Sunday, October 31, 2010

Let The Insanity Begin

That's right, folks. NaNoWriMo is here, rip-rearing to go. Yours truly will be on the frontlines again this year. Perhaps with hard work, determination, and loads of luck, I'll be able to finish this time around. Family crises have keep me from that goal two years running, so this year I've loaded my weapon of choice and readied to punch out a couple of marketable books of poetry out of this.

I do know that this is for a novel. I haven't had any luck trying to do novels during this monthly endeavor, so I thought I'd switch tacks and try something new. I know it doesn't fit the criteria, but people, criteria is for the writer doing the work. Right. A badge of completion is a wonderful thing. But for me, it's the dedication of the month to doing only writing on one selected project to get it to a point where finishing it is doable in a short amount of time and getting it out to publishers.

I have these two books of poetry I need to get written for me. Not for anyone else. Personally, I do have three such books to do, but I thought that might stretch things a bit. To that end, I picked up a children's illustrated story book instead.

Thank you. Thank you very much. I do know I'm slipped a few gears. But it was so kind of you to point that out so that it's been verified.

Now that you know how I'll be spending most of my time for the next month, what do you intend to do to keep yourself occupied?

I've been submitting articles, stories, and poems like mad for the past few weeks, so that I could clear the way for this wonderful challenge.

Have a great week, my friends. If you're doing NaNo along with me and the rest of my friends, good luck, and have lots of fun along the way. I'll drop in here every few days to report on my progress. I'll consider that my coffee break around the water cooler.

Until then,


Thursday, October 28, 2010

News, Words, and All Things Inspirational

I’m doing something different today. I’m going to walk a different trail and show you the kinds of things I look for when anticipating a new story or article. I know. Fascinating, right? I just wanted to share my enthusiasm for the eclectic mindset.

In one of the critique groups I work with, I act as moderator. This year when we reconvened at the end of summer, I proposed a new way of working, at least for the school year. I proposed that each writing cycle a prompt composed of actual news articles with submission guidelines would act as inspiration for the work being done. A cycle is comprised of one submission for critique from each member.

This group works in children’s writing. Each cycle’s guidelines state target age, word count maximums, fiction/non-fiction, and marketing list. The members liked the idea and it was accepted. We’ve come close to the end of the second cycle just ahead of NaNoWriMo. Believe it or not, we’re working through NaNo as well.

Now I want to show others the ways and means of our exercises in inspiration. Perhaps others can play the same game to come up with stories and articles for submission.

My first job is to find two articles for prompts each cycle. They are used to inspire a Work In Progress. They don’t need to act as the core of the WIP.

Here are some examples by link I might use later.

  1. Teen texting habits  
 2. Shutter speed attention spans and TV viewers   3. Discrimination By Family Income in Schools     4. Vacuum Made of Beach Trash Each of these articles came out within the last few days. All are interesting, and all have many angles for the writer to use. For example:

Ever wondered why in the normal commercial time during your favorite TV show seems to go on forever now. You begin counting commercials and are frantic by the number 15. Part of that is due to advertisers recognizing that viewer attention span has shortened in the last several years. TV programming regulations, as I understand it, allow a determined amount of time for commercials at a regulated number of breaks during a program’s air time.

In order to keep viewers from switching channels during those breaks, commercials have become flashier and edgier over the last few years. They’ve also become shorter. Ten + second commercials are rapidly becoming the norm rather than the minute-long ads of yesteryear. Because a designated timeframe is allowed for commercials, the shortened commercial allows more repetitions per break or more diverse advertisers per break.

And now you have the kernel of the situation. Lifestyle has changed. Attention span has shortened.

Advertisers notice and compensate. Viewers scream at seeing what appears to be less program and more advertising. A match made to try the patience of anyone. However, for the writer, fiction or non-fiction, this is a recipe for wonder.

