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Posted in Adventure Fiction, Book Club Discussion Guide, Coming-of-Agency Fiction, fiction, Historical Fiction, India, Women's Fiction

Book Club Discussion Guide for Song of Herself

Book clubs abound in every rural town, city and suburb. They are a great way to look at books through the eyes of others, a way to share your enjoyment of reading, and build friendships.

If you are in a book club and would like to visit with me, as author and the mind behind the story, I’d be happy to zoom or attend in person, depending on the proximity to your club.

Take a look at the book club discussion guide below. Are there other questions you would like to frame for your group? I’d like to hear them.

  1. Though this fiction story is set in 1906, current research (https://ifstudies.org/blog/how-dads-affect-their-daughters-into-adulthood) tells us that the role of a dad in a girl’s life helps her develop her confidence and resilience. How do you see this play out in Fiona’s case? What does she accomplish as a result of the presence of a strong father and supportive uncle? How have you seen this play out (or not) in your family or extended family? 
  2. India is a country of paradoxes. If you have been to India, what contradictions did you experience? What incongruities did you see in the India that Fiona experienced in 1906? What’s the importance of examining two sides of a coin—in other words, two sides of an idea, a belief system, or cultural norm?
  3. Can you imagine being alone on a ship with a bunch of men? Would you have found the same kind of comfort and support from Jacob as Fiona did? Could you have survived the forced confinement for weeks? To be held back from the very thing Fiona wanted, an adventure to learn from every things she could not in Iowa, was a great loss. What things that happened in the story showed that loss to you?
  4. What kind of traveler are you? Armchair traveler, who wants to see the world through a character’s eyes like Fiona? The kind who will spin the globe and take off? Or the kind who will choose and plan a trip with great detail? The kind of person who enjoys luxury or budget travel? What do you gain from travel, regardless what kind of traveler you are?
  5. Religions around the world all differ and all have some elements in common. What do you see in Jacob’s Native American heritage that is common or different to your religious traditions and beliefs? In David’s Quakerism or Religious Society of Friends? In Ameera’s Hinduism? How does she explain being Hindu and Christian Quaker simultaneously? Can you accept this dichotomy? Why or why not?
  6. Relationships between men and women are fraught with romance, conflict, and the pleasures of companionship. How did you see Fiona navigating her relationship with David and with Jacob? What does she gain and what does she lose in the final confrontation with each man?
  7. If you were to rewrite the book, how would you want it to end? The same or differently? What would have to change earlier in the story, to create a different ending?

Please share your question about the book you would like to discuss with your group or club. I may add them to the discussion guide. Thanks for sharing.

If you haven’t gotten the book, take a look.

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1639885501

Ebook: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BDK7Q54J/

If you read the book, please leave a short review of two or three sentences on Amazon, what you liked, what you found intriguing, or what you discovered about yourself in reading the book. Thanks, so much!!!

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Posted in adventure, Adventure Fiction, Coming-of-Agency Fiction, Historical Fiction, Women's Fiction

DEMYSTIFYING THE CREATION OF A NOVEL

IDEA CREATION

Idea creation is often mysterious and vague. But I can recount the two specific events that led to the creation of my protagonist, Fiona Weston, Song of Herself.

The first. I took a walk in Spirit Lake, Iowa, after conducting a workshop in the early 1990s. I meandered down a lane of houses built on the lake. One house had a large letter, F, encircled on the side of the garage—like you see on ranches in Texas.

My imagination leapt to the attic of that garage with an old trunk and a woman named, Fiona, who was going through the trunk with a young girl at her side. They were reliving Fiona’s life.

The second. Several weeks later, I woke up from a dream in which my fantasy Iowa woman, Fiona, stood dressed in an outfit that looked like it was from India. I didn’t know what it was until weeks later when I described it to a Pakistani friend, who said it was a salwar kameez.

The morning I awoke from that dream, it continued to unfold in my mind during the next several waking hours. The skeleton of a story. It clung to me as a baby monkey clings to its mother.

A NOVEL IN THE MAKING

In the coming weeks, I wrote a three-page story for my writing group. They informed me that it was definitely a novel. There was too much there for a short story.

I balked and brought them an expanded ten pages and later twenty-five pages to show them I could tell the tale in short form. They insisted it was a novel and Fiona was begging me to tell her story.

In coming years, I took a novel writing class at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival in Wayne Johnson’s class. During my one-on-one with him, he informed me I didn’t have a 300-word novel, but a saga, one that could yield 600 pages. I won’t print my reply.

THE CURRENT BOOK, SONG OF HERSELF

In the end, the book turned into a 480-page book. If you have the book and are reading it, you may be interested to know the story took new twists and turns in the writing process. New characters and events beyond the skeleton grew out of the writing process.

My dream life set Fiona on a journey of a lifetime.

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM NOVELS?

Journeys of this importance create chances to open our eyes, our minds, and our hearts. They show us what we can become.

We can build confidence (self-assurance and the ability to make decisions for ourselves), resilience (adaptability and flexibility, the ability to the bend and sway as life throws obstacles), and agency (the ability to organize our lives around what is best for us, choose who and what we take with us, and take action to make these things happen).

These are things all individual need to learn for themselves as they mature. But it is especially critical for women (in our culture, which makes them second guess themselves too often) to take the reins of their lives to give the world the best they have to offer.

Fiona’s journey opened her eyes to different ways to live, seized her mind to realize she could think with an open mind, and captured her heart to know she could be who she is and to live openly and unafraid.

HERE’S HOW TO ORDER, SONG OF HERSELF

The novel’s protagonist, Fiona Weston, an Iowa horsewoman in work boots and trousers, sails to India in 1906 from San Francisco to discover her journey is not the quest for which she had yearned, nor the escape from those at home who ridiculed her unconventional ways. Fiona’s journey is fraught with obstacles that create a sturdy sense of self.

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1639885501

Ebook: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BDK7Q54J/

If you read the book, please leave a short review of two or three sentences on Amazon, what you liked, what you found intriguing, or what you discovered about yourself in reading the book. Thanks, so much!!!

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Posted in Adventure Fiction, Debut Novel, Historical Fiction, Women's Fiction, Women's Fiction

My Debut Novel on Sale, September 9

My debut novel, Song of Herself, goes on sale today Friday, September 9, 2022, launching from Amazon.

And I want you to have it in paperback ($17.99) or Kindle ($7.99)—your preference.

Help me reach my goal of 100 copies of the books sold on September 9th this week.

The Book Can Be Order on Amazon

 
 
If you read the book, I would appreciate a quick review of 2-3 sentences on Amazon as a verified reader, or on Book Bub, Goodreads, or any other book app you use. Tell what you liked about the book and why others readers might be interested in it, too. Thanks a million!

Book Description

The novel’s protagonist, Fiona Weston, an Iowa horsewoman in work boots and trousers, sails to India in 1906 from San Francisco to discover her journey is not the quest for which she had yearned, nor the escape from those at home who ridiculed her unconventional ways. Fiona’s journey is fraught with obstacles that create a sturdy sense of self.

 

Six Reasons to Read

  1. If you read historical fiction, you’ll experience the 1906 San Francisco earthquake through Fiona’s frightened eyes as she leaves her brother’s body behind to sell her uncle’s quarter horses to the British Indian cavalry.   
  2. If you prefer travel adventure fiction, you’ll experience sailing the Pacific and Indian Oceans, while an attraction between Fiona and the shipping agent smolders.
  3. If you enjoy absorbing other cultures, you’ll be riveted as Fiona navigates Calcutta (Kolkata) ruled by the British Raj, its history, the Hindu religion and caste system.
  4. If you need a little romance, Fiona will choose between two men, the engaging, free spirited shipping agent, or the intellectually intriguing Quaker missionary who needs a wife. More importantly, she will choose herself above all others.
  5. If you want conflict, she encounters similar men who deny her place in the world, as she did at home. From the shipmaster to the crew to the military purchasing agent.
  6. If you lean toward women’s fiction, you will find Fiona’s journey fraught with hurdles where she learns to accept irreconcilable differences and still sing her song of self.  

 

 

I will appreciate your review of the book on Amazon!

When you read the book, I would truly appreciate a 2-3 sentence review, as a verified reader. It helps Amazon put it closer to the top of what they show to interested readers. Thank you!

 
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Posted in Cultural Sensitivity Readers, fiction, Historical Fiction, India, Novel writing, Travel Writing

Cultural Sensitivity Readers are a Must for Novelists

Have you ever read a novel and noticed that something did not fit in the historical period or in a certain part of a country? That is every novelists’ fear—and certainly was mine.

That’s why I asked two people whose hometown was Kolkata to read through my novel before it was completed to make sure I had things culturally correct, as well as locations and descriptions captured as accurately as possible for the early 1900s. One person was in her thirties and the other in her eighties. Both were true Bengalis.

One of the two “beta” readers—think first reader to catch mistakes or cultural sensitivity readers—explained that painting henna onto the hands and feet of brides was not done in the province of Bengal, ever. Henna hands culturally did not belong to this region . So I had to take it out of my novel.

Rather than let that scene go to waste, I decided to share it with you today. Let me introduce the characters. Fiona is my protagonist, hailing from Iowa; Ameera is her Indian hostess; and Basanti is the bride they are visiting just days after her ten-day marriage ritual has been completed, which included painting her hands with henna. I hope you enjoy the scene and the visual examples of what they call mehndi (in English, mehendi) hands.

Mehendi Hands (A Scene from the book I couldn’t use.)

Basanti greeted Ameera and Fiona with “Namasté,” while they slipped off their shoes in the entryway. Fiona, embarrassed by her heavy work boots, placed them next to fine slippers, and silently promised to buy a pair for herself. When the new bride offered them a seat, Fiona saw the intricate henna stain snaking up the woman’s arm, a cluttered and confusing design.

After formalities, Ameera asked Basanti to show Fiona her palms. The warm orangey-brown henna ink climbed up the young bride’s wrists and wrapped to the forearm.

“Basanti’s mehndi hands are drawn with henna stain. A family member is typically the artist, like her sister-in-law.”

“Is that tradition?” Fiona asked. Tradition in Iowa consisted of a white or cream-colored dress, if the bride could afford it, then something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, as the old adage went. Fiona had always thought it a lot of hoop-la, but nothing compared to this.

Ameera said, “Yes, a family member fits the art to the couple’s sign.”

“The couple’s sign? What do you mean?” Fiona asked.

“Their Vedic zodiac sign. If one is a Taurus, for instance, then a bull will be drawn. If they are from a particular caste, then certain gods may be etched to bless the couple.”

Fiona scanned the bride’s hands. “Why are the fingertips a solid color?”

Basanti said with delight, “My new sister-in-law, my husband’s brother’s wife, believes dark fingertips are a sign of good luck. She brought this tradition from her family to her husband’s—now it will be my family, also.” She allowed a slip of a smile to show pride in her new family. “I am pleased by the depth of color; I hope my touch will always be firm and healing.”

