Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Z is for Zinc

  A preliminary review of A-Z challenge and how it went, since this is a zinc blog and all.

So, yeah.... the training wheels came off this past week or two, and this blogger bit the dust.  Even with posts half written, I just couldn't quite find that inner something to dig deep  and WANT IT. Guess that's why I'm a struggling novelist/fiction writer and not a wannabe professional blogger!  At least not yet anyway. The final current count stands at four missing posts - P, R, X, Y.  As three of those are partially written, who knows, they may still show up today.

Overall though, I've found this challenge very worthwhile.  It let me meet so many incredible bloggers out there, most of whom I plan to keep reading after this month is over.  If I've commented on your page during the past month and its not AC (sorry! I read at work sometimes), you've been added to my feedly account.  If you don't think I've discovered you/added you to my list of reads yet and you would like to be added, just comment on this post!  I will hop on over lickety-split to check your page out.

This challenge also pushed me into writing different kinds of posts than I typically have in the past. It was fun; it was interesting; and I am very curious to see how it influences the kinds of writing I will do here in the upcoming months. One thing I can say for sure though, this has decided me on knowing that I am not the kind of person who will blog every day.  It interferes too  much with my other writing.   I could, however, stand to be more diligent about when, what, and how often I post

Thank you so much for reading and journeying along with me this month! You are greatly appreciated, whoever and wherever you may be.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

W is for Wonder

  W is for Wonder

Good books and good coffee.

Celebration and hints of green in the cold of winter.

A sentinel of upcoming spring 

 Connections. Wide open space. Horizons.

A touch of snow to decorate spring with a hint of whimsy.


Friday, April 25, 2014

V is for Voice Journals

Voice Journals  are a new "tool" in the character building workshop that I have been trying out.  I first heard of voice journals when I was hop-skipping around  the book The Art of War for Writers   by James Scott Bell.  In it he writes
The voice journal is my favorite way of getting to know a character.
A voice journal is simply a character speaking in stream-of-consciousness mode. You prompt the character by asking the occasional question, and then just let your fingers records the words on the page.  
’s essential that you do not edit as you write. It’s best to write in five- or ten-minute chunks, without stoppingIt. Over and over again.
(- If you want to see a longer excerpt of Bell's essay on the voice journal, see Alan Rizler's post on the topic.)  
I also stumbled on a version of voice journaling while listening to an interview by  Steven Moffat over at the BBC Writer's Room.  (Moffat is the writer behind the BBC Sherlock series which you should definitely check out if you have somehow managed to miss this great show.)  In it he talks about finding the voice of his character's by first writing pages of dialogue for them, until they say something he thinks is truly them. Then he scraps everything else and starts over with just that line.  Since he has created quite a multitude of characters many of us also eventually come to love, it is obviously a process that works well for him.
Of course, I tried them out when I was already feeling blocked, which only lead to a voice journal like this:

Director: Morning. Casting calls have finished. Characters are sitting in the waiting rooms ready for interviewing and life story recording.

Author: Sigh. I don't know if I'm ready for this.  (I start shifting toward the door)

Director: Stop right there in your tracks. NO edging out of this one. We've done our part. The characters have shown up.  Time to start talking to them. Or listening anyway.

Author: But...

Director: No buts. Just get in there and start listening. (shoving Author toward the character rooms) Seriously get in there. I'm flipping the switches for them to start in about t minus 45 seconds, so you'd better find your way to your first  character before then.

With  another sigh I slump my way toward the sounding booths and prepare for a long afternoon.  What if this story didn't work. What if this motley collection of characters couldn't be pulled off.  It was all going to be down to me screwing it up.  After all the work everyone had done. All the characters brewed and created from scratch.  Here I was about to start designing a story world for them and crafting their official voice. Botching it up.  Grrr. 

