Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprint

Happy Friday.  Congratulations if you made it through April 1st (April Fool’s Day) without being taken in.  I will admit to falling for a post from a local city.  To be fair, the council there has voted in some pretty strange regulations, so their April 1st post wasn’t outside of the realm of possibility.

Today, (if you’re reading this on the 2nd) is Good Friday for those who celebrate.  For those who don’t there are a variety of other things to celebrate, including “National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day” and “World Autism Awareness Day.”

“April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day. Did you know that CDC statistics revealed that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is 4.3 times more prevalent in boys than it is in girls? This is because girls “often go undiagnosed because they don’t fit autism stereotypes and they mask symptoms better than boys do,” according to the Child Mind Institute. There is no better way to celebrate this day than by becoming aware of the characteristics of people with this condition and how all of us can do better to increase our own understanding and promote kindness..”

Whatever you’re celebrating, “increasing understanding” and “promoting kindness” seem like good all-around choices.

I’m off work today and am quite likely to celebrate “Doing Nothing but Reading Day”, though who knows.  The beautiful weather may motivate me to leave the house and do something a bit more energetic.  I guess we’ll have to wait and see.  Somewhere along the line I plan to grab my favorite notebook and give today’s writing prompt and random words a try.

Care to join me? Continue reading

Kay: Reading Crime Fiction

My favorite literary genre is the mystery. I’m not a big fan of the “cozy”—the storylines of teacups and cats set in bookshops—but I don’t like sensationalist serial-killer stories, either. I don’t want to read loving descriptions of slow torture or the detached planning of sociopath rapists. This is not my idea of entertainment.

My favorites are those books that straddle a middle ground. I like the puzzle a mystery offers. I like a flawed detective. I enjoy good writing, unusual settings, and any time period. If there’s a secondary romance plot, so much the better.

After a year of not really enjoying anything I read, I just polished off in one week the first three books and four novellas in the Lady Julia Grey series by Deanna Raybourn. I’d been thinking about why this series, set in Victorian times, caught my fancy when so many other things did not in the past year. Lady Julia has a great deal of agency, Brisbane takes her seriously, and her large family—eccentrics all—is fun to read about. Also, the dialogue is good and the romance is slow-burning. So that’s all catnip for me.

Continue reading

Jeanne: Making Choices

This morning I attempted, for the eleventieth time, to watch a romcom on Netflix. That seems like a simple enough task, but I found myself scrolling through menu after menu of movies and TV shows, weighing the way-too-many choices on offer. After a half-hour of roaming through myriad options, my husband emerged from his man-cave and suggested we watch the SNL episode we recorded the night before and my window of opportunity closed.

If I have a criticism about the way life is today versus the way it was when I was a younger (and I’m a Boomer, so you know I have opinions on that topic) it’s exactly this: life has become so overwhelmed with options that the act of making a choice eats up more time than the advantages of one selection over another justifies.

In the movie Wonderboys, Michael Douglas plays Grady Tripp, an English professor ten years on from his bestselling novel. The literary world is waiting for a follow-up, but no one, including his agent (Robert Downey, Jr.), has seen any sign of a new manuscript. Everyone assumes he has writer’s block.

Late in the movie, Tripp shows his star student Hannah (Katie Holmes) what he’s been working on all this time–a stack of manuscript pages approximately three feet high. After reading all 2500 pages, Hannah delivers her verdict:

You know how in class you’re always telling us that writers make choices? Even though your book is really beautiful–I mean, amazingly beautiful–it’s at times very detailed. You know, with the genealogies of everyone’s horses and the dental records. And I could be wrong but It reads in places like you really didn’t make any choices. At all.

Michael Chabon, Wonderboys, 2000

I’m having a similar problem with my current work-in-progress. I finally finished a first draft of The Demon Wore Stilettos but as I make my second draft revisions, I’m confronted with Too Many Choices. I think I need a method of prioritization. Options include:

  1. SIMPLIFY. Given that I have a history of throwing way too much unrelated stuff into my stories, simplify might be a good revision watchword.
  2. JOY. Taking a page from Marie Kondo’s book and trimming out things that don’t give me (and therefore probably won’t give my reader) joy, might also work.
  3. THEME–Now that I’m on my second draft, examining the theme(s) of the book and sticking with those could be a good guiding principle.

Of course, you can see what’s happening here. I’m not only having problems making choices, but problems making a choice on how to make choices. When I worked in IT, we used to call this “analysis paralysis”–when you get so caught up in the potential issues of a project that you don’t make forward progress.

Suggestions for working my way out of this morass welcome!

Jilly: One For The Diary

This week marked the one-year anniversary of the UK’s first national lockdown. In late February 2020 Mr W. and I had lunch in a crowded London restaurant with a bunch of friends, celebrating a landmark birthday without a care in the world. A month later we couldn’t set foot outside our home at all without an approved reason.

