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Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Karma and Comfort - ISWG September 2019





It's IWSG Day. The goal of this blog hop is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds. IWSG is the brainchild of Alex Cavanaugh, our brilliant ninja leader. The awesome co-hosts for September are: Gwen Gardner, Doreen McGettigan, Tyrean Martinson, Chemist Ken, and Cathrina Constantine. To find a list of other contributors and to link to their posts, click here.

This month's optional question:  If you could pick one place in the world to sit and write your next story, where would it be and why? 


Until this past weekend, each morning I spent my writing time at a drop-leaf table in front of a picture window overlooking the commuter traffic that buzzes down our road. On dark days, I had to put a light on and from the outside, let’s just say I was visible. I suppose most passers-by didn’t give me a glance, but more than a year ago, a neighbor I don't known particularly well stopped me one day. “What are you doing in front of that window?” he asked.

Since then, I’ve felt too front and forward— a target for anyone to say, “You’re a writer? Have you written anything I've heard of? Oh. You’re not published?

It made me want to move my writing space away from that window, but the only place to go was to an actual desk, a cumbersome roll-top with a shallow front, too narrow to fit my lap-top. It was not a quality piece and had become a junk-collector. We’d shove things inside, pull the top down and forget them. It was tall too, and if we swapped it with my writing table it would block the window. 

We decided to replace it with a regular desk, but had no interest in making a major investment. We scoured online sites and took field trips to antique stores, searching for a used piece to blend with the mismatch of furniture we’ve inherited from family, but had no luck. Months passed—and I found myself hopping up from my table and hiding when the neighbor who’d asked the question drove out of his driveway each morning.

Then, last Saturday, my husband and I stepped outside to discover a line of cars parked down our street. An estate sale was underway in a house that just sold. It’s at the end of a long, private driveway and I was delighted, since I’d always wanted to see the inside of it.

"Wanna go?" I asked my husband.
 
"Sure." He shrugged, used to my curiosity.

 
Honestly, we weren't thinking about buying anything. I just wanted to tour the house. But there, two hundred yards from home, we found the exact desk we’d been looking for and at a yard sale price. Call it fate. Call it karma. Call it right place/right time. Hallelujah! We wrote a check and hauled it home.

So back to today’s question. If I could pick the perfect place to write? Well, of course one’s mind drifts to a writer’s retreat in coastal Maine, or an open window overlooking the azure Caribbean. But I know myself. I’d be too distracted. My place is here, at my new-to-me leather-topped desk in the corner of our living room, invisible to the cars speeding by.

As for the roll-top? We purged the junk and lugged it down to the end of our driveway and taped a “free” sign on it. A young couple loaded it into their car about an hour later. I like to think good karma hit twice last weekend.

Where would you write if you could?

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Unexpected - IWSG August 2019





It's IWSG Day. The goal of this blog hop is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds. IWSG is the brainchild of Alex Cavanaugh, our brilliant ninja leader. The awesome co-hosts for August are Renee Scattergood, Sadira Stone, Jacqui Murray, Tamara Narayan, and LG Keltner. To find a list of other contributors and to link to their posts, click here. 

August's question: Has your writing ever taken you by surprise. For example, a positive and belated response to a submission you'd forgotten about or an ending you never saw coming? 

Other than a very high-level idea of where things will end, when I start a project I’m usually not sure of the details until they spew out of my fingertips. Surprises occur all the time. That said, I suppose the biggest one was getting twenty-thousand words into a tale and realizing the story I thought I was writing wasn’t the story at all. Cue the sound of brakes screeching.

