Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sunday Stills: Statues or Figurines

This statue welcomes people to the competition site at Hunter Creek Farm in Wilsonville, Oregon. Visit Lorenzo Ghiglieri's web site to see more of his fabulous work.

The following isn't exactly a statue, but it welcomes folks to Phantom's new boarding stable. I couldn't resist.

See how others met this week's challenge at Sunday Stills.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sunday Stills: Metal

Since there were no emergency room visits, follow-up appointments, or conferences this week -- I could get out my camera to capture the following photos for this week's challenge.

And of course, I located my subjects at the boarding stable where Phantom now resides.

A detail from the structure in the central parking area.
The barn was originally a Trakehner facility.

Gate chain to the mare pasture.

Abandoned shoes on the fence of the gelding pasture.

Another pair of abandoned shoes.
(Note the stud holes and toe clips for an eventer.)

Same shoes, different angle.

Although the subject was metal, I was also pleased with the wood textures captured in the photos.

See how others met the challenge at Sunday Stills.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Book Club Discussion: "One Thousand White Women"

Our book club held our second discussion session last night. We picked up two new members and hope for more participants when summer vacations wind down. We selected One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus from the reading list for the Wilsonville Library Book Club. We wanted a complete departure from our first book (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) and that's what we got.

Written in journal format, the book is historical fiction about a 1875 federal program to send white brides to the Cheyenne in exchange for horses. Since the Cheyenne are a matrilineal culture, they believed white wives and their half-white offspring would help them assimilate into the white world that was emigrating westward.

May, the protagonist, was a member of Chicago's elite social class who fell in love with a man deemed "beneath" her and bore him two children out of wedlock. When she was abandoned with her children, her family took custody of the boy and girl and had May institutionalized for "hysteria." Her goal throughout the story was to be reunited with her children. The antagonistic force was the white culture and societal mores of the time. Had May come from a "lower" social class, she likely would not have been placed in an insane asylum for living with a man outside of marriage. To attain her story goal, May had to overcome the dominant "white culture" of the period.

Although Jim Fergus established motives for his characters that participated in the program, we had a hard time believing that white women would willingly marry "savages" at that period in history. We thought three characters, including the protagonist May, were plausible. We acknowledged that interracial/cultural relationships occurred with the arrival of the Europeans -- but these were often women and children with little other choices for survival.

We noted that Fergus was wonderfully descriptive about the landscape (a major character in the story) and the Cheyenne culture, but his female characters seemed stereotypical. He managed to give each of the women individual voices, but they were a little too pat. Since he has a "hook and bullet" writing background, it's understandable that he would have an affinity for the western environment.

Our group believed Fergus did a good job of showing the good and bad aspects of the Cheyenne and white cultures. Both sides demonstrated savagery and uncivilized behavior. However, we did trip over some anachronistic viewpoints expressed by some of the characters.

We got a chuckle out of period references to the white brides as "fallen whores." Not only did their peers consider them to be whores for willingly marrying "savages," but fallen whores!

For our next book we chose The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Two of our members have already read the book and they are eager to discuss it with the rest of us.

Since our book club is so new, we're still developing our structure. Last night we agreed that we will take turns by alphabetical order to select books for the group to read. We also agree that we will strive for books that none of us have read already.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Signs of Fall -- Already?

Last night I witnessed my second flight of Canada geese. In mid-August. Hmmm. Wonder what kind of fall and winter that portents? Early? Harsh? A harsh winter for the west side of the Cascades meaning one real snow event.

Using the Pacific Flyway to predict weather can be a bit tricky around here, however. Since there are numerous federal and state wildlife refuges up and down the Willamette Valley and outside Vancouver, Washington -- we have resident waterfowl populations that hang around all winter. So it's not unusual to see ducks and geese moving from one location to the other.

But the geese I've seen in the past week appeared seriously southward bound. Bit of a surprise, since we were experiencing a serious hot spell at the time.

So it makes one wonder. What do they "know" that we don't?

