If it’s June it must be time for Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop.

I got a memory on Facebook the other day about my first time here in 2012 and how I was terrified of what was going to happen during the critique. I had plotted how I could pack up and move out in the middle of the night.

Turns out it was the best writing experience I had in my life. And the best critique experience. That’s good and bad. Good because I’ve grown so much as a writer because of it; bad because I now expect them all to be that way.

I’ve been every year since 2012, and each time I’ve been validated as a writer, I’ve established a wonderful circle of writer friends, and, frankly, my novel wouldn’t have been published without TMWW.

Trying Something New

This year isn’t the typical submit 40 pages for review and critique. I’m with Dan Mueller, who last year taught a flash fiction workshop in the traditional manner. This year, he’s going to make this a true writing workshop. We’ll get prompts and other inspiration, and we’ll write on the spot.

A daunting task to be sure, but I’m looking forward to it.

They Really Like Me

For the past two years a group of TMWW alumna and I have contributed money for an Alumni Scholarship. This experience has been so meaningful to me, I can’t help but provide part of the means for someone else to be able to get the benefits.

That, along with the publication of my first novel, inspired the faculty to invite me to do an Alumni Reading this Thursday. I was surprised and shocked then honored and humbled. It’s my Sally Field second Oscar moment: “You like me! You really like me!”

I’ve settled into my 1950’s style dorm room and am greeting friends as they check in, listening to Leonard Cohen, and writing this.

It’s going to be a great week.

Inspiration All Around Us

The other day on my Facebook Author’s Page I shared a graphic from a great on-line group called Writers Write. Based in South Africa, this group offers writing courses, some of which sound so great it might be worth the expense of a trip to Johannesburg to attend. They also post inspiring quotes from writers, renowned and otherwise, for writers. Almost every day, one of those quotes makes me stop and think about my writing and my writing goals. Those quotes are affirming on so many levels.

Here’s one I shared recently on my Author’s page:

(c)Writers Write

(c)Writers Write

That struck a chord with me because I want to write more short stories, but I’m always lamenting that the things I draw inspiration from (current affairs, history, politics) lead to longer works. (Not complaining by the way; I love writing novels.) I keep a notebook with me at all times, but it’s distressingly empty lately. I live in a very interesting area of central Virginia, full of intriguing, odd, and refreshing characters and, so you’d think that notebook would be full of dialogue snippets, bon mots, and killer ideas for a raft of short stories.

Maybe I need to overcome the MYOB attitude imbued in me by my grandmother. “It’s not polite to listen in on others’ conversations,” she used to tell me. I paid attention to that because I probably didn’t know then I was going to be a writer. It just seems rude to write down what other people say; a southern thing, I suppose.

I do manage to overcome the reticence of jotting down what other people say on occasion. My one-act play, Yo’ Momma, started from a single phrase I overheard at a bar: “This here’s my new phone–I gots it for free.”

Recently, in my town two young men died within two days of each other, both at the age of twenty-six. One had mental and intellectual challenges; the other was an award-winning and brilliant cellist. One was murdered; the other died in his sleep of a heart defect. They both warmed the hearts of everyone they encountered. All that is rife with inspiration, but it will have to wait. It’s too fresh and raw.

I’ve long wanted to write a novel based on the lives of my father and my ex’s father–I even have a great title: Two Fathers. The ex (when he wasn’t my ex) and I discussed it, and I took a lot of notes on his father’s history. The ex and I haven’t been together for nine years, and even though I haven’t forgotten the idea, it is also too fresh, too fraught with emotions I’ve tried to put behind me. Someday, I’ll be in a place to write it.

Day in and day out, I encounter the oddest collection of characters in the most routine places: the barista at Starbucks whose laughter could damage eardrums; the couple who own a local business and have arguments in front of the customers; a bail bondsman who dresses as if he’s the east coast version of Dog the Bounty Hunter; a senior citizen who is always front and center of every Tea Party event with a sign which reads, “Keep the Government out of my Medicare!” (I fixed the spelling.) And so on.

There is the challenge, of course, of making someone too recognizable. I don’t have a problem doing that with public figures. In my series based on the Oklahoma City bombing, people will have no trouble figuring out on whom I’ve based President Randolph. However, I also have a family member who is pissed about how I characterized  my step-grandfather (that family member’s grandfather) in a story which is based on a family event. Just goes to show, every story has two sides.

Even with the pitfalls, look around you. There is inspiration in everything and everyone. Use it wisely, but use it.


Post-Freeze Friday Fictioneers

The recent deep-freeze from the errant polar vortex this week froze more than water pipes and noses. It induced a brain freeze–in me, at least. I couldn’t seem to coax a single word from that cold-addled brain onto the computer screen. All I really wanted to do was sleep and eat soup.

