Monday, July 29, 2013

Nature, Short Stories, and other inspirations of summer

I reached for my robe this morning. The air felt different. Like fall. Like the first day of school. Crystals of water decorated a mugho pine in the front garden. Yesterday, I watched as an industrious sparrow disappeared inside the pine with ridiculously long stalks and twigs.

I’ve missed many prime opportunities to include pictures with my blogs. On my facebook page with my Monday morning greeting, I posted that today is the day to make a difference. With that in mind, I grabbed my camera and headed outside. The bird flew from the pine as I approached. I took these two shots as she chirped an angry warning from her perch on a nearby spruce. Not wanting to disturb her work, I didn’t part branches to get a shot of the nest she’s building, but you can see one of the twigs in the picture above.

A couple of years ago, I moved to a windowless room to do my writing. Nature was too distracting. Yet, for most of this summer, I’ve been writing in front of a large window with my computer on my lap. Now I consider nature more of an inspiration than distraction.

This has been the summer of short stories. I’ve been reading them, writing them, and submitting them. It’s been challenging. Writing a novel is like taking a deep breath and then diving into a bottomless pool. Writing short stories feels more like splashing through a puddle. I get wet but I’m not totally immersed. Maybe I'm not doing it right.

Of the stories written for submission this summer, one is crime suspense – more of a psychological thriller, one is a humorous look at young love in a different era, and the last is more of a memoir. Writing short stories has been a challenge, as always, for me. I’m learning a lot in the process, which is always a good thing. I miss my novels though, and I’m looking forward to getting back to my work in progress, The Bones of Doris Mead.

This summer, I made the decision to re-write a book of memoirs changing the POV from third person to first. Initially uncomfortable writing this book in first person, I distanced myself. Because I re-worked a story from this series for a magazine submission, I saw it with fresh eyes and I'm okay with it now.  Everything happens for a reason!

Until I complete these books, I shouldn’t begin any other long-term project. Maybe short stories will end up being my salvation when I get the creative urge to write something totally new. 

In the meantime, I must get on with my day which requires changing out of p.j.’s . I can hear the blasted cardinal bouncing off my bedroom window. How about a picture? Hah! Gotcha! At least, having mentioned him in several fb posts and blogs, you know he's not a figment of my imagination.

There’s still a lot of chirping going on near the mugho pine. It sounds like they’re saying, what’ll we do if she comes back?


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Enjoying a good book ... or two

Did you hear that? It was a sigh of relief. I mailed the last of two short story contest submissions. I’m looking forward to a more casual approach to my writing for the rest of the summer. Aside from my magazine column deadlines, I will not feel obligated to do any writing. Take notice that I said feel obligated. You know, as well as I do, that I will be writing something. Try and stop me!

On the way back from the post office, I dropped by the local library to pick up a couple of books that came in for me. Today, it was Elizabeth Berg’s Tapestry of Fortunes, along with David Baldacci’s latest, The Hit. In the mail this week, I received Audrey Austin’s latest release, Moose Road, A Canadian Tragedy (mine is number 8 in a limited edition).

So many great books, I’m salivating. Now, to snuggle down in air-conditioned comfort and crack the covers. No guilt. After all, in these hellish temperatures, gardening, walking ‒ or even shopping ‒ is out of the question. (For those of you who read last week’s bizarre blog, my outdoor work is fairly caught up, looking rather good actually, I had twelve family members over for dinner (not a bologna sandwich in sight) and the fridge is well stocked.

Before I dive into the new reads, I need to finish an excellent book that author Elizabeth George edited called The Two Deadliest. ‘Tales of Lust, Greed, and Murder from Outstanding Women of Mystery’. I had to put the book aside for a couple of weeks but that’s okay. With a book of short stories, it’s easy to pick up where I left off. I’m lovin’ it. So, I must duck back into the world of deliciously evil and then move on to the next delectable work of fiction.

You’ll hear from me again when I come up for air.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Absorbed in a World of Fiction

Sorry about the bologna sandwiches. I didn’t get to the store for groceries. I’ve been busy working. Well no, I didn’t get a job but I still write. Pardon? Oh, um, I’m writing another novel. I get so caught up in my story and my writing and all those crazy characters that time just runs away with itself. Seems like everything else just slips my mind. Why yes, I knew you were coming but those weeks just sort of flew right by. Another dill? Mustard? Of course, here you are. I’m sure there’s enough left. Just give it a big squeeze. Oh, a little messy, but there you are.