As I entered the long oval room, all in white with leather padding on the ceiling, the lights for the central room began to dim. Along both sides ran a row of gleaming windows into individual rooms. Each of the rooms was lit from within, the window framing a character. Each a character had a protrusion of wires and tabs connected to their scalps, linking them to a projector that could shower their room with flashes of  images from their memories.

Director:  Places everyone!

With the third sigh in less than a minutes, I slumped into the comfortable chair in front of room one and propped my feet up on the available foot rest.    Somewhere a buzzer sounded.  I pulled out my notebook and paper and slid on the special head set and glasses attached to the back of the chair.

Might as well take notes.  Easier than getting clubbed by the Director.

Hmm. Perhaps channeling my inner angst wasn't quite what I was going for.  What about you? Have you tried voice journals for getting at your characters?  What has been your experience?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

U is for Uvula

There are so many words in the English language. So many beautiful words. Things like uvula and verdigris and patina and susurrus and round-about and pluviophile. So many words to just roll around in your mind and feel the edges of them, let their meaning bloom in your mind into a particular, detailed thing.
I don’t stop and marvel often enough. Like seeing the most incredible miracles every day and just letting them slide around me in the commonplace. Instead of grabbing on to the wonder.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T is for TED Talks

T is for Ted Talks.  TED is an amazing project, and I have spent many hours watching talks on interesting and amazing things.

Here are a few videos for inspiration on creativity and fear and finding your voice.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S is for Silence and Solitude

 (I have been out of town the last few days visiting family, but posts for P and R will appear ... sometime. Perhaps next Sunday as a double post.)

Silence can be a blocked voice, a page of a book you (we) are writing where you don’t say what you mean.

Solitude can be a place apart and removed from community.

They can also be good and necessary things.  Hallowed, luxurious spaces to sit and be. Where you let the worries roll away and the sounds filter in.

Welcome little bird, back for the spring. Welcome rain drops murmuring on the roof, washing the world clean and fresh again. Welcome sunrise, with your soft glow and your gentle mist. Welcome place to let the soul fill up. Welcome time to “get the work done”. Welcome other half of life, jut as needed for creativity as the people we call loved ones, friends, colleagues, community.

Wishing you at least a moment of open space and silence and solitude today to say I am glad to be here.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for Questions

Questions can be hard, but they can also be fun or meaningful.  Questions can take us places we might not have thought to go. Help us clarify our thinking about something. Let us see things...better or differently or from a broader perspective. Their answers may even loosen our fingers to let go of things we are doing, or choices we are making, because they are not actually doing what we thought they were.

Having passed the midpoint in the A-Z challenge now, it seemed a good time to pause and think about my experiences so far and to begin framing things to think about after it is finished.  Questions I might ask myself include-- Have I grown as a blogger in participating in this challenge? In what ways? Have I connected with other writers and bloggers in a meaningful way? What do I want to take out of this challenge? Are there types of writing I hadn't thought much about before that I should be cultivating?  Are there topics I might want to explore in the future that I wouldn't have thought about before? What do I want my blog to be about moving forward?

On her blog, writer Justine Musk wrote an entry about starting a blog as a fiction writer.  In it she urges us to consider using the questions that drive us or intrigue us as the thing around which we circle our posts.  She writes-
"[As] fiction writers, we have our obsessions: those questions that we’re compelled to ask again and again, entering the same theme through different doorways, like Monet and his water lilies or Degas and his dancers. 
How could you take one of those questions and put it at the center of your blog?   
Instead of using it as a catchall drawer for random musings, why not turn your blog into a personal quest through asking, researching and answering or exploring different aspects of that central question? 
It could be spiritual, emotional, or social."

What about you?  Are there new (or old) questions you are asking yourself about your blog or your writing as we work through this challenge together?  If you are completing this challenge for the second plus time, how is your experience different this time?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for OpenSimulator

Have you ever wanted to try your hand at making your own virtual world?   OpenSimulator might be your (our) chance.