Fiona noted, “No two fingers are alike.”

“It is indeed special as a gift from my new sister. Do you not agree?” 

“Yes, most beautiful.” Fiona was unaccustomed to using superlatives.

Basanti continued. “On the third day of celebration, the henna painting took place. My husband could not take me to bed until he found our names inscribed on my arms. He saw his name quickly but looked and looked for mine.”

She rolled her eyes. “Teasing me, he found mine before he even saw his own.”

Fiona, ill-at-ease with the topic of newlywed mating, changed the subject. “It appears the color is already fading in places. How long will it last?”

Ameera leaned forward to answer. “Basanti is not allowed to do housework until it is worn off. But by not working, it will last longer. Rubbing cream on it also makes it last. A husband may wonder, but he does not know it can be gone in days without much attention to delay homemaking.” The three laughed at keeping this kind of a secret. 

Basanti confided. “I have watched henna painted on my sister, cousins, and friends, as new brides. I longed for my mehndi hands,” touching the red dot on her forehead, “and bindi.” American women used rouge on their cheeks, face powder, and lip color, but nothing as showy as this.

Basanti lightly rubbed her arms, admiring the art. “The day the henna stained my skin, I felt the most beautiful I have ever been. I now feel my inner light illuminating.”

Fiona did not grasp what it had to do with getting married. Too much ceremony for her.

Ameera riffled the bracelets on Basanti’s wrist. “These are a gift from her aunt and uncle. She wears the red ones a year to show she is a newlywed. Then her husband’s parents replace them at the end of year with gold or brass ones; and she takes over responsibilities of the entire household.”

Basanti said, “Many Hindu couples rush to marry the last week of April, like we did to avoid May, an inhospitable time of year to wed. Wednesday is the best day of the week, but also, our Vedic astrologer searched the position of the moon for us to determine the best time. It bodes well for our future together.” 

Fiona admitted to the two women, “This is a bit overwhelming to me.”

When Ameera rose to leave and bid her friend farewell, Fiona pulled her boots back on as gracefully as possible and knew to expect the same slight bow and the “Namasté” greeting as they left.

Walking back, Fiona’s thoughts were all a-jumble by arranged marriages, superstitions, painted hands, signs, and bangle bracelets. In comparison, weddings in Iowa now appeared lackluster.

****

Please sign up with your email address, if you haven’t already, to get future messages from my blog. And stay on the look out for my upcoming novel, Song of Herself. Pre-order information will be coming soon. Thanks for stopping by to visit. 

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Posted in Adventure Fiction, Coming-of-Agency Fiction, Debut Novel, fiction, Historical Fiction, Historical Fiction, Travel Writing, Women's Fiction

Sample from My Debut Historical Novel

The book title from my historical novel, Song of Herself, is a take-off from Walt Whitman’s poem, “Song of Myself” from his book, Leaves of Grass.

