ON WRITING

“It’s very easy to quit during the first ten years of writing. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.” Andre Dubus

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

GET HEALTHY BLOGHOP

Hello there! Thanks for stopping by. I know you've got a lot of hoppin' to do, so I'll just give you one hint that works for me.

I'm a writer and a teacher. Both sedentary occupations. I have to work at optimizing fitness into my time-poor day.

I love to run, so I run when I can rather than walk. I teach at the State Library of Queensland, now about 1 kilometre from home since I've moved (instead of 5 minutes), so I pack all my books, notes, pens and laptop into my smallest pull-along luggage bag and jog, jog, jog as much as I can with it bouncing along behind me. Helps to keep it nimble between overseas trips too...an added bonus. So my motto for getting/keeping healthy -- run, run, run....
Thanks to Stephen Tremp, Alex J Cavanaugh, L Diane Wolfe and Michael di Gesu for hosting this awesome, life-changing bloghop. A full list of participants is here.

  • If you think I'm not blogging anymore, think again. For some reason, my posts are not being updated, so I'm trying to fix the problem. Meanwhile, if you can remember to visit, I'd be mighty grateful!





Monday, 27 May 2013

LOCALE AS SETTING - KITTIE HOWARD LOVES LOUISIANA


Thank you, Denise, for letting me share a slice of Louisiana that's always in my heart. And, speaking of hearts -- yours is as big and warm as the Outback! The gracious and generous manner in which you open your blog to others brings smiles around the world. It's nice, really nice how you bring us together. Thank you!

When I started blogging, I had no idea the path would lead to writing novellas. But, little by little, my Louisiana stories seeped out. First came "Remy Broussard's Christmas," a fictional story with a very real setting. I sat where Remy sat in that rural, three-room schoolhouse with two grades to a room. Then came "Rings of Trust," a fictional story with a very real setting. The Ku Klux Klan had ridden against my grandfather to force him to sell off part of our farm. He didn't sell!

This September, "Bayou Princess" will follow, a light-hearted story about a young girl coming into her own. I'll then combine the three into a trilogy: "Remy's Bayou Road."

Everyone has stories. We were all kids who rushed home from grade school eager to tell our parents what had happened that day. Our eyes were wide. Our faces were flushed. We were excited.

Then, life being life, we got older -- and, little by little, we learned to control emotions. Perhaps we learned to see what others saw and not what we saw. Perhaps we got busy and no longer heard the train's whistle on a foggy day. Perhaps . . . oh, life's 'perhaps' is endless.

But the stories never died for any of us. Touch them, and they will jump to life.

Because my husband and I moved so much, both within the States and overseas, I had to keep touching my stories. Yes, we lived in some exotic places. But, still, outside of one's culture and one's language and away from one's friends and family, there were times, especially when dusk approached, when I needed to touch my stories. Without television, sometimes without a telephone (if so, no one to call), I needed to feel where I came from in order to grasp where I was. When I could hear myself giggle in my mind's ear, I knew the little girl in me was safe, and the bomb that exploded on the bus across the street the first time I went to Jerusalem hadn't injured her. Or the riots in Nairobi. Or . . . well . . . one learns that stuff happens. Life isn't always pretty. Imperfect people (that's all of us) have a way of messing things up now and then. And when that happened, I pulled from the stories I always carried with me in my heart.

Some snippets of what influenced my stories:

A dormant winter pasture on our family farm. When I was a kid, pecan trees and cattle were the main crops. But, little by little, hurricanes uprooted the trees. My brother didn't want to raise cattle, so some pecan pastures were cleared for crops, usually rotating corn and soybeans. When spring comes and there are fresh furrows, it's pure bliss to wiggle one's toes in the fresh earth.

