Monday, July 27, 2015

The Best Pictures I Never Took

Have you ever had one of those encounters where someone wounds you with a cutting remark, and you’re tongue-tied? You know they’re wrong, that you should be able to defend yourself, but you can’t think of anything to say that doesn’t make it worse. Then later your think of the perfect comeback? I know I have. One of the perks of writing fiction is the ability to use these moments, to rewrite life so that this time, I come out on top. And in my writing, I can capture other missed opportunities.

Photography is a long-time hobby of mine. My father taught me to use a twin-lens reflex camera with manual focus and light settings. It produced a 2 1/4 inch square negative that made developing and printing a breeze. But I missed a lot of shots trying to adjust the focus and aperture/shutter speed on that camera. Besides, the thing was huge, not something you’d carry around casually. Nowadays, the high-quality camera in my cell phone means I can snap a picture whenever something catches my interest, but I still miss some great opportunities.

Chugach Range
I once saw a double rainbow stretched across the Chugach range, but by the time I grabbed a camera, it was gone. Just imagine the photo here, but with green instead of snow and a double rainbow above it. 

One autumn night, a harvest moon had just risen above the almost bare white branches in a grove of birch trees when a raven flew by. For just an instant, the shape of the soaring bird was silhouetted against the golden moon. I still feel a shiver when I remember it.

On a corner I drive by frequently, a man sells moose planters he makes in his workshop. He usually has a half-dozen or so in various sizes displayed on his lawn. One day when I was passing, a real bull moose crossed the road in front of me and stopped to sniff one of the moose planters. Now that would have been a great photo.

There are so many others: the bumblebee on the fuchsia flower, the laughing face of a child on a sled, the glimpse of an old bridge, visible for two seconds from a busy highway. These photo ops will never come again, but it’s okay because I can use them in my writing. I can paint a picture based on what I’ve seen and share it with my readers.

Are there pictures you wish you’d taken? Things you wish you’d said? Will they end up in a story?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Cover Dogs

I believe I've mentioned a time or two that I love dogs, both real and fictional.  Some of my earliest memories of reading involve dogs. The dog in my first grade reader was named Tip. I don't remember the names of the children in the story.

Old YellerSavage Sam,White Fang, The Call of the Wild, and Where The Red Fern Grows were all favorites I read again and again. 

I'm still a sucker for a good dog story. Five of the six stories in my Choices series feature dogs as significant characters. So do three other stories I've written since, but so far, none of my dogs has made it to the cover of a book. 

Eventually, that has to change, because I'm suffering from cover envy. I look at the beautiful covers like the ones below, and I want one. I have an idea percolating in the back of my mind right now involving a pair of inseparable dogs who will bring two people together who normally wouldn't have given one another a second glance. That one is up next to be written, once I'm done with my current WIPs.

 That's one of the ways I motivate myself when the writing process bogs down and I feel like I'm slogging through the manuscript. Just keep writing everyday, and before long I'll have a first draft. Then I can rewrite and edit and polish until I have a story. And once that one is done, I'll have another fun story waiting in the wings to be written. 

And someday, I'll get an adorable cover dog, too. 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Simple Joys of Summer

Happy Solstice!

AKA First Day of Summer

Hanging Baskets

It's officially summer, and while vacations are great, some of the best things about summer happen right here at home. As of today, we have nineteen hours and twenty-one minutes of daylight in Anchorage, and the other four and a half aren't really dark, so there's plenty of time for summer fun. Here are a few of my favorite things about summer. 

Summer Fruit


Duckings, all in a row

Reading on the Deck

Sun Tea 


And Roxy loves summer, too.

Hope yours is just as joyful!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Lilac Time

It's lilac time here in Anchorage. In yards all over the city, the bushes we ordinarily never notice are covered in floral plumes, diffusing their distinctive sweet scent that even smells purple. Lilacs spend fifty weeks a year as an ugly duckling, tall, scraggly, and awkward. It's a little like those old movies where the girl wears ugly glasses, baggy clothes, and pulls her hair back into a tight bun. But then one day Carey Grant removes her glasses, and says she has beautiful eyes. That's the budding phase of the lilac. 

Then in the next scene, dressed for the ball, she's breathtakingly beautiful, sweeping the hero off his feet. And somewhere along the way, she gains confidence and grace and you know she'll never again be that ugly duckling. Now she's a graceful swan.

