ESCAPING THE BLOG BOG

Remember the bogs of Ireland or those on the moors of England in old romance novels? The one where the heroine comes to the lonesome manor to be a governess, nurse or maid only to fall for the moody master, his neighbor or maybe the groundsman. She’s lost in the mire of boggish emotions until HE comes to her rescue.

Well, I don’t see HIM rescuing this writer from her blogger’s mind-bog. If you noticed, I’ve been absent for, low, these many months and then I thought there might be hope showing on my horizon. Marlene Cullen, my editor and hostess of the Petaluma(CA) Writers’ Forum, invited local heroine/publisher//teacher Susan Bono to inspire the October gathering by “Illuminating The Essay.” Susan has published personal narratives in her famed  journal, Tiny Lights, for nearly twenty years. She is an expert in the form and offers references, stimulation and inspiration freely.

Susan Bono sees five keys to writing the personal essay:

  1. Character: the self
  2. Problem: give yourself a problem
  3. Struggle: Problem creates conflict
  4. Epiphany: after struggle, a flood of new understanding
  5. Resolution: what you do differently as a result.

Teacher Bono calls on the work of many experts including: Phillip Lopate’s The Art of the Personal Essay; Adair Lara’s Naked, Drunk and Writing; and Louise Desalvo’s Writing as a Way of Healing. Note that many of her references specialize in memoir which Bono finds to be good resources.

As so many good instructors do, Susan had exercises for us to try out. I found them to be great fun and marveled at the variety when students chose to share. These are starter ideas, not quotes, which serve to establish the intent or direction of the essay/narrative.  Here they are with a couple of my answers shared:

  1. I want to tell you how   Steinbeck changed my life (Universal statement) and he did it twice: inspiring me to go into social work to change the world  and to write.
  2. I’m trying to figure out how I feel about______________
  3. I learned about obstinence from my granddaughter-with her threats not to go to sleep, hands on hips, pursed lips…and then dissolving into tears as she gave up.
  4. I never expected to________________
  5. I will always regret not starting to write earlier.
  6. I never thought I’d become a person who_______________________.

I’d like to paraphrase Susan Bono’s “rules made to be broken:”

  1. Reader should know within 3 paragraphs what the essay is about;
  2. Check proportion of scene given over to real action against summary which moves reader thru time rapidly;
  3. Check the frame: sense of being triggered by past (memory of prior beach trip) and ends by bringing back to current event (being at beach now;)
  4. Use of dialogue brings others into the event;
  5. Use restraint when writing difficult themes as with violence, abuse . . .  need not be gory to make point;
  6. End or resolve with action or gesture as opposed to flowery words;
  7. In cover letter, don’t evaluate/praise your own writing nor interpret it.

Challenge yourself

Try answering Susan’s six openers

For more information about Susan Bono and Tiny Lights: www.tiny-lights.com

For Marlene Cullen’s many cheerleading efforts on behalf of writers: http://www.thewritespot.us

 

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Filed under Family

ROAD TRIP FOR THE IMAGINATION

Leaving home on October 12, I had some thoughts about what I might encounter along the way. Home is Northern California and my destinations were many.: Santa Barbara to pick up my writing friend and traveling companion, Penny; getting out of CA as fast as possible; the south rim of the Grand Canyon.;  the Northern AZ Museum for its display of founder Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton’s wondrous paintings; ACOMA pueblo 

atop its great mesa where I’d wanted to go for more than 50 years; Ghost Ranch and Abiqui, Georgia O’Keefe’s incredible territory; family in Santa Fe, Rogers, Las Cruces, Alamogordo, Tucson only to miss those in other areas; the Women Writing the West conference in Albuquerque and the much longed-for return to the Sky Islands of Arizona’s Huachuca Mountains           

of which I write and where I now am…so many miles, adventures, unexpected twists and turns in the pathway!