I'm not a gamer, but ever since I stumbled across this tutorial by Alpha Rats I've had it on my list of things to "try" someday.  What can I say, I am a bit of a sucker for gadgets and toys, especially if you can just click buttons to create things or try them out.  Something to do on a rainy Saturday when I'm busily avoiding writing...

What about you? Have you ever designed a world or an image?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for Night Circus

A magical book of fantasy and intrigue if you are looking for a  good read.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for Morning Pages

  If you've been around the writing or arts community for any length of time, you've probably heard of Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way or Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones at least in passing.  Both of them recommend doing morning pages - an exercise in daily stream of consciousness writing, a kind of moving meditation, to get the brain unstuck and the creative juices flowing.  (Here is Julia Cameron's more detailed description of morning pages.)

The main thing, really, is not to get too stuck on specifics. If you'd rather type them, type them. If it's easier to fit them in before you fall asleep at night, do them then.  There's magic in them whether you do them "right" or not.  And, over time, they begin to their work.

 Since it is late, and my brain is too tired to think clearly, I am going to offer up a bit of my own stream of consciousness thoughts on the subject done just now as part of my belated morning pages entry, rather than trying to wax on coherently on the topic.

What do I tell them about morning pages?  Morning pages are stream of consciousness at their most dizzying. Without an anchor of topic beyond the fluffed up brain stuff meandering endlessly on repeat between the ears.  You are guaranteed the mother of all rollercoaster rides if you keep them up.  Sure there are pages, there are days, there are endless repetitive riffs of boring stuff and nonsense conversations  with yourself you wish you could get out of.  It is the other stuff, the unexpected gems that you are panning for in among the gravel and the dirt.  And oh, how shocking, and surprising, and glittering they can be. 

I started them "seriously" somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen months ago (Jan 2013).  Before that, I'd started them ... an unknown number of times.  Without success. I put too much weight on them.  I thought they had to be good. I thought they had to be quality. Forget that. That just gets in the way.

Since then, they've become  a life line. A way of getting words out on the page.  Who knew half of "writer's block" is having too many stopped up, un-thought, unspoken words crammed up in all the nooks and crannies of the brain and chest and heart until there's no space for them to move, let alone come pouring out on the page.

So now I do them; and life and art and I go better.  My black gel pen and my battered wide ruled composition books and my stolen minutes, not always in the morning or even all at once.


If you don't keep them now, I dare you to try them for three months.  You'll be amazed at what they come to mean to you, even when they literally say "nothing".

Monday, April 14, 2014

L is for Life and...

L is for Life and Laughter. Lists. Leonardo da Vinci. Light coming in through the window. Letting go. Letting in. 

I hope for all of you that your lives this week are filled with Lots of Good Things.

 (a random photo with lots of lights from about town)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

K is for Kaleidoscope

Did you have one of those wonderful kaleidoscope toys? Cardboard tubes filled with bits of colored plastic. Point it at the light and away with the fun.  A bit of cheap joy.  Though I wonder if they would be as cheap to buy now? Probably not.   They seemed so ubiquitous when I was kid.  

I loved how a quick flick of the wrist could change the colors and design. Each new combination just as beautiful as the last.  Insta-art at its best.  This Silk app reminded me of that.


Friday, April 11, 2014

The Silent Room, Part 19

Number 11

Behind the brilliance, circles of white wrapped around and around into a tall dome somewhere above his head.  The Silent Room, Bailey thought, as he came slowly into the awareness of being present in his physical body again. The machine arm that had come at his head earlier was no longer in front of him, though he could still feel a helmet on his head.

Looking down at his feet, he found he was standing on a hexagonal plate set into a white tile floor.  He shifted his shoulders slightly, finding them stiff and sore.  Then he reached up slowly with his right hand to see if he could push the helmet off his head.  It came away easily, clattering in the stillness. Like a hundred tiny cymbals.  It was the last thought in his mind before pain began to explode outward along every nerve fiber in his body.