Here are three short paragraphs from early in the book that introduces Fiona, her brother Will, her Uncle Louis, and the shipping agent Jacob, as well as her use of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

~~~SAMPLE 3 paragraphs from the BOOK~~~

“Her Uncle Louis had read from Leaves of Grass to her since she was little and gave Fiona her own copy when she turned thirteen. Turning to the comfort of Walt Whitman’s book, her burning eyes scanned the pages. Tonight the bard’s words spoke directly.

 

And I will show that there is no imperfection in the present, and can be none in the future, And I will show that whatever happens to anybody it may be turn’d to beautiful results, … And that all things of the universe are perfect miracle, each as profound as any.

 

Fiona argued with Whitman’s optimism. Will’s death had no beautiful results, nor was it a perfect miracle, as Whitman suggested. The only marvel at work she knew of was Jacob’s care and tenderness, not only to the mares, but also and especially toward her.”

 

Thanks for stopping to read today

I hope this whets your appetite for reading Song of Herself, when it’s available.  Watch for information about my book coming out soon. Please join my newsletter by signing on with your email on this webpage. Thanks for stopping by today!

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Posted in adventure, Travel, Travel Writing

Let Travel Be Your Teacher

Study abroad experiences stretch college students’ horizons; mission trips help church teens see a world different from their own. We expect young people to learn from travel, but do we anticipate the same from ourselves when we travel?

We often say, “Yes,” but fail to do what it takes to make it happen. We may be a tourist, pilgrim, or adventurer. It doesn’t matter. Anyone can let travel be their teacher by setting an intention before leaving, paying attention to that intention, and seizing surprises along the way. When we capture our experiences in a journal, we can reflect on the insights gained. That’s where the learning takes place.

The only things that interest me are people and ideas. I love going on trips that shock me, where everything I believe in my religion, my politics, my social outlook is immediately challenged with diametrically different viewpoints. (Arthur Frommer)

Objection

A frequent objection is one misses travel experiences, while journaling. Early morning or late evening can offer quiet time to write. Or you can convert hours of transportation to useful writing. Using simple methods that don’t take much time is another answer.

Themes for your travel

A purposeful method of journaling is to choose a theme for the trip. You might select to focus on architecture, then create questions that go beyond the obvious.

  • What are traditional and contemporary construction methods and materials used? Why these?
  • What topographic, geological, or historical factors affected building structure design?
  • How are/were homes different from ours and for what reasons?
Journal when you have down-time.

These inquiries set in motion intentional travel that culminates in paying attention more closely while roaming the world. We experience the trip more deeply, and as a result, discover richer insights.

Choose from simple journaling techniques

  1. Categorize differences between the culture you’re visiting and your own
  2. Write about the most influential part of your day; recall one significant conversation, historical fact, or memorable event – not everything
  3. Create a “3D” table: Date, Destination, Discovery (what you learned in twenty-five words or less)
  4. Identify the 3E’s of daily travel: Event, Emotion, and what to Explore next
  5. Each day draft a short poem about something particular or a haiku (a 17-syllable poem)
  6. Ask others travelers to record memorable moments from their day in your journal
  7. List new foreign vocabulary words and their meaning
  8. Describe trees and plants, birds or animals new to you  

Artistic Journaling

Try artistic approaches. Collect items like tickets, coffee sleeves, or maps to paste into your journal—like a collage. Sketch a scene, a historical building, or unique road sign. Ask children you meet along the way draw or color in your journal. Create a mind map of the day’s activities.

Journaling Supplies

People, who journal, choose supplies to fit their personality and the circumstances of their trip. Do you prefer a ballpoint or gel pen, colored markers or pencils? Do you like a sketchpad, a spiral bound notebook with lines and a pretty cover, or a classic leather-bound journal? Will you be at the beach or in a rain forest? Waterproof paper and pencils are available; otherwise, a Ziploc bag will protect your supplies.

Mindful, intentional journal writing allows travel to serve as guide, mentor, and teacher.

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Posted in Travel, Travel Writing, Women traveling

Travel Back in Time

On vacation last month we traveled to visit friends in Wisconsin we had not seen in many years. As we followed the Wisconsin highway and turned onto a two-lane county road, then to the unpaved road into the forested overhang of our friend’s retreat home on Lake Michigan, we knew we were almost there. As it is with old friends, we fell into old habits of eating, drinking, story telling, reminiscing, filling our glasses again and catching up on the years in between. 

A TRIP DOWN ANOTHER MEMORY LANE

But I must interrupt our current good time to walk the dog, Murphy, who travelled with us. So he and I trekked back up the long driveway to our friend’s house and I was transported to the Scottish Highlands, particularly the Isle of Skye.

I had visited the isle decades ago, where eight other tourists and I missed the last ferry of the day for the mainland. We ended up spending a night at the inconvenience of locals who found lodging for each of us, couples, singles (like myself traveling alone), and singles traveling together.

We spent a riotous dinner together laughing about how we had become so entranced by the island that we simply forgot to catch the ferry. At least I was not alone. 

The road Murphy and I walked that day took me back in time to why I missed the ferry. In wandering the lush undergrowth that was so mysterious then, I decided–just knew in my bones–that elves had to exist on that island.

Did they call them pixies, sprites, fairies, leprechauns (no, that would be Irish)? 

I could not see them, but I just knew (without really knowing) they could see me. They were watching my every move. And here again in this forest near the shores of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin I could feel their presence then and there again. 

I WONDERED 

Were they observing me from the turn of the underside of a fern? 

How small were they and how many were there? 

 

Did they sit and twitter with each other about how funny we look and sound? 

Could they leap from leaf to leaf to get a better view of us? 

 

And did they listen from the creases of a tree?

Could they hide in the center of a flower, seeing us without being seen?

TRAVELING BACK IN TIME

I will never know the answers, but I will remember that unexpected overnight stay on the Isle of Skye. And then how my time in Wisconsin took me back, just as our drive had taken us back in time to visit old friends. What joys!

A TRAVELER’S QUESTION

When you travel what kind of alertness do take with you to explore even the mundane? 

 

 

 

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Posted in fiction, Historical Fiction, Travel, Women's Fiction

Debut Novel Coming Soon

Book Description: Song of Herself

Fiona Weston, an Iowa horsewoman in trousers, sails to India in 1906 to discover her journey is not the quest for which she had yearned, nor the escape from those who ridicule her unconventional ways.

Her uncle offers Fiona and her brother a chance for adventure, to sell the quarter horses to the British Indian army to breed with their Manipuri for polo. The San Francisco earthquake takes the life of her brother. Jacob, the shipping agent, hired to handle the horses, sale and quarantine, works alongside Fiona. Confined below deck to her quarters by the captain, the adventure of sailing evades her, but an attraction with Jacob smolders.

In India everything she encounters rubs against previous experiences. Her host and mentor, Ameera, introduces her to religions, castes, British Imperialism, and the ways of men and women. Fiona will choose between two men: the engaging shipping agent, and an intellectually intriguing missionary who needs a wife. More importantly, she will choose herself above all others.

In Song of Herself, Fiona experiences a journey fraught with obstacles that creates a sturdy sense of self in which she learns to accept irreconcilable differences and still sing her song of self.   

Pre-Order Info Coming Soon

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Posted in Craft of writing, Editing & Revision, fiction, Revision, Writing exercises

Three Elements for Power-packed First Sentences

INTRODUCTION: Writers continue to learn the craft no matter where they are in their writing development. Recently, I read in the January 2022 issue of The Writer magazine an article by Alison Acheson, “In The Beginning: Three elements that create a strong opening sentence,” pages 26-29. First sentences draw the reader in and give them a sense of character, setting, and emotion. They carry a lot of weight to gain your readers interest and trust in your writing. The author suggests that there are three elements to carry that responsibility of reeling in the reader. Here is my take on reading her article. I hope you will reader her article.

Three Elements in First Sentences

CHARACTER: Readers want to have a sense of the main character(s). We may not know their names, but we know something about them that will show up again or throughout the novel.

SETTING: The first sentence will offer a sense of place, maybe a location, time in history, or an event.

EMOTION: This may be indirect or implied by the setting or action or event. We likely won’t be told in the first sentence what the emotion is, but the writer will hint at it. We will get a sense of it.

EXAMPLE

I’ll offer an example from Ernest Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms. I’ll give you the first sentence then I’ll dissect it to learn what Hemingway accomplished in using those three elements. Your take on it maybe somewhat different than mine, but that’s okay.

HEMINGWAY in Farewell to Arms. “In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountain.”

CHARACTER: The word, “we,” implies two or more people. The rest of the sentence tells us that they live together in a house. My assumption before reading the book would be that it is a couple, which it is.

SETTING: “In the late summer of that year,” tells me it is about a point in time that we will learn more about later. But it happens in a season that is waning, which gives me the feeling that something is in decline, about to hibernate, or die.

The phrase, “a house in a village,” makes me think of a remote location, perhaps isolated.

The prepositional phrase, “across the river and plain,” again gives me the feeling of being in a valley far from the big picture, or where the action occurs.

Finally, the last expression, “to the mountain,” tells me they are looking to what is or might be happening on that mountain. Or perhaps it is just a goal, a wish, or even an illusion.

EMOTION: The setting has carried a lot of metaphorical and emotional weight of distance, foreboding, remoteness. A moment in time that might entail a connection, an affair, an event that does not bode well.

Summary

As you can see, Hemingway’s sentence deftly implies a decision by his main character’s to give up his arms to fight in World War I. The relationship between he and his lover is waning because they are looking at what they need and want, which is not each other.

What’s next in the coming weeks?

Look next week for another example taken from a narrative nonfiction classic. The next week another one from a short story; and finally the last week the example from my own novel, Song of Herself, to be published next year (soon I hope).

What about you?

Does this help you think about the first sentence in your story, novel or narrative nonfiction? Examine your first sentence and tell us what you find.

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Posted in Craft of writing, Editing & Revision, First Sentences, Memoir writing

Three Elements to Create a Strong Opening Sentence

INTRODUCTION: Writers continue to learn the craft no matter where they are in their writing development. Recently, I read in the January 2022 issue of The Writer magazine an article by Alison Acheson, “In The Beginning: Three elements that create a strong opening sentence,” pages 26-29. Opening sentences have a lot of weight to carry. The author suggests that there are three elements to carry that responsibility of reeling in the reader. Here is my take on reading her article.

Three Elements in First Sentences

CHARACTER: Readers want to have a sense of the main character(s). We may not know their names, but we know something about them that will show up again or throughout the novel.

SETTING: The first sentence will offer a sense of place, maybe a location, time in history, or an event.

EMOTION: This may be indirect or implied by the setting or action or event. We likely won’t be told in the first sentence what the emotion is, but the writer will hint at it. We will get a sense of it.

EXAMPLE

After last week’s example take from fiction, this week I offer a nonfiction example from Frank McCourt’s memoir, Angela’s Ashes . I’ll give you the first sentence then I’ll dissect it to learn what McCourt accomplished in using these three elements. Your take on it may be somewhat different than mine, but that’s okay.

McCourt’s first sentence in Angela’s Ashes, “My father and mother should have stayed in New York where they met and married and where I was born.”

CHARACTER: The reference to the writer’s father and mother suggests they who set the action in motion. Even if we don’t know if the mother and father will be key actors throughout the memoir, we do know that they made a decision that impacted the antagonist, Frank McCourt’s life.

SETTING: The phrase, “… should have stayed in New York,” implies they are all on a journey to some place else. They have left a thriving city where previously good things had happened – the couple met, married, and gave birth to Frank.

EMOTION: The setting, like Hemingway’s, carries a lot of metaphorical and emotional weight. In this case, it provides a hint of regret, remorse, or longing for what is left behind.

Summary

