Tag Archives: Writing

I love a fresh start.

Summertime on the Puget Sound

We’ve had a cold, soggy spring in Tacoma. Most days, the sky and the Puget Sound have been a uniform shade of gray. At long last, the springtime sun flirts with us from behind the clouds, bringing promise of a new beginning.

The other day, I was reading a social media conversation among writers about fear of the blank page. Many find it hard to begin a new project, intimidated by all that white space. Me, I love a clean slate, a fresh start, a wide-open vista of endless possibilities. I love to sit down at my computer, or outdoors with my notebook, and just blather forth. Blah, blah, blah! Natter natter natter! Etc., and so forth, and so on!

I love that part.

Imagining scenes and characters and writing them down is easy and fun—for me, anyway. The hard part is cleaning it up and making sense of it all.

Right now, I’m working my way through the craft book that has my writer friends all a-twitter: Lisa Cron’s Story Genius. My half-finished mystery story needs a good clean-up, afflicted as it is with my usual slow-paced start, over-abundance of characters and side-plots, and protagonistic pontifications. So far, I’m finding Cron’s approach very helpful, like a stern but sympathetic teacher who raps her ruler on my desk every time she sees my attention start to wander.

Another fresh start that’s beckoning is summer break. My giddy anticipation of the end of the school year is more than a bit ridiculous, considering that I teach only five hours per week. But still—the promise of summer glimmers on the horizon: warm, lazy, self-directed days, unimpeded by commuting or lesson plans.

And I’ve decided not to accept any teaching jobs next year, having remembered the hard way how much prep time goes into each lesson taught. I only have so much focus and energy per day, and far too much of it has been spent on finding or creating materials for French instruction. Hats off to elementary and preschool teachers. Having stood briefly in your shoes, I have more respect than ever for the sheer amount of work you do to keep those little ones excited about learning. Y’all must be mainlining caffeine to do that all day long.

This detour back into teaching has sharpened my awareness of how much I enjoy writing. If I ever hope to publish my work, and I do, I need to devote my high-energy time to that pursuit. Lesson learned.

So, here’s to a new season and a fresh start.

IWSG Question of the Month

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/

It’s the first Wednesday of the month, when all the IWSGers post on their blogs about their writing insecurities or offer some encouragement to others.

November’s Question: What is your favorite aspect of being a writer?

I’ve always had a hard time answering questions about favorites. How could someone possibly narrow down all the best songs, books, movies, foods to one shining pinnacle? I’m just not that decisive, I guess. That said, here’s a list of what I love about being a writer.

  • Working in my PJs. After years of jetting out of bed before dawn, I now roll out when I’m good and ready, pull on something comfy, pour the coffee and head straight for my office, located right between the bathroom and the kitchen. The only better location I can imagine is a magical wi-fi equipped treehouse.
  • treehouse
    • Working undisturbed. Few other jobs give one the opportunity to sit for hours at a time in focused concentration. Teaching high school sure didn’t.
    • Putting my imagination to use. All that daydreaming finally has a productive outlet. Though I’m not a fantasy writer, I’ve created a fictional town on the Northern California coast, full of the kinds of people I’d like to surround myself with. And I get to visit every day. Cool.
    • Revenge! Evildoers beware—I shall slay you (symbolically, anyway) in my stories.
    • Discovering the good side of bad people. This is often too difficult in real life, but on the page I must round out my villains.
    • Finally having the last word. In real life, when someone says something insulting or snotty to me, the perfect retort arrives a few hours later. But on the page, my protagonist can rip off the perfect zinger. Zap! (Picture a verbal lightning bolt obliterating the snotty person.)
    • The company of other writers. Even though our stories and preferred genres vary widely, we’re all creatives walking/hiking/slogging/clambering on the same path. We understand each other deep in our bones.
    • Feedback: I trust (most) other writers to point out issues with my writing that merit my attention.
    • More than any work community I’ve belonged to, writers cheer each other on, prop each other up, comfort each other when bad reviews arrive like flaming bags of dog poop on the front stoop, when editors/critique partners call for yet another revision, when a promising plot thread fizzles. And they point me toward craft books, websites and workshops that give me tools to climb out of the whole I’ve dug. Thank you.

