Please don’t take my sunshine away

There is something about the weather this time of year that just makes my soul sing.  The rains have subsided for a day or two and the sunshine has done wonders.  My little tomato plants seem to grow greener right before my eyes in the beaming rays of the sun. Late spring delivers those hazy golden sunsets with a dreamlike quality and everything comes alive.  It really is my favorite time of year.

            I’ve been struggling for the last week with the dreary weather blues and a beautiful weekend was just what the doctor ordered.  I worked hard this weekend.  There was dirt under my fingernails and bug bites on my shin, my back ached and my muscles were sore but I felt better than I had in a long time, in my head.

            I guess the lesson here is to move you.  When you feel yourself sliding into that rut of lethargy at your desk, get up and get physical.  I’ll be the first to admit that when the day is gray and I have a mood to match, my instinct is to hunker down and shut the door.  Truth is, I always feel better if I get out of the chair and do something.  Thank you sunshine for luring me back outside.  A little dirt under the fingernails never hurt anyone.

Old Friends Revisited

Old Friends

My husband doesn’t ever want to see a movie a second time.  If I pop in an old classic, he will walk in the room and declare, “Seen it!” and then go upstairs to play Halo.  Actually, I’m pretty sure he’s not a movie fan at all.  He commonly tells our friends after a night out at the local AMC theatre, “Well, I just paid nine bucks for a nap.”  I give him points for going with the flow to make me happy.

 I love movies and I like to watch the same ones again and again.  The first time is purely for entertainment.  The second time, I’m looking for elements I originally missed, and the third time I actually start to appreciate the work of the people behind the scenes. 

I read books the same way.  It’s actually become a problem around the house because I can’t seem to let go of any of my books and we’re running out of space.  I don’t enjoy checking books out of the library because I never want to give them back.  After the first reading, the characters become my friends.  I put the book on a shelf and walk away but then I start to miss my friends.  I start reading a new book and become distracted by my new friends for a while and even start to forget about the old ones on the shelf.  Eventually, I have to dust that shelf and before you know it, the old book is back in my hand and then back on my night stand for another read.

For a writer, there are benefits to re-reading a good book, especially a book that has inspired you in a profound way.  The second reading can be done with a critical eye to see how the writer achieved making a connection with you, the reader, allowing your own writing to grow.  I’ve noticed since I’ve made writing a priority in my life, I look at things from a writer’s perspective.  Certain subtleties that I once might have overlooked now catch my eye.  While watching a sitcom on TV, I now take note of clever or stale dialogue.  When reading a book, heavy on location description, I find myself skimming over an entire paragraph and nod my head.  That paragraph could have been left out.

Taking note of these strengths and weaknesses in the works of others may seem arrogant, but only if I don’t apply what I’ve learned to my own writing.  I invite you to take some time to revisit an old friend.  Even if you’re not a writer, you may find that the life you’ve experienced since your last read brings a fresh perspective and you’ll enjoy the book even more.

The Progress Train has Left the Building

Printing Press

I see it all the time.  A new piece of technology comes along and the doom and gloom people start a ruckus.  The new thing will ruin culture as we know it and mourning for the end of an era ensues. 

 Remember when 8-tracks were replaced by cassette tapes?  I sure do.  I was a teenager asking for a stereo for Christmas.  “Please Mom,” I asked.  “Get me one that will drop at least 3 albums and I want one of those new cassette players because they are going to stop making 8-track tapes.”  My Mom, thinking it was ridiculous that the music people would even consider stopping production on the fabulous 8-track, found a great deal on really nice stereo system.  Fortunately, the price of an 8-track cartridge went down considerably; unfortunately, no new music was released on the device.  I listened to my one 8-track tape, Loverboy – Get Lucky, a lot. Thank goodness I could still play my old Journey, Styx, and Fleetwood Mac albums. 

It happened in the field of photography with the Instamatic camera and now the digital revolution is sending old school photographers screaming and pulling at their hair.  In the beginning when digital was still expensive, I heard friends say,” I’ll never give up film.”  But how can film compete with a camera that gives instant results and if the shot is blurry, you just hit delete and shoot again. 

