanced copy earlier this summer. The book was released on September 19.

 

 

Through her blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy, and her podcast What Should I Read Next? Anne Bogel has established herself as the Internet’s book maven, attracting hundreds of readers to her website as she extols the power of books and reading.

 

Now she has written a book of her own in which she explores another one of her passions: the world of personality frameworks and why they matter. Reading People: How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything is the culmination of Anne’s exploration of the popular personality tools in use today.

 

Want to know about Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, StrengthsFinder or the Five Love Languages? They are all explored and explained, as are others.

 

The book is informative, extensively researched, yet quite accessible due to Anne’s gentle style and personal anecdotes that fill the pages. It reads as though you are having a conversation with a trusted friend.

 

Her purpose? To help each of us know and understand ourselves and the people around us, so that we may become better spouses, parents, friends, and co-workers.

Once you know your personality tendencies and those of the significant people in your life, you can apply the information to those relationships.

 

Being able to read the people around us gives us the tools to forge better communication in all areas of our lives: our homes and families, our workplaces and vocations, and our friendships. We begin to walk in another’s shoes and see the world through their eyes. When we can do that, we can make strides towards truly understanding one another.

 

I loved this book and have found myself referring back to it in an effort to change my perception and reaction to behaviors in those close to me. I highly recommend it o anyone who wishes to forge healthier and more productive communication in their circles of influence.

 

If you desire to explore your personality traits beyond the latest BuzzFeed quiz  ( i.e. Which fairy tale character are you?) , and have information that you can use to transform your relationships, pick up a copy of Reading People.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thirty in Thirty Day 26

Thirty in Thirty Day 26:  The Mysteries of a Writer’s Mind

Every once in a while I think I have this writing thing figured out. ( Bear with my hubris for just a moment. It doesn’t last long.) 

I’ll have a story idea, sit down at the computer, and things will flow in the direction I have in mind. Easy-peasy. I high-five the muse and we both share a smug little smile.

 But, it’s a trap and a snare. You would think by now I would be wary after such a serendipitous event and wait for the other shoe to drop. The problem is that writers, out of necessity, are optimistic (read: deluded) creatures. If we weren’t how could we keep going?

The point of all of this is that the ideal writing session described above is a rarely seen creature indeed, like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.

 Usually I start with an idea or a character and no matter what I do they won’t behave and stick to the script. What I’ve found is that if I try to force the issue they pack their bags and sneak off or play dead. My pleas about my great  plan do no good.

The only way to avoid a total defection is to allow the character or idea to go off in whatever direction they choose. My job is to forget my preconceived notions, tag along, and make notes.

This is essentially what happened yesterday as I began Part 2 of a story I am calling “The Key.” ( see Day 22 and Day 25 of Thirty in Thirty).

When I wrote Part 1 about a woman receiving a key from a mysterious old man, I envisioned a fantasy involving a quest, magic, and high adventure with Annie as the protagonist.

Yesterday, however, Annie’s memories revealed an entirely different story involving the beginning of  The Infinity Club, a group of junior high misfits. To say I was surprised would be an understatement. I tried to steer Annie back toward my vision, but she had a different purpose in mind. When she revealed her disability I was caught off guard. I sensed anger and pain that I had not expected.

At that point it was as if she looked and me and said, “ Ok. Now do something with this.” Then she folded her arms and refused to divulge anything else.

I wisely stopped writing and told her I would be back when she was ready. I requested her permission to publish what I had written and that was that.

I hope Annie shows back up soon. I have a lot of questions.

 

In the meantime, I have other projects to work on.

The mysterious workings of my writer’s brain are what beckon me to my computer each day. The story of Annie and her secret is not an isolated event. It has happened too many times to discount. It can be exasperating, thrilling, and a bit unnerving. Still the anticipation of who will show up and what baggage they will carry keeps me at my desk. It is not a tidy way of working, but it certainly isn’t boring.

 

When I have talked about this before I have had people look at me with skepticism and reservation. What I am tempted to say is, “If you think that’s weird, you should hear about my dreams.”