Note #1: It is Canada goose or geese, not Canadian. One of the things I learned after twenty-four years of working with fish and wildlife biologists.
Note #2: The above photograph is not mine (I wish). Credit to USFWS.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Happens Every Time

It happens every time I attend the writers conference. The workshops are packed with fabulous information and guidance to improve our writing. But the more workshops I attend, the sorrier my current project appears.

While I'm taking copious notes, I'm considering how Water Tribute falls short. Is it salvageable? Should I finish it first and then do a major overhaul? Stop now at the midway point and go back to the beginning? Drop the project and start afresh (correctly) on a new project?


But one of the great aspects of the conference is hanging out with other writers who have the same issues. After two days of workshops, the topic of conversation during breakfast on Sunday was our growing doubt with our current projects. I wasn't alone! That knowledge is enough encouragement to plow on and do better the next time around.

I've set aside Water Tribute due to recent events. I'm fortunate that I have a First Reader who likes what I've done thus far and demands more. I have the novel outlined, so I will press on.

Meanwhile, I've been noodling around with an amorphous story idea that's beginning to take shape. :-)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Back in the Saddle

The vet was out yesterday and gave Phantom the go ahead for turnout and return to work. I couldn't be present for the exam, as I had to drive my mother to an appointment. However, Trainer Julie said Phantom was most happy to return to the gelding pasture.

I found Phantom contentedly grazing when I arrived today and he seemed happy to see me. Huge dust cloud when grooming. Quick longe and 15 minutes of trot work and a few lateral moves, and I called it good. Both of us content to resume our usual schedule.

So, between my mother's unexpected overnight stay at the hospital, the writers conference, and Phantom's bout with cellulitis -- I hope I'm done for awhile. Sheesh!

By the way -- this isn't my saddle. It's a look alike Berney Brothers dressage saddle.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Impeccable Timing

My thanks and enormous appreciation go to the ladies at CF, our new barn. Phantom chose the weekend of the writers conference for a bout of cellulitis. He is on the mend now, thank goodness.

It seems when Christina brought Phantom out of his stall Friday morning for turnout, his left hind was swollen and sore and he had a fever. She called my cell phone, but because I was in workshops at the conference I had it turned off. She got through to my mother who gave the okay to have the vet (already scheduled to see another horse) to examine Phantom. The vet placed Phantom on antibiotics, and recommended cold hosing and standing wraps. Trainer Julie was out of town at a competition, so Christina and Esme tended Phantom while I participated in the conference.

I didn't learn about Phantom's condition until I got home Friday. I rarely use my cell phone. I purchased it primarily so my mother could contact me during an emergency. I checked it once on Friday while at the conference, but apparently that was before the problem occurred. I totally forgot to check my phone the rest of the day.

By Saturday morning, Phantom was already responding to treatment and Esme said there was no problem, they would continue his schedule. I made it to the barn Sunday after the conference ended. Phantom was wearing the most neatly and securely wrapped standing bandages I've ever seen -- far better than I could have accomplished. Esme had plaited his mane into a French braid to cool his neck in the hot weather. Hmmm. I think Phantom is working the My Little Pony angle with the girls.

When I arrived at the barn today, Trainer Julie said they would continue Phantom's schedule. The wraps could be removed today and I did the morning hosing before hand walking Phantom. I figured it was a good opportunity to re-introduce him to the galloping track so we strolled out that way. He's still a doofus, but I'm hoping a few more walks out that way may accustom him to the sights and sounds.

I am extremely grateful for the equine experience of Trainer Julie, Christina, and Esme -- as well as their skills in caring for sick and unsound horses. I trust that Phantom and I are in good hands at CF.

After spending the previous weekend at the ER and hospital, I was hoping for a stress free weekend. Silly me.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

WWC, Day Three

The zombie-like drivers seen around the Portland Airport Sheraton Hotel late this afternoon were conference attendees whose minds were stuffed and overflowing with information. They were all preoccupied with thoughts of how they'll be rewriting or editing their projects.