I’ve already written about seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and how the shortened periods of daylight get me down, and, well, never mind that the intervals of daylight are actually increasing right now, when it’s mind numbingly cold and gray, my brain decides to hibernate. None of my usual writing pick-me-ups seemed to work. I looked at today’s Friday Fictioneers prompt (which comes out on Wednesday) and went “meh.” I scanned the news outlets for a topic for my mid-week political blog and went “ho-hum.” (Thank goodness Gov. Chris Christie is a perfect foil for a knee-jerk, bleeding-heart liberal; otherwise, I’d have skipped the political blog this week. So, thanks to the Jersey guy, my column was only a day late.)

Friday Fictioneers LogoToday dawned (I’m sure it did because it’s moderately light out there.) rainy and foggy but also with an idea for the Friday Fictioneers prompt, one that was at least satisfying. However, I managed to roll over and go back to sleep. My luck is improving, though, because when I woke again, the idea was still there–and ended up being 121 words, way too long for a 100-word story. Snip, snip, cut, slice, and lo and behold “Siren’s Song” met the word count with idea still intact.

As usual, if you can’t see the link on the story title in the paragraph above, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, then select the story from the drop-down list.

Now, I’m going to catch a nap or eat a bowl of soup. Whatever.

Gifting Writers

If you have a writer on your holiday gift list and haven’t a clue what to give him or her, let me help you out.

We love books, even ones besides our own. The path to being a good writer begins with being a good reader. Writers read books within their own genre, but if you’re like me, your tastes are eclectic–I’ll read almost anything, even if all I take away from a book is, “I don’t want to write like that.”

We love journals because when we’re without a computer, we need something besides a cocktail napkin to capture an inspiration. Smart phones with their built-in recorders go a long way, but there’s nothing better than a sweet little notebook you can carry in a pocket or your purse.

We love pens, too, and not just to write in those journals (or cocktail napkins). We’re always looking for just the right pen to use for book signings so we can make a statement. I’m partial to fountain pens myself (with cartridges, not ink bottles; I’m far too much of a klutz for them).

We love reviews of our work. Good ones, of course, and even bad ones–IF they’re constructive. The new trend in giving books you’ve never read a bad review hits a writer where it hurts. We’re all pretty sensitive creatures anyway, and we know better than anyone words do hurt. So, if you can’t give the gift of constructive criticism, cross me off your list.

We love it when our friends and family give us space to write, when they put aside their demands on our time and don’t make us feel guilty about taking the time we need to write. I recently told someone the sexiest thing my ex ever said to me was, “I know your writing is important to you, so I’ll just go row around the lake for a couple of hours.” That was a gift whose significance missed me at the time. Now, when I have different interests conflicting for my time, I wish others were as understanding that sometimes I need to retreat to my room, wherever that is, and write.

We love it as well when family and friends, even perfect strangers, give us fodder for our fiction. Some people don’t understand why writers live for the family get-togethers others dread. Easy. We know we’ll come away with a half-dozen new ideas for stories and/or snippets of killer dialogue. So, thanks. Really.

There you have it. Some great suggestions for the writer in your life. Oh, wait. I missed one. A great gift for a writer is to just say to them, “I’m proud of what you do.”

In the Mood to Write–or Not

Seasonal Affective Disorder–the “winter blues,” “winter depression”–whatever name it goes by, it’s a motivation killer. In years past, I had only twinges of it, just a day here and there, but lately, it’s become an issue with my writing.

When I was a federal flunky, there were times in deep December and January when I went to work in the dark, sat in my windowless office or in meetings in windowless conference rooms all day, then went home in the dark. That’s when the winter blues were the worst for me.

Science has shown SAD (apt acronym) is real and has everything to do with the changing amounts of light when falls winds down into winter. Spending the daylight hours outdoors and having bright light while you’re inside helps. What doesn’t help is having a solid week of gloomy, overcast, rainy days in the first half of fall, which is how it’s been here in my part of the Shenandoah Valley. The desire to write is there, but the desire to act on it isn’t.

Yesterday, I sat through a marathon of the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, six hours by the way, with an open laptop on my lap, and managed maybe a couple hundred words on a story I started before the gloom descended. You might say that watching the work of Jane Austen was daunting, but I usually find Ms. Austen inspiring. No, I couldn’t get the house bright enough, even with every light available on–Dominion Virginia Power will be happy, though. Though I’d had just over eight hours of sleep the night before, I took a two-hour nap late in the afternoon and woke feeling underwhelmed.

I’m sure today when I go back and look at the little bit I wrote yesterday, I’ll likely hit delete a lot. Given how scrambled my brain was, I doubt any of it is worth keeping.

Somewhat like this blog post, I suspect.