Thirty in Thirty Day 25 The Key Part 2

Thirty in Thirty Day 25   The Key: Part 2

 

Today I am continuing a story I began on Day 22.   Synopsis: An old man shows up at Annie’s door and hands her an old key with a worn tag attached. The tag has indecipherable writing on one side and the numeral 8 on the other. Annie is confused about the key until she rotates the tag and realizes the 8 is actually the infinity sign.

 

 

It had been decades since Annie thought about the Infinity Club. How old had they been when she, Tessa, Ruth, and Claire had started it? Twelve? Thirteen?

Tessa, the mathematician and hands-down brainiest one had come up with the name for their little group of misfits. On their first day of junior high they had drifted together at an isolated table in the dim corner of the cafeteria. They were the pariahs in the dog-eat-dog world of seventh grade culture: shy, socially awkward, fashion disabled, and physically immature.

 

While their initial meeting had been forged in the humiliation of rejection by their more confident and astute peers, the girls had soon formed their own circle of friendship. Their forsaken table became a refuge, a haven from the daily humiliations and taunts from the other students.

 

They vowed to be friends forever and Tessa declared them the Infinities.

Ruth, who loved creating jewelry, made them each a necklace with the infinity symbol, which they all faithfully wore each day.

 

Their lunches soon became opportunities for observing the behaviors and rituals of the popular girls in hopes of emulating them. Claire, possessor of a wry and insightful sense of humor and a set of parents who were psychologists, declared they were conducting a human behavior experiment. She kept a notebook of the club members’ surveillance of the language, dress, and habits of the “It” girls.

 

Annie was the leader of the group. She displayed a confidence born of anger and a sense of injustice that she had carried from an early age. Her inability to “fit in” didn’t derive from shyness or lack of awareness. For her, it would never matter how much she copied the habits of the “Queen Bees” as she called them. The metal arm and claw that was attached to her right shoulder made sure of that. The advantage she had was  the other kids were afraid of her and her mechanical arm and she went to great lengths to reinforce that notion.

 

Part 3 Coming soon.

 

Thirty In Thirty Day 24

Thirty in Thirty Day 24    My Storytelling DNA

 

I am a person who spends a great deal of time roaming around in the riotously overgrown fields of my imagination using words as my compass. I have two  large crates of spiral notebooks, legal pads and file folders filled with my scrawled stories, essays, and memories going back over three decades. For all of the years and paper that have been given to this adventure, my publishing successes can be counted on two fingers:  an essay in a small neighborhood paper and an excerpt of a novel in an online magazine.

Question: Why do I keep doing it?

Answer: Because I can’t not do it.

I have been thinking lately about the origin of this compulsion. I need only glance at my family tree to find the answer. First of all, I am a Southerner, which means that storytelling is inborn, imprinted, and ingrained on my psyche.

 

My father was a storyteller. At night he would sit on the edge of my bed and tell my brother and I fairy tales, folk tales  and true ( well,  mostly true) stories from his childhood. We had our favorites that we requested over and over. Mine was a story called “ Bozo the Button Buster” from Rootabaga  Stories by Carl Sandburg.

 

My mother did her storytelling in the car to keep us entertained on errands. She told us “Fractured Fairytales” in which she mixed all of the stories and characters together so that Red Riding Hood might go climbing up Jack’s Beanstalk to look for the Three Little Pigs. We would beg for these silly stories that I am sure she made up on the spot. Mom also made up a song about a little fox who was always going on adventures and taunting someone to try and catch him. This song had endless verses and would have us giggling and singing along on the refrain.

 

The other touchstone location for my storytelling heritage was my grandmother’s kitchen table. Every Sunday afternoon, my mother’s family would gather at Granny’s house. There were usually 20 or more people there all talking, joking, laughing and telling tales. I sat at that table week after week and soaked in the comforting stew of words and stories. Even now, I can recall the timbre of the various voices, the elongated syllables of the drawls honed in the North Georgia mountains, the unique expressions of each raconteur, and the warmth and joy that enveloped me in that cozy environment.

Most of those folks are gone. But the memories, stories, and characters reside within me along with tales of my own. Each of those deserves  to be remembered, celebrated, and shared.

So I keep writing.