And that's were the similarity ends. Lilacs live a long, long time, but they don't live happily ever after. Once they finish out their blooming cycle, they revert to the background, with twiggy branches, uninteresting foliage, and a tendency to sprout suckers. But once a year in early June, lilacs will once again be the belle of the ball. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Gardening and Stories

 It's summer again, and if it ever stops raining, I have work to do in my garden, and a mother's day gift of two new garden gnomes to introduce. I've been gardening on this lot for twenty-four years now, and over that time, the garden has changed and evolved. The former owner had established a perennial bed out front with globeflowers, campanella, cranesbill, and lilies. The lilies have started to fade away, but the others have self-seeded over the years, filling the bed, and I've added new flowers. 

The one rhubarb plant in the backyard is now five huge clumps in different locations around the house. Ferns have multiplied to fill the shady spots. And there are more shady spots than ever, as the trees have grown and spread.

Not long after we moved in, we build a fence, which created an awkward little pocket on the side of the house. I made that pocket my secret garden, a little private oasis filled with lacy foliage and pink and blue flowers, where I could escape and let my mind roam. 

Years later, the secret garden had to go to make room for an addition. A few of the plants are still there, a big lilac and some Jacob's ladder, but most of the remaining space that isn't covered by house is a walkway. I built the retaining wall myself, with my husband hauling gravel for me in the evenings after work. I think it turned out fairly well, but it's not nearly as pretty as the flowers and trees it replaced. The addition is great; I've thoroughly enjoyed the new master bath with a big soaking tub and the dedicated home office, but I do miss that garden. 

My writing life has been a little like my garden. My all-time favorite writers are Agatha Christie, for the wonderful puzzles she crafted, and Rosemunde Pilcher who created characters who were more real to me than many of the people I interact with every day. My first few stories were mysteries, but on a lark I wrote a short story romance. Well, it wasn't technically a romance because of the ending, but I liked the main character so well I wrote her another story and did give her a happy ending. And that story self-seeded into yet another and another, and before I realize what was happening, I became a romance writer. 

Writing and gardening have a lot in common. Both are organic, but do best grown within a structured environment, and because of the fluid nature of the process, both can yield surprising results. Thanks to weather, soil, and luck, no two years are ever the same in a garden. And no two books are ever the same. Each one is an individual work of art.
And like gardeners, writers learn from experience what works and what doesn't. With enough care and attention, a gardener can sometimes nurse along an exotic plant that isn't really suited to local growing conditions, but it's so much easier to choose the plant that fits the conditions and let it thrive. Writing is the same. A story that grabs the writer's imagination and runs is so much easier to write than following the trend of whatever is popular, and  it shows. The story grows and thrives, rather than struggling to remain alive. Not to say it won't need care and pruning, nurturing and shaping, but the author's voice will come through and make the story bloom.  Whether it's a native wildflower garden, or a cozy cottage garden, or a formal French garden of symetrical geometry, a garden is a thing of beauty. And so is a story.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Love Letters

I recently had the pleasure of a visit with a remarkable woman. She has ninety-one years of experience on this earth, and seems to have lived each one fully. She showed me a map of all the places she and her husband traveled in their Airstream trailer, and it included every state except Hawaii and several places in Canada. Pictures and souvenirs of their life together cover the walls of her house.

I asked her how a farm girl from Illinois happened to meet a boy from the Texas panhandle. It seems she was in St. Louis, working as a secretary for the Air Force (Army Air Corp then, I believe) and they needed a typist to accompany an investigation team to Amarillo. She was single, and so eligible to go. She went to check into the hotel for the first time in her life. In the lobby, a good-looking airman tried to strike up a conversation, but prudently, she wouldn’t give him her name. He convinced her to go to dinner across the street, though. She wasn't sure who he talked to, but he managed to find out her name and all about her.

Three days later, she returned home, but this airman didn’t give up easily. He wrote letters and called her on the phone once a week. She said he was shy and didn't talk much, but he wrote beautiful letters. Eventually, he asked her to marry him. Her mother suggested she might want to meet his family before agreeing, so she and a friend traveled to his hometown in Texas and he came to meet her family. They were married for fifty-seven years.

As a writer, I’m awed by this story. There is something special about discovering a real, paper letter waiting in the mailbox, hiding among the bills and junk mail. It's like a little packet of love. Still, imagine inspiring someone to fall in love with you with the words on a page. From now on as I write, this is the gold standard I'll keep in mind. In the meantime, I just might write an actual paper letter or two. How about you?