Saturday, January 30, 2010

Over the moon

Wolf Moon at Venice Beach. Technically, I shot this the day before the biggest, closest full moon of the year, but it was a mighty pretty sky, including the sea haze.
Did you go crazy or get creative with this moon?
I was dealing with life stuff away from home, but I did some reading and finished Diana Wynne Jones' House of Many Ways, a sequel to Howl's Moving Castle. As usual, she delighted me with imaginative story and humor.
Then I picked up The Dead & the Gone, the companion to Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. The moon seems a little sinister after Pfeffer hit it with an asteroid, pushing it closer to earth and disrupting tides, atmosphere, magma--shoving us into a volatile world. And if you think this is just sci-fi/fantasy, remember that scientists are concerned about future hits by large asteroids. They aren't unknown. In 1908, an object from space decimated 770 acres of forest in Siberia. Pfeffer's books are worth reading for more than pulse-pounding disaster, but for what they say about human expectations and what really matters when the world as we know it becomes inhospitable.

Now for some non-dystopian, crazy fun with the Over the Top Award, which I received from Yat-Yee Chong. Thank you!
The rules are: Answer the questions with one word and pass the award along to five bloggers.
Your cell phone: Awesome.
Your hair: Baby-fine.
Your mother: Tough.
Your father: Distant.
Your favorite food: Pecans.
Your dream last night: Lost.
Your favorite drink: Water.
Your dream goal: Author.
What room are you in: Studio.
Your hobby: Photography.
Your fear: Rottweilers.
Where do you see yourself in six years: Published.
Where were you last night: Venice.
Something you aren't: Extroverted.
Muffins: Cinnamon.
Wish list item: House.
Where did you grow up: Coastal.
Last thing you did: Walked.
What are you wearing: Sweater.
Your TV: Netflix.
Your pets: Gone.
Friends: Supportive.
Your life: Complicated.
Your mood: Determined.
Missing someone: Daughter.
Vehicle: Miata.
Something you aren't wearing: Heels.
Your favorite store: Book.
Your favorite color: Aqua.
When was last time your laughed: Today.
Last time you cried: Book.
Your best friend: Caring.
One place you go to over and over: Seashore.
Facebook: Unused.
Favorite place to eat: Pho.
I pass this along to five bloggers who go over the top in entirely different ways--from gorgeous writing to words to chew on:
Do with it as you will, my friends. No strings attached.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Finding an opening to fit the payoff

On the way to critique group yesterday I saw this scene and had to jump out of my car and shoot it on my handy cell phone. Flowers and snowy mountains are the bounty of California after it rains. The payoff.
At critique, I read the first chapter of my novel-in-progress, Sea Daughters, and got good feedback. But no one addressed an issue nagging in the back of my mind. I've been thinking it was a slow opening, and, these days, that can get a rejection in five minutes flat.
I decided to speak up and then found out there were concerns. One person suggested a starting point that I think will increase the mystery and tension immediately. The material was all there, but it needed an adjustment--move one thing up front, delete another scene.
The current SCBWI Bulletin has an article "Page One" by Karen Schwabach that suggests you should write the first page last, after you know what you are offering the reader, because it is a promise, a contract you need to keep. Does the beginning hint at what the story will be, where it will end?
I may write and rewrite the opening more times, but I feel like the changes I'm making today are a big step in the right direction. Have you found your opening only after you secured your ending?
P.S. I am going to be offline a couple of days. Happy writing, everyone.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Moment of inhale

Rocks shift. Clacking, grating underfoot. Overhead, two gulls flap and screech at the wind. The air is filled with wild hints of briny depths.
Breakers rear and roar, then finish with a swish and hiss. Fingers of white water drag small rocks in a clattering mass.
Everyone is looking for what the sea spit out. Kelp is strewn like golden entrails. A few tough shells, built for battering, lie spent in the tiny patches of sand.
I find a quarter, it's markings obscured by a layer of hard green and brown tarnish.
The sea gives and takes back and gives again.
Yesterday, the sea gave me setting and atmosphere for my novel-in-progress. I may not have written words in the manuscript, but I found them while I basked in the sun that followed the storms. I hope you found inspiration in those moments of inhale, too.
P.S. After posting this, I realized I should mention that I also went to a boat marina to pick up some more inspiration for that story. I wandered into a yacht dealership, not the sort of place I frequent, and met a very nice man who tried to answer my questions and gave me a magazine full of useful information and pictures. You never know what you will find by looking and reaching out. *smiles*