The change was sudden and drastic. Like everyone else I know, we were more than a little shell-shocked.

I’m reminded of a night, many years ago, on vacation in the Himalaya. A group of us camped on a ridge, high above a vast plain. We had supper, sang songs, played word games around the campfire, and retired to bed in excellent spirits. Around midnight we awoke to a storm the like of which I have never seen before or since. The waterproofing on our tents was rapidly overwhelmed and a fast-flowing river sprang up under my sleeping mat. Fortunately we had some dry clothes in a sealed bag, because everything else was soaked. Staying inside the tent was grim but going outside was worse. The following morning we all sat silently on our saturated kit bags, bedraggled and bemused. Our guide, who’d doubtless seen worse, looked us over, rubbed his chin, and thought for a moment. “One for the diary,” he said.

The Year of Covid probably deserves a whole diary to itself, but a page is more than enough for me. Below are my current top ten entries.

  1. Don’t take today for granted. Life can change in a heartbeat.
  2. Lasting good can come from terrible catastrophes.
  3. Humans are social animals. Technology can connect us, but it will never fully replace face-to-face contact and caring touch.
  4. Humans are adaptable and innovative. It’s mind-boggling what we can achieve when we co-operate together.
  5. Our world is deeply interconnected. We can’t just fix bits of it and expect the whole shebang to work.
  6. Don’t mess with mother nature.
  7. For the writer in me: character is choice under pressure.
  8. Also, language is also adaptable and innovative. A new crisis will spawn new words and concepts.
  9. Further: everything, however grim or inspiring, is story material.
  10. And for the eternal optimist: nothing but good times ahead.

What would you record in your 2020-21 Covid Diary?

Michaeline: Behind the Scenes in Poughkeepsie

Harlan Ellison, an SFF writer, at least once said when asked that he got his ideas from Poughkeepsie. “$25 a Week and they send me a fresh six-pack of new ideas fifty-two times a year” (Shatterday: Stories by Harlan Ellison).

Where do you get your ideas?

I’m getting mine from the cats these past few months.

Half-grown long-haired kitten who looks like a Norwegian Forest cat (tabby) sits on a leopard print fleece blanket that's been placed on top of a big pot of soil (if you are curious, it used to be a turmeric plant). Ears forward, whiskers forward, eyes bright and curious. Very regal sitting position.
Princess Charlotte, also known as Charli with a soft ch (シャーリー). Here she lords over the houseplants. (EM Duskova)

Our new cat, Princess Charlotte, looks like a Norwegian Forest cat or a Maine Coon cat. Both breeds are friendly, chatty giants with long fur and athletic ability. Princess Charlotte (or Charli for short) showed up in our barn on February 15.

She holds herself like a princess, but attacks dem fishies like a warrior queen. And Norwegian Forest cats come with their own mythology and legends, so it’s natural

Continue reading

Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprint

Happy “Solitude Day” (if you’re reading this on the 26th).   Though frankly, after a year of the pandemic, I’m pretty sure many of us have had our fill of solitude.

It’s also “National Nougat Day”

This holiday offers an opportunity to become a nougat aficionado. Or perhaps try learning the nuances of nougat. No matter how you spend the day, be sure to get a sample or two. Whether it’s a big bite or small, enjoy some nougats. Be sure to share a piece, too! Use #NationalNougatDay to post on social media.

Since I’m not much of a nougat fan, I’ll be celebrating “Organize the Garage Day” on my Friday-day-off instead.  There is a whole stack of things in the garage waiting to go the local charity shop, as well as another stack waiting to go the recycling facility.  My plan is to get rid of everything that doesn’t belong in the garage so that I can make a little exercise area.  I had a spot in the living room, but it’s time for a change.

Of course I may just wind up spending the day reading.  Who can tell?  As long as I take a break from the day job, it will be a day well spent.

Somewhere along the line I plan to grab my favorite notebook and give today’s writing prompt and random words a try.

Care to join me? Continue reading

Michille: Kerouac’s 30

Whenever I see various writers’ tips on or rules for writing, I always click. I usually find something that speaks to me. However, when I stumbled on Jack Kerouac’s 30 rules for writing, that didn’t apply. They didn’t make sense. So I googled and found the same list called Cool Tips, Beliefs and Techniques, and Advice to Writers (this one has editorial). I’m sure if I’d gone further I’d have seen more descriptors of this list.

Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac (March 12, 1922 – October 21, 1969) was an American novelist and poet. Kerouac is a literary icon and a pioneer of the Beat Generation, best known for the beatnik classic On the Road.

Other writers were always asking Kerouac for advice. He set down 30 essentials in a note titled ‘Belief and Technique for Modern Prose’. Or what another website called: Hippy Nonsense.

