Catching Starlight…

One of the most frequent questions asked of writers is where their ideas come from. The usual answer is the newspaper, other things going on around them, or even some scene that seems to pop into their head of its own volition. But the more amazing thing to me is what writers do with their ideas.

A writer takes up an idea in the same way a sculptor picks up a lump of clay. What he or she does with that raw material is where I think the true talent comes in. In the end, after there is a book to show for it, a reader might never even recognize that first original wisp of an idea that started it all. Many times, it has been cut out entirely, and is no longer there anymore.

Still, that original spark was like fuel for the fire, and -- like fuel -- has managed to take the author from point A to point B, with enough impetus and gathering speed to sustain the entire journey. It's an addictive thrill, actually. After a while, an author can become so adept at looking over their little mental collection of ideas, they almost remind me of golfers deciding which iron to use. One can even become quite obsessed with pursuing the perfect hit.

I once had a full-blown scene flash before me while driving somewhere mundane, of a woman digging a hole in the middle of the night all by herself. The ground was like rock and she was breathing hard, making little headway with all her effort. There was a bright moonlight, and the pale gray sweatshirt she was wearing kept riding up to show a line of bare white skin every time she stabbed the shovel into the ground. She was digging a grave out there… I knew it.

I have no idea where that all came from, but it was a very intense moment. For a long time I thought it must be some pivotal incident in a book I was going to write. Except that happened many years, ago, and she never ended up in one. But I imagine she'll fit in somewhere, down the road, because she still pops up, now and again. Maybe she'll look over at me one of those times and say something. And that will be it.

Makes you wonder, though, how much of writing you choose, or how much of it chooses you. Or maybe that's simply the way our brains work if ever we exercise them enough in those creative directions. Writing fiction is the most fascinating activity I have ever been involved in.

But even after having spent so many years at it, I still have no idea where the gift stops and the craft begins. Which is as it should be, I suppose, if you are going to spend so much time spinning things out of stardust.

I love harvesting among the stars.

What's happening on the farm today… I'm glad we have no animals here, right now, other than the dogs who are inside with us. Because today we have broken all records for heat since they have been keeping records in this state. So, another day when we are just waiting… waiting… and waiting… in the cool dark house. Not pitch dark. Just a sort of twilight dark from having draped blankets and sheets over all the doors and windows.


Making Connections…

Today, I have taken time out of my ordinary schedule to visit with fellow writers in their own little corners of the "blogosphere" (I think that is the new, more modern word for cyberspace). So far, it has been very enlightening. What impresses me most about everyone is their sincerity. Seriously.

No matter where they come from (all over the world, actually -- there are writers from nearly every continent in this little activity). No matter what their particular brand of writing might be (all brands represented here)… they are most sincere in trying to share information on the writing life. And to be entirely open and honest about where their own particular journey through that life has taken them. This is what shines through most, to me, in a kaleidoscope of myriad personalities and color.

However, there is one surprising enigma that struck me more than any other since I embarked on my flurry of visiting. It is too much transparency. Which is usually a good thing (especially if you are talking about relationships or business practices), but that isn't the sort I'm referring to. I'm talking about the more concrete kind. The kind Webster's defines as: clear enough to be seen through, so that what lies beyond is easily detectable. Here's the deal. On a majority of my visits, I had a hard time finding out exactly who's space I was in.

Wonderful information everywhere -- writer interviews and book reviews -- not to mention a literal gold mine of how-to articles on marketing and the world of social media (thank you, everyone!). But I couldn't seem to find enough of what many readers (myself included) go onto author web sites for. A personal glimpse at the author. A lot of the sites I visited took me on a treasure hunt just to find the author's name. And the "about me" pages rarely contained anything different than the same sort of paragraph that might be found at the back of a book. The "Author of…lives in New Jersey with her husband and four cats…" type stuff. I guess I was looking more for, "I write because…" "I am passionate about…" "My greatest concern these days is…"

The thing is, I didn't even know I was looking for those things until I had a hard time finding them. And I am not "beyond the veil" in this particular area, myself, as I realized I don't do such a good job of those things on my own site, either. Which is when it became clear to me exactly what I was looking for. A personal connection with a unique personality. Someone who might actually take a moment to say something to me that I could regard almost as if we were friends. Then I wondered if all readers were looking for that in some way or another.