I’ve met and shared with amazing people on this journey but the most amazing was to finally meet Cheri Saunders. It was Cheri and her husband, in the 1960’s, who first found and mined the Blue Opals here. Despite several visits to her Gallery, I’d never connected with her. After her husband’s early death, Mike Anderson assumed a very important and big part in her life. It was Mike whom I’d met and conferred with over the years as the concept of  BY GRACE took hold of me. Mike was incredibly generous with his time, his knowledge and his support. .I only knew of Cheri as the elusive designer of magnificent jewelry, including the few pieces I accumulated over the years. When I last visited in 2008, I bought presents for my women and children in our family and a beautiful hunk of blue opal with its white and tawny streaks marking its uniqueness. As BY GRACE came close to publication, friendly jewelers wrapped the piece in silver coils and swirls and hung it on a leather cord. The necklace is worn by Grace on the cover of her book and has captured the attention of all who view it when I wear it.

I went in search of Mike, my consultant, to thank him and give him copies of my books. The Gallery was closed up and had the appearance of a long silence. I approached the adjacent home and shop, calling out for him. I have no hesitation or qualms about knocking on strange doors, a pattern left from my social work career.  But this wasn’t a strange door; I wanted to find my special friend. A silver haired, petite woman, in jeans and a lovely blue sweat shirt responded and I had no doubt who she was. As I told her of my mission, I knew what she would tell me…Mike was gone. I was two years too late and the sadness hung between us. We sat in the patio and talked of many parts of our lives. These are not feelings and details for you to read of. They are special, private and treasured.

In the final minutes of our visit, Penny joined us and we were the beneficiaries of Cheri’s generosity. She no longer sells her work nor does she design. Instead she offered us the bounty of her talents and we left deeply touched and thankful.

How does travel affect you?

Is it the scenery, the people you meet along the way,

or simply leaving your everyday life behind?

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Filed under Arizona Territory, BY GRACE, Historical Fiction, Reflection, Travel, Writing

BACKSTORY: JEREMY ALTON QUACKENBUSH

I’m sorry for my absence and could explain it as due to my computer crashing, launching BY GRACE with all the detail work involved, doing readings, planning a trip that will take me to the Huachucas next month.

Still and all, I promised you a peek at how Jeremy grew into the noxious man he is when we meet him in BY GRACE. So, here comes Grace’s nemesis.

* * *

Jeremy, at thirty, is the prissy, self-centered, spoiled nephew of Lavinia Quackenbush, Grace’s benefactress. He is about 5’5’’, slim of build with dark brown hair; his mustache and beard are in the Van Dyke tradition and he spends inordinate time coaxing them to perfection. He dresses expensively, picks over his food, drinks and smokes his cheroots to excess. He does nothing to benefit others unless it serves his self-interest.


Cruel to his playmates, Jeremy managed to turn any would-be friend against him and then go crying to Maman for comfort and a litany of how he had been belittled, forsaken and maligned; Maman and Papa indulged his every whim and knew the other children to be short-sighted in their slighting of their darling boy. Often after such an episode, Jeremy’s current pet would die a mysterious and unusually brutal death. It was left to the below-stairs staff to dispose of the remains and quaff any rumors. Still and all, the staff were on to him from an early age and protected one another from most of his schemes. Even so, by age fourteen he had impregnated a young housemaid, implicated the sixteen year old stablehand and succeeded in having Papa run them both off.
Soon after, Maman and Papa lost what little fortune they had from Manan’s family, causing them to accept charity from Papa’s brother, and his wife, Lavinia. Jeremy liked the big house and attendant luxuries but despised his uncle and his wife. No matter, Jeremy successfully hoodwinked his parents and his uncle at every turn; Lavinia was a different matter. He never could read her accurately.
Jeremy stumbled through his education, often sent back from one boarding school or another. Whenever he was away, the whole household breathed that sigh of relief, even Maman, Papa, and Uncle but no one more so than Lavinia. He started gambling very young and had a nice nest egg by his second year at SUNY(he didn’t qualify for the Ivy Leagues and no amount of Uncle’s influence opened doors for him.) He majored in good times and loose women, meeting Priscilla at one school function or another. Mislead in believing she came from money, they were soon wed and he was soon disappointed.