This morning I attended Mary Rosenblum's workshop on "Science in Science Fiction Without the PhD." Actually, the information she presented was applicable to any type of fiction. She recommended strategizing the research before diving in. Consider whether your main character will be an expert or non-expert in the subject matter. An expert will know the insider jargon and insider "rules." A non-expert will interpret the subject in common terms, ignore the rules, and use terminology instead of jargon. Unless you are already an expert on the subject, you will have to do extensive research to make your main character sound like an insider. The non-expert character will serve more like an interpreter for the reader. Ms. Rosenblum suggested beginning your SF research with popular science periodicals for a general overview, then go to scientific journals, and finally ask the experts once you have the basic terminology and grasp of the subject. Unless they don't have the time, most scientists love to talk about their work. Bottom line: You don't have to understand the science in your novel, you just have to sound like you do! And when building SF/F worlds, don't forget to research the "soft sciences" (social sciences, political sciences, etc.).

Bill Johnson presented an intriguing approach to writing fiction in "The Spirit of Storytelling." Bill noticed that some of his writing students produced protagonists that resembled generic characters that moved woodenly through the story. No matter how much he helped the authors, they always reverted to their symbolic characters. Bill came to understand that these writers were using their characters as vehicles to examine their own issues. The characters had no lives of their own in the fictional world. So Bill developed what he calls "Deep Characterization." During two brief meditative sessions the participants imagined sitting with their main character and asking what he or she wanted from the story and then asking a representative of their reading audience what they found compelling in the story. The object was to listen and then address the deeper emotions of the characters so they will act independent of the author. Participants had some enlightening thoughts when they opened themselves up to their characters and readers.

Back in the Children's/YA track, Rosanne Parry presented "Character and the Seven Deadly Sins: Developing Depth in your Characters." She explained the "sins" are habits of thought that are harmful to the person who chooses them and discussed how this might be manifested in character actions. She provided examples from popular sources as well as books for very young readers that addressed each "sin." For the younger crowd, Lust may be expressed as an excessive interest in physical pleasures like beautiful objects, luxurious fabrics etc. Gluttony may be displayed as the excessive consumption of anything, like thrills or shopping as well as eating. The sins also have their positive opposites that can serve as character development. Pride or vainglory can become confidence, envy can evolve into admiration and emulation. At each pivotal moment in the YA novel, consider whether your main character will choose the "sin" or the virtue.

My final workshop of the conference was Jill Kelly's "When is My Manuscript Ready to Pitch or Publish?" Ms. Kelly discussed useful tools for reviewing our writing, such as a Plot Map and Character Cards to track the rising and falling action of the story and to ensure consistency. She suggested a pass through the story reading only the dialogue. Description should serve a purpose and move the story forward. Since it can take months or years to complete a novel, Ms. Kelly suggested a Style Guide to ensure consistent spelling of character and place names, and to prevent errors when moving characters through the novel landscape. As she put it, don't "clunk" your reader with awkward or unnecessary passages.

The message throughout the conference was Write Your Book or Script. Don't write to the marketplace. Write what you want and need to write.

Today's lunch speaker, Julie Gray, summed it up nicely: Just Effing Entertain Me.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

WWC, Day Two

Another great day at the Willamette Writers Conference. Saturday is usually the busiest day of the conference and today's lunch is the largest meal served at the Sheraton Airport Hotel each year. I heard there are over 900 people registered for this year's conference. Yesterday I met a woman from Australia (stopped on her way to Boston to visit in-laws). Today I chatted with a SF writer from Bend who met an attendee from Italy!

I began the day with a workshop about "Color for Writers" presented by Teresa Marcel. She discussed the psychological, cultural, and personal responses that colors elicit from people. Very interesting to note that most colors have both positive and negative associations. Black is dark and forbidding, but it is also elegant and sophisticated. Fun workshop to help writers send subliminal messages to readers via color.

