Friday, April 30, 2010

What a rosy day!

I'm giving myself this little bouquet today because I won two contests, have more than 200 bloggy-friend-followers and will celebrate my one-year blogversary next week.
But I am seriously standing here with my jaw on the floor over this: I won a query critique from an agent in Sarah Wylie's awesome contest celebrating her book deal for ALL THESE LIVES! My head is in the clouds, and I better secure it back in place so I can send off my best pitch, you know?
Next, I won an ARC of Lisa Desrochers' PERSONAL DEMONS, which I'm eager to read. Woo-hoo!
And finally I am so grateful to all the wonderful people who became followers of my blog this year. I plan to hold a contest next week in appreciation. Does anyone have preferences about prizes? My short list is a 15-page critique, gift card or books, but I'm not sure what people most want. Again, thanks to all of you for making this past year and today so awesome.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Whale of a sign

My friend, Donna, has a way with gifts, finding just the right one. She knew I was working on a novel connected to the ocean when she gave me this card with a print by Peggy Oki. I love the power, exuberance and beauty of that painting and had it sitting by my computer as an inspiration for months but didn't realize until I turned it over today and read the back that this was the tail of a sperm whale.
Since I just wrote a scene with a sperm whale, which is the largest toothed whale on the planet, and spent some time considering if I was choosing the right whale for what I wanted from that scene, making this discovery felt serendipitous. Of course, I have proved to you before that I love to find signs from the universe, even if they're a bit of a stretch. So here I go again.
I decided to google Peggy Oki and found more connections. I hadn't realized the artist was the same person as the girl on the Zephyr team in Ocean Park/Venice, California that changed the sport of skateboarding and eventually became one of my favorite documentary films, "Dogtown and Z-Boys." I spent part of my younger years in Venice and still think of that scrappy beachtown as home.
And, hey, Peggy is involved in several campaigns to save whales and other wildlife in peril. Check her out.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Seeing is believing

Once upon a time there was a circlet of islands that rose high and rugged from the great ocean. The islands were greener than the greenest grass and offered sanctuary for sea-faring birds and furred creatures who spent their days fishing.
The Netters came to scale the cliffs and pick sweet buttercups and clover. A Netter never saw a flower that she didn't want to consume, because everyone knew flowers held the secrets of the gods.

Squalls hit the islands, sending waves thundering on the shores and gushing up the underground caves where the Netters huddled until calm returned.
They didn't mind suffering a smidgen for the chance to unlock mysteries too long denied them.
So have you ever made up stories as you walk, when you encounter something intriguing? I do.
These are tide pool rocks in San Clemente. Sometimes the water covers them and other times it sucks away to leave them on damp sand. The first time I saw them I thought they looked like a miniature, fairytale Ireland. So I made up a mini-story or two.
Even as these photos are shot from high above the "islands," fairy tales are often told from an omniscient point of view. The author is god-like and knows the past, present and future, as well as the thoughts and desires of all the characters.
This viewpoint was popular in early novels, but today many books stick with limited third person or first person, so that the reader knows only what one character is thinking. The advantage to this is the author can create mystery. It mimics real life where we only know what other people tell us or indicate by body language and deeds. Sometimes, of course, the viewpoint character gets it wrong, and that can add depth to a plot.
Some modern novels alternate POV between a few major characters by chapter or hiatus breaks. This still keeps the viewpoint close to each character, but the reader is clued in to more information.
And some writers mix up many characters' thoughts throughout. The danger of multiple head-hopping within a scene is you can confuse your readers so they come out of the magic of the story to figure out who was just having that observation or opinion.
There is plenty of debate and discussion about this topic. Check out Shelley at the Storyqueen's Castle, and Livia Blackburne. The Literary Lab has several, in-depth essays on the subject.
I've come to the conclusion that the choice of which POV to use is connected to the type of story. If it's a fable-type yarn, omniscient gives that delicious gods-are-watching effect. If it's a particular character's journey, quest, coming-of-age, emotional awakening, whatever, I think it's best told in tight POV because it really is about the evolution of that character. But that's my opinion. What's yours?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Catching notes on the wind

Hiking a boulder-studded hill, I heard lonely, haunting musical notes on the breeze. Where were they coming from?