A train accident out west when Uncle was touring his properties, left Lavinia primary inheritor of an immense estate. On stipends, Maman and Papa continued on in the mansion in Albany as did Jeremy and Priscilla; Lavinia spent more and more time in NYC. A late night fire six years before we meet Jeremy, killed his parents, almost got his wife and left him unharmed; Priscilla’s limp dates from the beam that caught her and would have killed her except for a brave butler, Liam O’Reilly, coming to her rescue.
Moving in with Aunt Lavinia at her NYC penthouse, suited Jeremy. His gambling habits exploded. He headed an ominous group of riff-raff and dabbled in all sorts of questionable activities; he had spies everywhere if it concerned Aunt Lavinia’s investments. With numerous mistresses to exploit, he tended to ignore Priscilla; let a mistress leave him, and Priscilla suffered his abuse.
Jeremy is obsessed with gaining his aunt’s estate, hoping for her death. Grace bcomes a threat to his plan and he threatens her. Lavinia knows he is not above killing either of them and sends Grace farther on her journey.

* * *

Writers, do you ponder the backstory of your characters to discover what motivates them or shapes them?

Readers, do you fill in the blanks as you read along, imagining a past or future for the characters?

I tend to do both!

Please look for HUACHUCA WOMAN, free on Kindle Oct.2 & 3

BY GRACE is waiting for you on Amazon, too!

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Filed under BY GRACE, Historic New York, Historical Fiction, Writing

BY GRACE is on her way…

I am very excited and happy to say  that I gave the go-ahead to my book developer on the second book in THE HUACHUCA TRILOGY,  BY GRACE! It will soon go to Amazon and the next step will be to study the proofs for corrections before it is made available to you and yours.

I have occasionally used a writer’s practice of writing the biography or backstory of a character. This usually happens if I’m stuck in the narrative, need a writing exercise to loosen up the creative energy, or need to move the story along.

In BY GRACE, I did this with two characters, the protagonist and her nemesis: Grace Pelham and Jeremy Quackenbush. I was aiming to get a better understanding of their characters and motivations. Incidentally, I used family names for their last names…fun to do.   Here’s GRACE

Grace was born in 1880 in Albany, NY to Elizabeth (“Liz”) and Lester Pelham. Liz died in the days right after Grace’s birth, with time to pass on her expectations to Lester. He was to do all that he could to keep her safe  and with him until she was grown; then, he was to “send her out into the world to find a place, a purpose and, just maybe, a prince of her own.”

Liz immigrated from England, at twenty, to live with her sister and family in Albany. She met Lester, ten years her senior, soon after in the store he inherited from his parents, killed in a boating disaster.. When a flash fire killed Liz’ family and she was the only one to escape the tenement, Lester and she married. She was his “Princess Liz” and he was her prince. Lester has only very distant relatives in the farmlands of upstate New York, none of whom are a resource for Grace at his death.

Grace is 18 when we meet her, taller than her tall mother, with the same delicate long fingers on strong hands. She has long blond hair and gray-blue eyes. She finished local schooling at 16 but has been tutored by her father all her life. He always read to her whether books, newspapers or the labels on museum displays, answering her questions patiently or eliciting her thoughts. They frequented the capitol, the museums, the varied neighborhoods and businesses; people from all over the world visited their waterfront emporium in its heyday and from them she also learned of the greater world.

Lester encouraged her to develop skills that would be of use and enjoyment: her constant drawing of the minutia of the world; ice skating, rowing, hiking, sewing, cooking, managing the store and its books. She took music lessons, the violin, but often left practicing to draw. She had playmates and friends all over the city but few that she could call intimate. The ending of her school days served to isolate her from most as their parents feared the waterfront and its society.  Still, she managed to meet them occasionally about town.

She has never had a boyfriend and has a romantic view of her parents love but knows little of its physical expression. Her frequent visits to the Museum of Natural History have given her the basic biology of reproduction but not the connection to how a lasting relationship enters into the process.  Grace knows nothing of the joys of human sex. She is somewhat worldly wise while retaining a Victorian innocence.