As you can see, the relationship between him and his parents implies that McCourt is young and therefore reliant on his parents at this point in time. His first sentence deftly implies a decision by parents that will come to influence or impact McCourt gravely. What we do not know is that Angela is his mother, nor that her ashes are the cigarette ashes of despair.

As writers, when we can weave or at least hint at the three elements, character, place, and emotion in the first sentence of a story, whether fiction or nonfiction, we have successfully sent a message to readers they are in capable hands.

Next week, I’ll take the first sentence from a fiction short story writer. Join me in this series of investigations on first sentences that convey character, setting, and emotion in some significant way.

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Posted in Craft of writing, Memoir writing, Revision, Travel Writing, Writing exercises, Writing Groups

Endings: The Power and Types of Endings

ENDINGS. Philip Lopate in To Show and To Tell talks about a typology of endings. Here are the kinds that he mentions. This is a summarized list and paraphrased in some cases by me. My travel writing group that meets every two weeks, discussed this list in our last Zoom time together. We are eager to use this list and see where it takes us in add the power and punch of a satisfying ending. Join us in discussing these through this blog post.

Step #1: Identify the type of ending you have used in one of your last stories. 

  1. An image (metaphorical or real)
  2. A pithy saying in a clever or humorous way
  3. A line of dialogue 
  4. A joke (use this one with care)
  5. A question
  6. A quote
  7. An ellipsis (…)
  8. A return of a refrain or a different spin on the phrase 
  9. A new insight
  10. A resolve
  11. A sigh, a shrug, a sudden mood change
  12. A platitude, ONLY IF it is humorous or non-preachy 
  13. A summary in the form of a series of semicolons
  14. Restating conflicting elements (ideas, images, thoughts, etc.) and how to live with them 
  15. ________________________________
  16. ________________________________
  17. ________________________________

Step 2: Develop multiple endings to your next story by trying several of these types of endings. 

Step 3: Choose three of your favorite endings you have written. Think through those and select the most impactful for your story.

Step 4: Add to these types of endings overtime from your own experience and from your reading of others work.

Which ones have you used? Which ones would you like to use in the future? Which ones have you added to this list? I’m curious to learn what you think about the types of endings to our stories.

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Posted in journal writing, Memoir writing, Travel Writing

Journal Writing about your Travel Day

At the end of a travel day, journal about the events, people, and places you encountered.

In “Launch Your Travels” blog, ­­­­­­­­­the independent traveler Jen made several suggestions that a woman traveling alone can do in the evenings. It is rich with ideas for not only her niche audience, but for other travelers as well.

I had one thing to add to her suggestions, I’d like to share it with you here. If you do nothing else but this at the end of each day, you will have succeeded as being a thoughtful, purposeful, intentional traveler.

Journal about your travels. During dinner alone jot some notes while waiting for your meal to arrive. Make more full bodied reports of your travels that day after returning to your lodging. Here are some ideas to consider writing about.

  • Record a conversation you had with a child, stranger or tour guide.
  • Describe a place, person you met, or an experience you had, using all your senses.
  • Write your reactions (emotions, thoughts, challenged beliefs) to what you encountered during this day.
  • Reflect on a theme you set for your journey (i.e., as big as history or architecture, as small as slang or t-shirt sayings).
  • Report your progress on an intention you set for yourself before traveling (such as do something each day you’ve never done before or practice your second language with locals).
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Posted in adventure, paying attention, Travel

How Do You Define Travel Adventure

How do you define adventure, escapade, exploration, quest, or venture?

An adventure can be the outdoor, physically demanding kind. Like climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, mountain biking, or canoeing the North Woods. But not all of us are that physically fit or daring. Many of us travel for other kinds of adventures. One of mine is to learn to pay attention to what I experience.

How do you define travel adventure for yourself?

Chiapas from the back of a van

One year, at the invitation of two other women, I went along from Isla Mujeres to practice paying attention while seeing another part of Mexico, the southernmost state of Mexico, Chiapas. Once there we decided to take a tour to three different scenic and historical sites in a single day. What we did not calculate was the amount of time we would be in the van.

Jenn, Rhonda, Cathy

We left at 4:30 a.m., got home at midnight, spent 3 hours at three sites total, hurried through meals to ensure a potty stop, and bounced on the back axle of the van the rest of the trip.

My biggest surprise was not the beauty, or the history learned at the three sites, but what I gleaned from the back window of the bus about the way people lived in Chiapas.

Each household had cleared a spot in the tropical forest and built a house on an earthen plot with no vegetation. The houses, painted or not, sat enclosed by jungle. Most yards accommodated a large, non-specific breed of dog, some on a chain, others not. Yet they all barked at whatever passed by and barked with the children who played in the dusty yards. Even at a distance I could see happy kids in tattered clothing. Occasional goats, chickens, or other farm animals roamed free, well-fed and housed in an open shed or simply in the yard.

Because the houses were built close to the road and there was nowhere else to play, homeowners had laid massive nautical ropes in front of their homes. Much higher than most speed bumps and without the merging incline and leaving decline on each side, they made for a torturous journey. Therefore, our ride took the rhythm of down-shift, slow down, (first axle) up and over, then (back axle) up and over again, shift, and speed away. Parents and extended family settled on protecting their children’s safety over the convenience of tourists or even other locals.

As we returned in the fading sunlight, a single light bulb lit the interior of homes. We could tell because they left the doors and windows open for air—their native air conditioning. Inhabitants circled a table under that light bulb for dinner, reading and/or homework, sewing, or other life requirements.

I could see bare necessities were all they had, but they looked cheerful and well-fed to me. They seemed determined to make a life with little at hand.

Americans often feel denied if we don’t have the right brand of clothing, the best margarita on vacation, or a bonus at the end of the year. Often we find it tough to be happy with blessed lives.

From the back of the bus, I could see their poverty, joy, and ability to make the most of what they had.

Is your adventure to try using your rusty French or German, or your newly acquired Japanese; eat different foods than you normally would; or simply to write about your experiences in your journal to turn them into stories later? Any of these and many more can lead you to discoveries you would not have imagined before.

How do you define adventure for yourself? Please send an answer to that question so others can consider it, too.

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Posted in Submitting for Publication, Travel Writing, Writers' Groups

Progress of Writing

Two Steps Backward

Two steps back. I learned this week that submissions to two publications were rejected. That’s disappointing as a writer, but it is the nature, life, and supposed progress of writing.

One Step Forward

One step forward. Publishers of the Saturday Writers’ 2020 anthology, Decades in Writing, informed me that I can pre-order copies of the book for my purposes early at a reduced cost, as contributor. Now that’s progress to me.

Small Successes

Last February I placed second in a monthly writing contest that addressed the decade of 1900-1910. The first chapter of my novel, not yet published, Song of Herself, won as a stand-alone story entitled, “Tuck Tail or Sail.” You will find it on pages 99-104. My writing can be found in their 2011 anthology as well.

Saturday Writers Could be your Success Story

If you are a poetry writer or prose writer of personal narrative or fiction, consider Saturday Writers writing contests for a likely place to get published. Their logo states: Writers Encouraging Writers. It’s true.

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Posted in Craft of writing, Revision, Writing exercises

Edit your own Writing

Are you ever in a crunch when you don’t have time for your writing group to critique your work? Working on your own and your client says your work sounds too repetitious? Wish you could see the problems in your own work that you see in other’s? Then this post is a first step for you.

Editing your own writing—to find the problems and develop solutions for them—is work. Often, revision is not considered the fun part of writing, but it can be when we see the results of our hard-won success.

While teaching a writing course this month, I have included an assessment of our sentence structures. This will help us see the multiple ways we start sentences and how we can add variety to our sentences and paragraphs to improve readability.

I decided to apply the assignment for my students to my own work as an illustration. When I did that, I saw my example essay still needed revision. So I went to work to get it ready for submission to publications.

Let me offer the assignment and then two paragraphs from my illustrative essay. One paragraph is varied, so I will not make changes; on the other hand, the second one needs work.

ASSIGNMENT

Analyze each paragraph in your story to see if your sentences start in a variety of ways to create interest for the reader.

  1. Subject-verb structure. EX. He walked away. She ran to town.
  2. Prepositional phrase. EX. For too long, we’ve put up with this. With that said, I left.
  3. Transition word. EX. However, I concede. Subsequently, the lady gave in. 
  4. Gerund or “-ing” word. EX. Hunting for shoes, I found a new dress.
  5. Conjunction phrases. EX. While shopping for shoes, I found a dress. Because life is difficult, we stumble on.
  6. Incomplete sentences. EX. Right on time. Never again. For the cause.

EXAMPLE #1 FROM MY OWN WORK

This paragraph is taken from a story when I was fifteen-years-old, trying to find the right souvenir to take home to my mother from my first trip abroad.

Finally, my eyes land on world globes. One would mean a lot to Mom because we study missions at church. Like her, I enjoy learning geography by studying the world map and learning about other cultures by reading about missionaries in other countries. Mom has rarely been outside of Arkansas—me either until now.

Assessment of sentence variety for purposes of revision (3 of the 6 types of sentence starts)

  • Sentence #1 Transition word or phrase
  • Sentence #2 Subject/verb
  • Sentence #3 Conjunction word or phrase
  • Sentence #4 Subject/verb

EXAMPLE #2 FROM MY OWN WORK

The following paragraph also is taken from the same story.

Some globes stand on the floor; others sit on tabletops. The globes look like they were made from old-world parchment, like expensive antiques. The wooden stand in which one sets would suit our house—and Mother. She will smile when she pulls it out of the box and exclaims, “I love it.”

Analysis (1 of the six ways to start sentences–pretty boring)

  • Sentence #1 Subject/verb
  • Sentence #2 Subject/verb
  • Sentence #3 Subject/verb
  • Sentence #4 Subject/verb

REVISION ON EXAMPLE #2

There are infinite ways to make the revisions, but here is one attempt to add variety to my sentence structures in a single paragraph.

While a few globes stand on the floor; others sit on tabletops. Leaning toward the latter, I like the ones that have an old-fashioned, weathered look. The maple wood frame in which one sits would suit our house. And suit Mother. I can imagine her opening it. After prying open the box, she’ll pull it out and look at me to exclaim, “I love it.”

Assessment of sentence variety (5 of the 6 types of sentence starts–and less boring)

  • Sentence #1 Conjunction
  • Sentence #2 Gerund (-ing word)
  • Sentence #3 Incomplete sentence
  • Sentence #4 Subject/verb
  • Sentence #5 Preposition

 

That’s the fun of revision, to make your writing easier to read for your audience.

 

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Posted in Craft of writing, fiction, Travel Writing, Workshops, Writing exercises, Writing Workshops

Flash Fiction

The Story Behind the Story 

The story behind a story, I recently had published The City that Stole His Daughter, offers insight into the kind of an exercise that can stoke the imagination of a writer.

The Exercise 

In Rolf Potts‘ course, Travel Writing as Memoir, in October 2019 sponsored by Santa Fe Workshops, he set before us a “pyschogeography” exercise to prompt the imagination as a flaneur, wandering not so aimlessly through the streets of San Miguel de Allende.

We were to select a color — I picked blue. Wander the street to find the first instance of the color while walking the streets and follow it until it disappeared or ran out of sight. Then pick up the next element of blue and follow it until I walked past it or it fell out of sight. Again and again until a story or fragments came into being.

 The Outcome

This process led me to notice a man on a park bench with his hat tipped to shade the sun with a big fat yellow lab asleep underneath. I imagined he had come to the city to see an adult son or daughter who had left the countryside for a better way of life.

I sauntered to a yellow coffee shop with a lavender blue door and shutters, Lavanda, for lemonade and asked for the owner. The manager, Karla, came to visit me about where they purchased their lavender and leapt to the topic of “specialty” coffee.

I recall her excitement as she told me, “Our coffee is fair trade. It is good for the farmer, the roasters, the coffee shop, and our clients. It is a win-win for everyone. It makes a good economy for our community. When asked by customers if our coffee is organic, I must tell that that ‘Yes, it is farmed without pesticides and with the old ways of tilling the fields and harvesting, but sadly no, our government does not regulate for an organic label’.”