Thirty in Thirty Day 23

Thirty in Thirty Day 23  A Festival, Friends, and Filling the Reservoir

I have so enjoyed the challenge of writing every day for thirty days. ( 1 week to go!) However, even when one has lots of story ideas and a love of creating, there comes a time when the tank is running a bit low. Over the past three days I have engaged in activities to refill my mental reservoir.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, calls this filling the well. One of the best ways to do that is to take an Artist Date or two. An Artist Date can be anything that brings pleasure and helps nourish and recharge the batteries of the artist within.

Here are the things I have done recently replenish my creative well:

Thursday I took a long drive along winding mountain roads enjoying the early fall colors and taking photographs of old barns.

Friday I met a new writer friend for drinks at a local restaurant. We sat for two hours discussing  our writing  projects and long-term goals and making plans to meet regularly to support one another.

Today my husband and I drove to our former city and spent the day with good friends. We went out to lunch, attended an art festival, went out for dinner at a favorite restaurant, and ended the evening over drinks and great conversation that ranged from travel, to history, to board games, and politics.

The art festival was a feast for this writer’s soul as I took in all of the sights, sounds, and smells.

There were dozens of booths filled with paintings, pottery, jewelry, fiber arts, and sculpture.  There is nothing better than immersing ones self in the creative work of others to invite inspiration. A dozen story ideas presented themselves while I browsed the booths. And of course, I couldn’t resist making a couple of purchases.

The air was filled with the competing scents of various carnival foods: kettle corn, funnel cakes, bratwurst, cotton candy, fudge and much more.

 There were storytellers, clowns, dancers, and musicians on various stages, plus the hundreds of people and dogs that roamed the sidewalk that encircled the lake.

 

We walked and looked and chatted with the artists and among ourselves.

It was a lovely, relaxing day. Now I am back at the hotel, propped up in bed next to my snoring spouse feeling grateful, refreshed and renewed.

When we return home from our mini-vacation on Monday I will be ready to jump back into the studio again.

Thirty in Thirty Day 22 The Key

Today’s Thirty in Thirty post is the start of what I hope may turn into a short story. So far in my practice of learning to write short fiction, I am creating lots of interesting beginnings. Now I just need to figure out how to go on from there.  I guess it is all part of the process.

The envelope contained a brass key worn smooth by age and use. The wrinkled tag attached to the key contained some indecipherable scribbles in faded, water smeared script. Annie turned the tag over to the other side. The number 8 was scrawled there and nothing else. Annie looked up at the bent, old man standing at her door who had delivered the key. “Why did you bring me this?” she asked.“What is it for?”

The old man shrugged, gave her a thin-lipped smile. “ You are Annie, right?”

At her nod he winked one of his bright blue eyes at her. “You’ll figure it out.” Then he turned and scampered off the porch with more energy than Annie would have credited to him. “But…” she looked back down at the key in her hand. It gave a sort of pulse and got warmer. When she looked back up the man was nowhere in sight.

Annie looked in both directions up the street but the old man was gone. What an odd ting to happen so early on a Monday morning. What could this possibly mean? She frowned and started at the key trying to decide what it might go to. It looked like a house key but it was not quite large enough. Could it be to a trunk or…

 

The whistle of the tea kettle pulled her from her musings. She shoved the key into her jeans’ pocket and dashed to the kitchen as she heard the unmistakable sound of the kettle boiling over on the stove.

 

After wiping up the sputters from the teakettle, Annie took her mug of Earl Grey to her desk in the corner of the kitchen. She retrieved the key from her pocket and placed it in front of her. It was old-fashioned looking like something from a vintage shop. A desk key perhaps? She turned the tag over and considered the number. What was the meaning of the eight?

 

She rotated the tag and gave a gasp. It wasn’t an eight at all. It was the sign for infinity. “Of course,” she said. “ It’s been a long time.”

 

Thirty in Thirty Day 21

Thirty In Thirty Day 21   

 The Creative Life: Doing What You Can Not Do

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Choosing to be a creator writer, painter, composer, fiber artist, sculptor is to also choose to be a life-long learner. In every creative endeavor there is always something to learn: a new form, technique , medium, or method.  That is the joy and the struggle of being a maker. There is exhilaration and fear in learning something new, in pushing one’s self. 

There are often breakthroughs, triumphs and discoveries.

More often one experiences struggle, doubt and do-overs. It may involve painting over a canvas, pulling out stitches, crossing out notes, filling up the wastebasket , or hitting the delete button.