Then I saw him, a flute player perched on the highest rock of the hard-scrabble hill, playing his echoing sound to the sky and wind and birds. And me.

At this distance I could only imagine his fingers moving over the instrument's holes to alter the pitch, the resonance.
Like a gentle sigh, I could feel his breath in the length and clarity of the notes. I was flying, floating upon them.
Did you know that flutes are the oldest known instruments? One made from a bird's bone about 35,000 years ago was discovered in 2008 in a cave in Germany.

I was still smiling from my close encounter with the wild flute player when I rounded a bend in the trail and came upon a man singing.

The world is alive with music and joy. Sometimes, we're lucky enough to stumble upon it.


That was about a month ago. When I returned to that same area yesterday, I didn't find a flute player, but I was amazed by the splashy abundance of brittlebush.

The hill--from base to crown--is covered with this desert member of the sunflower family.

Brittlebush is a tough survivor of southwestern deserts. It's light gray leaves reflect sunlight to keep the plant cool during the hottest months, and the hairy surface of the leaves act like a blanket against extremes of heat and cold. In springtime, it is a common sight along roads and canyons, but I have never seen such a widespread carpet of the plants on this hill before.

It is a fine spring. Even the birds say so.

fantail of orange

across blue sky--red-tailed hawk

kissed by sunlight

There's been a lot of chat lately on blogs about what writers should blog about, why we blog, what's the point, what's our focus, etc. I like to visit blogs that both inform and entertain, that are extensions of the blogger as a writer. Beth Revis started a fantastic discussion about writing love triangles and what makes them work or not. It's worth your time to read her posts and the comments. That's my favorite kind of blogging--where writers interact, share ideas.
What do you enjoy about blogs you read?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The green season

Wearing of the green--California has been doing that a wonderfully long time this year.

There is a lot to celebrate in this. Relief from years of drought. The color itself, which is refreshing and lifts spirits. Blossoming of rare plant life. And such a fine raiment to be wearing for Earth Day tomorrow.

I have fun finding belly flowers--the little ones you have to get down near the earth to see properly, and which sing of joy and wonder if you listen just right.

And I absolutely adore trees for their majesty, mystery and longevity. If I was reincarnated as plant life I would want to be an evergreen tree--to stand for centuries on the edge of the tundra or a wind-whipped sea cliff and watch the shift of seasons and terrain--to sink my roots deep into the earth, finding support and nourishment.

This photo, by the way, I have posted before, but do again because it is so extraordinary the way the tree grows on a little patch of earth in the midst of a lake. Have you ever noticed how plants can find the tiniest sliver of soil and flourish there sometimes? They are efficient survivors.

I am excited to add my blog to the Carbon Neutral initiative, which means a fir, cedar or pine will be planted in Plumas National Forest in Northern California this spring to offset the carbon dioxide emissions created by running my computer.

Plumas suffered a devastating wildfire three years ago. A German organization, Make it Green, created Carbon Neutral as a way to neutralize our blogging emissions by contributing to reforestation programs. One project is the non-profit Arbor Day Foundation working in concert with the U.S. Forest Service to plant more than 790,000 trees in Plumas. Make it Green also contributes to a tree planting effort in the Harz region of Germany. By the way, since I am a former news reporter and wouldn't post without verification, I called the Arbor foundation and confirmed the project.

How does planting a tree make a difference? Trees absorb carbon dioxide emissions which have been adversely affecting our atmosphere and oceans. So while it is necessary to reduce the emissions we make, we can also offset those we do create by planting trees.

Are you doing anything to replenish Mother Earth? I humbly suggest checking out the many environmental groups to find one that has a project that is a match for your belief system and resources. This isn't a one-size-fits-all world, but it is our planet and it needs help.

P.S. Here's a link to Nicole Ducleroir's excellent list of things we can do. Check it out!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Another day on earth

Volcanoes. Earthquakes. Blizzards. Floods. Drought. The earth has a way of getting our attention--even if it doesn't always get our respect.