Kerouac’s 30 Rules for Writing

  1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
  2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
  3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house
  4. Be in love with yr life
  5. Something that you feel will find its own form
  6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
  7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
  8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
  9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
  10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
  11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
  12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
  13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
  14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
  15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
  16. The jewel centre of interest is the eye within the eye
  17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
  18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
  19. Accept loss forever
  20. Believe in the holy contour of life
  21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
  22. Don’t think of words when you stop but to see picture better
  23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
  24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
  25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
  26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
  27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
  28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
  29. You’re a Genius all the time
  30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

I like “Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind” for its hippy nonsense quotient. But I think “You’re a Genius all the time” is going on my writing bulletin board. Do you have a favorite?

Elizabeth: A New Leaf

We seem to be in a changing-seasons mood here on the blog. Michaeline welcomed the equinox on Saturday, Jilly got us dreaming about travelling on Sunday, and Jeanne shared her visual spring fever just yesterday.

For me, the appearance of spring means giving the house a deep-clean and the garden some sprucing up while waiting for my lilac bushes to bloom. In this part of the country they only bloom for a few weeks–generally sometime between mid-March and Easter–and the recent rainy/sunny/windy weather seems to have them a little confused. Fortunately, today I saw that there are little leaves budding away and signs that the flowers aren’t too far behind, so my personal start-of-spring is almost here.

I can’t wait.

Though obviously, I’ll have to.

In the meantime, I’ve been looking for a little distraction to keep me entertained. I have a pile of unread books that could fit the bill, but none of them seem to be calling to me right now. I did interrupt my comfort re-reading the other day to finally read Beth O’Leary’s The Switch, and enjoyed it, but I didn’t really feel like picking up anything else.

Fortunately, the internet came to the rescue. Continue reading

Jeanne: Spring Fever

We’re getting an early spring here in southwest Ohio–days in the 50’s and 60’s–which is perfect for spotting nesting owls

Great Horned Owl

and for locating woodland ephemerals.

Winter aconite

Snow Trillium

Siberian Squill

So, although my second draft is lagging well behind where I planned and there’s always promotional work waiting for my attention, that’s what I’ve been doing.

Spring fever always makes me think of this poem:

I Meant To Do My Work Today

by Robert La Gallienne

I meant to do my work today—
   But a brown bird sang in the apple tree,
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
   And all the leaves were calling me. 

And the wind went sighing over the land,
   Tossing the grasses to and fro,
And a rainbow held out its shining hand—
   So what could I do but laugh and go?

Jilly: Virtual Vacay–My Father’s Island

Do you like to travel?

As a child I dreamed of exploring the world, and as an adult I’ve been lucky enough to visit some spectacular places. I’m glad I didn’t wait until I retired. Right now, thanks to covid, we aren’t even allowed a day trip to Brighton.

I know it’s not the worst consequence of the pandemic, but I feel sad that our skies and borders seem likely to stay restricted for some time to come. I hope we’ll find a way to open up again.

In the meantime I’ve been recapturing that sense of wonder by re-reading some of my favorite travel books. I decided to share one or two here, in the hope that you might be inspired to refresh your own post-covid bucket list.

This week’s treat was My Father’s Island by Johanna Angermeyer, which I first read in 1997, just before we visited Galapagos. I love this book. It’s memoir, but the author’s story is fascinating enough to be fiction. To borrow from the dust jacket:

In 1935 Hans Angermeyer and his four brothers escaped from Nazi Germany and sailed to the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles west of Ecuador. Surviving incredible hardship, the Angermeyers began an extraordinary Robinson Crusoe existence surrounded by giant tortoises, tame birds and prehistoric iguanas.

When Hans met Russian-born Emmasha, the couple set out to make a life together on what truly seemed to be their portion of paradise. But Hitler’s war caught up with them, shattering their idyll and sending Emmasha back to the United States with three young children.

Johanna Angermeyer, the youngest daughter, always daydreamed about her father’s island but never expected to go to the Galapagos—until one day she saw her long-lost uncles on a TV adventure programme. Seeing her cousins, ‘children born in paradise, their toys are the wild animals,’ and hearing about her people who ‘made their own shoes, delivered their own babies, built houses from lava blown from the bowels of the earth…’ left nine-year-old Johanna with a dream and a vow to return to the Enchanted Isles. With determination her family returned to South America, where the author began piecing together the story of her parents’ extraordinary marriage and her father’s tragic death.

My Father’s Island is a wonderful story—funny, moving, surprising and satisfying—and the descriptions of the Galapagos Islands after Darwin but before tourism, before the archipelago became a National Park, are some of the most vivid word-pictures I’ve ever read.

Reading this book wasn’t as good as a Galapagos vacay, but it left me refreshed and delighted. It’s not available as an ebook, but if you’re tempted it looks as though second hand print copies are quite readily available for a fraction of the cost of a plane ticket 😉 .

Do you have any recommendations? Favorite travel books or destinations for my post-covid bucket list? Thank you!