Consider the angles: Mainstream, Academic, Popular YA: Fiction/NF, Middle Grade: F/NF, Younger Readers: F/NF, Poetry, Literary Essay: YA/Adult, Parenting the Attentive Child

1. Has technology led to this seeming inability to focus for lengthy amounts of time by the general populace?

2. Does the problem remain constant across the demographics of the population?

3. Can American teens concentrate well enough to compete with those in other countries?

4. Puberty’s raging hormones and short attention spans. Is there a link?

5. Can little Johnny focus long enough to complete an assigned task without constant supervision?

6. A lyrical adventure to find a fleeing attention span to bridge a mental gap.

7. A look at the possible future of education, socialization, communication, and task completion.

8. Five practices that a parent can foster to ensure an attentive child.

The above are each linked with a corresponding market and target age. It’s the guidelines that narrow the field. These are the ones I’d use for my group.

Submission Guidelines: Target age: MG (middle grade), List 3 target markets for your piece, Non-fiction only for this prompt. Must list minimum 3 verifiable sources.

Short, sweet, and ready to rumble.

Almost anything can be a prompt. I find it stimulating to take one article and come up with at least 10 prospective uses for the information.

There is one problem with this method of work and it's one the writer must keep in mind at all times. If someone truly enjoys this type of work, it’s easy to get carried away and never move away from a prompt until it’s been exhausted to the point of emaciation. When you begin, set a limit for yourself. Decide before you begin how many slants, angles, whatnot you will use with a prompt. Then, stick to your number and don’t allow that little voice in the back of your mind to talk you into just one more before you go.

I admit to having to guard against that little voice on a frequent basis. Some of the writers I know complain occasionally about not having anything to write about. It’s a complaint I will never share. I simply cannot understand how someone can’t find something interesting to write about.

I sometimes think it comes down to being a forest-rather-than-a-tree sort of person. I always see the forest. Some can only see the individual tree. It’s a matter of how the mind works for the person involved.

Here’s hoping everyone gets to see the forest of possibilities that awaits the writer willing to take a walk.

Until later,


Monday, October 25, 2010

Controlling The Dream

I woke this morning from an awful dream. In it I was watching a passenger plane coming in for a crash landing. I yelled at my best buddy, who happened to be driving, that we needed to speed over there.

 He asked me, “What for?”

That stunned me. This gentle, caring man had effectively told me that a plane crash didn’t matter.

I told him, “ To help with assistance. There’s going to be dozens of injured and probably fire and who knows what else.”

“Clauds,” he said, “you’d just be a hindrance and most likely become a casualty, too. Your eyesight won’t allow you to do that kind of stuff, and you know it.”

I awoke from that nightmare feeling totally helpless and adrift. And angry. How dare he tell me something like that!

That’s when my more logical and less visceral self took over. My self-defeating self had just tried to high-jack my future plans in order to nullify my desires and intentions. I thought about how worried it must be about losing control of my life if it was willing to make such a grand and blatant play to stop me from going forward.

I must really be threatening it, don’t you think? Me, too.

That made me feel very good. The fact that the mind used one of those early supporters of my dream to be a writer to derail me was a big mistake. He has always called me his inspiration. If such an event ever happened, he would be right there with me fighting flame and fumes to get at those who needed help.

The hindbrain miscalculated big-time on that one. It also tipped its hand too plainly, especially by flaunting my tenuous vision in the dream. I have never allowed that to make much difference in my life.

All of this brings me to the issue of Who’s In Control.

I did several things yesterday to further my writing. I managed to get out a crit for one of my group members on an article for children that she’d submitted. I sent a short story I’d written a couple of months ago to a lit mag that likes the quirky and unusual pieces that touches on human interaction and response. I submitted a writer’s article to a writer’s mag. I did market research for other pieces that I have on hand waiting for a home.

Perhaps I’d threatened my fear with that blast of purposeful energy and intent. Just maybe I was in danger of actually dropping off that tentative writer’s fence onto the side of I AM A WRITER. I mean, it’s all well and good to say it, but to mean it a person must walk the walk. Yesterday I walked in those shoes. They fit well, too.