Friday, January 22, 2010

Watching the rain fall

Rain continues in California, and I am a lucky one who has weathered these storms without disaster or even minor disturbance. That is water, not icicles, streaming from the roof of the lovely Spanish-style apartment building where I live.
Most years, rainfall is miserly in this semi-arid zone, which is why I wrote this haiku the day before the rains began:
with a cloud of dust
a blue heron lands upon a
Montezuma cypress
So I am thrilled to find our very seasonal greenery already blanketing brown hillsides. Some years it turns our golden California into an almost-Ireland for a little while.

Meanwhile, the writing is coming in its own deluge. Yesterday, I wrote 2,000 words on that novel in progress I had started during NaNoWriMo. And since I know where the next couple of chapters are going, I think the next few days might be productive, too.
Oh, and I made a big pot of soup and applesauce cake. Perfect rainy day fare.
I hope everyone is staying safe and finding their own stride. Have a good weekend.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Between storms

between storms I walk,
jumping new streams, inhaling
sweet sharpness of cedar
We have been drenched by rain in sunny Southern California, resulting in flooding, accidents and downed trees, but also in the delight of blustery wind, pink cheeks, pattering hail and sparkling freshness. I walked, I clicked photos, I wrote.
Most especially, I've written almost 3,000 words in the last couple of days after two dry weeks. Yay, me. Hope you're refreshed, too.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

C'mon, get happy

Happiness is contagious, so here's to spreading it around like swirls of frosting. This bright award came to me from Stephanie Thornton at Hatshepsut: The Writing of a Novel. Stephanie is a history teacher who is funny, informative, and she sometimes teases with fascinating tidbits about a mysterious Egyptian ruler. A big thank you to Stephanie for the award and for saying something nice about the occasional bursts of little poems I write here.

In the spirit of passing this along, I am to tell you ten things that make me happy. These are NOT in order of importance, just random.

1) Writers who blog and enrich my life with their stories.

This morning I went to Lisa Schroeder's blog and watched a video of her doing drive-by booksignings. It made me smile. Then I read the links to interviews of her by other bloggers. And I smiled some more. Lisa said in one that she doesn't try to write messages in her YA books, which are often about learning to deal with loss. She said she would just like readers to gain a new appreciation for how precious life is, to realize that each day is a gift.

2) Friends and family.

Last night I went to a welcoming of the New Year, somewhat belatedly, at the home of one of my critique partners. There was amazing food and good company. We were all asked to bring a photo of a pet and a story to go with it. This turned into a blast. People, even the non-writers, came up with such fun and winsome tidbits to share. Laughter is a tonic like no other.
Pretty much nothing brightens my day more than hearing my daughter's voice on the other end of the phone and listening to her comments on life. She is a keen observer of the world.
3) Books. Maybe I should say right here that you can bury me with books, just in case there's any chance I can take them to the afterlife.
4) Art, whether it's beautiful or striking or haunting or thought-provoking. What I love is to see creativity through someone else's eyes.
5) Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I will watch it and laugh and cry until they bury me with all those books.
6) Listening to birds in the morning. Hearing the trees alive with cheerios, chirps, whistles and shout-outs.
7) Saying hello to a stranger on the street and having them smile in return.
8) A magnificent thunderstorm.
9) Walking barefoot in the sand.
10) Sunrise. Sunset.
Of course, I'm to pass this happiness along. This is always too hard, but I will name a few, and I know not everybody does awards, so there is no pressure to accept or pass this along. Only if you please.
Wishing everyone a week of happiness and peace.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A little haiku for friends

Today's post is simple but from the heart. I promised Shannon Messenger some poetry in honor of Lisa Schroeder's release of CHASING BROOKLYN.