Look closely. See those itty-bitty 'leaves' darker than the flatter grass? Those are stickers! When the weeds (for that's what stickers are) mature, little pointy things will stick into the bottoms of your bare feet. And you'll hop around to pull them out. We kids used to have fun, seeing who could run across a patch of stickers without hopping around. Stickers toughen you up in other ways -- no life is without stickers, mine included. I've learned there are times when one has to suck it up, do what one has to do, and get on with it.

My grandparents rest here, to the far left, in the lower middle.  More than any other single event, the years I spent on their farm (while my father commuted from LSU's Law School) influenced me the most. The setting is simple, uncluttered. But the stories on the stoop in the evenings ranged from silly kids' stuff to complicated issues of the day. And this is where my stories come from -- simple settings with the day's issues.

This was my father's first law office, located in a small town about 25 miles from the farm. (It's now a real estate agency). He later got a larger office, even dabbled in politics. Much to my surprise, politicians who 'attacked' each other in public were good friends behind the scenes. And few politicians practiced what they preached. (HA!) Anyway, the office is a tiny shotgun house minus a window on either side and so called because one could fire a shotgun from the front and the bullet would go out the back door. Shotgun houses in historic districts can be very expensive these days, especially in New Orleans.

Louisiana's water-logged. Bayous. Swamps. Rivers. Streams. Visitors fuss about the humidity all this water  helps create. But I miss it! I love the feeling of perspiration dripping down my neck and then a breeze comes along and ahhh! In all fairness, though, I think one has to be born into Louisiana's hot weather, especially what August brings.

Last spring, hub and I were leaving Avery Island, home of that Tabasco Sauce even Queen Elizabeth II loves,  and decided to stop and walk around a bit. This fisherman was happy to pose with the catfish he'd just caught. My grandfather taught me how to fish. In the beginning he'd cut and string my bamboo pole, but I always had to put the worm (or cricket) on the hook. Eventually I learned how to adjust the cork for a particular fish and so on. Now, fast forward -- hub and I are in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, Africa, at a safari camp. One of the excursions offered was a morning (fly) fishing trip. Hub and I signed up, as did others. And, yes, the fish god was with me! I cast my line out, and, well, within minutes pulled in four gorgeous perch, the only fish caught that morning. The camp staff grilled them around the campfire that evening with "When the Saints Go Marchin' In" blasting from somewhere. Well, okay, we'd all had a few glasses of wine and were doing the conga line around the campfire.
This is False River, about 35 miles north of Baton Rouge and Louisiana State University. We'd pile into cars and head for False River on Saturdays to go skiing. Way Back When, the Mississippi River cut a new path and left this oxbow lake behind. It's about five miles long and a mile wide. This photo was taken in December. During the spring/summer, the water's smooth and warm. Nice!
Although Morel's restaurant is somewhat new, it's typical of the eateries around False River. See the kid fishing on the pier? He can sell his catch to Morel's. One of its signature dishes is red beans and rice with a filet of fried catfish on top.  But LA cooking travels with me. We had stuffed eggplant tonight (here in Virginia). It's really easy to make and is even better the next night.

Houmas House isn't far from Baton Rouge, Louisiana's capital, and is one of many plantation homes that grace the area and are open to the public (admission charged). Others are family-occupied. My sister's godmother's family occupies Parlange Plantation, a working plantation, for example. I have fond memories of visiting friends and sitting with them on verandahs, like the one pictured above, and laughing and giggling, as kids do. We were too young to comprehend how old old really was, but we weren't too young to feel how the grace and elegance of old can soothe, sitting in a rocker and rocking away the afternoon with our chatter. Old was good, a part of our heritage that seeped in.

Christmas morning last year. Yep, I'm a Geaux Tigers diehard. My nephew sent me this LSU Tigers knit cap for Christmas. Hub and I were staying at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel, two floors down from where my great-grandmother lived after her parents died in a Yellow Fever epidemic and the hotel was an orphanage. We've stayed in the same room three years in a row. Each year there has been what the staff calls a 'sighting' or an 'occurrence' on my great-grandmother's floor. Some are convinced it's because I'm there, the closest known relative of any orphan to stay in the hotel. Ummm, don't know.