    And you, fellow writers? What are your favorite bits?

 

Writing Fiction from Point Zero

content_QOTW-10

I’m nearly finished reading Gabriela Pereira’s upcoming how-to manual for writers, DIYMFA. My review will appear here by the end of the week. You can check out the book here:

DIY MFA Book

This week, she’s challenged her team of early reviewers to write about our Point Zero moment, that moment when we first became writers. That’s easy for me; I became a fiction writer when I killed a boy.

Relax. I only killed him on paper, and it was so refreshing, better than any fancy-shmancy therapy.

I was a young high school teacher, only twenty-six, and not yet skilled at defusing classroom conflicts. Bubba, a big, thick jock, landed in my French class. Funny and playful, he was one of my favorite students up to that terrifying day. We’d been doing a creative activity that involved lots of discussion. I needed the class to quiet down for further instructions, but Bubba didn’t want to quiet down. Instead, he bolted from his chair and started shouting at me. I later learned that he was rather dangerously unhinged, but this was my first inkling of trouble.

Anyway, when I asked Bubba to step out into the hallway, he flushed a deep purple and unleashed a torrent of abuse, crazy stuff along the lines of “You can’t tell me what to do, Bitch.” And then he plumped down into his seat, his arms crossed, and glowered up at the clock, waiting for the bell to ring.

You could have heard the proverbial pin drop. The other students gaped at him, and then at me. You know, they don’t teach you about this stuff in college education classes. Quietly, I retreated behind my desk and picked up the phone. “Saved by the bell” has never rung truer as when Bubba stomped out a moment later.

I didn’t cry—I’m not usually a crier, but I was shaking so hard I could barely dial the principal’s office. At the end of the school day, after having met with the principal and the counselor, I was still shaking. When the school’s hallways quieted, I sat at my desk, reviewing what had happened, what I might have said to set him off, what I could have done differently. The kid was suspended for his outburst, but he’d be back. I was a skinny little thing, and he was a hulking brute. How could I protect myself?

And then my eyes landed on the three-hole punch. It was one of those heavy monsters you find in classrooms and offices, five pounds at least, with a convenient handle. If a person were to swing that hole-punch overhead and bring it crashing down on someone’s skull, that would do some serious damage. Cerrunch! I could picture the moment, and it felt good.

I sat down at my computer and slammed out the beginning of a story right then and there: a young female teacher is confronted by a big, angry jock student who threatens her, lunges for her. In a panic, she grabs the hole-punch and crushes his skull. Blood everywhere, soaking into the carpet. Where could she hide the body? She sneaks down the hallway to the janitor’s supply closet and nabs a roll of those heavy-duty blue trash bags…

On and on I went, detailing every move the quaking young teacher made as she hides the body in a vacant locker, planning to retrieve it over the weekend. But when she comes back, late Saturday night, the body has been moved! A trail of ants leads to the gym, where the dead jock has been stuffed beneath the bleachers. Who could have done it?

This was fun! I must’ve hunched over my keyboard for a good hour, my fingers flying. When I finally stopped, I felt—relieved, refreshed, empowered. Whatever happened next, I could face it because I’d already killed that evildoer. As it turns out, he soon left school.

I never finished that creepy little story, but I’ve since written several more, plus two novels, and I’m working on a third. And it all started with the question from which all story ideas come: What if?

In Search of the Perfect Critique Partners

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

Today I’m joining the ranks for the Insecure Writers’ Support Group. Thank you to IWSG for the opportunity to share and learn from your writerly experiences. We post the first Wednesday of the month, but I’m posting early due to family commitments. Check them out here:

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

A topic much on my mind lately is getting good-quality feedback on my writing. I’ve just finished another (hopefully final) polish of my second novel, and am starting another round of agent queries. It took bloody forever to work this manuscript through my critique group, since we’re only allowed to submit twenty pages per meeting. It’s a fair rule—we’d never get through a meeting otherwise.

I’ve been participating in the same critique group for over a year now, and their bi-monthly meetings are a highlight of my writing practice. It’s energizing to chat face-to-face with other writers. From them, I’ve received lots of valuable advice on refining my cozy mystery and women’s fiction novels. No one in my group writes in these genres, but that doesn’t disqualify them from critiquing my work; in fact, the best writing advice I’ve received so far has come from writers of historical fiction and sci-fi. Good storytelling is good storytelling.

