Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Spider Road Press Flash Fiction Contest

May 18, 2020

To say I let my writing routine go would be a gross understatement. That routine died and went to heaven, where it is sitting on a cloud, sighing over all the stories I have not committed to paper. That is why the latest Spider Road Press Flash Fiction Contest may be my last, best hope. In 750 words or less, I can create the strong female character who is supposed to be me, the one who actually writes her stories. The deadline is June 1. If you have a character itching to be written, consider entering the contest yourself. Perhaps we could form our own support group?

Luck and wisdom!

Are Clipboards The New Tote Bag?

May 11, 2020

I’ve been involved in several virtual meetings now, and I’ve discovered a few things. First, even for a technophobe virtual meetings are a reasonable solution when you can’t meet face to face. Second, good agendas are more important in virtual meetings than physical ones. If possible, write a script. Let the professionals wing it if they dare. Third, there is as much stuff to bring to virtual meetings as there is to physical ones.

Which brings me to clipboards. In the past I have prepared for meetings by cramming papers, notes, and other items into a designated tote bag. These days, I arrange the papers and notes in the order they appear on the agenda before I join my meeting and snap everything together on a clipboard. If I need any other items, I arrange them next to me on the floor.

I’ve been making do with the two clipboards I own, but there’s a little voice inside my head that’s telling me life would be much better if I had a dedicated clipboard for each committee. This is a dangerous and expensive voice. It sings too sweetly, and online shopping is almost as much fun as real shopping. Maybe if I flatten some of the tote bags I’m not using now and squish them as much as I can, there’s room on the shelf for one or two more clipboards . . .

Luck and wisdom!

Serenity R Not Us

May 4, 2020

One thing the pandemic has taught me is that I am not cut out for meditation. We’re talking epic fail here. I’ve read all the advice about quieting the monkey brain, and all I can say is monkeys wish they had my brain. It’s like spending the day with a three year-old. “How many breaths did I take? Did I exhale as long as I inhaled? Can I exhale longer? How gold is the golden thread of energy reaching down for me? Is the earth energy brown or green? Look, a squirrel! No, wait, I’m the squirrel!” You don’t even want to know what it sounds like when my characters join in, begging me to write down that last thought because they want it, then arguing about who will get the line. I thought my tinnitus would be the main obstacle to achieving a state of serenity, but it’s not even close. The voices of my characters, my inner critic, my inner muse, and my inner toddler totally drown out the ringing in my ears – and just about everything else as well.

May the 4th be with you!

When Life Changes

April 27, 2020

These magazines went into production about the same time that COVID-19 was noticed in the U.S. There are some fabulous articles in all of them (including one in Smithsonian about George Harrison visiting his sister in southern Illinois before anyone here had heard about the Beatles – who knew?!), but reading them felt like visiting another world. I have been so consumed with news of the pandemic that I can persuade myself life was always like this. Of course it wasn’t, and I hope I can remember this feeling when I finally get back to my novel. Even the gentlest of stories has to put the protagonist in a situation unlike any other the character has faced. Bringing the story arc to the new normal let’s the reader see how the protagonist changes, learns, and grows. Having a happy ending may be satisfying, but acknowledging what was lost when life changes can add wonderful depth to your story. P.D. James did this in her mysteries, because even if the murderer goes to jail, someone is dead and the rest of the characters have to adapt. If I’m very careful, I will be able to use this understanding of how quickly the world can be upended to make my characters more nuanced, more real.

Luck and wisdom!

Impulse Buy = Camera Stand = Vindication

April 20, 2020

The laptop in the room I use for videoconferencing doesn’t have a camera, so we bought one. It has a little clip that can attach to the top of the screen, which is supposed to be sufficient. It isn’t. No matter where I clip it or how I angle the lid the little monster is always looking straight up my nose. Six weeks ago I would have dashed off to the computer or office supply store for a camera stand. Today, I rummaged through my many collections and found this miniature tree with bendable branches. I bought it to display Easter Eggs, but it works just fine for the camera. I can easily adjust the angle, and move it to keep my background view uncluttered while still having the laptop near enough to use. And I feel vindicated for one more impulse buy lo these many years ago.

Luck and wisdom!

What We See

April 13, 2020

While I am far from a first adopter, even I can see the value in remote meetings. I have a Zoom account, and although I’ve never tried hosting a meeting I have participated several times in the last few weeks. One thing I’ve notice is how little humans see compared to what the camera sees. Did you look at the koala bears pictured above? Did you notice I arranged them so the flowers appear to be growing out of the mama bear’s head?

Take a look at the backgrounds the next time you watch the news. Some work-from-home newscasters have done a wonderful job of having a neutral background that doesn’t distract from the broadcast. Others, not so much.

Sometimes it is obvious which room the broadcaster is using – spare bedroom, den, the little alcove by the master bath. I’ve noticed in my remote meetings that participants occasionally use the backgrounds available from the app to mask what is really behind them. Before you choose a background, you might want to consider whether people will be looking at it more than listening to you.