Julie Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” has taught me to recognize when fear wants to drive my life again. Once a person’s aware of the subtle devices used to affect a change of driver, the outcome doesn’t fall automatically on the side of FEAR.

Don’t get me wrong. I probably have as much fear as the next person, and I can be as overcautious an any hen with an egg. Nevertheless, my life was tempered in the fires of an autocratic family structure which brought out the obstinate in me. That’s my secret weapon now.

All I have to do is envision FEAR as a person and remember defiance. That’s my ticket to self-direction. I hate having people tell me what I can and cannot do. That’s all FEAR is doing. Really. As soon as I give it a human form it loses all its power.

I get to drive my own life where I will and for how long.

So, let me ask you, dear reader, who’s in control for your dream? And why? Feel free to share the answers, or not, as is your pleasure. The questions are there, though, and you’ll think about them whether you want to or not. That’s the lovely reality about that bit of punctuation. It’s a hook that always catches something/someone.

Until later,


Friday, October 22, 2010

Time Out

Yesterday turned into one of our traveling days. I’d suggested it the night before because I felt restless. Neither Sister nor I could think of anything that absolutely had to be done at home that day. So...
We started out just after 8:00 am with one ultimate goal in mind -- a small close-by State Park named Lake Mary Ronan. We had the whole day, though, so we decided to drive down the scenic east shore of Flathead Lake and “make the loop.” Since this was a photo-op day, Sister was particularly interested in all things photogenic and had both cameras at the ready, just in case.

We’d sailed through our lunch-time refueling stop in Polson due to the still-early hour. Nothing struck us as photo memorable throughout the loop until we got to that small lake on the western edge of Flathead Indian Reservation. We wanted pics that we could use later.

Besides, Sister Jo loves water -- not uncommon given her Zodiac chart.

We pulled into the park, stopped with the car facing the sun-splashed lake and breathed deep. It smelled  clean and piney. People in the parking lot, if they talked, did so quietly. The beauty of the day lent itself well to that deep blue water with its reed-strewn shoreline.

A floating dock with fishing deck at the end waited for trollers. A few rigs towing small boats dotted the parking lot. Lingering fall colors reflected from the surrounding hillsides. All was well with the world in that moment.

Sister grabbed camera and off she went. This was a new destination. WITH WATER! So many possibilities, so little time to use the best light. She snapped pics contentedly, zooming in and out as needed. And when she noted an older man sauntering toward the fishing deck, rod in hand, she couldn’t resist the challenge. Action pics had arrived with the possibility for information.

I had my own contentment, listening in on conversations around me from the newly arrived, who were intent on launching their boats. I couldn’t listen in on Sister’s conversation with the fisherman. They stood too distant.

I did learn all about the relationships between those new arrivals, though. The two groups had known one another for ages, often did things together, appreciated one another’s talents, knowledge and resolve to enjoy life. The conversations were enlightening, to say the least. They would make for great story fodder.

Before long boats moved on their trailers toward the ramp. As they did so, Sister took the opportunity to finish her own conversation and moved back toward the car. She took more photos from that vantage point before we left.

Once we were back on the road, she told me of her conversation with the fisherman. She said that freshwater salmon were spawning below the fishing deck and at the end of the boat ramp. Once the boat trailers started into the water there, spawning efforts at that location halted. All fertilized eggs there would be disrupted at best, destroyed at worst. We agreed to its being an example of “progress” in action.

During the last step of our drive back home, we also agreed to take lunch and then wind our way back up to Glacier Park. That is, after all, one of our favorite haunts. Having a permanent park pass is such a blessing.

The big park was almost deserted, though several enterprising people had taken a Friday off and gone exploring in the lower realms of the park. Some college-aged visitors walked the trails between highway and hidden lakes. Middle-aged sight-seers and retirees moved along many of those same trails, testing new camera equipment, oo-ing and ah-ing about the differences between seasons at Avalanche Falls and among all the vegetation.