Now it’s happening in the publishing world.  E-books and the birth of the Kindle and the unfortunately named IPad are sending old school publishers and writers into a tizzy.  Print media is going to disappear!  Anyone can post a blog!  It will be the death of true literature!  Come on people, it’s called progress.  Jump on the train or get left behind. 

I for one still love to hold a book in my hand but have taken to reading the news online. I still love to sit down on a Saturday with the big weekend edition and read the funny papers and I hope that doesn’t go away anytime soon.  But progress is as progress does.  Things change.

Check an example of the Gutenberg Bible in digital splendor at the following link:  http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/exhibitions/permanent/gutenberg/

Hard copy is on display at The Ransom Center, University of Texas

Writing for Love’s Sake

I’ve managed to write every morning for about two weeks now.  Today, I am just not feeling it.  I think it’s partly because I have to be out of the house early this morning and partly because I’m in a bummed out state of mind.

Today in The Daily Writer, Fred encourages us to write out of love.  Most of my writing comes from a place of love because I write personal essays inspired by memories.  Fred talks about taking it a step further and using our writing to reach out and take part in the world.  His challenge is to come up with a project about a topic close to our hearts and write in a way that will convey our love to the reader.  His assignment is a call to action to take a stand about something from our community, country or world and write it down out of love. 

Shortly after the 2008 Presidential Election, I wrote about my feelings.  I think it’s time to find that essay and edit it with this assignment in mind.

Where am I?

Bargersville, Indiana

Have you ever read a scene in a story and been transported to the location you’re reading about?  Not actually transported but so involved in the story you could almost close your eyes and picture yourself  there.   Fred refers to the opening scene of George Orwell’s 1984 in which the reader finds himself in what Fred describes as, “a dystopia where military time is kept, where propaganda reigns, and where springtime feels more like midwinter.”  For me, an exceptional example of setting up atmosphere is in the opening scene of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible.  She describes the trees with, “brindled bark like muscular animals overgrown beyond all reason.”  We see in her African jungle, “A single-file army of ants biting a mammoth tree into uniform grains and hauling it down to the dark for their ravenous queen.”  This girl can set a scene!

Rich description involves the senses, all of them.  To really transport the reader, the writer has to put himself there first.  Today Fred challenges us to set up some atmosphere for our characters so I’m going back to my neighbor’s barn.  Since I’ve never been inside I get to imagine what it might be like.  Here goes:

                Bent over in the hot sun, I hear the crunch of tires on gravel as the little black truck passes by.  I straighten my back and offer a neighborly wave.  He’s gone.  Mr. Orville is headed to town so it’s now or never. 

 I drop my trowel and handful of weeds onto the dirt and turn slowly to confront the barn.  The boards are worn and faded, weathered by eons of sun and rain and frost.  A ghost of the red beauty it once was, cracks in the gray slats show slices of sky near the hay loft door.  I take a step into the pasture.  The tall brown grass crackles underneath my boots.  Orville cuts the grass in the pasture a few times every summer, but he was sick last fall and winter hit before he got in the final mowing.  As I move closer, the shiny tin roof looms overhead.  It’s strange.  Orville keeps the roof of the barn in immaculate condition, but the walls seem to be rotting away.  “What is he keeping in there?”

                I approach the corner of the barn furthest from the view from Orville’s house.  He’s gone but maybe his wife is on watch today.  The earth around the barn’s foundation is mounded up.  I have to climb to put my face against the wall.  The boards are rough with age.  Leaning in pressing my hands against the wall to steady myself on the raised earth, I peer through a crack in the board.  I squint and close one eye trying to see into the darkness.

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Well, that’s a start.  Duty calls and my writing time is up for today.  I think I’ll come back to this later to see where it goes.  It’s true that scheduling time to write every day and sticking to it is inspiring.  Now, it’s stopping to go to work that is hard.