It is not a straight road; rather, it is a wild stumble though the brambles looking for the path. And, it takes time.

Picasso said, “ I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”

 

Yes.

For many years I have been working in long-form fiction – the novel.  I completed one a number of years ago. It is the one that many novelists refer to as their “under-the-bed book” because it will never see the light of day. I worked on it for several years until I completed it. Then I put it away.  It had served its purpose by teaching me how to write a novel and how not to write one. I learned how to tell a story.

Four years ago I participated in NANOWRIMO. It is an international event that takes place every November. The goal is to complete a novel of at least 50,000 words in 30 days.  That means averaging around 1700 words per day.  I began a new novel with a character and a situation that had been bouncing around in my brain for a while. I completed the challenge and ended up with a completed novel that needed lots of polish.

I am on draft number six of that story. What I have gained from that effort was how to revise and edit a novel length manuscript. Plus, I have learned perseverance.

 

It is still a work in progress that I hope to publish one day.

Recently I have been working on a series of short fairy tales for children.  I have enjoyed writing complete stories in this shorter form. This has kindled a desire to write short stories for adults with an eye on publishing in magazines. This is a recommended step for fiction writers who wish to build a platform that will attract  the interest of agents and book publishers.  So now I am teaching myself to write short stories.

 I have been using the Thirty in Thirty challenge  to try out my skills in quickly developing interesting characters and compelling  story lines. So far I have been able to write some acceptable opening scenes. Now I need to figure out how to extend a story premise to a satisfying conclusion.

I just keep plugging along, one step at a time.

 “I am doing what I cannot do in order to learn how to do it.”

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Thirty in Thirty Day 20

Thirty in Thirty  Day 20  “The Silence Rang in My Ears”

Last week I attended the 10th Annual Ashe County ( NC)  Literacy Festival, “On the Same Page.”  Four for days I had the pleasure and privilege of being among fellow writers and book lovers. It was such a treat to be in the company of my “tribe.”  I relished the chance to hear authors read from their work, to participate in workshops, and to hang out with like-minded people who appreciate the joy of the written word.

 

I filled many pages of my ever-present notebook with ideas, quotes, and helpful hints.  In one session a phrase struck a chord so I jotted it down, knowing it would show up somewhere, sometime in a writing session.

 

Today’s prompt is that phrase: “The silence rang in my ears.”

A little piece of fiction ensued.

 

Grant glared at me in the rear view mirror as I unloaded the back of the van. His impatience wrapped around me like a blanket and weighed my arms down. The trays of pansies felt as heavy as the yellow and green bags  of potting soil I had already dragged to the ground. I grabbed the handle of the hatch and slammed as hard as I could.

He gunned the motor and roared up the driveway, not caring that the gravel he scattered was pelting my legs.

It had come to this. We couldn’t even make it through a shopping trip to Lowe’s without fighting. I watched Grant stomp toward the house without a  word or a glance in my direction. The silence rang in my ears.

My thoughts turned to a familiar theme: What if David hadn’t died?

 

I pulled on my gloves and began plucking the care-worn geraniums from the rotting flower box that David had made so many years ago. Every season I feared it would fall apart as I carefully planted new flowers, but it continued to hang on, just like me.

As I teased the pansies from the flat, I recalled an October day seven years ago when I had mistakenly ordered a gross of daffodil bulbs. David had laughed as I counted the bulbs and realized that a gross was a great many more than the forty-eight I had anticipated.

He disappeared into the house and returned with the TV from the office, which he set up on the front porch. He offered to help me plant if I promised to cheer for Georgia against Tennessee. We spent the afternoon watching the game and planting bulbs everywhere.

At half-time David told me to set out the picnic blanket and some drinks while he ran out for hoagies. We had a “tail-gate” party in the front yard, laughing and waving to our uppity neighbors as they drove by advertising their disapproval.

David remarked that he couldn’t wait to see all of our daffodils in the spring.

He was dead before the first one bloomed.

 

I brushed away tears as I heard the crunch of Grant’s feet stalking down the driveway.

He scowled and flicked his wrist in an exaggerated look at his watch.  “Aren’t you going to make some lunch or something? I have a two o’clock tee time.”

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