But here's a photo of the 'sighting' (on the left) someone took last Christmas.

What can I say? It's Louisiana.


Thank you so much Kittie, for such an informative post on your settings for your writing.  Your stories throb with realism due to your incorporation of your known setting and characters. Here is a link to Kittie's blog if you want to know more...or to see her books. 

  • How about you? Do you like to make your local setting real for your readers? Or do you like to read stories with setting as character?
  • Currently my blog posts are not being updated for those following via Google Friend Connect. I'm working on the problem. Meanwhile, I hope if you've come by today you will remember to come back until I'm on the blogroll again. I post Mondays and Fridays usually...








Wednesday, 22 May 2013

RomanticFridayWriters : LETTERS : A Letter From Flanders Fields, 1914.

RomanticFridayWriters is underway again, after an hiatus for the A - Z. We are an online writing community who write to specific prompts/guidelines on the third Friday of every month. Our work is open to critique as we aim to improve our writing in a supportive community. RFW is open to every writer. Feel free to submit your name to the linky each month. There are guidelines in the Challenges Page at the RFW site. Come on. We'd love to read your stories or poems. 

This month the theme is LETTERS. It is also to be multi-generic, incorporating letters in some way. I immediately thought of war letters.

Letters to a Lost Love
  
Have you heard from Jake, Anna?’ Her mother-in-law squizzed Anna through her lorgnette, tipping the handle imperiously. Even though Anna sat at the far end of the long  table, Florence’s face commanded her attention.

The wine glass tipped from Anna’s fingers. A violent splash of colour seeped like blood across the pristine linen cloth.

Anna dipped her finger into the spilled liquid and brought it to her lips, the acidity sharp on her tongue.

Jason spoke, his voice suggesting an intimacy that was purely imagined. ‘Anna. What is it, my dear? You’re as white as a ghost.’

Anna studied her brother-in-law across the table. Her cheeks grew warm as if the bitter wine had set a fire inside her. Her fingers played with the soft stuff of her embroidery which she always brought to table.

‘Anna? Are you all right?’ Jason pushed his chair aside, stood up and walked towards her.

She stumbled to her feet, dropped her thread basket in her haste to escape. The colourful spools fell to the carpet. She couldn't leave them there; she scooped them up and ran.

Jason’s voice chased her up the staircase. ‘Anna!’

Safely in her room, she wrenched the lock, stumbled into bed and wrapped herself in the quilt. She huddled in a ball, humiliated, miserable, overwrought. She imagined she could hear the conversation between Florence and Jason the minute she'd left the room. She’d heard it all before.

‘A nervy piece.’

‘Perilously unsocial.’

‘Can’t handle her wine.’

‘Wouldn’t you think she’d accept Jake wasn't coming home by now?’

‘He’s lost to her.’

‘She says she’ll wait forever, foolish girl.’

‘Never marry a soldier I always say.’

Jason would have the last word. He always did. Florence allowed him to dominate every conversation.

‘It’s a long time to be missing in action, don’t you think, Mother? Maybe he’s found a mademoiselle in one of those dingy, damp, grey little French villages. Maybe he’s decided not to come home. Grass is greener and all that...’

Anna crammed her hands over her ears to stop the voices. How many times had she been forced to listen to Jason and his mother discuss her situation like she wasn’t even in the room?

She lay motionless, watching the moonbeams on the lake reflect in her windowpane. She remembered the feeling of Jake in her arms, their bodies entwined in these same sheets, kissed by starlight. Oh, Jake, why did you go? I begged you not to go and leave me. Now Jason thinks he’s going to get what he’s wanted all along…me...your wife.

She reached for her Bible, a parting gift from Jake, (to record the names of our children, he’d said), and opened it to the page where she’d hidden it.

