Saturday Story Starter

Welcome back to the Saturday Story Starter!

Thank you all for the stories you’ve shared so far (click here and here in the comments field to check them out) — I just love the hum and buzz of collective creativity!

As you know, the Saturday Story Starter is purely for fun, just as a way to exercise those writing muscles (think of it as Heather’s Literary Gym). There are no prizes, only the simple joy of putting words on paper (well, OK, computer screen). Also, I won’t be offering critiques, just brief words of encouragement, but I will read all your entries, that I can promise!

Here’s this week’s photo:

Strawberries
Strawberries happen to be my favorite fruit. These are Hood Strawberries, which are native to Oregon, where I live. They are UNBELIEVABLY delicious! They rarely make it over the border because they’re too delicate to travel, and they’re best eaten within 24 hours of picking. (Ours barely make it home from the farm stand before we’ve already started digging in.) They make the world’s best jam, too. Ooo, and homemade strawberry ice cream? There’s nothing better in the world….

STORY STARTER:  Write about your favorite fruit. Be sure and tap into the five senses as you write, as this really helps breathe life into words on a page (or a computer screen!). In fact, using the five senses should be a primary tool in every writer’s toolbox. The more you as a writer engage your reader’s senses, the more present your reader will be in your story, and the more alive and real it will be to him or her. So now, with this story starter, help us vividly SEE the fruit, SMELL it, FEEL it, TASTE it.  (We may or may not HEAR it, depending on whether it’s crunchy or soft.)

You can simply describe your favorite fruit for us, or, if you’d like, you can turn it into a story. It’s up to you.

Ready, set, write!

 

 

Done and dusted!

Good news!  The first draft of my new novel is DONE!

Fireworks

I sent it off to my editor yesterday, and am now footloose and fancy free for a little while until I have to dive into the revision process.

Well, OK, not really footloose and fancy free. You should see what happened to my desk while I was on deadline.

Messy Desk

Desk? What desk, you ask?

Trust me, there’s a desk under there. And you wonder what we writers do when we’re not writing!  We’re cleaning off our desks! Which for me, means answering the hundreds of letters (emails and snail mail) that have been piling up.

pile_of_mail

This is how I like to imagine myself answering my letters from fans:

fountain pen writing

Because in my daydreams, I live in Jane Austen’s world.

This is how I REALLY answer my letters from fans:

Typing on a keyboard

So for all of you who have been patiently waiting … and waiting … and waiting to hear back from me …

mailbox vintage

… hang in there — it shouldn’t be too much longer now!

 

An owlish gift

I’ve always loved owls.

Owl sculpture

 

Here’s one I bought in England when I lived there as a girl with my family years ago.  I remember saving up my allowance (“pocket money,” the British call it) for it, and the satisfaction I felt when it was finally mine.  He’s been perched on my desk ever since, his plump little self a talisman of sorts who keeps watch over me as I write.  I often find myself picking him him up, my fingers idly seeking out the familiar contours of his smooth terracotta body as I ponder and dream.

I’m not sure what it is about owls that appeals to me.  Is it their sturdily elegant oval shape? Their expressive faces? Those beautiful, unblinking eyes that watch over the world in silence?

Maybe it’s the mystery to owls that I find irresistible — their haunting call, or the way they whoosh silently out of nowhere on those great, wide wings.

Which is exactly what happened to me last night at dusk.  I was in the back yard, playing with our dogs, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a dark shape soar overhead and land in the maple tree.  At first I thought it was a hawk.  We have a lot of those here in the Pacific Northwest.  But then I saw that unmistakeable silhouette.  An owl!

He was so beautiful that for a long moment I couldn’t breathe. Then I whipped my phone out of my pocket and took a picture. In the fading light, the first shot looked like a blob on a branch, so I turned the flash on, hoping to catch the reflection of his eyes…

Owl January 2012

Success!

Isn’t he gorgeous?  (For some reason, I’m convinced it was a he.)  I still can’t  believe he was right there in my yard!  It’s not like I live out in the country (I call our neighborhood “rural suburbia”).   What a gift!

I soon realized that he was indeed a gift — from my muse.  She (my muse is definitely a she) can be a lazy sort, who often skives off  heaven-knows-where when I most need her.  Like now, when I’m writing a book.

Last night, though, she delivered.  The story I’m working on at the moment desperately needs an owl, and I didn’t even know it. Until she sent me one.

 

Monday musings: Inside the shell of character

I love buying eggs from my next-door neighbor.

Aren’t they lovely?  So many different colors! On the outside, anyway — inside, eggs are eggs.  Lisa has at least four varieties of hens running around her yard, maybe even five or six.  It’s so much fun to look out my kitchen window and see them scurrying to and fro in search of bugs and other good things to eat.

We used to have chickens, too, but they eventually went into chicken retirement.  (You can read about that here.)  They provided not only eggs (and amusement), but also food for thought.  Click here for a link to a blog post from a few years back that was inspired by a little backyard observation.

That’s the best kind of observation, really, isn’t it?