Which, in turn, led me to wonder just exactly what I wanted my "online corner of the world" to be. A home, or a department store? Neither of which is wrong, because we all spend a lot of time in both kinds of places. Either way, though, I always want to know which kind of establishment I'm going into. If it's the store-type, I want to know -- right up front -- what you are selling, and why I should buy. I guess you could say I want to know what it will do for me. If I'm there, I'm already geared up to browse and maybe buy, so the emphasis would be more on atmosphere and ease of navigation. If it's a home atmosphere, there's only one thing I want to see first…

You. Meet me at the door and ask me to come inside. The place should be a reflection of yourself. Do you travel? I want to see some artifacts. Do you hunt or fish? Give me a rousing good story of the last one that got away. Are you a connoisseur of fine dining? Maybe a recipe I can try tonight in my very own kitchen. Got any remedies of insomnia? What's on your mind today? If we have enough in common, maybe I'll add you to my list of places I like to drop by often because we are friends. And even though most of my "cyber friends" don't even know I exist, it doesn't seem to matter.

For me, or them.

After so much visiting, I have come to the conclusion that creating a "virtual world" is a real art in itself. No matter who you are. Already I have a growing list of things that absolutely have to be changed around here. That's what it looks like, today, anyway. But my visits have only just begun, and I understand the opportunity will continue for some weeks. So, my thanks to all you "campaigners" for offering such enlightening opportunities.

I hope you will find something of value here at my place, as well.

What's happening on the farm today: 110 degrees, we have now broken all records, and things are getting more than tough for all the neighborhood livestock. Especially the new little calf born a couple days, ago. But animals are the best when it comes to hunkering down and waiting things out. Hmmm… might be something to be learned there, too…



I agree with Dorothy, there is nothing like it -- no, "There's no place like home." Our arrivals were staggered this time, as we were stranded in various airports for days on end. Still, no matter how exhausted, I find that coming home keys me up and it takes at least a day to settle down. Then a crash. Catching up on rest and then soaking up all the comforts. After which comes a flurry of cooking favorite recipes, and then...

Suddenly there are "stirrings" coming from the study. Better see what the muses are up to in there. Ah, it looks delightfully the same (many thanks to Pops for that new little deck outside my door, all enclosed and private, just waiting for me to bring in pots and plants and tables for tea). But -- oh, dear -- what have the rest of you been doing in here all this time?

"We're planning a launch party," says Ann. "Good of you to show up for it."

A launch party. Hmm. Last year, when I came home, it was merely her very own blog. And I distinctly remember it was supposed to be supervised in case she got into trouble with any of the... umm... technicalities.

"Oh, no need to worry about that." (this from the Professor) "I've dropped by several times, already, and she's got quite the atmosphere going over there. Wouldn't you say so, Ann?"

"It's like a miniature trip to Africa, if you ask me. But then that's all part of the launch. She does make a wonderful blended juice drink for anyone that stops by. Exotic fruits and all that. I should probably mention that she had to borrow a few things from over here, but I didn't think you'd mind."

Well, I suppose it's all in the family.

"She had to spend a bit more money than we expected, too." Ann seems to be looking over the books with some concern, now.

What? A brand new, top of the line computer with all the --

"It is the first book with her name on it. What if they want another? She couldn't go limping along on that used one that was always breaking down."

"I agree," says the Professor. "It will help her to keep better track of things. Speaking of which, I lost track of those blasted kids you sent over, again. Haven't the slightest idea where any of them ran off to."

Ah... there's no place quite like home.

What's happening on the farm today: There is an eerie silence around the place. Tragedy has struck the Peabody family, and only two have survived. They were mercifully rescued by one of the neighbors when they were still chicks. I'm sure they will never even know they were Peabodys. The goats are being cared for on another farm, too. It seems it has been a terribly mean, hot summer. Well... we shall see what we can make of it...


Traveling today…

Headed home on the fast track, so it will take a bit of time to rest and settle back into a normal routine once we get there. But I have a lot to do, so I am very much ready to be home. However, goodbyes are always hard, and they take some time to settle, as well.

Things that will linger for me this year are: tender moments with family; meeting wonderful new friends and fellow travelers; and having the rare experience of hearing taps played every night at dusk over the Naval base where we stayed for some weeks. My little granddaughter calls it "the good night song."

Good nights are important.