Structure First…

Outlining as a first draft?  Hmm, I’ve never tried it.  It kind of seems like using structure as a basis for a first write might hinder the process, but Fred says our brains naturally organize things in this way anyway so I might as well give it a try.  I’ve had my short story/book Turning Rows on the back burner for some time now so maybe it’s time to drag it out and make an outline.  Here goes.

  1. Jill’s father thinks she should get a summer job and talks to an acquaintance
    1. Introduce Frank
    2. Describe need for walking beans
  2. Jill is picked up for her first day at work
    1. Introduce Sam
    2. Describe bean field and the job at hand
    3. Introduce Clay, Adam, and Chris
  3. Describe relationship between the girls and boys as they work
    1. Girls keep to themselves
    2. Boys try to get girls attention
    3. Tall tales scene
  4. Sam’s accident
    1. Reveal how young people sometimes make irrational choices
    2. Reveal Jill’s loyalty to Sam
  5. Frank returns to the field
    1. Lunch
    2. Describe progression of time
    3. Describe fatigue
  6. Going home
    1. Girls under the tree scene
    2. Boys arrive
    3. Begin revealing Chris’ dangerous nature
    4. Show Jill’s inner conflict
    5. Jill asks boys to leave and tension builds but then they go.
  7. Sleep over
    1. Describe the inside of Jill’s house
    2. Show girls alone in bedroom
      1. Getting ready for bed rituals
      2. Sneaking snacks
      3. Silly girl time
      4. Discuss the boys
    3. Reveal Jill’s Dad’s authoritarian nature
      1. Girl’s giggle and squeal
      2. Dad opens door and yells for girls to get to bed because they have to be up early to get back in the bean field.
      3. Lights out and whispered conversation before going to sleep
        1. Reveals Sam’s adventurous side
        2. Reveals Jill’s desire to do the right thing but her conflict at wanting to appear adventurous in Sam’s eyes.
  8. Rise and Shine
    1. Introduce Mom
    2. Describe relationship between Jill’s Mom and Dad
      1. Mom is housewife
        1. Takes care of younger siblings
        2. Makes breakfast for Dad and girls
    3. Describe girls getting ready
    4. Girls making their lunches and watching for Frank to pick them up
  9. Back to Work
    1. In the truck
      1.  Sam’s makes a bid for a hook instead of a hoe.
      2. Boys make obscene demands
      3. Jill gives her hook to Sam
    2. Back in the rows
      1. Show changes in how girls and boys interact with one another (more familiar)
      2. Downpour scene
      3. Work day ends early
      4. Summarize rest of week
  10. Saturday
  11. Bike ride with the boys
  12. Jill gets pressured
  13. Sam saves the day

That was an interesting experience.  It’s useful to get the chronology down on paper as a guide.  Who knows where it will go from here.  Fred says to use this outline as the framework for a type of free write first draft.  I’ll give it a shot.  Check back to see where I end up.

Asking the old, “What if?”

Bargersville, Indiana

I have found that I’m pretty good at writing down my personal experiences in a way that tells the tale without boring the life out of my reader.  In other words, I can tell a good story.   There are a lot of good story tellers out there but not all of them are writers.  Today, Fred suggests looking at every day life experiences in a new way.  In this excercise we are to treat our experiences as part of our research and then take them beyond the ordinary by asking, “What if?”

I have a neighbor who is a nice old guy and his property overlaps the back of our property to form an “L” shape.  He has this huge dilapidated gray barn that sits behind our property line and he is very persnickety about anyone getting near it.  Now, his story is that he’s afraid someone will get hurt out there and that seems reasonable.  But, what if…?

What if Mr. Orville has been socking away cash all these years?  What if out in the dark dusty corners of that barn lay piles of mason jars stuffed with silver dollars.  Or, what if he’s making moonshine and that rickety old place houses a giant galvanized still?  Better yet, a time machine or a wrecked alien space craft… the possibilities are endless.

Fred says the trick here is to imagine those endless possibilities but then choose the one that takes you in a new direction or that takes an old story and gives it new life.  I think I’ll start by finding my binoculars.  I wonder what Mr. Orville is doing right now?