The letter was no longer crisp; it felt strange in her hands. She ran her thumb over the address:

Mrs Jake Penfield,
Bury, Chichester,
      West Sussex. England.

She reached for the precious picture of Jake she kept on her bedside table, the only one she had. She touched her lips to his cold ones, then lay the frame down gently. She picked up the document again and began to read...


DEAR MRS PENFIELD

IT IS MY PAINFUL DUTY TO INFORM YOU...MR JAKE PENFIELD...THE BATTLE OF YPRES... 

...DIED BRAVELY...DEFENDING HIS COUNTRY...


The sobs came at last…

***

Jason stood outside the door, listening to the harsh racking sounds.

‘Ah, my girl, he’s not coming back, is he?’ he whispered, just loud enough for her to hear.

‘Go away!’

‘I’m not going anywhere. I can wait, you know. I’ve waited a long time already.’

‘I’ll never marry you!’

‘I’m a patient man. I will have you.’

***

Anna finally slept. She dreamed. She woke screaming.

‘Anna! Let me in!’ The thumping on the door scared her more than the nightmare of Jake being gunned down, falling into the filthy trench, his feet eaten by rats the size of the hares in the forest where he once loved to hunt.

‘Go away, Jason.’

***

Anna reached for her journal, her most prized object which contained her innermost thoughts. 

Jake wasn’t coming back, but her love for him would go on. It would go on in her poetry.

She turned to the first entry, the one she’d penned the day that Jake said goodbye:

September 4th, 1914.

The story that I tell here
(As you’ll gather once you’ve read)
Is that when we weave with love,
We need no other thread.


With shaking hand, she picked up her pen:

December 1st, 1914.

Love’s the strongest thread of all,
It never really breaks
In parting it gets stronger
And greater love it makes.


There was no room for Jason in her life. Jake had always been her love, no matter how his twin had lied, cheated and fought in his efforts to steal her from her true love. Anna knew Jason’s motivation wasn’t really love—it was more that he couldn’t stand his older brother winning…again.

Oh why couldn’t it be Jason who went to fight the Battle of Ypres? Why did her darling Jake have to fall at the first battle? Which German soldier shot him? Or did he die from poisonous gases?

Answers to these questions fuelled her nightmares.

The journal was too painful. She’d write a few more lines, then lock it away forever, like her heart:

December 10th, 1914.

My story’s told, dear journal,
But what’s not yet been said
Is how many times both hope and faith
Have hung just by a thread.


Anna reached again for her Bible. She turned to the page where she would add the name of Jake’s child. 

She stroked her tummy then collapsed onto her bed.

 ©DeniseCovey2013
WORD COUNT: 948

Full Critique Acceptable

Sources: Original document: http://www.greatwar.nl/frames/default-feared.html
Journal: http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-ynceq7RQgIQ/UAMJ0JOlXZI/AAAAAAAAC_A/uxfJgoPTr7M/s1600/DSCF5037.JPG&imgrefurl=http://creativecafegirl.blogspot.com/2012/07/vintage-junk-journals.html&h=1600&w=1470&sz=519&tbnid=aebp1pJHbGR_EM:&tbnh=90&tbnw=83&zoom=1&usg=__xMySogOKq3tr2EuE7OilgIOyp7g=&docid=VliT3mNTiWguvM&sa=X&ei=GoiIUZDqDePoiAeyoICABQ&ved=0CHkQ9QEwFg&dur=7911
Poem excerpts: The Red Thread, a love story. Author unknown.



I hope you enjoyed my story, LETTERS, for the multi-generic RomanticFridayWriters prompt for the month of May. Click here to read more stories.

If you're up for a little June romantic writing, the month of June will be devoted to romance and weddings at RFW. Each Friday there will be something happening - a book review by Donna, a guest post by romance writer Kate Walker (with a giveaway), and prizes for the best entries for June Wedding. The challenge will be to write flash fiction or poetry to 1,000 words, incorporating a wedding any way you like. This can be hearts and flowers, a 'til death do us part' dark tale, or twist up a fairytale wedding from one of your favourite fairy tales. Prompt will be published at RFW on June 7 with further details. Posting starts on June 21.