The 40th anniversary of Earth Day--the granddaddy of Green-- is Thursday, and many communities have celebrations and clean-up campaigns all week. I like to think of Earth Day as every day. This is, after all, the planet that provides our sustenance and shelter within the universe.

It doesn't matter whether or not you "believe" in global warming. What does matter is we are responsible for what you see in these pictures, which come from the Ocean Conservancy and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Marine Debris Program.

Not only is this garbage not pretty, it kills.
This photo of an injured pinniped entangled in fishing net is the least disturbing photo I found. There are tons of pictures of birds with beaks tied shut or innards clogged with plastic objects, of dead sea turtles and dolphins caught in debris that starves or drowns them. I couldn't bring myself to post the dead animals here. Did you know that a drifting plastic grocery bag looks a lot like a jelly fish to some hungry sea creatures?


the tides wash ashore

strange bounty--oil cans, plastic

bottles, strands of ghost nets


Hawaii is paradise, right? Who doesn't dream of soaking up sunshine and snorkeling there? But there are more than 700 sites in the archipelago where ocean currents deposit marine debris that comes from thousands of miles away. Since 1996, more than 600 metric tons of derelict or "ghost" fishing nets have been removed from the remote northwestern islands of the archipelago.

NOAA, being all scientific and stuff, doesn't verify many of the figures floating around online about the amount of debris that might be in the oceans or number of deaths attributed to it, but the numbers are not really the issue. If one animal or bird dies because of our throw-away culture, that's one too many.

So what can we do? Three words: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. I purchased reusable shopping bags that crunch up small enough to fit in a pocket or purse so I always have them with me.

Another thing anyone can do is help clean up our global house.
You don't have to join a group effort if it's not your thing. Just carry a small trash bag sometimes when you walk. Clean up your own neighborhood and parks so that the garbage that less-enlightened people drop doesn't wash down the drains, into the rivers and then the ocean.

My friend and I did that while walking around a lake. We got curious stares from some people and gratitude from others. Hey, maybe they'll do it some time, too.

I sure hope this didn't come across as a lecture or rant. I just really think we may be running out of time if we don't get serious--each and every one of us. Is there anything you do to make things better for Mother Earth?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Eleventy-One winner and fairytale fractured!

I'm tickled to be chosen as second runner-up in Laurel Garver's Eleventy-One Celebration. I've won a critique from Laurel, which makes me go squee, but I'm also honored to be part of what she's doing.

Laurel named this contest after Bilbo Baggins' 111 birthday in order to celebrate a milestone of her own. Laurel always comes up with thoughtful and thought-provoking ideas, so for this contest she requested scenes that are dialogue-driven and feature persuasion and negotiation.

I sifted through my manuscripts and came up with a scene in a fractured fairytale I wrote called "Princess Charming."

Laurel and I are running the snippet simultaneously, but please visit Laurel's blog for her insights on craft, which are worth your time. And please return to read her other winners during this week. (Addendum: Oh, my. I just came back from reading what Laurel wrote about this piece, and I'm almost speechless. Thank you, Laurel!)


Alphonse Mucha's Princess Hyacinth seems to have an appropriate attitude to illustrate my scene. This is meant to be fun, so I hope you enjoy!


The princess entered the Grand Hall. This being a formal occasion she wore a multi-layered, buttercup-yellow silk gown, which she smoothed nervously.

All heads turned in her direction. She curtsied toward the far end of the hall where her father and mother sat on gilded thrones, wearing their gold-thread brocades and crowns inlaid with rubies and emeralds. In their private quarters, her father called her "Charms" and would pad about in warm slippers. But this was Court.

"Princess Charming, come forward," called King Ormond.

Charming wondered if she would've had to bow instead of curtsy if he'd commanded her to come in knight's armor. Thank goodness she didn't have to clank and clunk across the room.

At the foot of the dais, she curtsied again.

"Princess Charming, you soon turn seventeen and take on your destiny. We wish to give our royal blessings for undertaking the long and difficult journey ahead of you."

Charming's stomach lurched. "If you please, sire, I am not sure that particular destiny is really mine. It's such an ancient legend and probably just a tall tale. And, well, times change."