This was our last good camera day for a while and we knew it. A big storm front was moving in that would keep us stranded in our apartment for more than a week.

Hence, Sister managed to get almost 400 shots yesterday. Some would be eliminated due to poor quality/lighting. Some would go to her photo stock sites, and many would come to me for either one book of poetry or one children’s book. We do try to share with each other along the way, you know.

We arrived home nearly twelve hours after beginning, tired and sated from our day in the fresh air and sunshine. We’d each learned something along the way.

She’d learned a new setting on her camera and what it did for her photos. It was something she could pass on that same afternoon to a novice who’d just bought the same camera. That moment made the whole day worthwhile for her.

Me? I learned something that I’d never come across, which would give me a good beginning for a children’s informational article for boys. That’s always a good market. I could use much the same info for an article for adults, as well. I already had publications in mind. Not bad for time spent listening.

Getting good photos for upcoming projects filled out the day right for both of us. I hope everyone experienced as profitable a week.

Have a great weekend and remember to enjoy life. It may not seem rare, but then none of us have seen the other side of the Universe yet. Think about it.

Until later,


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Finding the Writer in Everyone

This morning I helped submit a contest entry written by my sister to the lit agency running the contest. She’d written it on a lark because when I read the prompt to her, she felt it was too good to pass up.

Now Sis is a good writer on her own. She just doesn’t do it very often, which is more the pity. She has a strong voice on the page and a terribly creative mind to back up her words. But I digress.

I had agreed to edit the submission for her so that it would meet guidelines. The contest prompt was like none other that I’ve seen in any contest, and Sis was right. The thing was a hoot. It’s entire concept was made for the quirky minded and those who could take any five words handed them and make a story from them. Poets use this kind of prompt all the time for building poems. It’s a heck of a lot of fun.

Sis is very good at that, too. Just remember that. I’ll come back to it later.

Editing her work wasn’t difficult. I do it on a regular basis for several of writers. Most of us do. It keeps us on our toes and it keeps us honest, too. What we find in other’s writing that needs changing is always a lesson for our own work. None of us is perfect, by any stretch of a rope.

I tend to see certain problems a writer might have because I have difficulty with that same issues… parentheses and punctuation, for instance. Does the question mark go inside of the end paren even at the end of a sentence? That’s always a killer for me, and I can’t seem to ever retain the answer.

If you’re a writer, you know what I mean about learning from the mistakes you see in other’s work. Me? I’m one of those readers who gets stopped dead in the written road when my eyes come across a typo on the printed page. Until I correct it in my head, I can’t continue reading.

And don’t shake you head. You know others like me, too.

Regardless, writing and editing well requires two people. One to write, one to edit, and then the first gets to rewrite and so on until the work gets as close to perfection as they can make it. I learn far more from the editing process than I ever did from the writing lessons. The lessons stick far better, too.

In some ways, I’m an advocate of the “throw the aspiring writer into the deep end of the publishing pool with a good and patient editor” school of thought. Unfortunately, there simply aren’t adequate numbers of free editors hanging around the untaught, willing to take on that challenge. At least, that’s how it seems sometimes.

Now, let me return to that line from above about how my sister is a good writer. I gave her five words just a few minutes ago to use for the basis of a story with a word limit of 100 words.

The words I gave her were: monkeys, hammer, night, howling, and gratitude. I accept the caveat of using derivatives for this purpose (i.e. plural, singular, different verb tense.)

Here is what she wrote as she sat down with her e-mail.

Monkey’s Birdhouse

      The young boy carefully gathered his materials. He and his father were building a birdhouse together. His Dad had nicknamed him Monkey, because he loved to climb trees. He picked up his tools and began to assemble the birdhouse. He used his hammer, some glue and a saw. As he tapped in the last nail, he hit his thumb! He howled like a wolf in the night. It throbbed and was sore but not badly injured. He could now put up the birdhouse in the tree and listen to the sweet song of a bird's gratitude. (98 words)

Five minutes and a few words. Storyline -- Check, Main Character -- Check, Plot -- Check (Simple & straightforward,) Problem solved -- Check.