It started from his left eye, radiating back and through his brain, then down his spine, then out from his core, dancing down his shoulders to his fingers, down his legs to his toes. A scream ripped from his lips as the world blacked out, and he dropped to his knees.

After a minute, the pain vanished almost as quickly as it had started. A flash of lightening pain, draining away out his fingers and toes like so much electric current leaching into the ground.  By then he lay curled up on the floor, ragged and exhausted. Eventually, he forced himself to struggle against the limpness of his body. Time was running out. They'd know he'd beaten their game already. It was only a matter of minutes, seconds even, before the guards descended on this room and dragged him away to something even more horrific. He had to get out. Now. There would be no second chance.

Somehow, with more energy than he had in his reserves, he got turned over on his hands and knees and began dragging himself toward where the doors had been. He couldn't see them outlined in the brightness of the white light, but he remembered them. He'd find them and claw them open with his bare hands if he had to. It took nearly everything he had in him to make it those few feet. It felt as though he was dragging bricks with every movement. When he had nearly reached the side of the dome, the wall in front of him suddenly retracted outward to reveal a door frame. His sigh of relief was short lived. On the other side, stood a doctor with a syringe already in hand. Defeated, he let his head and shoulders slump to the floor.

J is for Joann Sfar

  Joann Sfar, if you haven't discovered him yet, is a talented French graphic novelist (plus artist, novelist, film director, etc...) who is also quite prolific. He has a real way of capturing life in his drawings and of incorporating pieces of his cultural heritage into his stories.  I mention him here, because I heard him say something in a documentary last summer that has stuck with me.  "Reality is to an Illustrator, what Exercise is to the Athlete." 

He also went on to say (and please forgive me for the terrible paraphrase; I only have what I originally scribbled in my notebook and not the actual text for reference),  "sometimes I need to draw what is right in front of me.... sometimes there is a dog and I just need to start drawing the dog.... When I was drawing the different musicians for Klezmet, I found I had to learn to play the instruments myself in order to get the hands right, to look natural.  The hand is like a cup of water, taking on the shape of everything it touches, having no shape of its own...." 

It got me thinking about how I might be overlooking the practice of writing as I chip away at turning one or another of my stories into more polished, finished versions.  Do I regularly take the time to sit and observe, and then describe on the page, the what and who right in front of me? Does doing so add depth or nuance to my writing in a way that is moving me forward in my "craft" over time?  Do I get out of my own way and let go enough of what I am trying to do in my storytelling to see what actually is?

Still mulling it over to some extent, and not sure I've really gotten to the root of it.  But I've written a lot more prompts over the past year, and I've rewritten the quote as a shorthand reminder to ground myself in my writing when my mind starts trying to launch my stories off into the fantasy stratosphere.  Perhaps you'll find it useful as well. 


For those anywhere along the writing path, I'd be curious what you think.

Addendum:  I stumbled across this Write Practice entry this evening, and I think it says what the Sfar quote says, in a far more practical way.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I is for Idea Buzz

We all have something that makes us energized and happy in a way other things don’t. Something we crave like chocolate or coffee. It may be exercise, or getting out among trees, or having loud, noisy debates with friends. And if we don’t get it, well, all cylinders may be firing but the usual oomph just isn’t there.

Me? I need Ideas with a capital I. Give me Google search; give me TED talks; give me NPR radio like Q or This American Life or Splendid Table; give me long tangential conversations with my brother. Just give me ideas.

Good idea, bad idea…unless its a topic I care passionately about, that part doesn’t really matter as much. It’s not the weight of the individual idea that’s important. It’s the possibilities associated with it. The ping, ping, ping of connecting ideas.

It took me a long time to realize that it was an actual thing I needed to make space for in my life, not just something that was nice to do.