King Ormond scowled. "We've discussed this before, Princess. It's been reliably foretold that you will leave your home and find an enchanted castle hidden for two hundred years and break the curse upon it."

Charming looked to her mother and saw eyes filled with tears. But they did not fall. The Queen would never let loose a tear in public.

"But I've never gone beyond the local township and know nothing about lands afar. I might get lost."

"You should have paid more attention to your geography lessons. Ever since you could talk you've been told you have a destiny to fulfill. If you don't attend to your training, it's your own fault."

Charming tried a different approach. "Please, Father, don't send me into the wilds alone. What if I'm attacked by a bear? Or fall into any abyss?"

The queen sucked in her breath, barely audible but, still, a crack in the veneer. The king, on the other hand, jabbed his finger in Charming's direction. "I've spent a small fortune on you--trick riding, broadswords, jousting, close-encounter dagger fighting. By now, you should be prepared for anything."

"But it's all academic, isn't it? I've sparred with teachers and boys from court, not dragons or ogres or whatever."

"Enough!" King Ormond slapped a hand on the arm of his chair. "What is it you don't understand about destiny? It can not be argued with, ignored or circumvented. It will happen, no matter what you do to try to avoid it."

Charming's heart beat a rapid tapping in her chest. Her mouth was dry. She swayed, feeling a tad dizzy. He really meant to send her away!

The king's expression softened. "Only you can bring good fortune on us. After all, it was your great-great-great-etcetera-grandmother, on your mother's side, mind you, who was related to the witch-woman that caused this mess, putting a spell on a poor prince. So really, it is up to you to set it straight and remove this shadow from our realm. Go with our blessing."

"Huzzah! Princess Charming!" cheered the courtiers.

When she turned to acknowledge them, she saw through the open doors that servants were dancing in the corridor. It was one thing for it to be her destiny. But now it seemed she was responsible for the future well-being of all her people.

She had no argument for that.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Stepping up and a contest not to miss

Some journeys are daunting. The climb into the unknown can be scary. Where are you going? Do you know what you're doing? Is there an abyss ahead?
I started photographing stairs just because they were there and intrigued me, but I've been thinking there's a metaphor that fits writing.
In The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck wrote: "Man, unlike anything organic or inorganic in the universe, grows beyond the work, walks up the stairs of his concepts, emerges ahead of his accomplishments."
What does that mean? Do our dreams precede us or overtake us? If we didn't dream, we'd have no hopes or goals. Dreams are necessary, and so is the hard work that can make them real.
A fellow writer and blogger, Sarah Wylie at Sarah With a Chance, made her dream real. Her debut novel, All These Lives, will be published by FSG/Macmillan. To celebrate, she is holding the most awesome contest. If you don't follow her, this is a chance to win a super prize and read one of the funniest, most talented bloggers around.

Back to musing. Since this is still National Poetry Month, I'm tossing a couple of haiku in this post, too.
the ancient stone steps
tell no tales, give few clues of
who ventured this way
Alice in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland said, after she fell down the rabbit hole, that now she would think nothing of falling down the stairs.
Fear of the unknown is often worse than the actuality. If we don't create due to fear of falling, of failing, we never will go anywhere. I want to go, really I do.
I was out for a walk when I passed a house overgrown with feral grasses and dandelions. The rose bushes could barely be seen. I thought it was a shame the homeowner had neglected the garden. And then I saw him. A very old man, wearing a faded plaid flannel shirt, scraping his walker along the edge of the garden, stooping slowly to grab a weed and pull. I felt like crying then and saw his world with different eyes. With small, painful steps, he was fighting the odds.

What is stopping you? What is halting me?
twisting, timbered stairs
keep me climbing just to see
what might wait beyond

One step at a time.
Into the mystery.
(Disclaimer: No, I didn't trespass beyond the "private" sign. I'm using my poetic license, which I have around here somewhere.)

