Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Another Writing Tool

It is a juicy day in the Willamette Valley. Nonstop rain, clouds stuck in the tops of the Doug firs, lakes of water in parking lots that I thought were pancake flat. But a perfect excuse to hole up with a good book -- either a great read or the one you are writing.

I just learned about another writing "tool" via Story Fix, the blog maintained by Larry Brooks. He writes about and presents workshops on the Six Core Competencies and Story Architecture of novel writing. I found his sessions at the Willamette Writers Conferences to be life savers. So when he referenced another writing aid I had to check it out.

Randy Ingermanson has developed what he calls the Snowflake Method of organizing a novel.

Yes -- this is a fractal.

Ingermanson's method is the reverse of peeling an onion. Instead of removing layers, he adds layers in the process of developing and organizing his novels. Since adding layers to an onion isn't a particularly handy image, he instead uses the fractal.

The first step in the process is to write a one-sentence summary of your novel. He suggests striving for no more than 15 words. This is what many folks call "the elevator pitch." You know -- you're on the elevator with the agent/movie director of your dreams and you have only one or two floors to sell your story idea.

Step two in Ingermanson's process is to develop the single sentence into a full paragraph. In step three he moves on to the major characters about whom he writes a one-page summary.

Subsequent steps expand on previous efforts. Each step delves deeper into the story and the characters. By the time he begins drafting the novel, he knows his story characters inside and out, and has solved many problems of logic with the story progression.

Those with outline phobia will eschew these story development methods. However, both Brooks and Ingermanson suggest that planning up front avoids hundreds of pages of redrafts.

Having ground to a halt on Water Tribute with a case of "muddleinthemiddleitis," I am eager to try Ingermanson's Snowflake Method in combination with Brooks' Story Architecture.

With Water Tribute placed on the back burner (waaaay back), my imagination has been captivated by a different story idea. The working title is The Adventure of the Blood Stone (which will likely be changed to The Curse of the Blood Stone). I'm still doing world building research. I have a list of characters and some idea of the major plot points. I even drafted opening paragraphs when I was held captive in a waiting room one day. I've made a stab at the one-sentence story summary, but I think I need to have the setting firmly established before I begin moving around the characters in their story world.

I already know that writing a novel "by the seat of my pants" doesn't work for me. So I hope this additional tool will help me reach my goal.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sunday Stills: Hats

This week's challenge was "hats." Given the weather forecast for much of the U.S. -- polar gear will be needed. But here in Oregon's Willamette Valley we primarily deal with wet stuff. Misty mizzle, drenching downpour, sideways saturation -- you name it, we get it.

So those of us who choose to venture out (or have no choice to remain warm and dry) require an arsenal of headwear.

These are my winter dog walking hats. My suede Kerrits cap helps keep up the hood of my waterproof Eddie Bauer jacket. The Outback fedora is waxed to repel moisture. Note the sheltie hair on the brim.

Barn hats. My FITS cap to hide "helmet hair," plus my waxed cotton Outback cap and hat for hiking to the back fence of the turnout pasture where Phantom manages to locate himself when I arrive on rainy days. My knit hat is stuffed in the backpack I carry to the barn full of horse treats and other necessities.

Retired "helmet hair" cap. This one took a tumble into Phantom's feed bucket one day. After thoroughly examining it he determined it had no nutritional value.

To see more head gear, visit Sunday Stills.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ruthless Christmas Party

Sunday was my first Christmas party with the new Barn Bunch. One of the boarders kindly opened her home to us and we enjoyed a variety of munchies and a potluck dinner. All to build up our energy in preparation for the White Elephant Gift Exchange.

Now, my previous barn held a gift exchange. Participants brought a wrapped gift -- generally something we'd want to keep ourselves. Once at the party we drew numbers at random and worked our way through them. Participants had the option to select a wrapped gift or steal a previously opened gift that he or she fancied. The participant whose gift was snatched then had the option to open a gift or steal one. Gifts could be stolen 2-3 times before they went off limits.