Truth be told, there are things in life that rather haunt me--pieces of local history, intriguing places I’m compelled to visit again and again. One such place is a memorial in our town cemetery placed in memory of the Brig St. John, an Irish immigrant ship out of Galway. In the summer of 1849, it headed to Boston filled with folks escaping the potato famine, or The Great Hunger (or the Great Famine) as it is called in Ireland. After an uneventful six-week trip, they arrived off the coast of Cape Cod where they anchored and celebrated the end of their journey. The next morning, on what should have been the last day of the voyage, they set sail again and ran into a storm. With about 13 nautical miles left to their destination, the ship was dragged by the wind and smashed against Grampus Ledge off the South Shore of Massachusetts, a set of rocks my husband and I sail by regularly. Of the ninety-nine people estimated to be on the ship, twelve made it to shore alive. Forty-five bodies were buried in a mass grave in our town cemetery. It is assumed the remaining victims were consigned to the sea. The monument I visit was erected many years after the fact as a marker for the forty-five lost souls who washed up on our shores.

So back to my stalled novel. When I stomped on the brakes, it was because I pictured the memorial to these victims. The tragedy has always stuck hard in my heart, all those desperate folks making it so close to a new life, but then, simply not. Suddenly, it became imperative to include some of this history in my book. I started all over and the next thing I knew, a mystical apparition of a boy from a fictional representation of that ship began appearing and disappearing from my main character's apple tree. I began to research the ship and all sorts of Irish folktales and traditions, many of which made their way into my book. I had no sense I’d write something with supernatural elements, seeped in Celtic lore, but it was almost as if the mysterious boy directed me. In the end, at a high level, the theme of the story is still the same. So is the main character. But every subsequent detail comes from my moment of clarity, when I realized I had to honor The Brig St. John and when the spirit of a young boy, the catalyst for all the subsequent action in the book decided he was going to drive my tale. 

How has your writing surprised you?

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Writing with Flavor - IWSG July 2019





It's IWSG Day. The goal of this blog hop is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds. IWSG is the brainchild of Alex Cavanaugh, our brilliant ninja leader. The awesome co-hosts for July are Erika Beebe, Natalie Aguirre, Jennifer Lane, MJ Fifield, Lisa Buie-Collard, and Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor! To find a list of other contributors, click here


This month’s optional question: What personal traits have you written into your characters?

I like to cook  and settings with food play a large part in my stories. In my novel THIS SIDE OF HERE, the characters spend a lot of time in a market, one of the main meeting places in their small town. They purchase ingredients there and make meals like seared salmon, grilled bluefish, gazpacho, vegetable rice and a salad made with zucchini ribbons. They buy artisanal cheeses for a picnic, and attend an Irish heritage festival where they eat pasties, a turnover filled with potatoes and vegetables.

In my most recent novel, THE BENEFICIARY for which I’ll soon begin the query process, the action centers around a New England seaside farm-to-table diner. Think lobster salad sandwiches dressed with garlic and tarragon aioli on brioche, or a striped bass pulled right out of the water, cooked with blackened spice. Add in pancakes and French toast of course, with syrup served at the table warm, and a gentleman who prefers his scrambled eggs with mustard. The characters dig clams and turn them into chowder. At the end of the story, they stack driftwood, heat stones, fill wet canvas bags with clams, lobsters, corn and potatoes.They steam the whole thing in a massive lobster bake. Getting hungry anyone?

All this, and the closest thing in my past to working professionally with food was a job I held at an  cheese/gourmet food shop for a year-and-a-half, and the two summers I waitressed at a country inn when I was a teenager. But, as someone who reads cookbooks, online recipes and restaurant menus for fun, I know food, which makes it easy to incorporate it into my stories. I’m intrigued with how ingredients go together and am pretty game to try most things as long as they aren’t totally repulsive. I’m the one who trained myself to like oysters, (slime balls that they are) just because I wanted to like them. Recently, I ate octopus because it was on my bucket list to do so. Even the jellyfish I ate while on a business trip to Japan years ago had, well, shall we say a piquant crunch?

While a bit more mainstream, so far in my newest project there’s a farmer’s market, where one of the MC’s sells the cakes, breads and muffins she creates to use up her  brother's excess garden veggies—the usual zucchini bread sure, but a dense and decadent chocolate cake made with beets, too. So yes, it appears my real life does creep in to my writing because my sister made one of those years ago. It was five-star delicious. 

Wishing all my readers from the US a happy and safe July 4th. There's a lobster-fest in my immediate future. What are your plans?