When I combined the image of the old man and my imagined story of him with the enthusiasm of Karla about speciality coffee, I had my story.

The Resulting Story

I have submitted the story to contests and for publication several times, revised it each time a bit, and then won honorable mention by WOW! Women on Writing in early 2020 but it was not published. I submitted it for review and feedback by Flash Fiction Magazine and then received substantial recommendations to make changes. They published my 1000-word flash fiction, The City that Stole His Daughter, this week, August 18, 2020. Thanks to Flash Fiction Magazine.

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Posted in Craft of writing, Memoir writing, Travel Writing, Writing Retreats, Writing Workshops

Travel Writing as Memoir with Rolf Potts

I wondered what Potts meant by the title, Travel Writing as Memoir? As a student in his Santa Fe Workshop, held in San Miguel de Allende October 13-18, I learn that he meant the writer could impose herself in the writing, rather than standing at a distance and reporting–the reader wants to hear the voice of the writer. He meant we were free to use literary devices, such as writing with imagery, metaphor, foreshadowing, symbolism, and/or humor, among others.

He introduced us to psychogeography and assigned us the task of following a color of our choice through the city to encounter it in a unique way, randomly yet meaningfully. The concept of drifting or wandering the streets of the city aimlessly with the intent to observe with all our senses what the paths of the village had to offer us was the assignment–paradoxical in nature, but highly productive and insightful.

The workshop took my writing to a new level. I better understand how to find an appealing first sentence. I can see more ways to place myself reflectively in an essay about what I experience. And I know how to mine my travel experiences more thoroughly and insightfully through color tracking as a means of psychogeography.

What classes, workshops, or retreats have helped take your writing to a new level? Please share below, so others will find venues to develop their writing.

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Posted in journal writing, Travel, Travel Writing, Writing Workshops

Vacation Travel Journal Writing Workshop

Wrede Country School in Gillespie County, open 1896-1960

On April 27, 2019, the Wrede little one-room country schoolhouse, just outside of Fredericksburg, Texas, hosted ten students for inspiration and tutoring in the art of travel journal writing.  The organizers promoted the workshop as Vacation Journal Writing, which attracted people from their early teens to their mid-seventies. Continue reading “Vacation Travel Journal Writing Workshop”

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Posted in Craft of writing, Marketing, Promotion

Promoting my Book Locally

Sometimes it is difficult to find an audience for your book and the process is time consuming. But a recent opportunity came along that I couldn’t pass up. The Comfort, Texas, Public Library hosted its annual Read-A-Thon Saturday, March 30, 2019. I was invited to read and exhibit my book, At Home in the World: Travel Stories of Growing Up and Growing Away. Continue reading “Promoting my Book Locally”

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Posted in Craft of writing, Submitting for Publication, Writing

WOW! Women on Writing publishes my essay: Finger Gone Rogue, Writing Gone Mute

Some of you will recall me sharing with you last year that I almost lost a finger but saved it by getting Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT). Good news came from that unfortunate experience.

Life often gives us our stories. We bring them to life for others by writing them.

Continue reading “WOW! Women on Writing publishes my essay: Finger Gone Rogue, Writing Gone Mute”

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Posted in Writing Conferences

Conference Etiquette

Last week, I offered suggestions on how to make the most of attending a writing conference. I focused on learning, networking, and taking care of yourself while there.

This week, I want to consider the etiquette of attending a writing conference. While last week I featured what to do; this week, I’ll stress what not to do at a conference. Both are equally important.  Continue reading “Conference Etiquette”

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Posted in Workshops, Writing Conferences, Writing Workshops

How to Make the Most of Attending a Writing Conference

Regardless of the kind of writing conference, course, or retreat you attend, here are some ways to make the best of it. You have most likely paid money for this experience, so it’s up to you to get your money’s worth.

Continue reading “How to Make the Most of Attending a Writing Conference”

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Posted in Craft of writing, fiction, Writing, Writing exercises

Revision: Ways to Improve my Writing

REVISION 

Editing a paragraph from my book-in-progress illustrates the kind of work entailed in revision. This is the “line edit” kind of editorial work that I do on an ongoing process with my writing partners and for myself.  Continue reading “Revision: Ways to Improve my Writing”

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Posted in Craft of writing, fiction, Travel Writing, Writing

Conduct Research for Scenes in Your Fiction

via How to Research a Location You Haven’t Actually Been To

This blog post above by fellow writer, Helena Fairfax, has been wonderfully helpful to me in writing my novel set in India and on a ship in the Pacific and Indian oceans.  As an example, I wrote a scene in the book of slaughtering a sea turtle for eating aboard ship after watching a YouTube by today’s Aboriginal Australians.

Read the scene below from my book in-progress, Salwar Kameez. I’ve added a few notes to the reader to be able to grasp who the characters are in the scene, because it is out of context for you.

SCENE from BOOK on Butchering a Sea Turtle  Continue reading “Conduct Research for Scenes in Your Fiction”

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Posted in Submission of writing, Submitting for Publication, Writing

Payoff when Submitting for Publication

For the last six months, my writing has been on hold.  On July 20, 2017, I almost lost my left middle digit to a fungal infection that a doctor deadened and lanced. Two days later, it was black—dead, not simply bruised. Doctors’ cautionary comments did not use the word, amputation, but they hinted at it for a month.

My writing life was on hold. Or so I thought.  Continue reading “Payoff when Submitting for Publication”

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Posted in fiction, Travel, Travel Writing

My Writing Hiatus in a Hyperbaric Chamber

 

 

 

0919170945
My fortieth and last visit in a pressurized hyperbaric oxygen chamber

I am right handed, so how can I steady a cantaloupe without the middle finger of my left hand while cutting it up? How can I keep it from slipping and then spilling juice and contents? How can I hold the fruit firm enough not to cut myself? Very carefully.

How can I type the E, D, and C letters on the computer without that middle finger? Slowly and with lots of mistakes.

I have been in a hyperbaric chamber every weekday for the last two months in an attempt to save a finger. Success is slow but promising.  Continue reading “My Writing Hiatus in a Hyperbaric Chamber”

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Posted in Craft of writing, fiction, Writing

Does my novel pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

I just learned about the Bechdel test (or Bechdel-Wallace test, as Bechdel prefers to call it to credit her friend, Ms. Wallace) from Andrea Lundgren’s recent blog post. This test requires in fiction or movies that 1) two women be present and named 2) talk to one another 3) about something other than a man.  Continue reading “Does my novel pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?”

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Posted in Craft of writing, Writers' Groups, Writing, Writing Groups

Writers are often INFJs or INFPs, based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

Lauren Sapala, the author of The INFJ Writer in a recent blog post, writes there is no coincidence that many writers are INFJs or INFPs, which are terms for the personality types in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

The types are a four-part combination of four spectrums of likely thoughts, actions, behaviors that generate a personality type. These types are used to better understand ourselves and others, to improve communication between different types, and to work more effectively. But the types should not be used to label or box people into narrow definitions of self or others.  Continue reading “Writers are often INFJs or INFPs, based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)”

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Posted in Craft of writing, journal writing, Travel Writing, Writing exercises

Revise a draft using the five senses.

Another way to revise our travel stories (or any story or scene) is to use the senses to describe the setting, the characters, and the action. Using the words “I smell…, we heard…, or you may taste…” is NOT the point. We can imply the senses by using rhythm with our words or utilizing descriptors that convey the sense itself.  Continue reading “Revise a draft using the five senses.”

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Posted in Craft of writing, journal writing, Memoir writing, Travel, Travel Writing, Workshops, Writing exercises, Writing Workshops

Flow Writing followed by 3-step Revision

Flow Writing 

In a recent Travel Touchstones: Transformative Travel through Creative JouMe w. handout (2)rnal Writing workshop with lively participants, I explained that I developed the writing exercises as a result of not having the right kind of material from my journals when drafting my coming-of-age travel memoir, At Home in the World: Travel Stories of Growing Up and Growing Away.

I offered a flow writing activity.  Continue reading “Flow Writing followed by 3-step Revision”

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Posted in Craft of writing, journal writing, Memoir writing, Travel, Travel Writing, Writing exercises

Insight from Travel through Journal Writing Exercise

Ira Progoff’s “Stepping Stones” Journal Writing Exercise

Stepping Stones is a journal writing exercise developed by Ira Progoff. He conducted research about how individuals develop more fulfilling lives. In his role as psychotherapist, he found that clients who wrote about their life experiences were able to work through issues more rapidly. Through this research, he then developed and refined the Intensive Journal Method to provide a way to encourage the processes by which people learn, grow, and develop as individuals.  Continue reading “Insight from Travel through Journal Writing Exercise”

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Posted in Craft of writing, Writing, Writing exercises

BUILDING TENSION

A WRITING EXERCISE THAT HELPS BUILD TENSION

Open your thesaurus; go to any letter in the alphabet. Pick words from that letter that prompts questions that may help you think about your characters, plot, setting, dialogue, actions, emotions, and especially tension. Then for every word, develop a question that can push you deeper into your story, hopefully building tension in your book, story, or scene.  Continue reading “BUILDING TENSION”

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Posted in Craft of writing, Memoir writing, Writing

A writing exercise for insight into your memoir’s main characters, you

BACKGROUND for the EXERCISE 

“The stranger at the heart of my journey is me—transformed.” — Joseph Dispenza in his book, The Way of the Traveler (p. 97)

Dispenza suggests in his book that the people we meet in our travels can serve as mirrors of ourselves in what we portray to the world. Or these folks, whether strangers or not during our adventures, may contain qualities that we lack and wish we had. For our memoir, this is one way to gain insight that we need to write a more textured and full-bodied story of our life. So try this.  Continue reading “A writing exercise for insight into your memoir’s main characters, you”

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Posted in Craft of writing, journal writing, Travel Writing, Writing, Writing Myths

Writing Myth

Myth Bluster: I cannot write worth a hoot!

This is what we often tell ourselves–what I call myth bluster or misconceptions about our writing. And sometimes others imply it by their lack of interest in our work or a comment that sounds and feels negative to us. We must believe in ourselves and our ability to improve over time. Here is what we need to be thinking instead to bust previous myth bluster.

Myth Busters: If I write, I am a writer. If I don’t write well, I can learn to write better. Work makes wishes come true.  

The truth is it is all a matter of perspective. We can tell ourselves a different story about our ability to write, and then start making progress. So put pen to paper or fingers to keys. Start writing what is on your mind or in your heart.

I’ll be offering some writing prompts in the near future. I hope they will be useful to you.

Here is another myth buster to previous thinking or myth bluster:

Practice does not make perfect; practice makes possible. 

Comments from anyone?

 

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Posted in journal writing, Travel Writing, Workshops, Writing Workshops

Treat Yourself to a Writing Retreat

Why go to a “travel journal writing retreat” while traveling? Why not? What better time? Why not here (Isla Mujeres, Mexico) and now (February 7)?

Why?

Get inspired to write your nightly notes or scribbled itinerary or captured conversations while in route. During the “Travel Touchstones: Transformative Travel through Creative Journal Writing” workshop, discover new techniques to trap your memories on paper in words and sketches. Share your journal writing experiences with other travelers. Explore multiple journal writing tools and techniques to use, as well as identify topics you might not have thought to pursue.

Why Not?

You are on a break from your day-to-day routine. This is when you are more open to taking in new perspectives on your travel, your world back home, and/or who you are and want to become.

What better time?

Travel time provides the perfect circumstance for nourishing your creativity. You have more flexible time. Different scenery offers new outlooks. Various people (you might not otherwise spend time with) come and go temporarily from whom you can learn.