Monday, 20 May 2013

Locale as Setting : J L Campbell's Jamaica

Today I welcome J L Campbell to my blog, to continue the discussion of how authors use their local settings for their novels or implement scenes from their travels into their stories. Jamaica is still on my To Be Visited list, so I enjoy my visits to Joy's blog where she often posts pictures of her island. Take it away Joy...


Denise, thanks so much for having me. 

As a traveller, Denise won’t be able to relate to my next statement, but I haven’t left the island of Jamaica other than a trip to Cayman years ago, however, I’ve been taking armchair trips since childhood.

Coast of Ocho Rios
Like Denise, I started reading Mills & Boon novels while I was elevenish and still in primary school. Boy, did I enjoy those stories about people living in exotic places. I also took trips to Greece and Africa via Gerald Durrell, who wrote My Family & Other Animals and other stories. 

Scotland was also wonderful to visit with James Herriot in the All Things Bright & Beautiful Series. Travelling with Mark Twain through Europe and the African continent in the Innocents Abroad was an experience I’ve never forgotten. China and Japan are also fascinating places I’ve only visited through books. 

I came away with visuals of faraway lands from the novels I read, which stuck in my head for years, but I didn’t realize the role and impact of setting/s in a novel until I started writing.

At the writing network where I was a member, people expected Jamaica to come alive as my stories unfolded. When I didn’t include enough of the setting, readers would ask ‘Where is Jamaica??’ That experience trained me to add Jamaica not only as setting, but as a character in each novel.  It also taught me that Jamaica made my work unique, although I’ve been told by a publisher that ‘Jamaica is a hard sell’. I believe I’ve done a decent job of fleshing out the island when I take a sampling of Amazon reviews for my books. 

For many, reading is about escapism and I also enjoy that aspect of literature. At the end of a book, I like to think I’m well acquainted with the characters and familiar with their corner of the world.

In my own writing, I try to capture Jamaica through all the senses. There’s the smell of the sea, the caress of the island breeze, the sparkling waters of the Caribbean Sea, the thunderous crash of water cascading from mountain to river and the taste of fruits such as Otaheite apple, Jackfruit and Ackee, which is one half of our national dish. 

Ackee & Saltfish
I sometimes include actual places (Dunn’s River Falls) and landmarks (the National Stadium), which add a dose of reality to my stories. And then there are the not so nice communities. The local language, Patios, can be hard to understand, I include it in such a way that readers won’t be drawn out of the story while trying to translate what’s being said. 
 
St. William Grant Park in Downtown Kingston

Coronation Market in Downtown Kingston

Old Court House in Half-Way Tree


Dunn's River Falls

Giddy House @ Port Royal after 1906 Earthquake
  
Rose Hall Great house a la Annie Palmer, the White Witch of Rose Hall
 
Scene from Half-Way-Tree

 
Another landmark-St. Andrew Parish Church. Welcome to the 1600's
 And some places even find their way on to book covers. The shot was taken in Half-Way-Tree. The clock in the background is several hundred years old, but of course, it's been restored. 


 For me, the best novels include not only memorable characters, but interesting plotlines and a backdrop that comes to life as the story unfolds. Do you add your setting as another character? If not, how do you ensure your characters interact with your locale to enrich the tapestry against which your story unfolds?

Last time we checked, Joy was seen wandering off on the hunt for story-making material. She writes romantic suspense, women's fiction and young adult novels. Her website is here and her Amazon author page is here.

Thank you for visiting today Joy. And thank you for more scenes of Jamaica. Love how you've included a home shot on the cover of Don't Get Mad, Get Even.


  • How about you? Joy asks us whether we add setting as a character. How do you get your characters to interact with your locale? I, for one, wallow in wonderful books where the setting is a character.