By the Shores of Gitche Gumee

ls-shorelineStanding on the shores of Gitche Gumee, fwatching the waves crash onto the black rocky shore, it didn’t take long to understand why the Native Americans often called it the Big Lake of Shining Waters.

Not just for its massive size (it is the largest fresh water lake by land area in the world), but for the way the sun leaves a reflective trail on the water for most of the day, at least this time of year.

The English settlers chose a less descriptive name, but still accurate: Superior.

I couldn’t help but wonder what the first settlers to the area thought when they came upon this massive lake.

lswaterfallThe Native Americans, migrating from the west would have come to the north shore after passing through the boundary waters and some rugged hills, past waterfalls and sheer rocky cliffs.

The Europeans, coming from the east would have already passed the other Great Lakes. Many were seeking passage to the Pacific Ocean. Their first sight of Lake Superior might have made them think they’d succeeded. Had they found an ocean?

All kinds of possibilities came to mind.

The lake itself is ferocious. A gentle wind kicked up 2-foot waves. They crashed into the black boulders that formed the shoreline, spray leaping twenty feet into the air. I could only imagine what it looks like when a storm hits.

And storms are what the area is known for. The Edmund Fitzgerald, immortalized by Gordon Lightfoot, went down in a November gale. When shipwrecks had become extremely rare on the other Great Lakes, they weren’t unheard of on Superior.

There’s a wildness to the north shore, as sense of adventure and exploration, called into being by the clash of the lake’s waters on the black rocks of the shore.

We only saw one mood of the north shore, the quiet of early November after the leaves have fallen, the season of patient hunters instead of busy boaters and hikers. The calm weather is treasures, knowing the wrath of storms that pummel the area most autumns.

ls-viewThe winter becomes busier, with skiers who take to the slopes, rewarded with a stunning view of the lake from the top of the mountain

As I think of the moods of the north shore and how they could fit into a novel, it strikes me that this is a place where on the surface, nothing happens. But the conflicts that rage, like the waves that hit the shore, are eternal, and because of that, nearly invisible.

Posted in Travel and Places | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Conviction of a Multitasker

albert-einstein-401484_640My husband has recently become enamored with some of the wit of Albert Einstein. One of the quotes he’s shared with me is “A man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is not giving enough attention to the kiss.”

Who knew Albert was such a funster?

Still, I have to laugh at myself. For I am an unreformed multi-tasker. I’ve been wondering why I’m not making better progress. I think it’s because I’m multi-tasking too much and not giving each project the attention it deserves.

In our world of multi-tasking it’s easy to try to do two things at once. After all, who doesn’t want to be efficient? We all only have 24 hours in a day, so use them wisely and well. That’s what many of us we live by.

Life itself has a way of interrupting our plans. Last month I had to take time out to renew my driver’s license. Next week, we have an election. And it’s open enrollment time for health benefits. Then I need to start thinking about Christmas.

How I long to be able to have only one thing in my list!

On the other hand, I thrive on the variety.

If you’re like me, you find it easy to cater to a short attention span by doing more than one thing at a time. That way boredom doesn’t sink in.

Heaven help us if we ever have a moment of boredom.

This double obsession with efficiency and constant stimulation takes its toll. It’s so easy to become distracted and give only a piece of our attention to the path we are on, side tracked by a shiny new object ahead.

The old, now boring task gets neglected.

And therein lies the rub.

Just when the work gets a little difficult, we drop it.

No one ever get better at anything by giving up with the going got tough.

The other thing is we need the boredom. I read an article that said the worst things parents can do is constantly entertain their children. It’s when the children become bored that they use their creativity to entertain themselves.

So it is with us. When we are bored with a task, that’s precisely when we’re most likely to get creative with it, if for no other reason than to stop the boredom.

There’s an old story a time management expert told about teaching his kids to make a game out of irksome chores. Tired of washing dishes? Pretend you’re in a prison camp, having to clean up for your jailers. Or see how long it takes you to wash with your left hand versus your right.

But whatever you do, focus on the task at hand. Give it the attention it deserves. (Hint: just about all.) You’ll get it done faster, will enjoy the process more, and will feel less stressed out because your mind hasn’t been pulled in six directions at once.

So I’ve given myself this pep talk. I’m convicted. I need to reform.

But how?

Attack my to-do list?

Revise my list, to focus on one project at a time?

What do you think I should do?

 

 

 

 

Posted in Life | Tagged | Leave a comment

Between the Leaves and the Snowflakes

late-fallThis month my writer’s group came up with the prompt “between the falling leaves and the first snowflakes.”