So I wasn't quite sure what to expect of the white elephant gift exchange, since the idea was to bring less-than-desirable gifts.

Well...the exchange started out the same. Wrapped gifts and drawn numbers. However, participants were required to select a wrapped gift when their numbers were drawn. Once they unwrapped their gift, they had 20 seconds to trade it for another opened gift. This began a trading frenzy as panicked participants tried to rid themselves of horrendous gifts before time ran out.

Some of the gifts were actually desirable and changed hands numerous times during the evening. On the other hand, the ho-hum serving platter, two-foot tall ceramic rooster, and garish 3-foot tall trophy were hard to move. It was pretty funny as folks scrambled to be rid of gifts foisted on them, or attempted to pitch interest in the item they were stuck with.

Really -- gift exchanges are not for sissies, regardless of the desirability of the items. So much for peace on earth! ;-)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sunday Stills: Holiday Decorations

'Tis the season!

Regrettably, we have some old family tree ornaments that are buried somewhere in the pile at the center of the garage, or stashed amid the boxes at the self-storage unit. However, there are certain elements that I like to have on our tree every year.

The dove always goes near the top.
We continue to hope for peace on earth.

The trombone in honor of my father.

The white rose with musical ribbon
in memory of my father and grandfather.

To see more holiday decorations, visit Sunday Stills.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Mennonite in a Little Black Dress"

Our book club met last night to discuss our latest read. Although we did have criticisms, in general we enjoyed the book.

I do not read memoirs. I'm an avid reader of fiction, and on occasion nonfiction. So I kept expecting the usual fiction plot points as I was reading which, of course, never arrived.

So -- author Rhoda Janzen was raised in California in a Mennonite family. She pursued an education, academic career, and marriage outside the Mennonite community. When her husband left her for a gay man that he'd met online, and following a devastating car accident, Ms. Janzen returned to her parent's home to recuperate. The memoir addresses how she adjusted to returning to the Mennonite culture as well as an examination of her childhood and failed marriage.

Ms. Janzen places much emphasis on being the outsider during her school years among her more "worldly" classmates. There were her plain, hand-me-down clothes and unusual lunches, not to mention forbidden activities such as watching television and dancing. However, none of us found her childhood to be that much different than our own. Ms. Janzen's oddly appearing and smelling lunches reminded me of My Big Fat Greek Wedding when Nia Vardalos brought Greek dishes to school. Any child from an ethnic, racial, or religious minority will feel like he or she doesn't fit in. Any child who wears hand-me-downs will cringe in ill-fitting outfits and yearn for new clothes. And one doesn't have to be Mennonite to miss out on the "social norms." In my own household during the 1950s we didn't have a television in the house until my teachers began giving assignments to watch certain programs (under the assumption that everyone had a TV). And every child/teenager is embarrassed by their parents at some point if not most of their youth.

Ms. Janzen's tone seemed contrived at the beginning of the book, as if she was straining for a flip, Sex and the City style of delivery. She also included some episodes regarding bodily functions and private parts that (with perhaps one exception) seemed totally unnecessary to us. At 43, the author seemed like she was still straining with adolescent rebellion against her upbringing. These particular episodes were used to illustrate the character of family members, but we suspected she could have had the same results with other examples.

As the book progressed, we learned the facts of Ms. Janzen's marriage. I was reminded of the appeals that I dealt with in my last job. The complainant described the situation and demanded a fix. I researched the incident to complete the facts and determine what, if anything, we could do for the person. Oh the details the complainants left out when filing their appeals!! My research often revealed that a sad story of ill advice was in reality an incident of laziness and/or stupidity.