I’m seeing the sky brightening a bit, I have a luncheon engagement to get me out of the house, but, frankly, I’m too SAD to be enthused about any of it. As I posted on Facebook yesterday, “If the sun doesn’t shine soon, I’m going to curl up in a fetal position and gibber.”

Gibbering, now.

The Places We Write

This past weekend I spent a brief time in a place where I used to spend a lot of time–eastern Connecticut. My ex, before he was my ex, and I spent as many weekends and holidays as we could on a small lake that spanned the Connecticut/Rhode Island border. The lake is called Beach Pond, and up until a few years ago it had a small beach on the Rhode Island side; hence, the name. Our lake house on the Connecticut side had a small lakeside yard and dock, a large deck, and a great view, which looked across the lake onto the Acadia State Park in Rhode Island.

On the drive from Providence Airport to Preston, CT, where I stayed at my ex in-laws, I have to pass by Beach Pond. I’ve only done this three times since I was last there in 2005 before the ex became the ex. For some reason, last Friday on the third time, I recalled that I wrote most of the rough draft of what’s now a four-book series at the little gray house on the lake.

Now, I’m not much of a water person. I’m a pool swimmer, and bodies of water with fauna in it make me a bit nervous, but sitting beneath some good-sized oak trees with a beer at hand, and notebook or laptop with me, I was in writer heaven. On the weekends, the place was very active in the afternoons–water skiers, JetSki-ers, canoers, kayakers–but in the mornings, the place was quiet and still.

My ex had, as one of his many good qualities, an ability to understand what writing meant to me. He knew it went far beyond the fact I did technical writing for a living. He knew what I wanted to do with my writing, and he encouraged it. He never once complained about the fact a notebook accompanied every vacation we went on and that some part of the day had to have writing in it.

At Beach Pond, he would hop into a small row boat and explore all the various nooks and crannies of Beach Pond, and I would write–pages and pages, sometimes by hand, sometimes on a monstrosity of a laptop (This started in the late nineties.) After two years of these getaways, I had a complete rough (very, very rough) draft of a novel.

I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of that until last Friday as I passed by Beach Pond and felt nostalgia for the happy times I’d had there, but the feeling was something like remembering where you had your first kiss or the first time you made love to someone. The place has an unending significance. This is where I wrote my first, real novel. This is the place whose quiet beauty helped inspire me to do that.

Now, inextricably, that place will always be associated with that particular manuscript. Someday, I’ll turn the pages of the books it has become, and I’ll hear the lap of wavelets against the bulkhead, the rhythmic splash of the oars on the row boat as my ex explored a place he’d known since he was a child all to give me the time to create.

Place, or setting, within a novel is often crucial to its plot, but don’t forget the place where you wrote it. That could be just as crucial–and special.

September Friday Fictioneers

Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh so mellow.

Some lyrics from one of my favorite songs, “Try to Remember,” from the great musical The Fantasticks. Except that life has been anything but slow and mellow because, hey, it’s September already. How did that happen?

However, fall is my favorite time of year, with the colors changing and the air cooling. From my deck the mountains are crisp and clear, and you can see why they’re named the “Blue Ridge.” Fall is a great time of year for writing, for creativity in general. It must be the colors or the change in the angle of light or the unrelenting march of the need to do holiday shopping. I shift from writing in my office to writing on my screened-in porch or my deck. The air is fresh, the ragweed is annoying, but there’s just something about change in the air which makes for great writing.

A little progress report on the novel draft I sent out to beta readers: I’ve got three sets of comments back, and there are no major gaps and gaffes, just some great line-edit suggestions and some plot-enhancement comments. I’ll get started on that next week, and then I’ll have a decent third draft to send to my workshop instructor for his opinion. Exciting stuff, and I have a really good feeling about this manuscript.

Friday Fictioneers LogoAs inspiring as the change of seasons can be, the photo prompt for Friday Fictioneers is downright rousing. One look and a lot of memories came back–packing up my grandmother’s knick-knacks from her apartment after she died. Because I lived in an apartment then a small townhouse, they stayed packed for almost forty years. When I moved into my new house, I had room for a curio cabinet, so I unwrapped them (great to read newspapers from 1973!), and they’re now on display in my guest room.

Each one has a story behind it–some were gifts from her husband, my stepgrandfather. Some she bought for herself. Some of them my brother and I gave her for birthdays or Christmas. I suspect the same is true of the tchotchkes in today’s photo prompt, which inspired me to write “Memory Lane.”

If you can’t see the link in the title in the paragraph above, scroll to the top of this page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, then select the story from the drop-down list.

June Friday Fictioneers is Busting Out All Over!