Here is where my imagination took that:

It happened in a blink of an eye, like the time between the last leaf and the first snowflake. I know, some years we go a few weeks after the wind has blown the last tenacious leaves from the branches they cling to before we see those first soft specks floating in the chilly air.

But lots of years the snow flies early. Sometimes even while the leaves are still swirling in the streets, piling up in the corners of the porches and gathering around the shrubbery and the dried remnants of the hostas.

This year was different, like a perfectly orchestrated ballet. Those final hardy leaves gave up and fell to the ground, almost as if they knew their time had come. They did not fall in a straight line, but let the wind take them, now swooshing higher, now twisting lower.

Within seconds, the next group of dancers appeared on the scene, the gentle snowflakes following the leaves ever downward. They, too, circled and spun, making patterns that only they understood as they let the inexorable force of gravity draw them to the ground, where they would melt in an instant.

As I sat in my car, idly watching the leaves, then the snow, I waited. Waited to see if my suspicion was correct. I hoped I was wrong. I so wanted to be wrong. But all the evidence pointed otherwise.

It all hung on the identity of the two meeting in the bar. If one or both were strangers to me, then I could breathe a sigh of relief. I still wouldn’t have any answers, but at least the horrible alternative wasn’t true.

A man came out. I held my breath. This one I knew as no good. But who was he with? A few snowflakes fell as the man looked over his shoulder and smiled at the man behind him. Another heartbeat, and I saw him and felt my world fall apart, as desolate as a barren forest in late fall.

The two man stood on the sidewalk, chatting. They shook hands and parted ways. But in that instant of time, like between the final leaves and first snowflakes, as definitive and irreversible as the change of a seasons, my world died and turned to ice, I knew. My father had in fact ordered the hit on my mother.

Posted in short fiction | Tagged | Leave a comment

What I’ve Been Reading

dsc02910Life is swirling around me like the autumn leaves before a stiff wind. Still, nothing can get in the way of me finding a minute or two for a good read. This month I found three worth sharing.

Lexicon

I picked up Lexicon by Max Barry because it had been praised by one of my favorite authors. We clearly have different tastes in fiction.

Having said that, I can see why so many people have enjoyed this novel. The concept is simple, but fascinating. Words have the power to persuade, and have been used for centuries, back when those who used words for their own gain were called sorcerers.

They’re still around, and active. Emily Ruff recruited into a secret organization because she has some kind of talent for language. She’s not sure what it means to become a poet, as they call themselves. But they appear to be set on taking over the world, through the power of words.

The story isn’t told chronologically, which makes things a little confusing, as do the constant shifts from Emily’s story to that of Wil, who was kidnapped from an airport. His captors claim people are out to kill him because he survived something he shouldn’t have. The problem is he has no idea what they are talking about.

This is one thing that makes this book a little difficult. Both Wil and Emily are swept up into events that they don’t understand. Since the reader is seeing through their eyes, the reader has no clue either. Much of the story is about Wil and Emily trying to figure it all out.

Which actually made for more interesting reading. I kept trying to guess along with them.

It’s a suspenseful thriller, well-written although a little heavy on the cursing. Lexicon would be a fun read for anyone who enjoys gritty, action packed speculative fiction.

Shudder

Shudder is the second in the Stitch trilogy by Samantha Duarte. I read the first one a few years ago, always meaning to come back and read the rest.

Shudder didn’t disappoint. It continues Alessa’s adventures after her escape from Paragon. She’s conflicted about trying to help the rebellion to overthrow the oppressors, wanting to just take the only people she has left with her somewhere safe.

But she has to face the facts that safety won’t be that easy to find. She has no idea if the virus that took out most of humanity is still circulating, and she’s followed by strange, sub-human beasts and plagued by disturbing flashbacks. Slowly she begins to learn what’s really going on, and faces greater horrors than she imagined.

A Pair of Docks

Jennifer Sinclair’s time travel novel is a fun read with lots of twists and turns. Fourteen-year-old Abbey Sinclair and her brothers accidentally find a portal to other times. After one of the brothers starts receiving strange and vaguely ominous emails, Abbey and her brothers set of trying to find out what the portal is for. When they realize that their mildly autistic neighbor may hold the key to understanding the portal, things only get more complicated.

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Finding New Reads

books-colorfulFinding a new book to read is like going on a treasure hunt. I open the pages, hoping to immerse myself in a new world and get involved with characters I start to care about.

Sometimes it works out that way. Other times, the adventure turns into a slog through an unreadable or just mind-numbingly stupid mess. Or something in between.

But there is a way to find new reads without spending a lot of money. I subscribe to two book referrals services, and there are lots more.

