Saturday, June 18, 2016

Choosing a Cover

I need your help. I'm trying to decide on a cover for After the Fireweed, and I've narrowed it down to two, but I can't make the final choice. Take a look. If you were browsing through Amazon, would either of these catch your eye? Here's the pitch:

Laura’s Alaskan summer almost comes to an abrupt end in a berry patch over a territorial dispute with a bear, but a fellow hiker intercedes. Tally at day’s end: a dozen stitches, a cup of blueberries, and a lunch date with a fascinating high-school science teacher.  She returns the favor when Clay is accused of murdering his ex-wife. Laura risks her job to stay and prove his innocence. Failure may cost Clay his freedom. Flushing the real killer may cost Laura her life. 

A sweet romance with a chewy mystery center, AFTER THE FIREWEED is a story of adventure, murder, and the thrill of an unexpected love.

Which cover do you like best?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Noticing the Little Things

A first draft is all about the big picture. Who are these people? What happens to them? Why should I care? If done right, it paints a sweeping picture of the story.  

Draft two adds more layers to the story and makes it come alive. And to do that, we need details.

Last October, I decided to cheer myself up by dedicating a week to noticing the beauty around me by photographing one beautiful thing every day. An interesting finding from this project was that it isn't usually the huge, expansive views that make me smile. It's the little things.

A plant growing bravely out of a depression in a rock.                                                                                                                                                                           

The sudden flicker of a lizard running across the trail .

Evidence that people have been in this land, living and loving, long before most of the people I've read about in history books were born. And like me, they felt the need to leave their mark.  And eons before that, sea creatures who lived and died and left their fossilized remains.                                                                                                

I love this one orange flower defiantly blooming in the middle of a drift of white flowers. This is the sort of detail that makes a story come alive.

 We want our readers to be able to experience the story along with the characters. To blink at a sudden flash of sunlight streaming through a crack in the rock above.

To hear the rippling water in a cold mountain creek.

To feel the smooth texture of aspen bark.

To fill their lungs with the clean scent of desert wildflowers.

 But before readers experience these things, the writer has to experience them. Not necessarily exactly what the character is feeling. We can't travel to the moon and experience the desolation and silence, but we can be alone in the desert. If our character gets drenched in a thunderstorm, we need to remember what it feels like to be wet, and cold, and scared. We need to remember the smell of the rain, the rumble of thunder. And before we can remember, we have to notice. 
So every once in a while, writers need to close our laptops and take a walk, hang out with friends, and eat good food. And when we do these things, we need to notice the details - the sounds of the birds in the forest, the way a friend clicks her tongue when she's deciding whether to order cheesecake or pie, and the creamy texture of the cheesecake when she shares it. 

Consider it research.  

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Waiting for Blooms

Anticipation   -  Why don’t we celebrate Christmas all year long? One of my kids asked me that once in January when the bloom was off the new toys. I told him it wouldn’t be special if we did it every day. Anticipation is part of the reason Christmas is so much fun. I think the same is true of gardening.

In early February, I found this cranesbill in full bloom in London. In Alaska, mine won’t be blooming until June. The picture below was taken in July. The cranesbill are in the lower left.

I planted tulips under a deep mulch on the north side of the house once, and they actually bloomed on the Fourth of July.


I don’t know if I appreciate flowers more than a Londoner, but I suspect I get more excited about them. If I hadn’t waited all winter, I wouldn’t be so thrilled at the first sign of a rhubarb leaf unfurling, or run outside to take pictures of the pansies in pots on my deck. 

But after keeping us waiting in the dark all winter, the long cool days of summer mean the flowers practically explode into bloom in Anchorage, and the gardeners there go a little crazy.

Writers know all about waiting. I have a full submission, a requested revision, and a proposal in right now, and I’m waiting to hear back from the editor. Waiting is hard. But I’m telling myself it’s like the flowers, that I’ll appreciate it even more because of the anticipation. In the meantime, I’m sowing my seeds and fertilizing my garden, getting ready to blossum.

Are you blooming yet? 

Update 5/20/2016: I heard back on the proposal. They like it and want to see a full. So it was worth the wait. Now to get that manuscript into full bloom.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Mother's Day

Yesterday was Mother's Day. With my broken leg I'm basically home-bound, so it wasn't terribly exciting, but I had a good day. I had a long talk with my own mother, who will turn 90 this year. My kids spoiled me with flowers, chocolate, and books -- my three favorite luxuries. My husband took good care of me and made me tea. 

Bottom line - it's good to be loved. I'm thankful.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Sowing Again

You may remember my experiment in early March with setting out lettuce and Brussels sprout seedlings early to see what happened. It failed.

As often happens, the hazard was unforeseen. I planted them in a fenced garden lined with welded wire to keep the deer and rabbits out. I mulched to give some protection from frost and weed competition.  But I forgot to look up.