Finally, and I say this knowing how easily it could backfire, consider using makeup if you are appearing on a remote meeting. Perhaps I am more aware of how pasty people look on screen because I am the daughter and wife of avid photographers, and on the pale side. Some of my photos look more like audition shots for horror movies where I’m going for the role of third ghost on the left.

Writers are encouraged to make all sorts of home videos to promote our books. The pandemic has given us an excuse to learn the technical skills needed to produce and upload them. Don’t forget the art behind video, however. We may not have access to a set designer or makeup staff, but we can be always be mindful that what we see on screen will influence how we hear the message.

Luck and wisdom!

Respecting Your Limits

April 6, 2020

My family is sheltering-in-place for the next few weeks, or months, or however long it takes to get some measure of control over the spread of COVID-19 here. We’re one of the lucky ones, as we have shelter, food, and some measure of security. I write these things because I am grateful, but also frustrated. For many years I called myself a Professional Volunteer. The need right now is huge, and a little voice in my head is saying, “You can always do more.”

Well, not really. Yes, I can sew masks, and I am. Yes, I can document life in a pandemic, and I am. Yes, I can send some money to relief agencies, and I am. What I’m not doing is respecting my limits. As part of the geezerette club, I’m in a higher risk category. Volunteering at food banks or shelters probably wouldn’t be sensible. My normal obligations haven’t entirely ended, either. In many ways, I’m busier than I was before just with the stuff I already said I’d do.

I encourage you to learn from my mistakes. Accept that you won’t be able to do everything. Accept that there are times when you aren’t able to do anything. Tell the mean little voice in your head to sit down and be quiet. Remember that working yourself to exhaustion, or into a tizzy, isn’t going to help. Trust that your labor, prayers, cosmic hugs, and happy dances will encourage others to do what they can. Regardless of the outcome, offering what we can from love is worth it.

Luck and wisdom!

Bloom Where You Are, and Other Sayings

March 30, 2020


For the first time, I understand the connection between two sayings I’ve heard for years. The first is the advice to torture your darlings. The second is the adage, “Adversity doesn’t make character, it reveals it.” Watching the different ways people are responding to the pandemic was my aha moment for writing. If I don’t fully understand my characters and I drop them in the middle of a crisis, the scene is usually flat. I can’t reveal what I don’t know.

Even if I have a good sense of who my characters are, what they do in the conflict sometimes comes as a surprise. I’m starting to enjoy those experiences. Yes, there is the underlying terror that the story is spinning out of my control, but the joy of seeing my imaginary friends become real people is worth it.

You may have understood this connection for a long time, but it’s new to me. Or rather, this added layer of understanding is new to me. As is the added layer of understanding this pandemic has brought to another saying, “Bloom where you are.” I’ve seen so many small acts of kindness lately. I’ve been on the receiving end of some of them. It’s enough to keep me writing stories with happy endings.

Luck and wisdom!

Surprise!

March 23, 2020

We’ve been under a shelter-in-place order for a week now. Although it shouldn’t have been a surprise, given the rapid spread of coronavirus in my area, it was. Not so much of a surprise that I was caught without supplies on hand, but a surprise in the way I reacted to it. My immediate response wasn’t anger, or panic, or a descent into the long, dark tea-time of the soul (thanks, Douglas Adams!). I had this unshakable feeling that I was forgetting something important. After days of fretting, I finally realized that this first week of restricted movement coincided with my busiest week of the month. I usually spend this week checking my to-do lists, and bring-with-me-to-the-meeting lists, and remember-to-ask-this lists. A week with nothing on the schedule should have brought rest and relaxation; instead, it brought anxiety.

“Self,” I said, “this can be used in character development. How would your protagonist react at a gut-level if she was stranded while on vacation? Could your villain manage to stay calm if all the coffee shops were closed?”

Now that I have identified my anxiety, I’m working through it by – you guessed it – creating more lists. I will write down the questions this experience has presented, and see if I can’t use them to give my characters more depth. What will you do with the surprises that life brings you?

Luck and wisdom!

Time to Prepare

March 16, 2020

The middle of March is a hectic time for rites and celebrations. This month was a doozy. First was Friday, March 13. The next day was Pi-Day (we had strawberry, pictured above). Sunday was the Ides of March. Today is St. Urho’s Day (yes, it’s a made-up holiday, but I like purple and green). Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day (note previous comment on green). The 18th would have been my father’s 87th birthday, but that’s a blog for another time.

On top of all this is the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m beginning to think I should add an annual review of my disaster preparation plans to the ritual-and-to-do list for mid-March. While my sewing room and writing space offer enough to keep me occupied, there is more to life than art. Food helps, and that includes chocolate. My reward-buying stash is almost gone. Can I make the case that another trip to the chocolate shop is an essential activity, necessary for the safety of all those around me? On the other hand, I probably have the ingredients to experiment making my own chocolates, which will not only occupy a good chunk of time but also provide me with other questions to ask when I create characters or scenes. How do you prepare for the unexpected, and does that influence how you write?

Luck and wisdom!