Posted in Travel Writing

Purpose of Scenes in a Novel

Cicadas are a favorite sound of late summer for me. They are noisy this time of year. My love of them is the reason I placed them in two scenes of my recently released novel, Song of Herself, and is the inspiration of this post.

Scenes are the life blood of story building. They have three primary purposes, which generate savory stories.

  1. They keep the story moving forward:  Passages keep us engaged, asking, “what will happen next and next?”
  2. Scenes set up problems or conflict: For example, if a character shows up unprepared for a trip, then there will be consequences, often negative ones.
  3. They reveal consequences in action and reaction: For example, if ill-prepared then the character may have insufficient supplies, food, water or equipment. Then how do these situations make the character feel and react?

Scenes divide a story into smaller units of actions, events, and reactions. They allow the writer to release information to the reader as it serves the narrative.  

As the late August heat here in Central Texas blazes, the cicadas sing their hearts out. The dead one I found outside our back patio door was whole and complete, available for my close inspection.

It reminded my of one of two scenes in which the protagonist of my newly published novel, Song of Herself, Fiona is sailing alone with only the help of the company man, Jacob, who serves as her go-between with the sailors on ship. So I decided to share this scene. In part because I it illustrates the purposes of scenes and because of the cicada I found.

When writers craft their words in Deep Point of View (POV), it allows the characters feelings and reactions to surface. I wrote of Fiona Weston and her loneliness (wishing for the sound of cicada from home) in this scene from my novel, Song of Herself.

SCENE from Song of Herself

That evening before Jacob could introduce her to the men at supper, two fair-haired chaps looking like twins, stood behind Fiona in line, while Jacob left her to talk to another sailor. “Hello. I’m Lars and this is my brother, Leo.” He rolled the letter “r” when he spoke. His voice ended higher at the end of each phrase. It was English but nothing like she had heard before.

Setting down her cup, she extended a hand to Lars, as any man would. “Hi, I’m Fiona Weston.” She suspected his hesitation came from women not shaking hands; instead, ladies offered a hand to be kissed. After pausing to look at her outstretched hand, he shook it loosely. She reached beyond Lars with his clear blue eyes and offered her hand to Leo, who had green ones, both deep-set. Their full lips smiled broadly.

Having had time to think and react, Leo shook her hand firmly.

“Are you twins or just brothers?”

Leo with green eyes said, “No, not true twins.” He rolled the “r” sound too and pronounced “twins” quite strangely, with the “w” as a “v” sound. She tried not to laugh.

Lars chimed in. “Irish twins. Some call us Catholic twins. But we are Norwegian.”

Fiona said, “What does that mean?”

They laughed, looked at each other and back to Fiona. “Irish twins are siblings born within a year of one another. It’s a nod to people, usually Irish, who are Catholic and do not use—what do you say?—precautions.” Fiona blushed.

Leo said, “Why don’t you join us for supper?”

She had to listen carefully to understand them. That was part of their charm. She was not accustomed to gallantry from any man, much less this much attention from two men. “I would be happy to, but—.”

Lars said, “Let’s go up on deck—it is nice tonight, away from the earthquakes’ smoke and dust still moving away from San Francisco.” He smiled at Leo.

Leo said, “We’ll find a place for you—other than the floor of the deck.”

Fiona laughed, “That’s okay. I can find a spot for myself.” She had always found her own place in the world, whether a chair or the prairie.

When the cook, Paddy, served her, he caught her eyes, and shook his head. She shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “What?” Paddy looked across the mess hall and motioned to Jacob to “come here.”

Jacob was already on his way. While she waited with her plate and cup in hand for Lars and Leo to be served, he appeared. He steered her from the line to a separate table.

Lars said, “Hey, you, we just asked her to eat dinner with us.”

Jacob took her tray from her, ignoring the comment, and said to Fiona, “Follow me.”

Leo, cocky and offended, said, “She’s our date. We can offer what no one else can.” Lars chimed in. “You bet, two for one. Doesn’t get any better than that.”

Fiona now realized her dilemma, which she had not detected, until rescued. She said to them, “I think I’ll keep my regular date. Thank you, gentlemen.”

Jacob hissed at her, “Those gentlemen would have had their way with your innocence. You will not dinner-date with those two yahoos—not on my watch.”

“But—” She tucked her chin in indignation.

Jacob spit words. “Why did they want supper on deck away from the rest of us?”

“To visit?” Fiona was holding on to her right to be with them.

“No, to have their way—without eyes on you.”

“I just wanted to meet someone new, see upper deck. I wasn’t thinking.”

“Not thinking at all, I’d say,” he said in a huff. She stood, hesitant to sit with him after he embarrassed her. Jacob clasped her wrist. “Sit, eat,” lowering his voice, “I’m trying to keep you safe.”

She sank down in front of her dinner tray. “Guess I should be grateful to you.” It was her proud way of apologizing.

Jacob sat with his head over his plate shoving supper down. While chewing, he hissed, “Your radar was not working. Sailors are not your friend.” He looked up at her softening his eyes, swallowed his food, and laid his hands on the table’s railing. “Sailors will never be your friends.”