I’ve also exchanged a few online critiques with members of the Women’s Fiction Writers’ Association, and will continue to pursue that avenue. These readers understand the expectations of our shared genre, and a bonus is that some of these critiques come from published writers.

Here’s where the insecure bit comes in: I give more credence to advice from fiction writers whose work has been published, especially those who’ve been traditionally published.

Disclaimer: I’m sure there’s lots of very fine indie-published fiction out there—but the indie fiction I’ve sampled so far has mostly been clunky, unpolished, not enjoyable for a reader like me who expects that level of polish found in most traditionally-published fiction. And that level of polish is what I’m trying to achieve—not just good proofreading, but well-rounded, relatable characters wrapped up in a believable, non-rambling plot.

Back to my face-to-face critique group. Sure, it’s valuable to get feedback from all sorts of writers, and to see the evolution of their works in progress. We all have a great deal in common, and sharing the process of chiseling away the dross from a draft to reveal the gem inside—that’s a great learning opportunity for me.

But the limitations of this critique group are becoming hard to ignore. A few of our best writers have peeled off, dissatisfied with nature of the critiques. They tell me there’s too much nit-picking over mechanics and too little focus on plot, characters, pacing—the meat of the story.  They have a point.

Our group contains some die-hard writing-rule-evangelists. (One actually carries the Chicago Manual of Style to every meeting.) Oh, how these writers cling to their formulas, their cherished edicts about what one must and must not do in order to create a work of fiction. Here’s where I admit to being a retired high school English teacher. I have great respect for grammar, punctuation—all the tools we use to achieve clear communication. But oh, dear reader, there is much eye-rolling when these group members start spouting their rules for this and that aspect of writing fiction. And have these particular group members published anything? Not as far as I know. That doesn’t mean that they won’t, of course, but still…

Ugly thoughts, I know. And unfair—after all, I haven’t published anything yet either. When I finally do get my work published, whether traditionally or independently, it’ll have more to do with voice and storytelling than whether I’ve followed a certain formula or eliminated all my adverbs and exclamation points. A good storyteller can bend lots of rules and still delight her readers.

I don’t want to leave the security of my little critique group, but suspect it’s time to move beyond its secure borders. It’s time to look for more in-depth feedback than I can get twenty pages at a time. Wish me luck.

But What Do I Know?

question mark

I have a writing assignment with a generous deadline. For this year’s Write on the Sound writers’ conference in Edmonds, Washington, October 1-2, I need to create a work of short fiction, creative nonfiction, or a poem on the topic of “What I Know Now.”

I think I’ll choose the fiction option, as the nonfiction option puts me up against the likes of Oprah—not that she’ll be attending WOTS, but well-written essays about “What I Know (Now, for Sure, etc.) abound. This is not one of them.

What do I know, now that I’ve reached my fifties? Most of it would just echo Oprah’s insights. I doubt the judges would be impressed by my advice to listen to their bodies, keep a journal, eat veggies with every meal, stop wasting food, be selective when considering which (if any) trends to follow, and do something creative every day. We all know that stuff, right?

“What I Know Now” requires a backward glance to what I didn’t know then. Having worked with teenagers for so many years has provided a better understanding of my own youth. Poor teenaged Rhonda thought she knew quite a lot about how to achieve the good life, but she didn’t know diddly-squat. Know-it-all teens are usually covering up deep insecurities; I sure was.

I didn’t know that my racehorse metabolism was a temporary gift from God, not something I’d earned. I get about the same amount of exercise now as then, but I’m sure not as slim as I was at twenty, even without the Friday-night binges with my army roommate—Doritos and Lambrusco. Blech!

I didn’t know that attracting boys/men would never be a problem. I mean, they’re guys. If you’re reasonably attractive, open and friendly, you’ll catch the eye of several potential partners. If this one doesn’t work out, the next one might, or the one after him. Back then, I was worried that my small boobs would prevent me from finding true love. Having met so many non-standard beauties with devoted mates, I know that we can blithely ignore the beauty industry’s strictures about must-have’s and must-do’s. Beauty comes in many flavors.