Mystery writer Robert Dugoni was the luncheon speaker on Friday and conducted back-to-back workshops today. I attended the second one on "Techniques to Bring Your Novel Writing to Life." Mr. Dugoni is not only knowledgeable, but he has great rapport with attendees. Tidbit I took away from his workshop is asking "whose journey is it?" Which character in your story has the greatest motivation to succeed? This is your protagonist. The opening of the novel should introduce an interesting character right away, and establish the setting. Where are we and why should we care about the location? Primarily, Dugoni suggests raising a series of questions to hook the reader in the first sentence and paragraph, and throughout the book. Give your interesting character a goal and place an obstacle in her way in the first paragraph. Will she succeed? Keep reading to find out!

Mystery writer and reviewer Hallie Ephron of the famously talented Ephron family was today's lunch speaker and presented workshops yesterday and today. I attended today's session on Point of View. She explained the differences between first person and third person POV, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each. The writer's most significant decision is selecting from "whose head" the story will be told. Each character will serve as a filter depending on his/her personality and experiences. Third person allows for multiple viewpoints, but beware of sliding viewpoints within a single scene! Too confusing. If your story isn't quite working, try changing the viewpoint. Ms. Ephron confessed to rewriting an entire novel to switch viewpoint. She also explained Narrative Voice to distinguish it from POV.

I ended the day in the film track. Who wouldn't want to attend "Harry Potter and the Truckloads of Cash: Writing a Great Fantasy Script?!" Luke Ryan is Senior Vice President of Production at MGM. He's to "blame" for Hot Tub Time Machine. I don't plan on writing screenplays, but fantasy world building is world building. Ryan provided his definitions for Fantasy, Mythic, and Science Fiction films. Fantasy involves magic and wonder that goes undetected in the mundane, everyday world. Mythic stories are based on the Hero's Journey where the protagonist leaves the ordinary world to undergo a series of tests that force him to grow and change. Science Fiction films generally revolve around human evolution (life in the future) or clashes with alien life forms. A film may contain elements of all three, but it should primarily follow the conventions of one. Ryan explained that fantasy films should be guided by the structure of Joseph Campbell's and Chris Vogler's Hero's Journey. He discussed the required fantasy elements of Theme, Character and World as they relate to the Hero's Journey. He also explained the two variations of fantasy stories: 1) the hero goes to the magical/fantasy world where he is transformed; 2) the magic enters the mundane world and the hero goes on journey to send it back. The original Star Wars movie is a classic application of the mythic journey and Ryan played scenes to demonstrate how this was done.

I have to confess, by the end of today my posterior was TIRED. I was also experiencing writer's panic: "OMG! My current project is trash!" But I've also been noodling with a new story idea and today's workshops gave me terrific guidance and ideas for developing my ideas into a commercial story.

Tomorrow I expect I'll spend most of the day in the General/Genre Fiction Track. I may break down and buy a WW crew neck T-shirt or coffee mug, and I'll once again peruse the Barnes & Noble conference book "store."

Friday, August 6, 2010

Willamette Writers Conference, Day One

This phenomenal writers conference offers several tracks, but allows attendees to sit in on any workshop they desire. So I moved around from the Childrens/YA track to general fiction to genres and back again.

You heard it here first! "Dude Lit" is the official term for fiction directed at boys. At least that's what we coined during the panel on children's and YA books. What I took away from the panel of agents and editors is it's the content (that is, the story) that's important regardless of the format (traditional book, ebook, print on demand). And -- it is challenging to write for today's youth who are more sophisticated than most of the attendees were at the same age, with much shorter attention spans. Our books must be equally sophisticated and entertaining.

Colleen Houck and agent Alex Glass discussed her unusual route to publication of her Tiger series of novels. After the typical round of rejections, Ms. Houck decided to self publish for Kindle via Amazon's Create Space (formerly Book Surge). She invested in professional editing services, book layout, and cover design before placing the first two ebooks of her series for sale. Her sales figures caught the interest of a film agent and then literary agent, Alex Glass. Now her series is slated for traditional publication and a movie deal is in the works. Quite the diversion from the "old way" of getting into print.