We learned that Ms. Janzen had been dazzled by Nick's good looks and intellect. She was naive and, having come from a culture that was suspicious of higher education, she longed for someone who shared her academic pursuits. She knew Nick was bisexual before she married him (he'd been with a man before the woman who preceded Ms. Janzen). He was manic depressive and verbally abusive. He refused to take his medication, ruined them financially, and humiliated her in private while presenting the picture of a perfect match among their friends. In the end, despite Nick's horrible treatment of Rhoda, he left her.

Ms. Janzen stated she still would have married Nick if she could go back and do it over again. She loved him with all her heart. My personal feeling was that she loved the idea of Nick. Rhoda had grown up in a sheltered environment with little exposure to the "real world" and all the weirdness it contains. And the only examples she had of marriage were within the Mennonite community -- Rhoda had no idea that she could leave her dysfunctional marriage. I think she married the man she wanted Nick to be, not the man he was. Although he had his good points. But Rhoda withstood far more verbal abuse and financial ruin than she should have. Which only made her human -- since many of us remain with the familiar long after we should have left, since the unknown can be frightening.

In the end we believed Rhoda came to awareness and maturity to appreciate that her parents and brothers were the way they were meant to be. She was who she was because of her upbringing and the love and acceptance of her family. The pendulum had swung back to the center. Whether the offspring struggle to meet family expectations or rebel against them, life is a process of discovery to determine who we really are. There is no time limit for this process. The longing for that elusive something that will bring each of us fulfillment can continue throughout our lives.

Our next selection for the January book club meeting is The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. It is a multi-generational mystery that travels between historical periods in Great Britain and Australia.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I'm Dreaming of a...

...wet Christmas?

So -- we're heading north on I-5 through Portland in a torrential rain. There is standing water in the traffic lanes, foggy mists of water thrown up by the big rigs, and waves of water sheet the windshield when other drivers speed through huge puddles. I'm white-knuckle driving with thoughts of hydroplaning dancing in my head. The radio is tuned to K103 because they play Christmas songs all month up to the Big Day. During yet another holiday song about a lovely, snow white Christmas I comment to my mother as I turn up the fan on the defroster: "Ever notice they never sing about a wet, rainy Christmas?"

Ah, the lovely Pacific Northwet. Er, northwest. Makes it difficult to get into the holiday mood when you're slip slidin' away without a surf board.

Of course, when we did have a rare, record-breaking white Christmas a couple of years ago it pretty much brought everything to a standstill. On the wet side of the Cascades, that is. Everyone on the east side of the mountains gets their jollies watching us wetsiders maneuver (not!) in the snow and ice.

But those of us living in the temperate regions aren't the only ones feeling a little out of step with the whole white Christmas scenario. Palm trees and tropical breezes are also incongruous with Dickensian carolers wrapped up in mufflers.

Actually, Christmas Day in the Willamette Valley will likely be dry and mild. And green. We get by without the "traditional" white Christmas. After all, our wet winters produce a goodly portion of the world's Christmas trees.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Sunday Stills: Pets

This is one of the reasons I refer to Indy as "the Fluffy Puppy." No further explanation required.

"What's with the camera?"

"Enough with the camera. Time for my evening nap."

To see other cherished pets, visit Sunday Stills.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"Twilight" Twilight

It's official. I've given up on completing Twilight. I made it to page 276 and never picked it up again. I'm placing it in the donation box for the local library's resale store.

I just could not get involved with the characters. The writing left a lot to be desired (although I've managed to become absorbed by other books with less than stellar writing). And I grew increasingly concerned about the potential unhealthy relationship developing between Bella and Edward.

As someone who is attempting to write young adult (YA) fiction, I try to read what my target audience is reading within my genre (fantasy). Twilight was an obvious choice. However, I couldn't wade through it.

I think my problem was with Bella. I did not find her to be a compelling character. I could find no reason to care about her. J. K. Rowling's writing is less than perfect, and her later books in the Harry Potter series needed much more editing than her publishers thought they could implement. However, she created characters that the reader could care about. I could skim over corny adverbs to find out what happened next to Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Bella -- not so much.