Why not here and now?

The Red Buddha yoga studio serves as lovely, soulful place for a writing retreat in Isla Mujeres, Mexico; February 7, 6-9pm. The three-hour workshop costs $50 USD (or equivalent pesos), a bargain for the fun of spending time with like-minded folks and for the years of enhanced journal writing experiences you will log.

Transformative travel happens when …

  • sojourners anticipate, mentally rehearse, and build expectations for the future;
  • explorers experience places, people, and circumstance that challenge and test them;
  • adventurers return home with stories that have transformed their thinking, actions, and perspectives.

For more workshop information, click below.

 announcement-of-isla-feb-7-workshop

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Posted in journal writing, Travel, Travel Writing, Writing Workshops

Get Candace Raredon’s “Travel Sketching 101” FREE

I invite you to go Candace Rardon’s website for her FREE e-book, “Travel Sketching 101” launch and giveaway. Even if you are not an artist, this is a lovely book with ideas for sketching–even for those of us whose artistic genius matured and ended in the third grade, like mine.

I tell you about this because I believe her instruction book can greatly enhance our travel journals with images. Visual images, like words, help us collect and retain memories in our travel journals.

REMINDER: I will hold a fun, interactive writing workshop on Isla Mujeres, Mexico entitled, “Travel Touchstones: Transformative Travel through Creative Journal Writing” on Tuesday evening, February 7, from 6:00-9:00 p.m. at the Red Buddha yoga studio, #22 Juarez Avenue. You will get to write from 2-3 different prompts, share, practice writing with all six senses, and develop techniques, topics, and tools.

In the workshop, you will get to write 2-3 different entries from prompts given, share, practice writing with all six senses, and develop techniques, topics, and tools.

If want to take advantage of this unique opportunity while traveling for only $50 (or equivalent pesos), please email me (rwileyjones@gmail.com) or complete the form below, as soon as possible to hold your place in the workshop. Pay on site.

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Posted in journal writing, Travel, Travel Writing

Upcoming Workshops in Texas and Mexico

Travel Touchstones: Transformative Travel through Creative Journal Writing

 

I had always thought that travel books and travel writers were all about where to go and how to get there. “Been there, done it, got the t-shirt” mentality. But the following quote from Arthur Frommer dispelled my thinking.

“The only things that interest me are people and ideas. I love going on trips that shock me, where everything I believe in my religion, my politics, my social outlook is immediately challenged with diametrically different viewpoints.” – Arthur Frommer

Frommer took his interest in people and ideas and turned it into an international travel business. His advice is one way to start thinking about the Travel Touchstones workshop, where we attempt to turn standard excursions into transformative travel.

How? Several ways.

  1. Anticipate (play out in our mind or rehearse) what you may encounter and decide how you want to experience what lies in front of you. Often setting a ‘theme’ for your travel may be sufficient to help you get more from the journey into the world. What do I mean by theme? Choosing a cultural phenomenon, like the place of food in the French lifestyle, to investigate as you meet people, eat in restaurants, or shop in grocery stores. Or say, select something about yourselves you want to explore, like notice when you feel threatened, defensive, or uncomfortable and why.
  2. Learn to pay attention to the little things. Use your senses to experience all there is along the way. Not just through the eye of the camera, but sounds and scents, textures and tastes. Note how children are viewed by the country’s culture. Watch for body language in place of verbal attempts. Put your brain and your senses on high alert to help you experience more than you typically would.
  3. Discover what kind of journal writing tools you want and need for the particular journey, find journal writing techniques that make it fast and fun and fulfilling to write, and anticipate topics and themes you may want to pursue. With tools, techniques, and topics in your toolkit, you are ready to hit the road.

These are the three key areas that participants will explore in the upcoming “Travel Touchstones: Transformative Travel through Creative Journal Writing” workshops.

Dates and Locations 

Saturday, January 14, 1-4 pm;  Kerrville, Texas

Tuesday, February 7, 6-9 pm; Isla Mujeres, Mexico, at the Red Buddha Studio

Join me and others to learn how to enjoy transformative travel through creative journal writing. For details and registration, email me at rwileyjones@gmail.com.

 

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Posted in Travel, Travel Writing

Travel the World at “Compass and Camera” blogsite

Dear Friends,

Please visit Kelly’s website, Compass and Camerafor her post on the Gathering of Nations (Native American Nations that is), 2016. Her blog is soulful and insightful. This post is short and sweet, so be sure to read the last paragraph for her takeaway. Kelly is truly a world traveler and can take us places we will never see otherwise. Take a trip on her site and enjoy your armchair excursion. Enjoy!

https://compassandcamera.wordpress.com/2016/05/10/gathering-of-nations-2016/#comment-4479

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Posted in Travel Writing

How to Make New Year’s Resolutions You Will Actually Keep

Kate has learned the “write” way to set goals. As an organizational and staff development specialist in my previous life, I know her advice to be “write” on target. Take a look at the guidance on setting New Year’s resolutions from Kate.

Kate M. Colby

It’s that time of year again. As the new year approaches, we begin to think ahead to what it may have in store for us and what we want to accomplish for ourselves. The television is flooded with commercials for dieting products, nicotine patches, and storage crates. The air is buzzing and hope begins to balloon in your chest. Even though January 1st is just another day, we have given it social and psychological meaning, and it marks an almost-tangible transition. You have goals, resolutions, and you will keep them.

new yearAnd then the magic dissipates, the champagne goes flat, mid-January or early February hits, and you suddenly do not care about those resolutions. And even if you do care, you convince yourself that you do not have the time, energy, or resolve to stay committed. Is this just the hectic reality of life? Maybe. But it may also be…

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Posted in Craft of writing, Writers' Groups, Writing, Writing Groups

Start your own Writing Group

START A WRITER’S GROUP

I have been a member of multiple writing groups since the early 1990s. Each one differs with advantages and disadvantages. Each time someone joins or drops out, it changes the dynamics. If you know you have thin skin, be willing to grow thick skin; or forego this until you do. It is not for the faint of heart. Knowing what you want out of a writing group helps you start one that meets your needs and desires.4men1womanblog

FIRST ASK YOURSELF THESE QUESTIONS 

  1. Do you need to learn to write first, before you start or participate in a writing group? If so, take a class or workshop, read and study the craft of writing, and/or just write.
  2. Do you want a group to edit your work only, analyze your work (plot, characters, and pacing), and/or to discuss the writing process? Are you willing to do the same?
  3. Can you find writers who offer you the same feedback for which you are looking?
  4. Do you work best in one-on-one pairs, small intimate groups of 3-4, or larger writing groups? I have found 8-12 is max for a dynamic group that allows time for all.
  5. How often do you need to meet in terms of your personal writing schedule? Can you draft enough writing to meet once a week, every other, or once a month?

MEETING APPROACH: Example #1

  1. Some groups have a leader that organizes and moderates the group time. Usually that is someone quite experienced and published. Members simply bring a copy of their manuscripts for each group member that cover 2-5 pages, perhaps a scene, or a short chapter.
  2. Everyone reads his or her own work aloud. If the writer wants to hear their work from another voice, then another member reads it.
  3. Reviewers then offer suggestions on editorial comments on grammar, spelling, and punctuation. They provide what works in the piece and what does not work. They can also explain where they became confused or lost.
  4. Advantage: This particular way of running a group requires less time, by giving on-the-spot feedback comments.
  5. Disadvantage: Writing group members do not have in-depth time to review and reflect on the writing, so comments are usually limited to surface responses.
  6. Writing level: This specific approach is useful for experienced writers who do not need as much feedback and are skilled at writing and know what in a piece of work. They can offer feedback promptly.3women1guy

 MEETING APPROACH: Example #2

  1. There are groups that meet once a month or every other week to give them more time to write and more time for readers to review each other’s work before the meeting.
  2. In one case I have been part of a ‘leaderless’ meeting. We each took responsibility for different things that needed to be done.
  3. A group I belonged to years ago met once a month. Here is how it worked. For example, during the month of December each writer brings sufficient copies of their chapter to distribute to each person. During the coming weeks, we read and comment in writing on the manuscript. At the following meeting in January, we would take each manuscript and make our comments, explain why we made them and discuss issues of point of view (POV), pacing, character development, and other big picture issues. In that same month, we distribute next month’s work for review. We handed the manuscripts that we marked up to the writer for his or her revisions.
  4. Advantage: This gave us extensive feedback on a broader scale of what is happening in a novel or essay, and how to address the issues. We included edits, as well as the movement, rhythm, and pace of the story or article.
  5. Disadvantage: In this setting, we did not read our pages aloud, so we missed hearing our words, which often lets one hear awkward words or phrases, or missed words. During a month between meetings, so we could forget where we were in a story.
  6. Writing Level: This approach gives inexperienced writers and reviewers time between meetings to read, study, ponder, and decide how to reply to the writer. Inexperienced writers grow quickly into more experienced writers and reviewers.

FEEDBACK APPROACH #1: 

  1. The next example comes from my friend and mentor, Sheila Bender. You can signup for her newsletter at WritingItReal and consider membership. The 3-step feedback process proves to be productive for most any writer and reviewer.

Step #1: Identify the “Velcro” words, phrases, or sentences that stick with you in some way, that resonate in a good way. The purpose of this step is to give the writer positive feedback on what is working.

Step #2: State the feelings that the writing creates in you from mad-sad-glad to anxious-afraid-relieved. This report tells the writer whether she has achieved what she set out to achieve. It lets her compare the reaction the reader has to what she hoped to create in the reader.

Step #3: Inform the writer what questions you have after you have read the scene or chapter. Tell him what left you wanting to know more. Share your curiosity about unanswered questions with him. This allows the writer to know if he needs to flesh out the scene more or if he has overwritten it and needs to pare it down.

2. Advantage: This example provides objective feedback that keeps comments less personal and more focused on the writing.

3. Disadvantage: It requires reviewers to think deeply about the story, which may require more time and effort.

4. Level of reviewer: Anyone reading a scene or chapter is able to offer their opinions on these 3 items. It empowers inexperienced reviewers that they have significant input into another’s writing.3guysblog

FEEDBACK APPROACH: Example #2

This example is taken from a workshop instructor, Karlene Koen. I took her course, That Damned Novel, through the Writers’ League of Texas summer retreat in 2014. Her process is similar to but slightly different from Sheila Bender’s approach. Answer the following three questions to provide feedback to a writer about his or her work:

  1. What did you like about the scene or story? (I would add, what did you not like about it and why? That’s the key, “why.”)
  2. What do you still want to know?
  3. Where did you get lost?

Answering these 3 questions has similar advantages and disadvantages to Bender’s approach and requires little experience as a reviewer. There many other versions and adaptations of writing groups, but this overview can get you started.

I can sum up my advice after twenty-five years of working in different types of writing support groups. Some have worked for a while, others have lasted years. But when one is still not viable, it is better to end the group than carry on in misery. If you are the only one unhappy, leave respectfully and gratefully for what it has given you. 

  1. You can mix and match the meeting and feedback approaches.
  2. Comments and recommendations always should be about helping each other grow as a writer.Constructive criticism is the goal.
  3. Writer, remind yourself often: Don’t take it personally.
  4. Reviewer, remind yourself often: Don’t make it personal.
  5. Feedback is about your writing, not you. It may feel personal in that someone is trying to help you specifically related to your writing.
  6. For the writer to defend or explain his or her work, wastes time and is not the point. It is best for the writer to listen and take notes. As creator of the work, a writer is free to disagree and can choose to use or not use comments offered. Own your work.
  7. Everyone in the group should be actively writing. Equity in giving and receiving feedback is crucial to the sustained health of the group.
  8. Groups often need a leader to organize and moderate the meeting. I have been part of a successful leaderless group, in which all members took responsibility for the meeting. You must decide on the right person for the leader.