I didn’t know how to listen and learn from others’ experience. I could have saved myself a lot of heartache and frustration if I’d heeded the advice from the many wise older women I met back then. One piece that really stuck was uttered by a Southern lady I worked with: “Honey, ever’body has something to teach you, even if it’s how not to be.” So true. Now I pay attention to the wisdom of others, written and spoken. Teachers abound.

I didn’t know that most of life’s problems have complicated causes, and that everything is connected. As a young woman, I believed in simple solutions. Honey, ain’t no simple solutions. I now know, for example, that my bulging belly has to do with age, hormones, posture, my gut biome, my favorite (alas, far too sedentary) activities, heredity… There’s no pill, no diet, no one panacea that will suck in this belly o’ mine, and the answer lies somewhere between acceptance and vigilance.

It’s all about balance. That’s what I know now. Life is a balancing act—difficult to achieve, but with practice you reach that point where balance becomes automatic. You’re aware of so many factors that could blow you off-balance, but you breathe into your center, open your arms and your heart, and find that place where balance feels effortless. Work and play, together and alone, indulgence and discipline, serious and silly, a well-lived life requires balance. That’s what I know.

Now, if I can just think up a short story that illustrates that lesson.

Writers’ Critique Group and Ageism

writers-group-570x230

“What I know now” is the theme for a writing contest I’ll be entering later this year. Interesting. I can write a short story, personal essay or poem. I’ll probably write one of each and bring them to my writers’ critique group to help me decide which to submit. I’ve learned a great deal from my critique group–about writing, and also about the human condition.

“Diversity” is a word that’s often slung around these days. Usually, it refers to ethnicity, and sometimes to sexual orientation or religion.  A community certainly benefits from diversity, be it a school, a business, or a neighborhood. We’re enriched by exposure to smart, kind, creative people who are different from us in some significant way—such exposure humanizes the “other” and chips away at prejudice. Besides, the world is in such a mess that we need everyone’s talents to patch it up–everyone’s, not just the members of our own tribe.

My writers’ critique group is diverse in the usual ways, but also in a way that’s particularly important to me: diversity of age. I’m young for a retiree, fifty-three, but am living that lifestyle thanks to some good fortune—and a lot of hard work, thank you very much. And I’m already encountering ageism in surprising places, as well as from the usual suspects: the beauty industry, the fashion industry, smug thirty-somethings who’ll never, ever be old.

But back to my critique group.  Lately, we’re about evenly split between young writers and older writers, which is really heartening in a culture that tends to self-segregate by age. We range from early twenties to early eighties. The group is open to new members, who come and go, with a handful of core members like me who usually show up. Sci-fi is probably the most popular genre in our group, evenly split between the young writers and the over-fifties. We also see historical fiction, folk tales, romance, contemporary fiction, military fiction, short stories, blog entries, poems… Sharing our works in progress teaches us about the common struggles of writers—and the feedback we give and receive increases all our knowledge about writing.

At the risk of generalizing, I’ve learned that most younger readers prefer stories with lots of tension up front, whereas older readers are willing to let the tension build more slowly as long as the concept and characters are interesting. I’ve learned that kind, perceptive insight can come from surprising sources. I’ve relearned the importance of making criticism more palatable by sliding in some praise, even if I have to look very hard to find something praiseworthy. (I knew this from my many years of teaching high school English, but one sometimes forgets.) Don’t get me wrong—most of the material I’ve seen in critique group is good, and much of it is excellent.

I’ve learned a lot about story structure by reading genres that I would not ordinarily choose to read. I’ve learned about tightening a narrative to make it more impactful. I’ve learned about publishing opportunities. And I’m heartened to meet smart, creative young people with a genuine interest in the world around them and the world of ideas. I know a lot about writing and language, but I don’t know it all, and these young writers are helping me to learn more. It would be ageist of me to dismiss their input simply because they’re less experienced: good story is good story, and smart is smart.