Does it still need work? Sure, doesn’t every rough draft? But is it a viable story? I think so. Yes, I would rearrange a couple of things, but that’s a matter of presentation and flow. The elements are there, the direction is obvious, most kids could relate to it in one way or another. It has achieved its goal of being a story under 100 words, using the target words given as its major points.

These words could have produced a multitude of stories and never repeated. And they wouldn’t have all been for children, either.

So, dear writer friends of mine. I issue the same challenge to you. Can you build a complete story in 100 words or less from the target words and make it work? Any genre or target age. And do it in less than ten minutes?

Feel free to post your resulting stories here for review by the small mass of writers who wander through. Think of this as part of the deep end of the pool and enjoy the swim. I dare ya!

Take care all. Watch your words. They have powers hitherto unknown to man. Hope to see you back here soon with great little rough drafts for all to read.

Until then,


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Rain, Tents, and Adventure

I just returned from a short hop over to central Washington. That’s a new area for me to explore. As a result, we spent a few days doing just that.

Sister needed to spend a couple of days with her eldest, which left me with plenty of time to peruse the local color. I have to admit, there was little color to investigate in the traditional sense of the word.

Our 1960’s hold-over motel left little to the imagination and had only its nightly prices to recommend it. Still, people standing out in pouring down rain have small chance of being picky. I figure dry accommodations have their own rewards. Microwave and fridge did a bit to reconcile impressions. Cable TV helped, too, and a new air conditioner didn’t hurt.

We won’t go into the bathing facilities, however. Least said, best mended.

Local friendliness put us at ease. The only decent restaurant in this little town sat beside the best motel, which we hadn’t discovered earlier in the afternoon. I happen to like family restaurants that serve hearty, tasty meals without fanfare and attitude. Unless, of course, the patron wants to pay for attitude. We don’t.

Rain continued throughout our stay. Tent. Oh, yeah, we had intended to use the tent. Between saturated ground that wouldn’t hold a tent peg to unrelenting rain, hopes of going to a campground without an RV attached to us was a dismal proposition.

So cheap motel became our home away from home for our stay. After all, we had planned on camping.

Once we decided to call it quits and head for home, the skies cleared and sunshine prevailed. I know. That’s our luck, right?

Still we had plenty of time to get back home. We really wanted to camp on our way back. We took a most direct, though far more scenic highway on the return trip.

One piece of advice. If you ever decide to stop in Walla Walla for a meal, beware who you ask for directions to a restaurant. We were starved since we hadn’t had breakfast. We never did find a restaurant serving that meal, even with directions. Pretty town, though. I recommend the old historic district for its attractiveness.

Back on Highway 12 we made our way east looking for something to eat. We passed thousands of acres of grain fields being harvested and shipped to the local granaries in tiny towns dotting the edges of the highway’s asphalt. It’s amazing what you can see when you take some of these smaller roads. We had a blast discovering all the architecture types, veggie stands, etc.

Sometime around noon, we had to stop wherever we could find a place. We came into Orofino, Idaho. One the north side of the river we found the Ponderosa, which was an historic restaurant with great food in ample portions and friendly people. Seems all the locals go there after church for lunch.

We left those wonderful people and moved back onto the highway and our return journey. We’d entered the mountainous portion of the drive. With the river flowing nicely on one side of the road or the other and opposing mountainsides, the road wound its way through a hundred miles of the Rockies.

*NOTE: Please remember to fuel up at Orofino before heading toward the Montana line.

In many ways we were pushing the clock heading east. The forecast was for heavy rain and snow in the passes. Lolo pass is one of the worst around in the snow. By the time we hit the summit, the rain had begun and we had 36 more miles to go before hitting the small town of Lolo, MT on the down slope and a fuel stop.

We managed to get down from the summit without hitting anything other than rain which was a blessing. Once we got to Missoula we headed for Outback Steakhouse for a well-deserved dinner and rest from the road.