After spending the winter foraging on dried seeds and plants, the birds were hungry for fresh salad. Those tender green shoots lasted no time at all. The good news is that as soon as I set out the seedlings, I started another set indoors and they’re ready to be set out, this time under netting. The bad news is my broken leg isn’t going anywhere near that garden, but judging by the tomato plants he brought home yesterday, my hubby is catching spring fever, so he’ll be doing all the planting this time. And my leg should be better by time for harvest.

Hope everything is greening up and growing for you this spring.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Had I But Known ...

With sunshine and no ice or snow on the ground Sunday afternoon, I decided to take a nice walk in the park. It was a little windy, but the dog and I enjoyed being outdoors. At least until I made the rash decision to walk up the hill for a better view of the mountains. Okay, actually the bad part was when I started down the hill and stepped on a patch of wet grass, resulting in a twisting fall and an ominous popping noise, followed by the realization that I couldn't stand up.

Of course, I'd forgotten my cell phone, so I worked my way down the hill, thinking once I was on flatter ground, I'd be able to stand. Alas, no. I had to call for help. Each time I called, the dog, who's leash I'd dropped in the fall, gave moral support by running back and licking my face before running off to sniff another bush. Where' s Lassie when you need her? Finally, a neighbor heard me over the wind and fetched my husband. Together, they got me to a car so I could go to the emergency room.

Turns out, I broke both bones in my lower leg and tore a ligament. After surgery, I woke up with this on my wrist.

If only someone had put it on me before I took that walk. 

But it could be a lot worse. It's been fifty years since I last broke a bone, so one every half century isn't so bad. I had a good surgeon. I have a great excuse to avoid cooking and cleaning over the next few weeks. In the meantime, I'm writing. The words aren't exactly pouring out of me yet, but hopefully as I settle into a routine, they will. At least that's the plan. We'll see. 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Questioning Rules

"What advice would you give your sixteen-year-old self?"

I saw that headline somewhere, and it got me thinking. At sixteen, I was a rule follower. I got good grades, because I did what teachers asked me to do. I assumed if I continued down the path the experts had laid out, all would be well.

It took me a long time to discover this:

The ten commandments were brought down from the mountain on a stone tablet; all other rules were made by people, and people are fallible.

Now don't get me wrong. Rules and tradition are important. The only way to make progress in society is to build on the experience of those who came before us. It's a sign of wisdom to listen to those who have been down the path and can give us the pitfalls and highlights. But nobody knows everything, and if they say they do, they're lying.

In college, I continued to follow the rules. If my instructor assigned reading, I read. If the TA rambled incoherently in the 8:30 lecture, I was there, trying not to nod off. It worked. I was an honor student. But when I was a senior, I wanted to take BASIC programming as an elective. (Yes, I'm that old). Only trouble was, a certain low-level math class was a prerequisite and my major hadn't required that class because my math SATs were above a certain level. So, I called the instructor and explained. At first, he refused, but finally asked about my SAT score. He said he hadn't realized I was one of their gifted students, and he'd be happy to relax the rules and let me take the class. Gifted. Who knew?

But for a gifted student, I was a slow learner. As a newly minted college graduate, I pulled out the want ads and started my job search. Hmm, two years experience in sales. Nope. Only that summer job in the ice cream shop. Types forty words a minutes. Maybe on a good day. Assistant needed for insurance agent. What do I know about insurance? 

It wasn't until later that I discovered most of the people who filled those jobs had no experience either. They learned on the job. And  sometimes a bright, eager beginner can pass up an experienced plodder in a matter of months. I finally got a job I liked in a Savings & Loan, where I received another lesson about rules. I discovered that, although someone who cashed in a CD early had to pay a penalty, if that person went upstairs and complained to the president, their penalty got waived. Rules are only rules until they aren't.

All my life, I've been an avid reader. I'd even made up stories and scenes in my head to pass time and entertain myself. But it wasn't until my forties that it occurred to me I might write stories, too. I assumed the rules meant writers had college degrees in fine arts, or were teenage prodigies, or had done something extraordinary like climbed Mt. Everest. But it turns out all it takes is time, a love of language, and the willingness to learn. Not that there's any guarantee of publication or making a living at writing, but that's all it takes to be a writer. To write.

I still believe in rules. I obey the speed limit. I only deduct legitimate expenses from my taxes. I don't cut in lines. But I've learned that sometimes rules are flexible. That the people who make those rules don't have all the answers. It's good to learn from the experience of others, but it's important to weigh their advice. 

Life is like a jigsaw puzzle in a blank box. It takes a long time to fit all the pieces together before you get a glimpse of the picture, and nobody ever completely finishes the puzzle. We're all works in progress. And that's good. I mean, if you know it all, why stick around? 

But that also means that  the people who make the rules may not have the whole picture. When someone assures us the puzzle is all about dogs, or architecture,  maybe it's because they've only put together those pieces of the puzzle. 

Old Book Store Puzzle

Maybe we'll have to talk to a lot of people to discover the picture is actually a bookstore. Or maybe we'll have to figure that out for ourselves.