Here’s how they work.

You tell them what genres you like to read and supply your email. Then you’ll get daily updates about books, all available in electronic formats. Many of the books are free; few are more than $3.99. Keep in mind, the deal won’t last for more than a few days, so if you want the book, go ahead and get it.

I’ve learned to check the reviews before getting any of these books. A novel can have a hundred glowing reviews, but still be pretty bad. The negative reviews can reveal major flaws, objectionable language or other information that would cause me to pass.

In case you haven’t tried one of these services, here are some of the bigger ones:

Book Bub

BookBub.com has loads of categories, ranging from Advice and How-to to Thrillers, and all kinds of other popular genres. They sell through the largest retailers: amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple iBooks, Google Play and Kobo.

Book Barbarian

BookBarbarian.com caters to the science fiction and fantasy reader. Like Book Bub, most of the books are free or heavily discounted. They work with the major ebook distributors, so you can read your books on computer, phone, tablet or Ereader.

What Should I Read Next

Another great site to try is WhatShouldIReadNext.com. Simply type in the title or the author of a book you’ve enjoyed. A few choices will pop up. Click on the best match, and the site will generate a list of similar books.

Which Book

Found at Openingthebook.com, Which Book lets you set criteria for what you’re looking for. They have a list of 12 criteria (happy vs sad, no sex vs lots of sex, and so on.). You can click on a criterion and adjust the slider as you please, choosing up to 4 to manipulate. Then the site generates a list of books that fit your choices. No reviews are given, so you’ll have to look them up on your own.

Are you up for trying any of these? Let me know what new favorites these sites help you uncover!

Posted in Reading | Tagged | Leave a comment

What Trump and Hillary Have Taught Me About Writing

presidential-election-1336480_640When I take a step back from my reactions to the churning of this never-ending election season, I realize it is providing great fodder for my writing.

Here’s what I mean.

During the past few months, we have some revelation of some low-down dastardly dealings by one of the candidates. Opponents pounce, declaring him/her to be the Worst.Person.Ever.

Reactions from supporters, however, vary. Some will be somewhat intellectually honest and admit that yes, their candidate was wrong to say x or do y.

Others will twist themselves in knots that would make a sailor proud trying to explain away or even defend the offensive speech or behavior.

That intrigues the writer in me. Do these people really believe the words that are coming out of their mouths? Or do they so passionately want their candidate to win (or the other to lose) that they will say anything to try to help the cause?

What does all this have to do with writing?

I see two major lessons.

The first is people often don’t really say what they are thinking or believe. As in the case of those who are becoming human pretzels to defend Donald Trump’s choice of language on multiple occasions. Or those who try to defend Hillary Clinton’s laughter as she recounts getting a 41-year-old man off a charge of raping a twelve-year old girl when she knew he was guilty, and she won her case by destroying evidence and blaming the victim.

So if people don’t really say what they believe, or resort to verbal gyrations to defend an indefensible position, then that provides some guidance for writing great dialogue, dialogue that sounds true to life.

Especially when the reader knows the person is lying, and the other characters don’t.

There are many ways to have a character win an argument, especially if they don’t have facts or right on their side. Name calling, playing holier than thou, ignoring the other person’s argument, willfully misunderstanding and misquoting, all these tactics can work.

The other lesson is in creating villains. Donald Trump fits too many stereotypes. Billionaire, crude, bombastic, he’d be too easy to make a caricature of.

But Hillary. The grandma in a pantsuit, claiming to be the champion of the poor and downtrodden, while behind closed doors telling people she has public and private positions, and allegedly destroys those who get in her way.

She could be the basis for someone really interesting, like a fictional character with completely different public and private personas. Or someone who started out with high ideals, out to save the world, determined to succeed. The zeal for the cause corrupted her, and she became an obsessive monster.

I think there’s a start of a novel here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Upside of Second Place

silver-medalThree times I’ve competed in the short story contest my writer’s group holds each year.

Three times I’ve come in second.

Sigh.

Coming in second is that place of being where you wonder if you’d just made a little bit more effort you could have won. Could I have tweaked a little more, found a better word or a fresher metaphor? What could I have altered that would have vaulted my story into first place?

The downside of second, apart from that not-quite-good-enough feeling is the temptation to listen to the voice of the inner critic.

You know, the one who says, “You’re not good enough. You’ll never be good enough. There’s no point in trying.”

There’s lots of quotes from successful people who say second place is a place for losers. Not exactly a motivating thought.

But if I remind myself to tune out the inner critic and listen to the voice of reason (when it does bother to speak), I get a different message.