Friday Fictioneers LogoThis week’s photo was quite the poser. I looked, walked away from the computer, then looked again. Yep, it was the same both times. It spawned the whine, “How will I ever come up with something for this?”

Then for some reason I thought about a time in my life when my parents were separated and my time with my father, who was in the Army, became less and less. Whenever I did see him, it was as if he tried to outdo the previous present he brought me. All I wanted was the time with him, but how does a five year old communicate that?

So, today’s photo made me think about what part-time dads would do to keep their daughters their little girls, and “Young at Heart” came to me. I seem to be on a sentimental kick lately, but I’m certain the dark will return. It better.

As usual, if you can’t see the link on the story title, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, then select the story from the drop-down list.

Time for Friday Fictioneers

So, I opted to enter a story in the New Letters Literary Awards contest after all. “Unconquered” is actually the epilogue of a novel I’ve been working on for some time; however, with a few minor edits, it worked as a stand-alone story. On the same day, I polished a story I’ve submitted a couple of times to other journals (and had rejected) and submitted it to the Blue Ridge Writers Annual Contest. That story is “Meeting the Enemy.” And we’ll see. I just repeat my mantra: “You won’t get published if you don’t submit; rejection is part of the process; acceptance awaits.”

Mantras aside, I’m crossing my fingers, toes, legs for a little luck.

Friday Fictioneers LogoOne of the best things about Friday Fictioneers is seeing how other writers interpret the photo prompt. A single photo can inspire romance, horror, speculative fiction, historical fiction, genre mash-ups, and much more. It just reinforces that as writers our imaginations hold sway over all we do. A fascinating process which we sometimes can’t see in ourselves but can see in other writers. I always think that what I come up with is obvious; yet, when I read other Friday Fictioneer stories I’m amazed at the breadth of the creativity–and sometimes our lunacy.

Perhaps I’ve been too inundated by trailers for the new adaptation of The Great Gadsby in the past week or so. At least it seemed that way when I looked at today’s Friday Fictioneers inspiration photo. The excesses of the Jazz Age were echoed by the “Summer of Love” in 1967, which, being a teenager stuck on a farm, I only participated in vicariously. The parties in the two eras may have involved different stimulants, but the debauchery was just as, well, debauched. That’s what came to my mind, immediately followed by what it might be like for a hard-partier decades later, perhaps someone who didn’t put the party days behind her.

That led to “Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll.” As usual, if you don’t see the link on the story title, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, then select the story from the drop-down list.

Friday Fictioneers – How the Week Flies By

To call this a slow writing week for me would be an understatement. As a recent Facebook meme states, this was my week: “Writer’s Block–when your imaginary friends stop talking to you.” That’s exactly the way it felt, and I’m not really sure what I did to piss them off so they’d spend the week sulking in silence. I guess it’s like marriage–you’re expected to read minds and know what’s bothering the other person.

In reality, spring cleaning–indoors and out–was the culprit. Unlike many writer friends, gardening is not a chore I like. It doesn’t free my mind to be creative. It just makes me mutter about how much I hate it, but I figure the neighbors would get upset if I allow the flowerbeds to go au naturale. I did get a certain amount of satisfaction from reorganizing my household filing system so that, next year, when I take everything to my accountant he won’t quirk an eyebrow at the pile of paper I hand over.

Bottom line: Not much writing or revising done, and two blog posts missed (including one on the Tom Wolfe Seminar I attended and will write about). It’s been a while since that happened (probably the same time last year). Though all was not lost. I did manage to come up with some decent ad copy for a radio spot to promote the SWAG Writers Book Fair later this month. (See the first item in the column to the right). Somehow, thirty seconds worth of words is little compensation for a week’s worth of missing creativity.

On Wednesday I look a brief look at the photo prompt for this week’s Friday Fictioneers and literally said, “WTF?” (Well, I didn’t use an abbreviation.) As this week’s pattern Friday Fictioneers Logoplayed out, I sat down yesterday to write something, and, even though I had a concept, I couldn’t force the words onto the screen. I even switched to pen and paper because sometimes that gets the creative juices flowing, but zilch, nada, nothing.

I must have fallen asleep last night with the concept in mind because, boom, I woke early this morning with the story in my head. I got up immediately and got it into a Word file, and, whoa, 121 words. On first glance, I figured there was no way to cut twenty-one words, but I did; and the concept is intact. This is what I love about Friday Fictioneers–I’ve reached the point where not doing a Friday Fictioneers story would mean letting myself down, and that’s great inspiration.

Today’s story is “Siblings,” and you’ll see a dedication at the beginning of the story. I didn’t lose my only brother in Vietnam, like the story’s protagonist, but I did lose him in another war–one called Type One Diabetes. As usual, if you don’t see the link on the title, scroll to the Friday Fictioneers tab above and select it from the drop-down list.