Friday, April 9, 2010

Of Lakes and Linky Love

flash of golden koi

gone from the backyard pond--

marauding egret


My haiku mania continues with National Poetry Month. The photo was edited using something called "oil paint" to, well, make it look painted instead of shot. I took it at a lake I frequent. The haiku is based on a real event when my father's koi all went missing overnight.
Onward to links. If you have an hour to spare, I highly recommend the video of a webcast for librarians that Scholastic Books made of their 2010 releases. What I found fascinating as a writer was listening to the pitches these editors made for the books. That's the passion we're all hoping for. Here's the Scholastic link.

I keep getting the blog love, for which I am grateful. I've met so many wonderful writers in the world of Blog. Shannon O'Donnell at Book Dreaming gave me the Creative Writer Award. I'd sure like to believe I deserve it. And I wouldn't mind trying to write with a quill. Wouldn't that be a different way to create? It would be slower and you'd probably sweat to make the handwriting neat. No messy blotches or cross-outs. Um, on second thought, I sing the praises of the world of Tech. Never thought I'd really say that.
I also got two repeat awards but huge thanks for thinking of me to Carolina Valdez Miller and VR Barkowski. If you don't read these three bloggers you are missing out, believe me.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Flying and lying

Since it's National Poetry Month I'm going to continue to haiku you.
wind-tossed leaves whirl,
dancing golden pirouettes
across the sky
I'm also passing along an award that specifies I should make up great, big, honkin' stories about my blogmates.

The Soulmates award was bestowed upon me by Liza Carens Salerno, who claims on her blog that I once saved a mermaid. Wouldn't that be tale to tell around the beach bonfire? Almost as tall as the one about the surfer who was lifted up by a whale--and that was verified by onlookers!
You may discover the evolution of this award at Christi Goddard's A Torch in the Tempest .
To pass this on I must weave some new folklore for you.
Yvonne Osborne tracks the Far North for litterbugs. When she catches one, she makes him/her sift the sands of time or write flash fiction, which ever.
Terresa Wellborn moonlights at the British Library. The daily transatlantic commute is part of her Streaking for Books campaign, which includes open-mic poetry jam during flight.
Elana Johnson has cloned herself. It is useful for plot development, as well as juggling teaching, parenting, blogging. She is writing an e-book about her do-it-yourself cloning method.
Wen Prior has built the world's largest door to keep the ocean out. She has a patent pending. But it it doesn't work out, she'll write a song about it.
As always, do not feel obligated to play--only if it's fun. That's all I've got, folks. Keep smiling.

Monday, April 5, 2010


enameled shore
fused by water and sky--
how fleeting the moment
Back in Venice Beach for the holiday and to spend time with my father-in-law, who is very ill. He gave me my first SLR camera, taught me about composition and film developing. On this visit, I showed him some old photos and told him how much I appreciated what he had done. I was pulled back in time to my teen years at this beach, to my wedding on the sand complete with little girls throwing flower petals and musicians playing flute and violin, to the birth of my daughter and taking her to slide down crumbly hills of sand and to the release of my mother-in-law's ashes into her beloved Pacific. I don't know how one can have roots in a body of water, but I do.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Happy weekend, all

I'm sending wishes on the spring breeze for a fun, sweet, bright and joy-filled weekend to you in whatever way you spend it. See you next week.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Witches and zombies and poems, oh my!

It's April First, which means April Fool's Day and National Poetry Month (you didn't see that coming, did you?).
I'm not playing tricks on you, but I am going to be playful and post some zombie haiku I wrote for a contest Angela Ackerman at The Bookshelf Muse held some time ago. I won a highly coveted critique from her. Still grateful.
Also, I just got picked as a Most Relevant finalist in Andrea Cremer's paranormal haiku contest, although I didn't win the ARC of her upcoming NIGHTSHADE. Her sorting hat picked someone quite deserving, but I soooooo want to read that book! *howls mournfully*
So here you go--a string of spooky, funny or just-plain-gross haiku.
heads thrown back, ears flat,
wolves howled the moon loose from its
mooring in the trees
hovering around
a circle of ancient stones,
wraiths found their anchor
the witches circled,
gazing on the flightless creatures
impotent below
my darlings, my dears,
bring me back a nice spoonful
of brains for our tea
along the old road
not a soul--only echoes
of shuffling footsteps
wrapping moist innards
in bamboo leaves, she pauses
to lick her fingers