In the spirit of fun, I was going to post some zombie haiku, but with the suffering in Haiti right now, I'm in no mood for zombies. So instead, I've dusted off two other haiku and found some photos in my vault that at least catch the spirit of the sea and the solace I find there.

pewter sky and sea

cut by the steel-edge

dive of a pelican

translucent waves break,

churn past black mussel hedges

of a limpet town

(I know, I know. This is a sea anemone that I shot in San Clemente and not the tide pool I found in Ireland that inspired those words. But you forgive me, right?)

Shannon has a great interview with Lisa, tons of fun and a contest going on at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe, so go check it out. And be sure to visit Lisa Schroeder for her current guest author musing on dreams. Lisa's books, by the way, have nothing to do with zombies. They are lyrical tales of loss and love and renewal. Please forgive me if I'm the one rambling today.
(Blogger is really messing up the line breaks. I don't know if I can fix it)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Surviving planet Earth

Tuesday's devastating earthquake in Haiti, not to mention massive tsunamis in recent years, makes chillingly real the premise of Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It. The book came out in 2006, but I just read it so it's on my mind. We live on a planet in a universe where nature can upturn our lives in moments.
Pfeffer's YA novel, which was followed with The Dead and the Gone, grips you by the throat and keeps you struggling for breath as a girl and her family try to survive the climatic aftereffects of an asteroid striking the moon.
This story is more than a disaster tale, although there is plenty of devastation. At its heart it's a tale about family and love and hope, even when it seems there can be no hope left in the world.
Besides recommending this as a good read to anyone who has yet to discover it, I think as writers we can learn a thing or two about crafting a gripping tale with emotional heart.
I'm keeping it short and bittersweet today, but I do want to shout out a big hello and welcome to all the new people who have left comments and/or made themselves followers. I'm always humbled and honored you enjoy coming here.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Fire in the Lake


I dance with bears

or run with wolves.

I've been known to
sing with meadowlarks,

see through hawks' eyes

and leap with dolphins.


I can not


or run or sing or see or leap

Until I find

the fire

in the lake.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Secrets of the trees

One of my many works-in-progress has lots of trees, but I'm revealing no more than that. It is an odd storyline that requires full gestation.

I love trees--walking amongst them, resting under them, balancing on solid, old limbs. I'm compelled to touch bark, and find such variety--hard as stone or soft as flannel, smooth as parchment or rough as a pineapple. Sometimes I pick up fallen leaves and keep them awhile. I found one leaf large as a dinner platter, which is now a crisp, curled giant sticking out of a bookcase.
On a couple of walks, I saw these strange tree groupings. The one on the left is an intertwined oak tree with two different palms--date and queen. I don't know how they inhabit the same space so congenially. Each is massive, separate and yet part of a whole.
The picture on the right shows one tree trunk wrapped around its partner in a woody embrace that lasted until someone sawed them down. Did their arms wrap around each other too? Is there a story in this tragic embrace?

Trees ask so little and give much--nuts, fruits, shade, shelter. They can even make rain. They adjust to the caprices of nature, even if they can't always adjust to mankind. Some withstand howling salt winds; others live in deserts, miserly with their leaves and hording water deep within their bulbous trunks.
The variety is amazing. Banyan trees send roots big as elephant legs down from branches. Mangroves grow in water. There are cypress trees in Mexico that were living when pharaohs ruled Egypt.

What would it be like to burrow deep into the dark earth, searching for nutrients, bringing molecules of life from the dark to light? Or to experience the exultation of reaching up, up, up towards the sun and sky. I'd like my life to be as rooted and glorious as a tree. Or maybe, at least, my writings. Are you fascinated or inspired by any element of Nature?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