After supper at the entry to her quarters, Jacob tried to repair his harsh words. “I’m sorry. Sorry I was harsh. They could have hurt you.” He placed each word in front of her, as well as the tenderness of caring for her safety. 

She could only mouth, “Thank you.”

He reached for the same wrist he had grabbed earlier and inspected it. “I hope I didn’t hurt you or leave marks.” He held her arm in both of his hands and then grinned. She could see his smile even in the shadows. He said, “I’ll be more of a gentleman next time.” He lightly squeezed her hand and said, “Good night.”

When he dropped it and stepped away, she wanted to say, “No, don’t leave.”

Fiona lit the candle on the wall and readied herself for bed. In the makeshift bunk, she wished for her bedroom at home, the soft music of the cicadas singing in the trees, better yet the silence of fireflies. Tonight, Fiona was homesick and knew she would be, even if her brother, Will, had been there. The memories of waking up together in the same house with Will, whether to play when they were little or to work when they got older, deepened the hole in her heart from having lost him in the earthquake.

Her uncle Louis had read from Leaves of Grass to Fiona since she was little and gave her 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.

Fiona argued with Whitman’s optimism. Will’s death had no beautiful results, nor was it a perfect miracle, as he suggested. The only marvel at work she knew of was now Jacob’s care and tenderness, not only to the mares she accompanied, but also and especially toward her. She had prayed for an escape from Spirit Lake for years, then when her uncle offered this trip, she had imagined new feats, new chances in unknown territory. Instead, the constant clinking and clanking of the rigging of the ship began to wear on her nerves in her bunk below.

Now you see why this scene came to mind. Can you find the three elements or purposes of a scene in this one? Does this chapter from my novel give you an example of how it works? Let me know what you think of this scene building idea? Let me hear from you!

Posted in Travel Writing

Join me in the Story Circle Network Class, “Learning from the Best Women Travel Writers”

Starting Soon

I’ll be offering a zoom class starting next week through the Story Circle Network, “Learning from the Best of Women Travel Writers” on June 13, 20, 27, July 11 and 18; 3-4:00 each week. The class is for —women only— and costs $205 for non-members and $165 for members. Please share with other writers who might be interested. The link above will give you a description of the class and outline of activities, along with added information about the class. 

Thanks for your interest in the class or for sharing the news with others!! 

Posted in Good literary citizen, Literary Community, Travel Writing

5 Reasons to be a Good Literary Citizen

Reading from my Books Publicly Can Contribute to the Literary Community

Saturday, April 22, 2023, I read from my debut novel, Song of Herself at Comfort, Texas, Public Library’s Read-a-Thon.

I also read from At Home in the World: Travel Stories of Growing Up and Growing Away, my coming-of-age, travel memoir.

The theme of both books assert the transformative nature of travel to build personal and psychological agency, especially for women.

It was also the library’s Authors, Artists, and Artisans (AAA) Day. There were watercolorists, jewelry makers, and authors selling their products. It was a fun community day together.

Yes, you may have noticed that the word itself is spelled differently on various sites. Readathon or read-a-thon. The first is easier to type, the second, easier to read. I’ll use them interchangeably.

5 Reasons why being a good literary citizen is important?

  1. You’ll make new friends, like Catherine Wilde and her three adorable daughters in the photo above. She’s the author of Reclaiming your Inner Sparkle, and the accompanying book, Self Care Journal for Moms: Sparkle Every Day: Prompts & Practices to Effortlessly Infuse your Days with Compassion & Self Love. You will find her online at
  2. Whether you’re a reader or writer, you will learn of books that you would not have found any other way. That’s part of the thrill of it.
  3. To support other writers, even artists and artisans, in their creative endeavors. We work alone, yet our products, whether books or artwork are for the public, the communities in which we live.
  4. To let the world know what you, as writer and creative, have contributed to the world, so they can read and enjoy your work. Also let them know who you are as a person, not just a name on the front of the book.
  5. To bring together those who love to read and those who write, so both can have live discussions about books, themes, and how books and stories have changed our lives.

Posted in Revision, Solas Travel Writing Awards, Writers' Groups, Writing Partners

3 Reasons to Join Writing Groups

Without the persistent support and serious critique of writing groups and partners throughout my writing career, starting in the early 1990s, I likely would not be a published author or had the success I’ve had to date. Groups and partners are necessary to the revision process of writing.

Let’s look at three reasons for getting feedback from other writers so we can revise with input and confidence.

Three Purposes of Receiving Feedback from Fellow Writers

ONE. Writing partners and groups offer support to the fragile souls of writers. Positive feedback is just as important as negative, if not more so. Partners and groups answering , “What do you like or what works for you as the reader?” lets the writer know what already enhances their piece.

Examples of feedback:

  • “The author’s work is paced so that it heightens the tension.”
  • “The audience is kept informed of details that keep the reader from stopping to ask ‘huh?’”
  • “The essay on forgiveness is a difficult and humbling topic, one needed in our public and private lives today. I commend the author for tackling the topic.”

