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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 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 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.”

Thirty In Thirty Day 17

Thirty In Thirty Day 17

 

 

Once again, the rebel in me rejected the prompt for today provided by storyaday.org. There was nothing wrong with the prompt but it wasn’t the right one for me today. I may use it at another time. I did an internet search of prompts and found one that worked.

 

Prompt: The streets were deserted.

 

Exploring more of my middle grade fantasy by letting my protagonist, Olen, take the stage.

 

Detention again. And ten lashes on my back in front of the whole class. Master Roberts was quite angry that I interrupted his lesson to ask about Before. I didn’t cry out or shed any tears, which I think provoked him to strike me harder on the last few. My back smarted the rest of the day and the other boys steered clear of me at lunch and recess. No one wants to be seen with a boy who breaks the rules so often. I understand. It isn’t safe to question the laws or the Master. It is better this way. At least now that they are avoiding me I get beat up less often.

 

Detention was two hours of reading the Tirren Code of Laws aloud to Master Roberts over and over. I’ve done it so many times already that I have them mostly memorized. But recalling them is not the same as believing them.   After all this time I can keep reading the words and think about something else entirely. Today I thought about the stories Mama told me about the Great Sea. I would like to see that one day, if it even exists anymore.

 

When he finally dismissed me with a stern warning, Master Roberts left quickly and was out of sight by the time I reached the door. As I headed toward home something felt strange. The streets were deserted. There was no one else about. No boys playing tag, no women gathering in wash from the clothes lines, no peddlers with their carts. No one at all. I felt the hair prickle on the back of my neck. Where was everyone? I hurried down the hill toward our cottage with a sense of fear growing in my chest.

 

When I opened the door Mama wasn’t in her chair. The fireplace was empty and cold. I called out, but there was no answer. Then I noticed the note on the table.

 

 

Thirty In Thirty Day 11

Thirty in Thirty Day 11

As was true yesterday, the prompt from storyaday.org for today was underwhelming and a non-starter for me.  So I went back in their archives and found a prompt from 2016 that I liked much better.

 

(Self_selected ) Prompt for today: Rewrite a fairy tale: modernize it or tell it from a different character’s  Point-of-View, or create  a new ending.

 

Ah, now there’s a prompt I can work with. So, today I have a modern retelling of Little Red Riding Hood  from the grandmother’s POV.

 

 

I’ll tell you what, it’s getting so’s a body can’t have any peace these days, You would think at my age I’d finally have earned the right to a quiet weekend without being bothered. I hope that Saturday’s “adventure”  isn’t a sign of things to come.

Retirement is supposed to be a slower pace. Well, if yesterday is any indication, retirement is going to be too much for me.

It’s all the fault of my meddlesome daughter-in-law. Why, she can’t  leave me alone for one minute! She wants to come over here every weekend or send that kid over for me to entertain. It’s not my fault my son’s job keeps him traveling so much.

If Ellen’s  lonely, she only has herself to blame. She’s the one who wanted to “get away from it all” and live way back down in the woods. Thought it would be peaceful and safer for little Rosie. Now neither Ellen or the kid have any friends.

I guess it was my mistake choosing a retirement village that was within walking distance –if you go through the woods. I didn’t know when I moved in that I would have to contend with Ellen’s constant calling, interference and just “dropping by.” I wanted to be close enough for the occasional visit, but it has gotten ridiculous.

Anyway, yesterday was the last straw. After four weekends in a row of entertaining Ellen and Rosie, I decided enough is enough. I wanted to have a quiet day at home so I could dive into the latest Stephen King novel and start on a new sewing project. I was all set to read and later sew while streaming jazz on my laptop.  I even had planned a special lunch for myself home-made pesto over cheese tortellini and  nice glass of chardonnay. Ellen doesn’t approve of eating gluten or drinking alcohol. When she comes for lunch it’s nothing but salads and organic juices.

Now you might be thinking that since I’m retired I could do all of those things during the week, but my schedule is packed. There’s bridge club on Tuesdays, garden club on Wednesdays’, tutoring at the adult education center on Thursdays, and of course keeping the books for the condo association on Mondays and Fridays. Weekends are my respite, unless I have a date.