 What about you? Are there things you’ve found you need to do regularly to keep your energy and creativity levels up and humming?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

H is for Happiness

I have had collage on the brain lately, having come into a new supply of discarded magazines from work. Cutting out words the other day, I held the traditional phrase “Live Happily Ever After” in my hand. And realized for all the fairy tales and Disney movies, I’m not such a big believer in the existence of such thing. After all, bad and difficult things happen all the time, even in the best of moments. But cutting off those last two words “ever after” gives me a phrase I can much more easily subscribe to.

Live Happily

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

G is for Gratitude and Gratefulness

  (Today I am keeping it very simple.)

David Steindl-Rast talk on cultivating gratefulness in the present moment. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

F is for Father

Good evening, from Jim, sporting his new do.

Never thought I'd see the day you could pull off a mohawk as a badge of honor, dad!  Or the day we'd be glad you had four new holes added to your head. Love you. And so glad you are on the mend.

F is for Father.  I am very grateful for mine. I got a good one.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

E is for Empty Out

  As a saver and a packrat, I have perhaps come more slowly to recognizing this need within myself than perhaps someone else might have done, has done.  About a year ago, at the prompting of my dear friend Anna, I started keeping a daily journal of stream of consciousness thoughts or "morning pages" as we worked through the book The Artist's Way by  Julia Cameron. Since then I have been keeping them for most days. At first I just thought they were an interesting idea, but the longer I have kept them, the more I have found them essential.  They are a space to throw all those random fragments of ideas or emotions or daily frustrations and let important things begin to bubble up and through.  Somehow that process of emptying out yesterday leaves me with more space in my life for filling up in the present moment- whether processing or creating.  A way of making time bigger Perhaps it is a bit like meditating, except more active. Making it more likely to be something I do.  I am paraphrasing slightly, as I can't remember his precise words, but MZ summed it up well when we were talking about it this morning-  You have to empty some of the water out of your bucket from yesterday, in order to have room to put some of the water from today into it.

It makes me curious about how others approach this, though.  Are there ways you empty the mental bucket in order to make more effective room in the present? 


Friday, April 4, 2014

D is for DIYMFA

  As a "weekend" writer with a day job, keeping the inspirational fires stoked enough to just get the story out on the page can seem to take all the extra time there is.  Trying to also put together an intentional plan for furthering the craft of my writing? That can seem like a task better left for another day.  That's where finding a good writing community to push you forward and encourage you can become especially important. (Thank you, Arlee Bird, of Tossing It Out for putting together this writing community A-Z challenge and giving us the space for encouraging each other on our writing journeys! And thank you,  Sylvia, of Sylvia Writes for letting me know about it.)

I've been lucky enough to find several of these communities, especially online. The one I'm going to mention today is  Gabriela Periera first began to work on this website when she was finishing her own MFA program, as a way to keep learning in her writing after she left school and as a way to offer something to those of us for whom a grad program in writing is just not an option.  She has a wide range of articles and guest posts and a great (free!) writing workbook that makes that "intentional planning" a whole lot less overwhelming. In it she walks you through some simple exercises to begin putting those big picture pieces together of where you want to go with your writing in the next few years and what you need to do to get there.

Already planning to block off some serious time this weekend on a particular writing project, but wishing you didn't have to go it alone? Now's a good time to jump in and test out her site.  She has a major Weekend Sprint planned for this Saturday and Sunday- complete with videos and inspirational prodding.

Are there other websites or online "programs" that you have found particularly helpful in pushing you forward in your writing?  I'd love to hear about them.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

C is for Cancer

 (On a much less light-hearted note...)

For six letters, the word carries so much weight.
At its easiest, its a small skin change on your forehead or your nose or your cheek from too much time spent with sunburn that can be frozen off or sliced off and forgotten.

At its difficult, its the shocking, horrifying word spoken by a doctor, that shuts down your brain and forces the world to close in around you, the rift opening where there was none before. That terrible moment of diagnosis when you find that word suddenly attached to you or to a loved one. A word, a label, that will never come off, even if it is lucky enough to have the word “survivor” tacked after it.