I won’t say that connecting with younger writers “keeps me young.” First of all, that’s a ridiculously ageist cliché based on the idea that young is good and old is bad, which is false. Young is good; old is good; middle-aged is good—any age a human being happens to be is good. Working closely with writers of different ages reminds me that, at heart, we’re all (writers and fictional characters) motivated by the search for excitement, challenge, achievement, and love. I hope, I believe, that the younger writers are also learning from us older ones—that we’re just as human as they, and just as interesting.

A Writer Battles the Butt Bulge–or–Get Up Off of That Thang!

 

I really need all this space for writing!

I really need all this space for writing!

We’ve all read the stories: Sitting is the new trans-fat (or sugar, or gluten—name your favorite poison). According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, “A recent study suggested that sitting for prolonged periods increases risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer and death, even among people who exercise regularly.”¹

Well, y’all, guess what I do all day. It’s pretty hard to write fiction without spending several hours each day sitting. My mantra, posted on my wall, is BICFOKTAM:  Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keyboard, Typing Away Madly. Plus, in order to improve at my chosen genres (blogging, women’s fiction, mystery) I have to read widely and voraciously in those genres, not to mention books, magazines and websites about the craft of writing.

I find that reading while pacing about the house is a good arm toner, especially if the book in question is heavy, but leads to stubbed toes and worse. I do have one piece of furniture at about the right height for reading in a standing position, and I can sometimes be found there, plugged into my ancient iPod, doing a little shuffling dance while reading. Somehow, though, I find it more difficult to concentrate when reading or writing in a standing position.

Research bears this out. According to a study by the Draugiem Group, “…for tasks which require a creative approach—for example, thinking about a possible coding solution, or writing a great article—then the urgency provided by standing is more of a hindrance. We found that for creative tasks, sitting and not paying attention to your corporal self was helpful in letting your mind wander and explore creative options.”²

And writing requires more surface area than my little sideboard offers; in addition to my little laptop, I need note cards, pens, coffee, snacks, pages of comments from my critique group, reference books…

I do go to the gym pretty often, but one hour of exercise doesn’t counteract spending the rest of the day in a chair—and I’ve got the butt to prove it.

My internet search for “workout for writers” and similar terms led mostly to writing tips and prompts—all very well, but that won’t get me out of my chair. I did find this one, good for improving blood flow and de-tensing muscles, but most of these exercises are performed while seated. http://hearwritenow.com/articles/health/exercises-for-writers/

In the meantime, I’m trying measures like these:

  • Set a timer at 30-minute intervals. When it rings, get up and clean something. I tend to ignore most housework until it reaches out and grabs me—say, my feet encounter a sticky spot on the floor. This technique could kill the proverbial two birds with one stone, if I can only force myself not to ignore the timer. Or,
  • If it’s not pouring down rain (I live in the Pacific Northwest), suit up and go for a walk around the block. Or,
  • When the timer rings, get up and dance vigorously to one song. Making a playlist for this exercise will be fun. I’m particularly fond of fast Latin music.
  • I could get up and talk to Hubs. He’s currently recovering from knee surgery, so he’s at home all the time, poor man, when he’s not in physical therapy. But once I get involved in a writing project, I tend to temporarily forget the existence of other humans. It’s good for me to switch focus for a ten minutes and go connect, preferably while standing.
  • At the end of a chapter, get up and do an online exercise video. You Tube is a rich source of these. My favorite there is a Lebanese belly dance workout that lasts twenty-seven minutes. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8j0htqi76g

Sparkpeople.com also offers a whole library of exercise videos. This twelve-minute Pilates abs     workout is tough: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/videos-detail.asp?video=96

So far, my results are spotty, but I’m making progress in getting my butt out of the chair more regularly. How about you? Do you work in a chair? What do you do to break up long spells of sitting?

¹ Prolonged Sitting Linked to Serious Health Risks, Death, AAFP

http://www.aafp.org/news/health-of-the-public/20150127sitting.html

² We Tested Standing Desks—Here’s Proof They Make You More Productive, by Julia Gifford

http://readwrite.com/2013/09/26/standing-desks-productivity

 

 

 

NANOWRIMO 2015: Emerging from My Cave

Blink, blink. I slowly push open the door to my little green office and gaze in wide-eyed wonder at the world beyond. NANOWRIMO is over. Well, it’s not officially over until the 30th of November, but I had to hurry things along due to family visits at Thanksgiving.