With so many of our military away from their families, these days, I am glad they have something so beautiful to tuck them in every night. And I'm sure it will linger somewhere in their hearts long after they all finally find their way home, again.

Getting outside myself every summer, always makes me feel very grateful to be living in such a wonderful world. It's beautiful out there. But now there is a four hour layover until the next flight, so… I'm off to work a bit.


Something Refreshing…

Stumbled on a bit of "writer's refreshment" last week, and am having such a good time with it, I thought I'd better share. It's the "Plot Whisperer's" vlog series that you can find here.

That's the first one, but there are nearly thirty installments of between five and ten minutes that are delightfully informative. And if you are wondering how something can be both delightful and informative at the same time, I recommend you avid writers watch a few and see if you don't agree.

Meanwhile, many thanks to Martha Alderson for finding a way to teach such important stuff in such a fun way. And once again, I must say how wonderful it is that this "age of information" we live in allows us late-comers to enjoy events that have passed already to get in on them anyway… at our own leisure.

Which really leaves no excuses for putting out the absolute best work we are capable of. Something I'm going to get back to right now...


The best laid plans…

So much of what we plan in life turns out different. For some people, this is the ultimate sabotage, and they simply cannot accomplish what they set out to do. But I have found that for others (me included), the possibility exists to discover something above and beyond my own original ideas.

As a Christian, I must -- above all things -- depend on the fact that my steps are "ordered by the Lord." With this belief, all anxiety that I might miss something important, or get into trouble I had no idea was lurking, is covered. The ultimate bodyguard, actually. It doesn't get much better than that. But even so, it is incredible how much one has to struggle to keep that perspective. But it is worth it.

Which all makes perfectly good sense if one were to acknowledge the fact that we are living in a "war zone" that has existed between good and evil since the beginning of time. Think about it. The only thing that makes sense, really. In that light everything else seems to make sense, too. But, oh, the flak you will get if you ever bring that subject up in a conversation!

Even so, here's a little secret. If you -- or anyone -- will truly believe that God has your back -- then absolutely nothing is too big to stop you from what you were ultimately put in this world to do.

Now is that comfort, or what?

If you've got another opinion, let's hear it. Because I can't imagine there is any philosophy (or hard evince!) that will be able to hold up as well. Go ahead -- use any instance in history as an example. I have a feeling this theory is indisputable.

But then, that's me. So, enough with philosophy and off to work for the day.

What I am working on: The "third plotline" of my near thriller suspense. A very tricky bit, actually. One of the few things in a piece of fiction that has to ring true. Like Steinbeck, when he was writing his junk yard scene for GRAPES OF WRATH, and felt so obsessed with having to get the sense of cheating into it. Ah, writing… it is such a mysterious magic!


Setting Pretty...

The Pacific Northwest is one of my favorite places in all the country. Having explored every nook and cranny (both when we lived here and on subsequent trips), we have many special spots we like to come back to. One of them is Port Townsend, on the Olympic Penninsula. We like it for the boats -- such a wonderful marina there -- the beaches, the bookshops, and the library.

This year, I rediscovered the most wonderful campground I have ever been to in my life that I first visited when I was fifteen. A place in the rainforest, where the canopy of pale green turns pathways and waterfalls almost magical. I could just picture Robin Hood and his merry men living in a forest like this... back in the days when I was still wishing I had been born a boy. They had more freedom to roam and adventure than girls did where I came from. Which is one of the reasons I so appreciate being married to such a wonderful adventurer as my husband.

There are two towns I had to look closer at while I was here, too, because they are lined up to be the settings for a couple of my upcoming novels. By another name, of course. Mostly because I lived too long in them, myself, not to expect one of those colorful residents might think I was writing about them.

Which would only be partly true.

Setting is such an integral part of a novel world. But I have found it to be quite a trick to choose just the right details in order to bring it sufficiently to life. I think the secret is in painting a very small piece, perfectly, rather than an entire landscape. A small quirky piece. Learned that from Isak Dinesen, way back when, who was a master at that sort of thing. Lovely to live in a day and age where it is so easy to study the masters. With so many of their very own words at our fingertips, it's almost as if they never left.

And maybe they haven't.

What I am working on today... a suspense that I am trying not to tip over into a thriller, but it is beginning to swirl in that direction. Yet, it seems the subject matter calls for it in order to ring true. So maybe I better get back to it, now...