At its hardest, its all the long wound that comes after that first shock. Its the waiting, and the treatments, and the battles you watch them fight when all you wish is that it could be taken away. Its the tear of grief after grief. The grief that widens into a canyon at the heart of you in the aftermath. A canyon that you hope will become a scar, one day. A canyon or a scar that you will carry forward with you every day for the rest of your life.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

B is for Babar

If there was a Velvetine rabbit in our house when I was growing up, it was Babar, king of the elephants. Well.... Matthew and Jenny and Polly and Dalenna Thea would probably beg to disagree that he was alone in being well loved, but as there haven't been books and movies written about them yet, I will leave them aside for the time being.

Babar arrived in a suitcase, with an aunt, visiting from far away England.  With his bright green suit and his shiny crown and at least one book detailing his past adventures in the country of the elephants, he quickly enthralled us with his stories. From there he went everywhere.  (But especially wherever my sister went.)

For tea parties under the apple tree.

Or dress up parties.

Or on searches for Ping on the Yangtze River.

Or to an upstairs window to watch hay baling.

Or tucked up tight under the arm of my sister (Tinbugs) when she went to surgery for tubes in her ears.

He was quite taken by the hospital and thought seriously about spending an extra few days there. Tinbugs was not convinced. Neither was Mom.

Now, in  his "latter years"  (shh. he's still young at heart and doesn't like to be reminded), he spends his days in relative ease, avoiding the limelight. Sometimes he chats with one of his authors or illustrators, but mostly he ignores their calls.  Occasionally he goes for a "run" in the early spring air or out for a stroll to check up on how the new batch of lambs is coming along. Back in younger days he used to play king of the mountain with the lambs, waving his trunk and trumpeting with glee when they wiggled their tails.  Now he mostly offers commentary from the sidelines. 

He was so excited about being featured here, that he talked Tinbugs into taking some portrait shots so he could proudly show off his best side.


"Check out my feet. Maybe I could run a 5K if I had surgery!"

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A is for Astonishing

I decided to kick off the start of this month of blogging insanity with a prompt.  The word prompt for today's entry came from my friend Copper.

Woven in among the cords of thread in his grandmother's kitchen rug and nearly hidden by a heavier blue cord was a single silver thread, almost metallic, that didn't quite seem to belong.

"What's this, Grandma?"  Tollie had asked once when she was small and inquisitive.

"The rug. Now, Tolliver Elizabeth, get your grubby hands off my kitchen rug and over to the sink for a good scrub with soap and water.  We've got cookies to bake."

Outside the walls of that small house, time and the world turned.

The rug was passed on to Tollie's mother, and then to her, and then to one of her granddaughter's.  No one seemed particularly intrigued that a kitchen rug could stand up to such regular and repeated abuse as languishing under foot on the kitchen floor of five generations of Martins. It was just "Nana's rug", and she had been good at making stuff that lasted.

Eventually another three or four generations of Martins on, Caden Elias thought perhaps it ought to be donated to the National Museum. It was in such good  shape for an "old thing" and a relic of "before".  The curator thought it looked like a piece of art, so he logged it in the annals with a asterisk to come back for examination and then stored it in the basement archives.

Several generations on from that a lowly textile art student, searching through the archives for anything interesting that might be of use for her thesis on textile art remnants from old earth, pulled it out and took it to the university for study.  Her boyfriend (a physicist) happened to stop by when she had it out and became fascinated by the silver thread.  He did some investigating (and with a bit of subterfuge performed a few tests as well).   Only then did the truth of the silver thread come to light.

The missing Epythelius Cord that was unreproducible and whose mysterious loss had stranded their star ship colony on Megasus when it had originally only been planned as a month long refueling pit stop.  Many of the colony had built a community while the engineers worked out an alternative. (It had taken several months.) 

Even more surprising?  The rug turned out to be the handiwork of the captain of that flight, Star Captain Elizabeth Martin, who had stayed behind with the starter community when the ship had eventually flown on without them.