The book opens with Lester’s imminent death and the preparations he and Grace have made for her future. She is diligent under his tutelage in “cooking the books” to her advantage, preparing a varied wardrobe and plotting her departure from Albany which holds no future for her. She knows she can support herself in shop keeping, sales or doing books while she seeks her true vocation and identity. Grace has funds enough to see her settled in the city of New   York.

The quest begins.

Photo from Queens College School of Library Services Collection

4 Comments

September 6, 2012 · 4:26 pm

WHAT’S IN A REVIEW? WORDS! WORDS! WORDS! (and stars…)

“Words! Words! Words! I am so sick of words! I get words all day through…Never do I ever want to hear another word. There isn’t one word I haven’t heard…Say one more word and I’ll scream.”

Audrey Hepburn in MY FAIR LADY

Well, not really, but I can understand what Eliza felt and what Alan Jay Lerner had her sing in MY FAIR LADY. Writers spend long hours, days and years putting forth words. In their heads, on paper,  in print, and in the ether. Then, it is the readers and the critics who pour over those strenuously wrought words to offer review, critique, criticism, praise, doubt, confusion, benevolence or, possibly, total rejection.

How often do you write reviews of the books you read? Is it your job? Your hobby? A courtesy to a writer friend? Or only when you can offer a four or five star rating? Are you of the breed that loves to hack away with stingy one or two star reviews? Holds to stringent rules, measurements or other ways to quantify a book’s worth?

Personally, I’d love to do away with the stars. Too subjective for my taste and with too many variables and meanings. If your words can’t convey your thoughts about the pacing, plotting, characterization, themes, research or lyricism of the writer, how can the stars say it?

So, I decided to take a look at the reviews I’ve written on Amazon to analyze my own process and see what I could make of it.  In the last six years I have ponied up forty reviews. I gave 37  five stars and to three, I gave four stars.  What does it mean, if anything?

I recently had an email discussion with an eminent western writer who reserves her “5’s” for books of significant value that are likely to stand the test of time. I used to do that, too, and only wrote reviews of such books. More recently, I’ve switched gears and have given many “5’s” for work that might not reach those earlier standards but were very good books. With most of these I tried to describe their impact on me to get across my sense of their value. I have not given lower numbers in instances where friendship got in the way of my ability to do so; I still don’t feel good about those books (think fraudulent) for it misleads anyone who might look to the review in making their decision to buy and/or read them. On three occasions I gave “4’s” where I felt very clear about their ranking.

Increasingly, I read nearly exclusively what I write: historical fiction, mostly about the American West.  In the past, I read much more in crime and thriller series, general historical (including romances,) bestsellers, and non-fiction. My interest would be peaked by San Francisco Chronicle or NY Times reviews (now the same thing,) the “new books” shelved at the library or booksellers recommendations. Now, I look to the resources and writers of organizations I belong to: Women Writing the West, the Historical Novel Society, Squaw Valley Community of Writers and Redwood Writers, a branch of the California Writers Club.

I took a look at the stats from those 40 reviews to see where they came from: 17 were by WWW writers, 7 by RW authors, 5 from HNS, 10 from other sources and 0 specifically from Squaw.  I think I read about 60 books a year so this sampling of 40 books in 6 years is miniscule compared to what I actually read.

.

Vincent van Gogh   “WOMAN READING”

The result of all this self-analysis: I need to write more reviews and improve my star designation by being more honest when I find myself between a rock and a hardplace.

Have you anguished over reviewing a friend’s book?

How did you handle it?

Were you “too busy?” Say you didn’t feel comfortable, couldn’t rank it high?

Do something else?

 

P.S.  HUACHUCA  WOMAN  has received 10  “5’s” and 1  “4.”  Thank you!

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Filed under Historical Fiction, HUACHUCA WOMAN, Publishing and Promotion, Reflection

1792, COLUMBUS SAILED…oh, no he didn’t.

Do you like giving presents? Is it a chore to figure out what to give? Do you wander around the mall trying to decide and then go home and order a gift off the internet? Last week, HUACHUCA WOMAN was a gift to 1792 folks who ordered it from Amazon’s Kindle Store.