This was my second time “winning” National Novel Writing Month. To win, you simply write 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days. I can’t claim that I’ve written a novel, since the average mystery novel (genre of my current project) is around 80,000 words, but 50K is an excellent start. No doubt, I’ll end up dumping some scenes that I wrote this past month, but having written them means that I’ve done some in-depth character study that will make my final story that much richer.

In fact, I started this November by attending Write in the Harbor, the first annual Gig Harbor writers’ conference, sponsored by Tacoma Community College. (It was good. You should go next year if you can.) Here’s my magic writing ring, a gift from that conference.

My magic writing ring from Write in the Harbor 2015.

My magic writing ring from Write in the Harbor 2015.

Garth Stein, our keynote speaker and author of Raven Stole the Moon and The Art of Racing in the Rain, told us that an early draft of A Sudden Light, his most recent novel, seemed flat. He decided to write the history of the family around which that novel revolves, and he ended up with a 100,000-word epic—which he threw away! I assume he didn’t actually dispose of the manuscript, but he didn’t use it in A Sudden Light. Stein assured us, though, that the effort was worth it, flavoring the novel that he ultimately published to great acclaim. So there you go—unused scenes are not wasted effort.

What I love about NANO is that it fosters good habits. Scientists disagree on how much daily practice it takes to instill a new habit; lately, we’re hearing that it takes sixty-six days. Ay ay ay! But that annual ritual of shutting myself up in my writing cave and pounding out at least a few thousand words every day is invigorating, and the habit has stuck. Oh, I don’t necessarily achieve 2K words every day, but I do write at least a few pages daily, or revise several, if I’m in that phase of a project. Some writers say that time spent pitching a project to agents doesn’t count—I say it does.

Since I’m writing a mystery novel, this year I experimented with more planning and outlining than I’d ever done before; I’m usually a complete pantser (no outline, write by the seat of your pants). From this post by sci-fi author Rachel Aaron, I got the idea of planning out each scene briefly before writing it. https://www.sfwa.org/2011/12/guest-post-how-i-went-from-writing-2000-words-a-day-to-10000-words-a-day/  Sounds pretty obvious, right? Well, I’m not called Late-Blooming Rose for nothing; this technique was new to me, but really helped with my daily productivity.

What’s really challenging about writing a mystery is that you start with the story of the murder, which I wrote in October, and then you go back and write the narrative of how the sleuth solves the mystery. It’s great fun to plant clues, but it’s challenging to give away just enough information about the real killer so that, at the end of the novel, the reader will say, “Aha! Of course it was him/her.” I don’t want the reader to figure it out in chapter ten of thirty, though.

The downside to my November troglodyte existence is—well, about three pounds, just enough to make my favorite pants too tight. Watch this blog for a future post: the NANOWRIMO workout. Let’s start with some desk-chair squats: down, up, down, up, feel the burn…

Happy final writing days to all my fellow NANOs.

Write on the Sound 2015

Write on the Sound

I had the great good fortune to attend the Friday and Saturday sessions of the Write on the Sound writers’ conference in Edmonds, Washington, this weekend. The conference was held in the Frances Anderson Center, a converted school building that now serves as a community center. From the generous deck area we had a lovely view of the Sound and, on Saturday, of a sailboat race. I’d never been to Edmonds, but will return soon to explore the many artistic shops and restaurants down near the waterfront. What a cute town!

This was only my second writers’ conference; my first, in Seattle last February, was an event for new writers sponsored by Writers’ Digest, and was mind-blowingly informative. Write on the Sound does not offer pitch sessions with agents, focusing instead on the craft of writing. There were many interesting topics to choose from, and I only had one clunker. I paid $180 for six sessions of instruction over two days, so I feel that I got a pretty good value for my money.

The highlight for me was Eric Witchey’s half-day session on emotion-driven fiction. He taught this high-energy class with lots of group interaction and humor, and I left with many pages of notes and a thick packet of materials. His techniques would enrich the writing arsenal of any fiction writer, so do take one of his classes if you ever get the chance.