So what does this motley dozen nesting on my kitchen table tell me today?  Well, perhaps that despite our outward trappings–race, nationality, gender, faith, age, political leanings, etc.–on the inside, where it really counts, we’re all the same.  As a writer, I’ve learned that it’s the inside of my characters that counts, too. Whether I’m writing about a girl on an adventure at sea in 1835 (THE VOYAGE OF PATIENCE GOODSPEED), a mouse who dreams of being a secret agent and the fifth grade boy who helps her out (THE BLACK PAW), modern-day stepsisters on the receiving end of a spell gone terribly wrong (ONCE UPON A TOAD), or a whole cast of moms and daughters who end up reading the classics together (THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB), it’s the heart of the matter that’s most important.

Sure, I need to pay attention to details like dress and appearance and mannerisms and all that.  It’s part of my job (and a very fun part, I might add) to make the window dressing as interesting and alluring as possible.  But what is it that really connects us to those who live out their lives on the written page? What is it that makes some characters wrap themselves around our hearts?  Think Charlotte and Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web.  Or India Opal Buloni in Because of Winn-Dixie.  Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird.  

It’s what’s on the inside, isn’t it?  It’s their hopes and fears and worries, their dreams and yearnings.  Those “inside the egg” things that each one of us can relate to, and that ultimately connect us all.  So when you’re writing, be sure to crack open that shell and breathe life into your character from the inside.

Give your character a heart, and it will speak to the heart in your reader.

 

 

 

 

 

The view from my window

It is, as Pooh might put it, a very Blustery Day here in the Northwest…

The sky is slate gray, and a gusty wind is flinging raindrops against my office window.  From where I sit, I have a good view of the maple tree in our backyard.  A few last holdouts in its branches will soon join their compatriots on the lawn below, but at the moment they’re frantically waving yellow flags of surrender.

 

November is the PERFECT month for writing.

Who in their right mind would want to be outside in weather like this?  November always brings a string of days that find me perfectly content to be here at home, happily settled in the armchair where I do all my writing.  My laptop is open for business, I have a cup of tea close at hand (a delicious herbal brew from Teaforte called Blueberry Merlot at the moment), and the dogs are napping at my feet.

Well, OK, Bonnie’s napping at my feet.  Billie’s more interested in the “people cookies” that I’m about to tuck into.  No point in a cup of tea without a cookie or two, right?  Sorry, Billie — you just had a dog cookie.  No more treats for you!

November, December, January, and February are my most productive writing months for sure.  Not that I don’t write year-round — I do — but in the spring and summer and early fall, I’m always fending off distractions, particularly the lure of the outdoors.  This time of year, though, even the dogs don’t want to go for a walk.

What’s your favorite season of the year to write?

 

 

 

 

 

Turning over a new leaf

So I’ve been doing a lot of traveling this last year, and am finally home again now for a good long stretch.  Which means I finally have time to clean my office!  Here’s what it looked like a few days ago:

Can you believe that mess?  It’s a total hurrah’s nest, as my Nova Scotia grandmother used to say.  (She pronounced it “who-raw’s nest.”)  This is what happens when you’re juggling multiple deadlines and lots of travel.  But it sure makes for a horrid place to work.

I’ve been busy these past few days, sorting, tidying, filing, tossing, dusting, vacuuming, straightening, and organizing.  I finally finished last night.  Here’s what it looks like now:

Ahhh.  MUCH better — I can breathe again!  And write.  Which is what I’m going to do right now…

Tidy surroundings are a vital part of my writing process.  How about you?

 

Getting ready to write

I don’t keep a journal or a diary, but once in a while I jot something down to capture a thought or feeling.  I came across this snippet I wrote a few years ago about my writing process (well, part of my writing process) that still holds true:

I wonder if other writers spend as much time “getting ready to write” as I do.  Am I turning into the Adrian Monk of the literary world?  So many little rituals – a cup of tea (Yorkshire Decaf and Stash’s Lemon Ginger are my current faves), a moment or two spent arranging my pens beside the armchair where I write, lap desk just so, phones turned off, small pillow tucked behind my lower back.  Hmmm.  Way too Monk-like for comfort.  On the other hand, perhaps I’m being too hard on myself—is what I do all that different from a pilot running through his pre-flight checklist?  I muse for a minute on the aptness of this metaphor.  Writing is definitely a lift-off of sorts, if only for a flight of fancy, and that scramble down the runway toward the work each day, that leap of faith into the subconscious, is not unlike an airplane surging from the ground into the sky.  And that sudden, upward-soaring feeling when inspiration kicks in and you’re thrust deep into the slipstream of the creative process is definitely akin to the wind beneath a jetliner’s wings.

Does this sound familiar to anyone?  Am I the only Golden Retriever out there, circling the rug before I settle down and get comfortable?  What are your little rituals for “getting ready to write”?

The story behind the story

Here’s something fun to start off the week — I’m a guest on Bookscope, a new feature on the Children’s Literature Network website that gives authors an opportunity to talk about how they came to write a particular book.  Click here to read all about the personal voyage that led me to write my very first book, THE VOYAGE OF PATIENCE GOODSPEED.

(Tip:  for fans of my Mother-Daughter Book Club series, Patience Goodspeed may remind you of a cross between Cassidy and Jess.)

By the way, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to THE VOYAGE OF PATIENCE GOODSPEED, which celebrates 10 years in print this month, and HAPPY ANNIVERSARY to Children’s Literature Network, which just celebrated ten wonderful years connecting readers to the world of children’s books!  If you’re not familiar with this fabulous website resource, you should be…