  9. Help your fellow writers when they read your work.
    • Always double-space your work so others can edit between the lines.
    • Number the pages, so the group can reference page and paragraph when discussing it.
    • Put your name on the submission – it should be obvious why.

Now, what has been your experience with writing groups? What has worked? What has  not worked for you? Please share your experience with us.  

 

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Posted in Travel, Travel Writing, Writing

Memoir – On Sale for the Holidays

Reduced Price 

My coming-of-age, travel memoir, At Home in the World: Travel Stories of Growing Up and Growing Away, is on sale.

For black Friday and through the holiday season, I have reduced the price for the paperback from $16.99 to $9.99.

During the gift-buying season, I have reduced the price of the Kindle version from $4.99 to $2.99.

Signed Copies at Kerrville Market Days, December 3

me-sellingsigning-booksPick up a signed copy for yourself or a friend for $10. You can find me at Kerrville Market Days, December 3, 2016, at the Ag Barn on the Kerr County Fairgrounds. I’ll be signing and selling them from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. I hope to see you there.

Consider buying a copy of the book in print or Kindle version

  • For a girlfriend
  • For a young mother raising self-reliant kids, especially girls
  • For a young woman, coming-of-age herself
  • For an older woman who has been an adventurer and will enjoy the adventures of a kindred spirit

My Biggest Fans

Although the story is about a young woman’s travels alone and with others, some of my biggest fans have been men from my high school graduating class. So don’t forget to buy it for the men in your life as well.

Paperback for $9.99

Kindle version for $2.99

Thanks for buying my book. I sure hope you or your loved one enjoys reading it.

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Posted in journal writing, Travel, Travel Writing, Workshops, Writing, Writing Workshops

Travel Journal Writing at Schreiner University

Travel Journal Writing 

global-program-logoCommunity  members joined Schreiner University students in celebrating International Education Week, November 14-18 and participated in the Travel Touchstones: Transformative Travel through Creative Journal Writing workshop. Sonja Lind, Ph.D. and the program director of The Changing Global Society initiative sponsored the workshop.

My husband, Lynn Jones and I volunteer at Schreiner University, our local liberal arts university. We encourage and prepare students to expand their learning through travel and study abroad by taking this workshop.su-workshop-3

Experienced travelers from the community and university students explored journal writing topics, techniques, and tools. They participated in two writing exercises and discussion about how to prepare, anticipate, and rehearse before travel.

This prep increases the chances that one will travel more intentionally and more purposefully and as a result, enrich one’s experiences.

The preparation before travel and the reflection after a journey create learning that is deeper, more enduring, and much more transferable in the future.

College students cannot ask for much more out of an experience that is to prepare them for participation in a global world, which is one of the foundational directions of Schreiner University today.

Journal Writing Tips:

  1. Read Globejotting before you take the next trip. (See the bookGlobejotting. cover to your right.)
  2. Take a small journal that will fit in your pocket, purse, or bag. Keep it in a Ziploc bag if needed to protect it from rain, sand, or spills.
  3. Ask a child you meet while riding on public transportation to draw in your journal for you. You can accomplish this, even if you do not share the same language.

What  journal writing tips do you recommend? 

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Posted in Hometown Travel, Travel

Time Travel: Back in time

HOMETOWN TRAVEL

I often suggest “hometown travel”–the kind that does not require you to leave home to travel. Tonight I travel back in time to when I was a girl.

Depending on your age you may remember June Cleaver on Leave it to Beaver, who wore a dress with an apron tied around her tiny waist and cooked dinner leisurely every night.

You may recall your mother who did the same, but she actually would sweat when the kitchen got hot, unlike June Cleaver, who looked like she just came from the bathroom all freshened up.

Many of you may recollect the iron skillet or skillets our mothers cooked in. Mom fried chicken and then potatoes in a hot greased skillet, and finally made gravy from the leftover grease.  Hmmm, yum!

TRAVEL BACK IN TIME

So tonight I put on an apron to keep the hot oil from splattering my clothes to fry eggplant. I dip peeled-and-sliced eggplant in egg, then coat it in a flour/cornmeal mixture, and fry it until crisp.

iron-skillet-cooking iron-skillet-cooking-2 iron-skillet-cooking

A moment back in time. See there, we can travel to another time and culture for supper. I recommend it. Only occasionally, though, for the sake of our arteries and overall health.

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Travel Writing Workshop October 22, 2016 in Texas Hill Country

TRAVEL TOUCHSTONES

Intentional Travel through Creative Journal Writing

Have you considered spinning memories into stories, essays or memoirs?

Have you captured a trip in journal entries & been disappointed by the results?

Have you traveled as tourist, pilgrim, adventurer, learner, intentional sojourner?

Have you yearned for adventures, but not known how to make them happen?

This workshop will build writing skills and insight into intentional travel!

(Bring paper and pen. No travel experience or writing experience required.)

WORKSHOP DETAILS  rhonda-with-kuwalla-bear

Workshop Leader, RHONDA WILEY-JONES

Registration Fee: $65 (refreshments and materials included)

Saturday, October 22, 9-noon, 18 Antelope Trail, Kerrville, TX

To register send a check by October 15 to Rhonda Wiley-Jones, 18 Antelope Trail, Kerrville, TX 78028. (LIMITED to 14)

WORKSHOP TAKE-AWAYS

  1. Share adventures or misadventures with others in a fun atmosphere.
  2. Reflect how to travel more purposefully, independently, and intentionally.
  3. Practice journal exercises (not to critique but to share if you want) to develop insight & clarity.
  4. Consider types of travel (pilgrims are not tourists) to match with journal writing supplies.
  5. Develop observation skills; build writing skills using the senses; and mix fiction with fact.
  6. Select journaling methods to match your travel circumstances and/or writing style.
  7. Stimulate imagination with tips, ideas, and suggestions shared.
  8. Make new friends and get to know old ones in new ways.

WHAT PREVIOUS PARTICIPANTS HAVE SAID

  • Nicely presented
  • Good interaction workshop-teachingagain
  • Useful handouts
  • Thank you, Rhonda. I’m a fan!!
  • Many useable/practical ideas and suggestions
  • Great class—plenty of time for questions & sharing
  • I was surprised to learn so much in your workshop
  • It never occurred to me I might write & sell articles

 WORKSHOP FACILITATOR 

BookCoverImageThumbPrint

Rhonda Wiley-Jones, M.Ed., author of her travel memoir, At Home in the World: Travel Stories of Growing Up and Growing Away, is world traveler, journal writer, blogger, fiction writer. She’s conducted this workshop with audiences, such as the 2016 bi-annual Story Circle Network national conference, 2015 Schreiner University’s Global Programs, and the 2013 Schreiner University’s Innovative Learning Program.

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Craft of writing, journal writing, Travel, Travel Writing, Writing Workshops

Making Travel Intentional

INTENTIONAL TRAVEL

To travel intentionally. What do I mean by that? I want my journeys to be purposeful, thoughtful and deliberate. I want to make the most of my time and my investment of resources in a trip. I know in the past I have missed moments, experiences and meaning in the midst of being overwhelmed by inconveniences; or from stiff, sore muscles that I typically experience due to travel and/or lack of rest. I always travel with fibromyalgia, so I have to think ahead.

To travel intentionally. One way to do this is to prepare mentally, physically, and emotionally before heading out. Here are some ways I get ready.

IMAGINATIVE ANTICIPATION

I can travel more intentionally if I anticipate my physical needs and take my comfort items, which let me stress less: water bottle to fill, snacks, meds, blanket or scarf, pillow, and NOT too much stuff that I will weigh me down.

I can travel more intentionally if I take time before I leave to think about situations I may encounter, like hosts that want to go, go, go and see everything. I have learned to state my intentions before we leave and again when we arrive. I can say, as an example, “We are coming to visit you and want to spend time with you and the family, to catch up on your lives. Seeing ALL the sites is not our goal, but to spend daily time with your family, the kind of time you spend in your typical week. Please don’t feel as if you must entertain us every minute.”

READ BEFORE YOU LEAVE

I can travel more intentionally if I read about the places we will see, much like I did last year when we went to Peru to visit friends. I like to do Internet searches and to read about the sites and the history behind them before arriving. In this case, I bought a tourist book on Peru. I, also, enjoy reading a book by a local or national author that gives me a feel for the culture. Last year before leaving I read, ­­­­­­­­­­The StoryTeller by Mario Vargas Llosa, a Peruvian classic. If possible, I will visit a native from that country or someone who has been there recently.

EMOTIONAL OR SPIRITUAL PROVISIONS

The thing we rarely do to enhance intentional travel is to anticipate things about ourselves that may influence the trip. For example, are we open to meeting all kinds of people? Are we willing to try our little bit of Spanish (or whatever language) while there? (I’m particularly bad about this.) Are we ready to stretch ourselves by volunteering in the place and putting ourselves in unknown situations? Are we open to trying new foods, especially raw or totally unexpected and unfamiliar items?

And are we willing to prepare ourselves with spiritual awareness that we may need, like patience, tolerance, acceptance, listening, and/or compassion?

JOURNAL WRITING TECHNIQUES

Journal writing techniques range from simple (summarize each day in 5 sentences) to standard (record what you saw and did) to more inclusive (capture your reactions, emotions, or fears to what occurred).  Seize the day’s events, using all the senses. Ask others to write their view of the day’s events in your journal.  I could go on and on.ONLINE PUB Me w.pilgrim's journal

TRAVEL TOUCHSTONES WORKSHOP COMING UP!

I use creative journal writing prompts to help me and others to become more conscious and deliberate in preparation for intentional travel in a three-hour workshop, Travel Touchstones. It offers travelers three major things to better prepare them for capturing the moments and mood, the mystery and magic of their sojourns.

1) Introduce anticipatory questions that will help focus on the upcoming journey.

EXAMPLE: If visiting one country what questions (and of whom) can I ask to learn more about the country’s political system and how it affects global relationships?

2) Discuss kinds of travel and what journal writing supplies fit with each.

EXAMPLE: If traveling to the boundary waters for a nature excursion, what special writing materials will you need in that environment?

3) Offer journal writing techniques that fit various environments and personality types.

EXAMPLE: What theme will be of interest to you in the area you are going to visit and that you plan to write about every day? Food, architecture, education, or ways people dress culturally?

TO REGISTER FOR WORKSHOP

October 22, 2016 from 9:00-noon at 18 Antelope Trail, Kerrville, TX.

Registration fee: $65.00 includes refreshments and materials. Leave questions below in form.

For Texas Hill Country residents to register, please send check to

Rhonda Wiley-Jones, 18 Antelope Trail, Kerrville, TX 78028.

GROUNDWORK FOR INTENTIONAL TRAVEL

I have learned that pre-travel groundwork puts me on high alert for what actually happens, whether it is what I expected or not. I experience more by this preparation.

Some of us are up for anything; but most of us hold back in one area or another that may keep us for gaining the most from our travels.  For those of you who live in the Texas Hill Country, don’t miss this three-hour, fun-filled workshop full of ideas, writing and sharing.

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Posted in Craft of writing

REVISION of “DRAFTING A SCENE”

REVISION

Revision is the only way to improve our writing. — Rhonda Wiley-Jones

The only kind of writing is rewriting. — Ernest Hemingway in A Moveable Feast 

Hopefully you saw the first version of this scene in the previous blog post, Drafting a Scene for my Novel. (If not, review it to get the most out of this post.) After taking it to my writers’ critique group yesterday, see my revisions below in red. They represent changes I made as a result of their comments and from my own need to clarify what I wanted to say. (NOTE: I use the word, Moslem instead of Muslim, because in 1906 that was the preferred word.)

THE REVISED SCENE

Pastor John led the way out of Ramita’s front garden, leaving the sweet smells of flowers. John opened the gate for Fiona to the street and the offensive odors that would come. He stepped behind her and then to the street side of the path. Fiona followed his chivalrous behavior wondering what he was doing, until she recalled Ramita’s words, “Pastor John needs a wife.”

Awkward and uncertain about how to behave around this attentive man of God, Fiona attempted to make casual conversation. Her innate curiosity helped. “I see different kinds of lettering on shop doors. At first I thought them all the same, but after a few days of observing them, I think they are different languages.”

“You have a keen eye.” He pointed to a small sweetmeats shop and said, “That is run by a Moslem. The lettering is Urdu, one of several major languages and the language of Moslem speakers.”

Fiona tried the word on her tongue, “Ur-du. Right? That feels funny in my mouth.

He laughed at her reaction and said, “You would like the taste of these sweets in your mouth as well. Bengal is known as the sweet tooth of India.”

Now standing in front of the bakery, he pointed out the wonders displayed. “That is called pathishapta. It’s a rolled pancake stuffed with a cream of coconut, milk, cream, and an ingredient from the date palm, jaggery. My boys love it.Image result for sweets in indian culture