As Bella began to spend more time with Edward I saw what were to me red flags that warned of a potentially abusive relationship. The girl with low self-esteem allows herself to be controlled by the boy on whom she has a crush. What begins as flattering interest in her evolves into the boy's total control of every little thing she does, or is not allowed to do. I found the vampire aspect of the novel far less frightening than the potential for emotional abuse.

I'm not into vampire stories, anyway. Stephanie Meyer did not change my mind.

Monday, December 6, 2010


There's a reason it's called horsepower. Anyone who has worked with horses knows and respects their strength.

This morning Phantom was Hoovering hay from the aisle in front of his stall while I groomed him. He would ground tie without much wandering; however, Zorro's dinner bucket secured to the front of the opposite stall is just too tempting. So I usually do a quick release knot to tie Phantom's lead line through a piece of bailing twine at the front of his own stall. Over the years Trainer Julie has witnessed too many nasty incidents related to cross ties and therefore there are none in this barn. Twine is more forgiving should things go awry.

As is the norm with horses, all is peaceful until things explode.

Phantom managed to catch his lead line under the edge of his stall door while munching. When the line didn't give, he panicked and leapt backward. Crash, bang, clatter! Fortunately, I was not in the way of Phantom's attempted flight and Indy was tied up on the inside of the stall. When the dust settled we had a stall door askew, a panting horse, and a blue merle Sheltie that may be a shade grayer now.

Phantom seemed fine, though still a little white-eyed. He stopped immediately upon the release of his lead. Indy was shaking, but he was on the opposite side from all the activity. The door was intact, but the brackets holding the rail on which it slides were goners.

As horse events go, this was a mild one and over quickly. The door was repaired immediately (thanks, Juan!) and no one was hurt. But it was a reminder of how powerful horses are.

There's a reason that the energy produced by our mechanized vehicles is measured by the strength of horses.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Sunday Stills: Potluck

Between appointments, errands, and wet weather I forgot about taking photos. And of course when the weather cleared for a gloriously sunny day, I didn't have a camera with me.

However, I did bring my little Kodak EasyShare C360 to the barn to document my saddle for insurance purposes.

Fortunately, this week's challenge was potluck -- Ed left us to our own devices. Just when I was thinking I wouldn't have anything to post, I remembered my saddle photos.

I selected this picture because I like the horse hair and indications of use captured in this shot. (Yeah, yeah...I know. I need to clean and condition my saddle more often.)

Jochen Schleese is not the maker of my dressage saddle; however, he did re-flock it to fit Phantom after I purchased it from my trainer. I had a Schleese jump saddle but sold it when it became apparent that I wouldn't have the finances for lessons and I acknowledged that I no longer had the resilient body required for jumping (horses do on occasion take a dislike to a fence and add flying lessons to the rider's schedule).

Visit Sunday Stills to see how others fulfilled this week's challenge.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sharing a Moment

Friendship is all about sharing moments. A recent Oprah show on couples makeovers reminded me of "The Kilt" episode.

I was at the mall with Karen and her college-age daughter Emily -- Karen and I met through work decades ago, and I've known Emily since she was a gleam in her parents' eyes. Anyway, as we were strolling along we encountered a man wearing a kilt. We all took note but said nothing. After all, this was "keep Portland weird" territory.

Not long afterwards we made a detour down a short hallway to use the restroom. When Emily and I were finished we stepped out into the hallway to await Karen. Who should emerge from the men's restroom opposite us but -- the man in the kilt. He returned to the main mall concourse and as soon as he turned the corner, Emily and I burst into laughter.

The mental image of the gentleman manipulating his kilt at the urinal had us in stitches. No words necessary. Friends sharing the same bizarre thoughts.

Friends are those people with whom you exchange a look and communicate so much without a single word uttered. A single work or phrase can return both of you back to that shared experience, no further explanation necessary.

'Tis the season to cherish those family, friends, and relations with whom we've shared so much.