First, second place is better than third. And it’s a whole lot better than fourth, or last.

Most people never make it to second place. So it’s a position to be celebrated. As Lauren Alaina said,

“I didn’t lose. I got second. That’s still winning.”

Second is the place that just a little more effort can put you into first. Second is where you dig a bit deeper and make yourself better than you thought you could be.

Second can be a very motivating place to be. The only losers in second place are the ones who allow it to discourage them from pursuing their dreams, or who are content with second.

The true winners who come in second are the ones that rejoice that they did as well as they did, and then channel that joy into making greater efforts to get to first.

And that’s where I am today.

The goal of the contest is to help us all become better writers, so everything learned by participating is valuable. I’ve learned a lot over the years about dialogue and scene, and how to tighten up the action or create conflict or suspense.

And besides, sometimes an early victory can lead to a later defeat.

Just think about the movie Star Wars. The original movie won awards only in the technical and soundtrack categories. But it went on to become the first in a wildly popular franchise that has made millions.

So it goes to show. Awards don’t mean everything. But they sure can be nice.

Posted in Life | Tagged | Leave a comment

Urgent Doesn’t Always Mean Important

housewife-23868_640I love reading books written in the early twentieth century, because they give a glimpse of the attitude of the people of the day toward the amazing, almost daily changes in technology. New inventions that had been just a dream, or the stuff of Jules Verne became realities.

But these advances were not without a down side.

In several books, characters commented on the introduction of the new-fangled telephone, and what having that device installed meant for them.

The phrase “living at the mercy of the telephone” summed it all up.

A shrill bell began to dictate that they drop whatever they were doing and respond to whoever wanted to talk with them.

So modern life began, an era when anyone can get in touch with us at almost any moment. For some reason, a telephone caller became more important than the person sitting in front of us. Or the work we were so diligently trying to complete.

Now there are a myriad of ways for people to find us, to interrupt us, to distract us.

Which isn’t good for getting things done. No wonder there’s a new productivity guru every day, with a new system or magic tips to help us.

When I boil down all their advice, it comes to a few simple things.

Get rid of distractions, they all say. Facebook, twitter, the football game, even the cell phone. Turn them off, mute them, remove them from your reach. All those annoying pings that tell you someone has sent you a message? Either turn them off or put your phone somewhere you can’t hear it.

Banishing distractions is just the first step.

The next one is to figure out what’s important.

We know the distractions are not. That’s why we call them distractions.

But we respond to them because they are urgent. Those tones, beeps, and chirps all signal us to think if someone is calling, it might be important.

What we fail to remember is that what is urgent is not always important.

The truth is whatever the caller wants, it’s rarely so critical that it’s worth stopping what you are already doing. You can make your weekend plans later. Or chat with your sister later. Or even answer your financial advisor at another time.

Whatever it is, it can probably wait the hour or so it will take you to finish what you are doing, or at least come to a good stopping place.

And this is the trick. We’ve all become so accustomed to instant answers, we subconsciously feel we need to provide them.

We don’t. We need to learn to screen out the tasks that are screaming “I’m urgent! Pay attention to me!” and listen to the tasks that more quietly request our attention, the ones that truly are important.

I write this for me, as I try to schedule in time to revise my novel. Hope it help some of you finish what’s important in your life, and to put off the merely urgent.

 

 

Posted in Life | Tagged | Leave a comment

Benefits of Beta Readers

 

Or, Fortune Favors the Bold

readingNearly two years ago, I was stuck. I knew I couldn’t go any further with my novel without some help.

So I started looking for beta readers.

It’s not easy finding someone to read a draft of a novel, let alone find someone who will offer helpful criticism.

I submitted the first chapter to a few review sites and got some initial feedback. One person said my world building lacked something. He suggested I read the works of LE Modesitt as an example of awesome world building.

After reading one of Modesitt’s novels, I still didn’t know what to do. The other commenters offered conflicting advice.

Then I found one person who read the entire book. She had some helpful comments, but I wanted a bigger sample.

So I tried GoodReads.

This was an interesting and enlightening experience. I found a thread in the forum where people swapped beta reads.

Through the swap, I read some original and interesting novels, most of which were well-written and engaging. I offered my suggestions for improvement as diplomatically as I could.

Some of those who reviewed my book were not so kind. Snarky, condescending and downright insulting is what I would call the comments from one.

Another didn’t finish the book, stating while she thought the writing was good, there were too many unanswered questions, so she got too frustrated to continue.

That was interesting. It somewhat paralleled the “world building is lacking” comment from another reviewer.