“See those ball-shaped treats? They are made from a condensed milk and coconut, and often made to celebrate Lakshmi Puja.”

“What’s that?”

“A prayer ritual, usually performed during Diwali, a major Indian festival. The third day of Diwali is considered auspicious and set to greet the god Lakshmi. They believe that the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, comes to bestow gifts and blessings. She is thought to revere cleanliness, so devotees clean their houses and decorate with lights, and prepare delicacies as offerings. The more satisfied she is with the visit the greater the blessings, wealth and prosperity the household will attract during the next year.”

“Do they celebrate once a year or more often?”

“Only during the Diwali festival. But there are many festivals throughout the year. Unfortunately, there are no festivals while you are here. And that’s a shame. I wish you could experience one of them.”

“Yeah, me, too. And what is that?” Fiona said, pointing to another round treat.

“That’s a rasgulla. Of all things, it is a ball of unripened cheese soaked in sugar syrup. Actually, it’s pretty good.” He pointed to another item. “The malpoa has different versions. The one made in here in Bengal is a cream pancake deep fried with raisins and syrup applied later. That was Martha’s … ”

He stopped himself abruptly and then apologized. “I shouldn’t speak of my wife to you.  It’s not my place to burden you with my memories.”

“No, no, that’s okay. You will always remember her fondly and why wouldn’t you?”

He pointed to a tobacco shop across the street and said, “Now see that smoke shop over there? That is run by a Hindu, because the lettering is Hindi. In missionary language school before getting Calcutta I learned that Hindustani is the mother language of Urdu and Hindi.”

Fiona tried to walk in the crowded streets without touching John’s shoulder, but she felt the moist skin from his arm from time to time. She stiffened when he reached for her hand. In tight places he slid his arm behind her and nudged her forward. She took measured steps.

“Ironically though, Urdu is written from right to left; and Hindi, from left to right, like we write. Hindi takes many words and expressions from the Sanskrit and Urdu more from Persian.”

“It looks nothing like our alphabet. How many letters does it have?”

“In Urdu, over thirty consonants and at least twenty vowels. Then in Hindi about twenty-eight consonants and thirty-five vowels. Of course, then there are exceptions and combination of letters, much like we have the “oy” sound for the words joy or voice. The written script may be different in the two; but if you speak one, you understand the other when it is spoken.”

“That doesn’t make sense to me. They seem…”

“Incongruent?”

“Yes, even paradoxical. Do you speak either?”

“I studied Hindi, but can’t say I’m fluent; I stumble along if a native speaker is patient.”

They stepped prudently around a Brahma bull lazily chewing its cud and ignoring them. Fiona from the top of the ghat, man-made stone steps from the upper street level down to the river, looked down to see women washing clothes, while locals and pilgrims bathed before prayers. The wide passageway led down to the Ganges, the holiest of all rivers, or in this case the Hooghly, a diversion from the mother of all Indian rivers.

“I’m so tall and white; so out of place, like a pot roast at a bake sale. What’s the word for foreigner?”

Pardesi, which is Hindi. Though this is the Indian continent, did you know there is no such thing as an Indian race?”

Fiona cocked her head, puzzled. “But they are all dark skinned.”

“Yes, more than you and me, but the range of color is golden to mahogany to black. The Aryans are fair-skinned, more like us; while the Dravidians are Negroid typed.” He saw her perplexed face. “It is believed that Dravidians from the South invaded the North and then integrated, marrying lighter-skinned Aryans;  creating many skin tones.”

“And those two strains of people have inter-married with Mongolians from north of India. When you take into account all these factors, you will see why Indian complexions vary widely.”

Avoiding the marriage subject, she said. “I suppose sun exposure deepens the skin tone, as well.” Then she sniffed the air, like a dog and asked, “What is that  strange scent? I see men smoking pipes and dipping snuff from gourds or pouches, but this scent is unfamiliar.”

He looked about and then pointed to an old gentleman pulling a long drag from an elaborate silver hookah. The device, elegant and expensive, sat in stark contrast to the man with tattered clothes. His only other possession appeared to be an amulet pouch on his belt. The turbaned man with eyes closed sucked on a tube from the instrument.

John said, “That’s called a hookah,  a smoking machine used for opium.”

“Hook-ah, you call it. What is opium, like tobacco?”

“Similar, but more potent. Historically it may have been used by priests or healers to produce effects that made them seem like men with special powers. Today it’s used by pilgrims and priests to attain a meditative state.”

He guided her closer to the contemplative. “In addition to its prevailing use as anesthesia and a painkiller, doctors use it to treat respiratory and stomach ailments.”

Fiona  pointed to the man. “He seems to be lost in thought. Why do you think he is using the hookah?”

“He might say he’s trying to get closer to God.” He chuckled and then sobered.  “I would say there is only one way to God through Jesus Christ. Prayer also helps.”

Fiona  fought her discomfort fueled by his closeness and attention. She fiddled with the compass in her pocket that she found after thinking she had lost it on ship. The compass had been Uncle Louis’  parting gift  to Will. And he  left it with her so she could find her way in the world without him.

The compass reminded Fiona of how much she had wanted to make this trip with Will. It provided the only certainty she had about anything right now. North was always north.

THE PROCESS OF REVISION 

Can you see the improvement in the second version of the scene, especially the added paragraphs of new content the group wanted to see in the scene?

  1. When you return to the first post, you see “Stepping a Character” aids any writer in developing a scene that is lively with action, dialogue, and utilizes more of the senses. I didn’t use all the elements I anticipated, but it gave me ready-made content to work with as I drafted the scene.
  2. Next, you see the value of a good critique group in this post and how it improves our writing (my writing especially). Never shy away from getting feedback from other writers and/or readers and for heaven’s sake don’t ignore it. Weigh to see if it fits what you want to accomplish in the writing. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I make changes.

What is your experience working with a feedback from other writers or readers?

 

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Drafting a Scene for my Novel

STEPPING A CHARACTER 

As writers we are always looking for ways to write faster, more focused, and more detailed. I recently attended a workshop where I learned the craft of stepping a character from Nancy Masters. This prepares me to write a scene for the novel I’m writing set in India, which gives me focus and details, and in turns helps me write faster. Let me share in this post my process of stepping a character, then drafting the scene.

Next week I will share the suggestions I receive from my writing group and revisions I make as a result of their recommendations.

THE PROCESS OF STEPPING A CHARACTER 

  • Three things the reader see when approaching the scene, in this case the street: an open-air merchant, storefronts, animals
  • Three things the main character is wearing: hat, boots, and kerchief
  • Three things she is carrying: her brother Will’s compass, a pouch of rupees, and a hat
  • Three things she sees in route
  1. People = pilgrim pulling on silver hookah, pauper with leather amulet pouch, priest teaching scripture, merchants (tobacco, sweetmeats, and horse traders)
  2. Languages on store fronts = Hindustani, Hindi, Urdu
  3. Styles of smoking = hookah, snuff gourds, snuff pouches
  • Three things she says or comments on: I’m obviously a foreigner; a variety of smoking instruments; and different languages
  • Three smells experienced the streets: manure, sweat, rotten food, aroma from bong
  • A secret Fiona (main character) holds: wishes she were with her brother Will: and a secret Pastor John (secondary character) holds: hopes Fiona will consider being his wife before she leaves India

SCENE

Pastor John led the way out Ramita’s front garden, leaving the sweet smells of Ramita’s garden flowers. John opened the gate for her to the street and the offensive odors that would come. He stepped behind her and then to the street side of the path. When they spent time alone, John reminded her with his chivalry that he was courting her.

Usually awkward and uncertain about how to behave around this attentive man of God, Fiona attempted to make casual conversation. An innate curiosity helped. “I see different kinds of lettering above the shop doors. At first I thought them all the same, but with a few days of observing them, I think they are different languages.”

“You have a keen eye.” He points to a small sweetmeats shop front and said, “That is run by a Moslem. The lettering is Urdu, one of several major languages, not to mention all the distinct dialects spoken in India. Urdu is the language of Islam.”

Fiona tried the word on her tongue to see how it felt, “Ur-du. Right? That sounds silly.”

He pointed to a tobacco shop across the street and said, “Now see that smoke shop over there? That is run by a Hindu, because that lettering is Hindi. I learned in language school before getting to the city, that Hindustani is the mother language of Urdu and Hindi.

“Ironically though, Urdu is written from right to left; and Hindi, from left to right, like we write. Hindi takes many words and expressions from the Sanskrit and Urdu more from Persian.”

“It looks nothing like our alphabet. How many letters does it have?”

“Over thirty consonants and at least twenty vowels in Urdu. Then about twenty-eight consonants and thirty-five vowels in Hindi. Of course, then there are exceptions and combination of these, much like we have the “o-y” and the “o-i” sounds for joy and voice. The written script is different in the two tongues. But if you speak one, you understand the other when spoken.”

“Those things don’t make sense to me. They seem…”

“Incongruent?”

“Yes, even paradoxical. Do you speak either?”

“I studied Hindi, but can’t say I’m fluent; I stumble along if a native speaker is patient.”
Thtumblr_map8rtyFut1rqydf2ey stepped prudently around a Brahmin cow lazily chewing its cud and ignoring them at the top of the ghat, man-built stone steps from the upper street level down to the river on their left. The wide passageway with a stairway led to the Ganges or in this case the Hooghly, a diversion from the mother of all rivers in India.  Women washed clothes, locals and pilgrims bathed before prayer time, as always.

“I am so tall and so white; I feel such a foreigner, like a salad at a bake sale.”

Pardesi, Hindi for foreigner. Actually, there is no such thing as an Indian race here.”

Fiona cocked her head, puzzled. “But they are all dark skinned.”

“Yes, more than you and me, but the range of color is golden to mahogany to black. The Aryans are fair-skinned, more like us; while the Dravidians are Negroid typed.” He saw her perplexed face. “It is believed that Dravidians from the South invaded the North and then integrated, marrying lighter-skinned Aryans; all the while making a variety of skin tones.

“And those two strains of people have inter-married with Mongolians from north of India. When you take into account all these factors, you will see why Indian complexions vary widely.

“I suppose the tropical sun deepens the skin tone, as well.”

Fiona relaxed as she learned more about the infinite mixtures of people. Then she encountered an aroma that she had not smelled before. She asked, “What is that different scent from the other usual ones? I see men smoking pipes and dipping snuff from gourds or pouches, but this scent is unfamiliar.”

He pointed to an old gentleman pulling a long drag from an elaborate silver hookah. The device, elegant and expensive, sat in stark contrast to the man with tattered clothes and only an amulet pouch on his belt. The turbaned man, eyes closed, sucked on a tube from the instrument.Old_man_smoking_hookah,_near_Jaipur,_Rajasthan,_India[1]

John said, “That’s called a hookah or a smoking machine used for opium.”

Fiona still confounded said, “Hook-ah, you call it. What is opium, like tobacco?”

“Similar, but more potent. Historically it may have been used by priests and healers to produce effects that made them seem like men with special powers. Today it’s used by pilgrims and priests to attain a meditative state. He seems to be meditating. In addition to its prevailing use as anesthesia and a pain-killer, medicine uses it to treat respiratory and stomach ailments.”

“And this man here? Why do you think he is using it?”

“He might say he’s trying to get closer to God. I would say there is only one way to God. Through Jesus Christ. Prayer also helps.” He chuckled and then sobered.

Fiona fiddled with the compass in her pocket that she found after thinking she had lost it. The compass had been Will’s favorite gift ever from Uncle Louis. When he lay dying he left it with her to help her find her way in the world. He knew she might need it in India.

The compass reminded her how much she had wanted to make this trip with Will. It was not the same without him. His death left her vulnerable to the sailors aboard ship, alone to negotiate quarantine and the sale, as well as the changed arrangements in India. Not only had her circumstances change, so had Pastor John’s, due to his wife’s recent death. Instead of staying with the pastor’s family, she boarded with Ramita, which had turned a benefit. The compass provided the only certainty she had about anything right. North was always north – the compass said so.

YOUR TAKE ON THIS SCENE?

Though I did not use all the items I listed in the stepping the character process, you can see it gave me plenty of ideas to work into a scene. The scene in turn provides interesting details of time and place; as well as, cultural and historical information. It builds the rapport between the two characters through dialogue and actions they take toward each other. Practice this process to see if it is as helpful to you as it has been for me.

Let us know how it works for you. We can all learn from and with each other.