I next attended Hallie Ephron's workshop: "Mystery Writing: A Crash Course." She clarified the difference between mysteries and thrillers. A mystery is a puzzle to be solved and the reader learns the facts along with the protagonist. In a thriller, the reader knows more than the characters which creates tension. Both genres have established conventions that create expectations from the agent, editor, bookseller, and reader. A book may contain elements of both mystery and thriller. My favorite take-away from this workshop was working out the secrets of all the characters. The sleuth, victim, and suspects all have secrets that must be investigated, some relevant to the mystery at hand and others sending the sleuth in the wrong direction. A body needn't appear immediately in a mystery, but the story should open with an "out of whack event" that throws the main character off balance to hook the reader. Classic mysteries may have had all the suspects collect in the drawing room for the sleuth's summation, but current mysteries should have a face-to-face confrontation between sleuth and villain.

The workshop on Crafting Fiction for Today's Marketplace by Andrea Hurst and Gordon Warnock used participants' book titles, one-line pitches, and first sentences to illustrate what does and doesn't have the potential to grab the interest of a reader. Some we found intriguing immediately, others needed refining. Consider similarities for your story -- that is, authors, book titles, movie titles, or other familiar images that will give the listener an idea of what your story is like. Draft the back cover copy that would appear on your book. This exercise helps you focus your story presentation. You must hook your agent, the agent must hook an editor, and the editor must hook the editorial board with your story.

The last workshop I attended today was Andrea Brown's "The Hot YA Category." Children's and young adult fiction is selling well even though adult fiction is faltering. Ms. Brown discussed her Five Ps of Children's/YA books: Passion, Product, Patience, Persistence, Promotion. As for the fundamentals, she outlined: character, theme, plot, point of view, structure, and resolution. As for trends in YA fiction, they tend to cycle every two years and dribble down from adult fiction. Getting a book into print can take years and by then the trend may be over -- so Ms. Brown recommends against writing specifically to a current trend. Interestingly enough, many successful YA authors have no children. Ms. Brown indicated successful writers in this category have a strong sense of the child in their heart

Bottom line for all of today's workshops: write your book. Heed the advice received, but write the book you were meant to write.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


We knew our toaster was ailing. Today half the elements died. Tomorrow -- who knows. It seems our agenda has been amended to include toaster shopping.

We're not sure of the exact age of our impaired toaster. Our best estimate is around ten years. Not bad for an appliance designed to last only a year or two.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Personalized Coffee Cup

Tim the Tool Man Taylor of Home Improvement visited the Emergency Room so often that he had his own personalized coffee cup.

I'm beginning to think my mother should have one, too.

The good news is, my mother is fine. The bad news is, given my mother's health issues, the medical professionals tend to recommend trips to the ER when she is having a problem. Although this time the on-call doctor referred us to a nearby immediate care facility in hopes that my mother would be seen quicker. We ended up at the ER anyway.

My mother is taking blood thinning medication and carefully monitored as to dosage. She had dental work done last week which went well; however, she woke on Friday bleeding from the site. The dentist's suggested remedy hadn't worked by Saturday morning, and the immediate care facility couldn't provide the treatment believed necessary -- so off we went to the ER.

My mother hates the ER. It generally means we are there for hours. The good part is, her situation usually is not so acute that the entire cast of Gray's Anatomy must descend on her. The bad part is, the visits can last anywhere from three to eight hours!

In this instance, the blood work revealed that my mother was severely anemic. The bleeding gums were not the single cause of the anemia and in fact helped reveal a condition that we weren't aware of. The ER doctor wanted my mother admitted into the hospital to receive a transfusion that he explained would be an overnight procedure.

So my mother spent the weekend at the hospital, and I spent the majority of Saturday and Sunday in a terribly uncomfortable chair in her room. The quality of the hospital staff more than made up for the furniture. After two units of blood my mother's count was declared much improved and she was sent home Sunday afternoon.

Not exactly how we intended to spend the weekend. But you know the old cliche' about making plans.

Anyway, we hope we won't be visiting the ER again any time soon. In which case we won't need our personalized coffee cups.