At that point, I got distracted by some family issues and other projects, and kind of lost my nerve about reading the comments from the last two reviewers.

So a year later, I finally got back to the beta reading comments.

To my surprise, both of them offered thoughtful and detailed comments.

One suggested starting the story a little sooner, to give me a chance to show the world in a larger setting so readers would be more grounded in the world I’d created. Reading this comment was like having a light shine on a dark spot in my mind. I finally understood the “world building is lacking” comment, and the other reviewer’s frustration.

Now I know exactly how to fix this problem.

The other reviewer was very good at picking up times when characters acted out of character.

Both reviewers were good at picking up inconsistencies: “I thought he was already in the house” or “didn’t he just accuse her of the opposite?” They also spotted repetitions and noted scenes that seemed to make the action drag.

And I know what to do about all of this.

The lesson is that fortune favors the bold. I took the risk and put my work out there. Sure, I didn’t get rave reviews (not that I was expecting them at this point.) What I did get was enough encouragement to continue, and some specific ways to improve the telling of the story.

What a great feeling to be back on track!

Posted in Writing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Reading for Summer Rainy days

raindrops-1127223_640Summers, I love to be outside. But when rainy weather keeps me indoors, there’s nothing like a great book.

Lately I’ve found several that drew me into their worlds and kept me there, entranced by the story and eager to know what happened to the characters.

The Pearl that Broke its Shell

The Pearl that Broke its Shell by Nadia Hashimi is one of those books that will stay in my mind for a long time. The stories of two Afghan women are woven together, showing the similarities of struggle and hardship they faced, even though they lived nearly 100 years apart.

Rahima is one of five daughter living under Taliban rule. Their drug-addicted father does nothing to support his family, and their only option is to use the ancient custom of bacha posh, or dressing a daughter like a son until she reaches marriageable age. Rahima is chosen for this role, and as a boy, can freely attend school, visit the market, or even just leave the house.

It comes to an end when a vicious warlord sees her and wants her as a wife. Just thirteen, her father gives her in marriage. Her life has gone from difficult drudgery to near slavery. Her aunt buoys her spirits with tales of her great-great grandmother, who also lived as bacha posh to build a life for herself.

The Pearl that Broke its Shell is difficult reading at time, as the conditions and hopelessness of the women’s lives is both heartbreaking and enraging. What emerges is a testimony to hope, that escapes can be found in the most unlikely ways. And that bad events may be what is needed to gain the courage to make a change.

The Keeper

I had been resisting Amish fiction for years. But the enduring popularity of the genre made me wonder. So I decided to give it a try.

The Keeper by Suzanne Woods Fisher is a romance starring Julia, whose fiancé has just postponed their wedding for the second time. It becomes clear to her that Paul’s cold feet are likely to be permanent. Then she finds out Rome, the Bee Man, was responsible for Paul’s change of heart.

How Julia navigates her family’s growing financial problems and deals with her conflicted feelings for both Paul and Rome is a sweet story. It wrapped up a little too neatly, but that’s a minor flaw. If you like clean romance, this is a great choice for you.

Contact Us

Contact Us by Al Macy is a new twist on the aliens-have-arrived theme. Everyone on Earth sneezes, at the exact same time. Before sense can be made of that event, an alien spacecraft appears and broadcasts a message of death and destruction. Bizarrely, the message is from an alien who has taken on the form of Walter Cronkite.

The alien seems to be both threatening and offering to be Earth’s only hope against another alien ship which is hovering around Jupiter. Jake Corby, ex-FBI troubleshooter, is called out of retirement to help the President’s team defeat the alien threats. The struggle to understand the motives of the alien before he causes more destruction kept my attention till the very last word.

RIFT

Rift by Andreas Christensen is an interesting twist on a dystopian theme. A few hundred years after the disaster, it appears society has been rebuilt. The main characters are mostly several young people who have reached the age when they are assigned their roles in life. Most of the options aren’t very appealing, but some better than others. The smartest are chosen to be Students, the strongest, Janissaries, soldiers who defend the land’s northern borders. Others are chosen to be Wardens, who guard the western border and the Rift, the border of the wastelands. Others are sent to the Corpus, where they toil as slaves. Those not chosen live out their lives, but at fifty they are put to death. No resources can be wasted on those who can’t produce.

Sue and her friends are selected to be Janissaries and Wardens. They quickly learn that much of what they’ve learned was a lie. The more secrets she uncovers, the greater danger she finds herself in.

The world building got me hooked, and the characters kept me interested. This was so enjoyable I got the second book. Then I found out that the RIFT series follows another one. I’m intrigued enough to want to read that one as well.

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , | Leave a comment