Getting home before midnight became out goal. We made it with a bit to spare, though rain followed us the entire way.

HOME! We could sleep in our own dry beds and be out of the cold. We’d had nice warm weather right up to the point of arriving in Montana. That’s when the thermometer showed numbers we hadn’t seen in a long while.

But now we’re back and clearing all the work that piled up during our absence. Our friends missed us. So many little things to clear up. It’s good to be back, but being on the road is a simple life.
I think we might just have to make a long trip next spring.

Until later,


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Hitting The Road

A writer gets to think much of the time. It doesn’t seem to matter what’s thought about, so long as the process is beneficial and resolves something. It could be about a story being revised, a new idea for a book that takes place in the future, or about an article for which research is still pending. Like I said… anything.

For the past several weeks I’ve been thinking about a good many things. Most of them have to do with writing in one form or another. Most of it has to do with the future (not unlike the average writer.) And I honestly have been thinking about the research that I still have to do for a large number of articles that I have planned for the next few months.

Nevertheless, within all of that mental activity, a small portion of gray matter has been exclusively thinking about finances and what a person really needs to live in the world and, especially, in this country.

And before you ask, no, I’m not thinking of leaving the country to live elsewhere. What I was thinking about is the status people place on where one lives, how one lives, and how much one spends in order to live.

Right now, like a huge portion of the populace, I live on a fixed income. I haven’t sold a book lately for a huge advance and haven’t received a huge royalty check, either.

Sister and I are readying for a camping trip. We had all sorts of camping gear before we moved and got more afterwards. We went to the garage to pull out some of that gear this afternoon, only to discover that it wasn’t there. It obviously never was there. Oh, we found the hatchets and folding saw, and a few other items, but our camping cookware (used once and returned to its box) was missing.

We had to groan. Another item that disappeared during the move. (I won’t go into that here.) So there we were, no cookware and we weren’t about to take the good stainless from the apartment.

There weren’t any plans for going shopping today, but now we had little choice. Four stores later we settled for two cheap sauce pans that we could cook and boil water in. With our griddle we could at least feed ourselves during this camping experience. We found the cookware we wanted, but we refused to spend from $25-35 a piece for it. We aren't even discussing the price of hot-dog forks.

Is it just me or did the price of camping just sky-rocket lately? When Jo was doing research on the cost of a camp site at a state park (out of state) the other day, fees ran up to $42 per night, plus tax, for out-of-staters. I can remember not that long ago when an average site fee ran $10 and that included water at the site and a BBQ pit with grill. Not anymore.

Camping used to be the least expensive way for a family to have a vacation and see part of the country that they didn’t live close to. Again, not anymore. Between site fees in parks and campgrounds, cost of food and gasoline, even a stay at an in-state park (not a national one) can set a family back several hundred dollars for a week, especially if they have to use more than one tent.

As a result of this research, we’ve taken to many planning sessions to consider our future plans. But we don’t have time to concern ourselves with that right now. We’ll get this one under our belts first and consider longer plans later.

This is a working trip as much as anything. At least we’ll be able to write off a good portion of it. That’s the good thing about being a writer and a photographer. Play becomes work, work become a tax write-off. Go figger.

So, there you have it. Writers and thinking. Thinking and planning. Planning and considering. That (some call it vicious) circle just keeps on rolling through a person’s life.

Experts say that the circle is the most perfect form in the Universe. I can’t dispute that and don’t intend to try. I just find it ironic that it shows up in such abundance within a person’s life.

We’re off tomorrow for a week or so of camping, researching, clicking camera shots, and calculating number of articles available from material gathered. Wish us luck. Hopefully, the site fees won’t raise while we’re on the road and water will still be free.

I’ll be glad to give a report about our doin’s when I return. Until then, think about how long it’s been since you’ve camped at a state park. Are you up for it? Have you grown too sedate in the past few years? That’s what we thought, too. We decided we were wrong.

Hope to see you around a campfire in the next few days. Until then, adios amigos and amigas.