TWO. Members of a writing group give brutally honest responses to another’s writing product — called constructive feedback. This gives the author a chance to listen and determine if the review feels on target or is deemed unimportant to their work.

Examples of feedback:

  • “The dialogue on pages 3-4 is clunky and extraneous and could be deleted without loss to the story.”
  • “The use of the adjective ‘really’ adds no value to a sentence, is overused, so can be eliminated throughout the story.”
  • “The sequence of events feels out of order. Perhaps placing the second event as the fourth will improve the logical occurrences of the scene.”

THREE. When a writer hears group members express what they are curious about or what they want more of in the story, it opens up possibilities. This often lets the writer find new scene-worthy material.

Examples of feedback:

  • “When the writer mentions rubies being found, is there a chance of other jewels being discovered in the treasure hunt?”
  • “As the author describes Hemingway’s life, what role do his four wives play in his literary career? ”
  • “When the protagonist fades from the scene, what is her emotional state? What physical ways can you show that?”

Writing Success through Publications and Awards

My most recent achievement was winning a bronze Solas travel writing award in “Elders” category for my story, “From the Back of the Van,” when traveling in Chiapas, Mexico with two friends.

My travel writing group is the backbone of my success. We take classes together and review each others’ work, going on about three years now. The group expands and contracts over time, but there are eight to fifteen of us, Zooming from San Diego to New York and all in between.

What’s remarkable is that ten of us placed in the Solas awards this year; last year, six of us. Solid proof that writing partners and groups work.

The Travelers’ Tales editors and this year’s guest judge Scott Dominic Carpenter announced the winners of the Seventeenth Annual Solas Awards for Best Travel Story of the Year on March 15, 2023. Scores of entries in 21 categories kept the judges busy. As usual, not every story that deserved an award received one. Here’s the complete list of winners. 

Winning stories will be posted on the Great Stories page and as Editors’ Choice stories on, and may appear in future Travelers’ Tales books. (Taken from the 17th Solas Awards Announcement page)

Travel is the Subject of my Two Books

Travel writing was not just aspirational, but a driving feature of my life and my work. At Home in the World: Travel Stories of Growing Up and Growing Away was my coming-of-age, travel memoir that follows me from a girl of ten to a young woman of twenty-seven. Travel experiences helped me grow up with a nuanced view of the world and a telling tale to gain self-confidence and agency as a result of my travels.

Novel writing grew from a dream one morning of a woman in a salwar kameez. It became the inspiration for Song of Myself, an historical novel, set in 1906 about a young horsewoman that traveled to India to sell her uncle’s quarter horses to the British Indian army for breeding.

Both book themes assert the transformative nature of building agency during travel, especially for women.

You can purchase each at Amazon as a paperback or an eBook.

Posted in adventure, Memoir writing, Travel, Travel Writing, Women traveling

Getting Lost in Dublin

The Idea of Getting Lost

Getting lost can be a result of traveling into unknown territory. For many travelers and especially travel writers that’s the point of travel—to get lost, find ourselves in unlikely places, and discover something we could not have imagined just hours before. It’s the thrill of the travel writer, even if it is intimidating or scary.

A Travelers’ Tale of Getting Lost

In Ireland years ago, my mom joined my husband and I at his international conference in Dublin. Typically, the host university would have a robust itinerary for spouses and guests. But not this time.

One day Mother and I took the bus from our guesthouse to central downtown. I don’t even recall what we hoped to see or do. But we had shopped (my mother’s favorite hobby), bought a refreshing drink in the midafternoon and decided it was time to head back.

Map Reading Got us Nowhere

Our map did not match where we were. It didn’t resemble where we wanted to go. We walked and walked to find a street location that would give us our bearings to no avail. We laughed at our combined ineptitude. We walked until we were tired. We laughed at a city that seemed incomprehensible to either of us. We walked until we were parched again.

Finally, we waited in the heat of the afternoon, feet swelling at a bus stop.  

A stern bus driver wanted us on or off the bus. I was taking up time out of his route to step onto the bus to ask directions while mom stood on the street. Exasperated, he demanded, “Both of you. Get on. I’ll take you to the right bus stop.”

The Kindness of Strangers

In the end, he took time out of his route (and possibly at the ire of passengers) to get us to the correct bus stop, headed in the right direction back to our guesthouse, almost late for dinner with my husband.

We giggled at how this intimidating driver had given in to two damsels in distress. The kindness of a stranger was our hero in this story. The afternoon in Dublin was mom’s and my most memorable moment of a two-week Ireland trip.

A “Getting Lost” Story in Song of Herself.

You can find my novel, Song of Herself, on Amazon. In the novel you can find specifically the story of the protagonist, Fiona, getting lost in India and how she found her way to shop for a salwar kameez, on pages 166-168.

I believe, you will enjoy the adventure story of one young horsewoman’s journey to India alone to sell her uncle’s quarter horses. What she discovers along the way is the kindness of others and her own resilience to suffer the same obstacles she faced at home and due to her ability to taken the reins of her life succeed in overcoming those challenges.