As I was saying, I write. I’ve been working on a short story for a contest. So much editing. Well, I try. Yes, it sure takes up a lot of my time. And then there are the book reviews I submit. Of course I have to read the books first. Reading. I used to read for hours and hours. Days. Now, I try to fit in a bit of reading each week. The pleasure reading, you know. Oh, yes, certainly, reading is always pleasurable but there’s a difference between reading, say a book for a review or one written by a friend, and curling up with a juicy murder mystery and a big bowl of popcorn...say, would anyone like popcorn?

Oh, that’s our cat. She’s a Persian but she has a lion cut right now. I guess she does look strange, yes. It does look like a lion’s tail. No, I think she likes it. Her fur doesn’t get all matted when she’s shaved like that. No, no, we have her groomed just a couple of times a year.

Here, let me help. I have a lint brush somewhere. Yes, we have a cat and a dog. Dog hair, you know how it is. No? Ah well, she likes to sleep on the couch. That would be why. And the bed. No special place. She moves around. She’s sweet though, don’t you think?

I’m not sure about Lex. Could be part shepherd, beagle. She’s, you know, a sweet little mutt. Yes, you’re right. A sweet, hairy, little mutt. Another sandwich? No? Really? I thought you were spending the night. A weekend visit is what you mentioned on the phone. Say, how about taking a drive to town. We could get a sno cone or ice cream bar for dessert. How about it folks?

Okay, I understand. If this is about the bologna sandwiches, I just remembered I have some chuckwagon chili in the freezer. And if I’m not mistaken, I have some hamburger buns that have been in there for awhile. We should eat those too. I can slap some garlic butter on them and toss them under the broiler. Bet we wouldn’t even notice the freezer burn.

Well, if you insist. Watch your step. Would you look at the way that shrub grew right across the bottom step of the porch. Isn’t that just too crazy. Oh my, I haven’t been out for awhile. Is it always this warm? Must be the humidity that made those thistles grow so big. I’ve got one of those little pruning saws. That might cut through it. Eventually.

No, thank you. Great visit. Stop by again when you can stay longer. I’ll be finished my novel soon and then I’ll take a break. Get groceries. I’m sure that store is still open at the plaza. Do some gardening. Whoa, would you look at that. What is that thing?

Okay then, bye. So long, folks.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Writers Learn from Reading

Today I planned to read for sheer enjoyment. Not as easy as you think. I’m always analyzing writing styles, flinching over typos, questioning grammar...  Distracting, to say the least.

Settled in my recliner, I breathed a contented sigh, and cracked the cover of Two of the Deadliest. Out of habit, I checked the publisher and the date of publication before beginning the collection of short stories by top female crime writers.

After reading only two or three titles, I knew it was an excellent book. I began taking notes. I couldn’t stop myself. I gave a star rating and a one or two sentence review for each one. Despite my good intentions, I was reading these stories as a writer. On the plus side, my comments would come in handy if I wrote a book review.

Taking a break from reading, I glanced over the brief notes and the three to five stars allocated to the stories I’d finished. Unsatisfactory ending was one comment I’d scribbled. Why was I dissatisfied? What would have satisfied me? Why did I feel the main character lacked ... character?

Characters are almost more important to me than the storyline. They don’t have to be characters I can identify with, or people I would like to befriend, as long as they are three-dimensional. Well-portrayed.

The very act of delegating a star rating to each story forced me to identify its strengths and weaknesses. It gave me pause to reflect on what I liked most. Was it the turn of phrase, storyline, ending, character profile? Did the suspense and imagery capture and keep my attention? Why did I enjoy this particular story and how could I apply this attribute to my own stories?

I put the book aside. I’d take a walk and think further about the winning features of each author’s story. There were also some near misses that I needed to think over. Yes, a walk was a good idea. My dog would agree.

Unless it’s too windy, too wet, too cold, or too hot, Lex is crazy about going for walks. So much so, that we have to be careful saying the word around her. She dances and spins, her toenails scrabbling for traction on the hardwood floor.

We can’t get away with spelling the word, either. She knows that w-a-l-k means her leash is coming out of the drawer. She stands next to the door shifting on all fours.

While Lex led me along the trail, I compared the short story I’m currently working on to the stories I’d just read. Based on how I judged them, how would I rate my own? I tried to apply the same criteria for evaluation. Could the reader enter my character’s state of mind? Is the imagery vivid enough? Would the reader feel his pain? Are my descriptions graphic enough that the reader will be in the room with my character? Sitting across from him? Will his or her breath quicken as the nightmare unfurls? Is it suspenseful from start to finish? Is the ending satisfying?

Perhaps knowing what I like to read, and why I find it effective, will help me become a better writer. 

Speaking of reading, I have a very entertaining book to finish.