I also greatly enjoyed a session that was actually not my first choice for that time slot: a discussion of the many freelance helpers a writer might hire: publicist, lawyer, editor, website designer, social media consultant, etc. This class was taught by  YA author Lin Kaymer and her publicist/editor Alice B. Acheson. These ladies really know their stuff and adroitly fielded questions from writers of all sorts. Excellent session!

I won’t tell you much about the clunker—I addressed that on my evaluation form. Let’s just say that this presenter didn’t seem to know much more than I do about her topic, and I’m a relative beginner, though I have made a point of reading everything I can find on this topic.

The chance to meet other writers and chat about their writing projects is what I especially enjoy about conferences like these. I met writers of memoir, short stories, science fiction, YA fiction, romance, crime fiction, historical fiction and nonfiction, and more. Especially lively was the discussion in my last session, a class on mystery/detective fiction basics. We crime fiction fans can be quite rabid in our enthusiasm. I now have a wonderful reading list to keep me warm throughout the long, dark winter. What’s better than a juicy murder story on a gloomy day?

The Pacific Northwest is fertile ground for writers’ conferences; I’m already signed up for Write in the Harbor, a smaller conference held in Gig Harbor on November 6 and 7. Just the thing to kick of National Novel Writing Month.

Write on!

What Would Lola Do?

I’ve been retired and living in Tacoma for nearly a year now. The most challenging aspect of starting this new chapter is making new friends. During my many years of teaching on military bases in Germany, I was thrown together with my fellow Americans, (why do I hear Richard Nixon’s voice saying that phrase?) and we formed a tight-knit little community—especially the teachers and their families, who didn’t quite fit in with the military folks. Here in Tacoma, I’ve tried out various activities: the gym, some volunteer teaching, a dance class, a writers’ critique group, and even a wine-lovers’ club. I’ve met some fascinating people, and we’re blessed with friendly neighbors, but making new friends takes time, especially in a place where most people are not newcomers and already have a full dance card.

That’s one thing I love about writing fiction: I’d like a circle of fascinating friends to hang out with, and I can easily create such people on paper. The fictional town where my current novel takes place is populated by quirky, artistic, bohemian types—just the sort of neighbors I’d like to have here. Of course, the character with whom I’m spending the most time is Lola, my protagonist. She’s fifty-three, a divorced mother of two who’s worked as a high school teacher of French and English while supporting her children. Now that both children are launched, a small inheritance and a bit of good luck have allowed her to retire early and move from Fresno to a coastal town in Northern California. Other than her former career and the color of her hair, Lola and I don’t have much in common, but she has many characteristics that I aspire to. (To which I aspire, if you insist.)

  • Lola is flamboyant—not because she’s looking for a reaction from others, but because she’s an interesting person and must express herself. Wearing flashy, bohemian outfits brings her joy, as does belly dancing.
  • Lola is fascinated by people, all sorts of people.
  • She’s open to, even eager for, new experiences. She’s game, a good sport, will try anything once.
  • She has a good eye for opportunities. For example, she’s always wanted to live in a cute little cottage near the ocean, and when the opportunity presents itself, she pounces on it.
  • Lola is artistic. She needs a daily infusion of beauty, and creates beauty in her home, wardrobe, and adornment. She also gets out into nature, goes to exhibits and performances, listens to interesting music while doing her chores…
  • She refuses to be bored. There’s always something interesting to do, and she’s the first one to find it. (That’s you, Diana.)
  • She’s not a show-off, nor is she competitive. Lola loves applause, but she doesn’t need to hog the spotlight, and she’s happy to applaud others. After all, people are fascinating.
  • Lola is generous, but seldom self-sacrificing. She knows that no one will ever care as much about her happiness as she does, and that’s as it should be. She cheerfully takes responsibility for creating the life she wants, and she’s comfortable saying “no” when others’ demands become too intrusive.
  • She sprinkles her day with little treats. She stops to smell the roses, listen to the birdsong, drink lemonade on the porch.
  • She’s a good hostess. She enjoys creating occasions and sharing them.
  • Finally, Lola is completely comfortable with her age. She had a grand time being twenty, thirty, forty, and she plants to have a grand time in her fifties, sixties, so on, as far as life takes her.

I’ve enjoyed spending time with Lola. Here’s to following her example, and to meeting some real-life Lolas.