I have never ever given anything to so many people. Not in my charitable donations, not among family and friends or even of myself to others in loyalty, caring or loving, or in refuge or laughter. I mean, who knows 1792 people up close and personal? I don’t, plain and simple…at least I don’t think I do. I’ve probably known this many and more in the course of my life but not so well as to give presents, right?

I don’t have names, addresses or occupations of my giftees. I just picture them, with the book in hand, on a couch, under a tree or in bed (reading the Sex-on-the-beach scene to their partner.) Some may struggle with the accents or the political positions of my characters. (They tend to be a bit iconoclastic.) Some fact checkers may find something to set me “right” about and I’ll welcome them. Some will ride the land with Josephine of an early morning and watch the sun rise in glory. Others may seek answers from John Reed, Geronimo or Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. I hope all will laugh, cry and sympathize in the course of using their gift.

By 1792, Columbus’ discovery of the new world was 300 years past. New countries were born, Native Americans died of infectious diseases, slaves were bought and sold, new crops and industries started, and fights for independence were getting underway. Columbus’ impact was carried into our present and little could he guess the outcome.

So, my 1792 versions of HUACHUCA WOMAN may be flying in cyberspace and cause a tiny hic-cup in the universe.  Hopefully, she will entertain, amuse or even annoy or anger some folks. She’ll thrive on that kind of reaction and cause others to talk about her, pass her on and even get them to post comments on Amazon, hitting the Author Page “like” as their return gift.

Meantime, I’m busy getting ready to launch BY GRACE, the second book in the HUACHUCA TRILOGY, come September. We only spend two action packed, even amazing years with Grace as she searches for her place in the world.  More to come….

Have you had a similar experience?

What’s a reasonable number of gifts to give this way?

Have you received such a gift?

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Filed under Arizona Territory, Historical Fiction, Publishing and Promotion

HUACHUCA WOMAN sees the light of day!

In the last month wondrous things have happened as HUACHUCA WOMAN emerged from the darkness of my computer to the Kindle, onto Amazon’s paperback racks and into the hands, hearts and minds of readers.

I have graduated to the rank of published novelist and I couldn’t be happier.

Photo by Kent Sorensen

Please go to Amazon.com to  “LOOK INSIDE.” Hit on my name to visit my Author Page; hit the “Like” button if inclined. My new blog is up at www.arlettadawdy.com with lead-ins to story poems, blog and bio. There’s more to construct there and I’m moving as fast as I can…to catch up to Goodreads, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

I’m on a learning curve and often feel myself slipping off, only to catch my breath and hold on again as tightly as I can. It is all about marketing, almost every writer’s least favorite part of the book industry. It has increasingly fallen on the writer’s shoulders to “get out the vote” as it were. Whether self-published or with a big press, the author carries most of the responsibility for promotion of her work unless, of course, she is a best-seller.

So, I read everything I can in the how to arena: how to build a platform, a following, a blog, a website, and SEO (Search Engine Optimization.)  Then, there are the lists: 49 things to do and sites to contact before putting the book up for free on Kindle; 12 reasons why you (who, me?) should be on Twitter, Pinterest, and all that is to come in social media; and 5-20 reasons to do readings, place your books in odd and unusual places, attend conferences, sell (or NOT) out of your car’s trunk, lead tutorials.

What have I done with those lists?  Gotten overwhelmed, listened to writer friends, attended workshops on reading in public (outstanding with Amanda McTigue), given readings, signed on with a local book distributor (thanks, Jeane Slone)…and run out of steam.

Meanwhile, a certain relative skipped over the “Love on the beach scene”—unable to forget who wrote it. I’ve given copies to my closest supporters. HUACHUCA WOMAN has found her way into charitable giveaways.Plans are firming up for a road trip to the Women Writing the West conference in Albuquerque in October that will find me coming home by way of Cochise County Arizona where the book is set and doing what?  More readings, giveaways, places to see and people to meet.

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Filed under Arizona Territory, Historical Fiction, Publishing and Promotion, Reflection