 I digress.  Suffice it to say I had my day all planned when Ellen called and wanted to go into town and go shopping-again. So I told her I was sick with a cold and I planned to rest. Well, I could tell she was concerned and she agreed that I should stay home.

Little did I know she would get so worked up. Instead of going on shopping and leaving me alone she began baking and making soup for me. At about 12:00 she sent little Rosie through the woods to deliver a basket of chicken soup ( which I detest), watercress sandwiches on gluten-free bread ( ditto), some nasty looking  green juice, plus cold pills and aspirin.

I didn’t know all of this until a bit later. I had taken a break from reading and sewing and was getting ready to practice my yoga via YouTube when I heard a knock on my door.  Through the privacy glass on my  door I could see the distorted image of Rosie in her red coat and hood.( She wears that coat constantly. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t made it for her.) I hurried to grab my bathrobe, flung myself down on the couch and called out in my best feeble voice for her to come in.

Rosie entered and hurried over to me without closing the door. I had just opened my mouth to tell her to close it when a huge hairy-looking creature burst into the room. It looked like a wolf. Rosie screamed. Goodness gracious that girl’s shrieks could pierce concrete.

I jumped up from the couch, grabbed her by the hand and dashed into the bathroom where I flipped the lock. Rosie continued screeching. I reached over and pushed the emergency button. All of the bathrooms at the retirement village have them, You know, in case someone falls or something foolish like that.

The sounds outside the bathroom turned from growling to what sounded like laughter. A muffled voice called out, “ Hey Thelma it’s just me.”

Then the security  people showed up shouting and radios crackling. I opened the door and peeked out. The officers had the wolf cornered and then dragged him outside.

Turns out the “wolf” was one of my son’s weirdo friends from high school.  That fool, Wally,  had gotten himself  a role in a rock video. After the taping he had gotten drunk  and decided to show up in costume and scare me. Wally never did like me. Needless to say the feeling is mutual.  Now he is in jail charged with home invasion.

 


 

 

 

Thirty in Thirty Day 10

Thirty in Thirty Day 10

 

I have been following the prompts from storyaday.org for my Thirty in Thirty challenge. The website says feel free to ignore a prompt when it really doesn’t resonate, so today I am doing so. The prompt was to write without following punctuation and other conventions. So instead I am continuing with my exploration of characters in my middle-grade fantasy.

 

 

Today I am taking the POV of Elder Phineas, the leader of the ruling council in the town of Tirren, the setting for the beginning of my story.

 

My patience is running out. No, that is a falsehood. The truth is it ran out long ago. If Josiah wasn’t the best harvester in the village I would have long ago advised, no forced the council to censure his family. There’s that crazy wife of his, Mariah, who skulks around the cemetery, but otherwise refuses to leave her house. She is not following Decree 35 of the Covenant Laws of Tirren that all adults should contribute to and participate in village life. I have decided that the council needs to pass a law forbidding entry into the cemetery except for funerals. All of this moaning over dead children is not productive. Every family lost children. If they were not strong enough to survive, they would have been a drain on the village. There is no place  for weakness or sentimentality in Tirren.

 

Then there is Josiah’s worthless son, Olen. By all accounts he is a bright lad, but he is not obedient. He daydreams during lessons and questions the teaching of the Masters at school. He has been thrashed and punished frequently for his attitude, but it has not changed anything. He continues to ask about Before and about the outside world. That should’ve been indoctrinated out of him much earlier. I think his mother is undermining the school teachings. Talking about Before is forbidden under Law 10 of the Covenant.

 

So we have reason to charge Mariah on two counts of law breaking. We could banish her. As for that boy, he will be 12 soon. Then he will be answerable as an adult.

 

I think that it is time to take advantage of Josiah’s absence and pay an official visit to Mariah. I will have Master Gregson accompany me. We will make it clear what is at stake. Besides there have been rumors that Mariah is in the possession of forbidden items-books. Yes, I think tonight we will pay call on Mariah and Olen.

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