So much teen spirit

I'm having a can't-believe-I-just-did-that moment. I've entered some blog fests and contests, but entering Nathan Bransford's Teen Diary Contest is stomach clenching. I think I'm entry #525, which tells you how overwhelming the competition is. I know it's meant to be fun, and it is, but any time we stick our work out in public it's a bit scary.
If you entered, please leave a comment with your entry number. I'd love to read it. I've tried skimming what's there, and I've seen some that rocked my socks, but I seriously don't know how Nathan can read all these. And there will be more entered before deadline at 4 p.m. today.
It makes me think that agents and editors who do contests or take pitches all day at conferences have extra brain cells. How else could you stay sane reading or listening to that many pitches or first pages at once?
Anyway, I wrote the teen-diary entry this morning. It's new, not based on any work-in-progress, so I've really stuck my neck out. Eeek.
And dang but if tomorrow isn't when finalists and commenting begin. I shall be away most of the day on family business. I'll just have to catch up late. Best wishes to you if you entered, too.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Where haiku waits

ghosts of morning drift--

tenuous vapors of air

trapped in lake water

gnarled roots reach greedy

fingers deep beneath

the mirrored surface

I went walking--just a short break, a few blocks, perhaps, I told myself. I needed to stretch my legs after long hours at the computer. My feet kept going, knowing what my body needed. I ended up at a lake where haiku waited. I brought some images back to you with my uber-cellphone.

Here's what I have to report to Accountability Watchers. After proclaiming on this very site that my goal is to write 1,000 words a day on my novel-in-progress, Sea Daughters, I reached that goal two out of three days of this new year. I'm quite pleased because I am at a difficult turning point in the story and would probably keep trying to put it off had I not publicly set a goal. So currently 53,299 words of the first draft are written. Oh, and the day I didn't write was No-Kiss Blogfest, an absolute blast. A big shout out to all who participated and especially to Frankie Diane Mallis for hosting.

How were your first three days of 2010?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

No-Kiss Blogfest is here!

Today is made of fun. Dozens of writers are posting almost-kisses for your reading delight. Links to my fellow scribes are at Frankie Writes. Trust me, you'll have a blast whether you write or read.
My snippet is from a shelved novel-in-progress that someday I may be good enough to tackle. I'm not revealing the wacky premise, but I will tell you it's tongue-in-cheek (ha!) adult fantasy. The present-day heroine, Helen, is trying to track down gods of myth because she has good cause to believe in them now. She is in Greece when she runs into Artemis and her brother, Apollo. Yes, the very Apollo that John William Waterhouse painted chasing Daphne before she chose to do something quite rash to escape his amorous advance.
Before I launch into my scene, I shall report to the Accountability Watchers that the first day of 2010 I met my stated daily goal of writing 1,000 words of my YA novel Sea Daughters. Yay!
Now onto the blogfest! This excerpt is from a yet-untitled work and takes place as Apollo joins Artemis and sees Helen for the first time:
"Who's this?" Apollo ran his languid gaze over Helen from her face to her bare legs and sandaled feet.
Before she could answer, he reached out and touched a gash on her thigh where she'd been cut by thick branches. Slow to heal, the wound was gaping and scarlet, but with Apollo's touch, it closed up and faded in moments.
"Thank you," Helen whispered, awed by this proof of his legendary healing power. Now she knew at least one part of the myth was true.
He moved in so close his face was within inches of hers. She couldn't help but notice that his skin was flawless and beardless as a boy's and his jaw and cheekbones were as finely chiseled as the statues depicted him.
"You're a pretty thing," he murmured. His breath was a caressing breeze that carried the music of a lyre. A lyre? Had she ever heard one? His lips were so close to hers, she felt as if they'd almost touched.
He had sunbeams in his hazel eyes. Or was it flecks of gold? He shimmered. Honey on his breath, silk on his fingers under her chin. She leaned toward his lips, which held a promise of nectar.
His other hand began to trace a path up her thigh. Fire in dry grass.
Helen clamped her legs together, causing Apollo to raise his golden eyebrows.
Her head felt full of cotton, her tongue thick with passion. "Remember Daphne," she blurted, finding words. It's not every day a girl turns herself into a tree rather than be a god's conquest.
He looked truly grieved. "I wear her laurel always." He pulled back his hands from Helen's skin.
She shivered, as if he'd taken the sun away. Would it have been so wrong to let him kiss her, to taste the lips of a god? Helen shook her head to clear it. Of all people, she knew the answer to that.