Books as Traveling Companions

Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors so when the time came to choose a traveling companion for a trip to Arizona, I chose her words. Her novel Animal Dreams takes place in Arizona and her descriptions became the perfect background music.

Arizona canyonsI read this description while on the plane and couldn’t wait to get out there:

“The canyon walls rose straight up on either side of us, ranging from sunset orange to deep rust, mottled with purple. The sandstone had been carved by ice ages and polished by desert eons of sandpaper winds.”

canyon wall

Once I finally stood near the canyon walls, I made sure to notice the colors threading their way through the rock and all the layers representing centuries of creation.

After hiking up a steep path, ancient cliff dwellings came into view. From down below, the dwellings couldn’t be seen at all. They blended in with the canyon to the point of invisibility. Everyone figured they built their homes that way for protection against potential enemies. Later, I read this passage and saw the cliff dwellings all over again but in a different way:

“The walls were shaped to face the curved hole in the cliff, and the building blocks were cut from the same red rock that served as their foundation. I thought of what Loyd had told me about Pueblo architecture, whose object was to build a structure the earth could embrace.”

cliff dwellings

Tucked away in a crevice between the cliffs where sunlight acted as a calendar, petroglyphs told their own tales. They spoke of the people who lived there high above the ground, of hunting parties, and of women with Princess Leia hairdos.

petroglyphs

DSC03868_2

Kingsolver describes petroglyphs as a record of progress through the generations:

“There were antelope, snakes, and ducks in a line like a carnival shooting gallery. And humans: oddly turtle-shaped, with their arms out and fingers splayed as if in surrender or utter surprise. The petroglyphs added in recent centuries showed more svelte, self-assured men riding horses. The march of human progress seemed mainly a matter of getting over that initial shock of being here.”

Now that I’m back home, I can revisit the red rock canyons any time with a turn of the page.

(And the Twitter goat club will be happy to hear there’s a goat in Animal Dreams.)

Related Post:
Writer…Uninterrupted – during Vacation

Do you choose novels based on setting? Have you ever taken a favorite author along on vacation? 

Hidden Colors

frozen ocean

After months of snow and ice, we feel like we’re living in a black and white movie. We become color deprived. The ocean is frozen and icicles are everywhere.

sand icicles

But somewhere underneath it all, the colors are waiting. Maybe if the sun doesn’t melt the snow, the colors will.

marsh flowers

castle

flowers

ocean

marsh

Whether you’re enjoying the beginnings of spring or fall or an everlasting summer, I hope your colors are shining through.

Snowbound Reading through the Decades

snowWhen the snow is up past your knees and you can’t open the door, then all you can do is stay in and read. That’s why I love the snow.

I’ve been wandering through the decades with a chronological short story collection and I’m stuck in the 1950s for now. The collection begins with a story published in 1915 and goes up to the end of the century. I’ve seen farming communities replaced by city life. Writing styles have become more rushed. Now I’m stuck in suburbia surrounded by themes of society’s expectations and restrictions. I’m looking forward to the 60s.

My favorite story from the 1930-50 era is “Resurrection of a Life” by William Saroyan, published in 1935. The character remembers being a newspaper boy in 1917, roaming the streets, shouting disastrous headlines. It beautifully shows what that might do to a young boy. Not only does he see the coldness of the city, but he repeats and sells stories of war.

“There he is suddenly in the street, running, and it is 1917, shouting the most recent crimes of man, extra, extra, ten thousand huns killed, himself alive, inhaling, exhaling, ten thousand, ten thousand, all the ugly buildings solid, all the streets solid, the city unmoved by the crime, ten thousand, windows opening, doors opening, and the people of the city smiling about it, good, good, ten thousand, ten thousand of them killed. Johnny, get your gun, and another trainload of boys in uniforms, going away, torn from home, from the roots of life, their tragic smiling, and the broken hearts, all things in the world broken.”

DSC01831_2We see and feel the city, the people bustling by, and the boy there in the middle of it all. While others think of war as abstract, he breaks it down to individuals. He sees their faces caught up in something large and monstrous. Toward the end, he still manages to find beauty in it all:

“And all that I know is that we are somehow alive, all of us, in the light, making shadows, the sun overhead, space all around us, inhaling, exhaling, the face and form of man everywhere, pleasure and pain, sanity and madness, over and over again, war and no war, and peace and no peace, the earth solid and unaware of us, unaware of our cities, our dreams, unaware of this love I have for life.”

Sometimes I take a break to read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. It’s a great one so far.

Are you snowbound or enjoying the sunshine? What have you been reading lately?

Author Interview: Charissa Stastny

CStastnyCharissa Stastny, author of the Bending Willow Trilogy, made it through the snow to visit from Idaho today. Charissa is a great friend and blogging buddy. Her third novel, Hands of Mercy, has just been released so she deserves lots of chocolate and cheers.

Thanks for visiting so we could talk about your novels and finding the time to write and market a trilogy.

The new book covers look great. What was it like working with your daughter on them? How did she go about creating them?

When she came to me and told me she wanted to update my covers, I was super surprised. She works for an architect, so I didn’t know she could do the graphic art type work, but she found an awesome model for Suvi that fit my specifications and showed me her idea and I was blown away with excitement! It’s been fun working together, although hard too because we live in different states and have to do things long distance or wait until we visit each other.

Suvi goes through a lot of internal and external struggles. As the mother of young daughters, was it difficult for you to put her in those situations?

Suvi is like my child, but I knew as an author I had to torture her in order for her to shine. Real life tortures us in unique ways as well. I tell my kids all the time that God doesn’t keep them safe from every harmful or hurtful thing in the world; but He’s there to help, comfort and guide us through hard times. How we react to our challenges reveals who we really are and what we can become. An easy life makes for boring, shallow people.

2-SecretKeepers_ebookRGB_2You mentioned the missionary character who travels to Guatemala is based on your brother. What did he think of the Eyes of Light novel?

I hope he liked it. I know he read it, but he’s as quiet as I am and we don’t gush out our dreams or compliments to each other. Since most of the missionary moments are from his letters, he better have liked it or I’m not giving him a birthday present this year.

I know you like to work on multiple WIPs at one time. How many are you working on now and how different are they?

3-HandsOfMercy_ebookRGB_2I’ve got about six stories started, but I’ve been focused on editing/revising this Bending Willow Trilogy lately. I go between books – either finishing Book 3, editing book 1, making a trailer for book 2, etc (depending on what I feel like doing each day). It’s fun.

How do you find the time to work on so many different novels? What’s your writing routine like?

My routine is very sporadic. I write every day, but depending on my day job or activities for my kids, doctor appointments, etc, my time at the computer changes. My goal is to become more regimented with my writing time, but so far I’ve been more like Doug from the movie Up. “Squirrel!” I’m easily sidetracked.

Any other writing or marketing advice you’d like to share?

At the last writing conference I attended, author Jennifer Nielsen who wrote the False Prince series, said “book writing is a mental illness.” I’m definitely insane. My advice (like so many other authors out there) is to write because you love it, not because you expect to make a six-digit salary. I love the process of writing and revising. I also love the process of designing my own books and making them marketable. Whether or not I ever become rich off my books, I’ll keep writing because, like I said above, I have the writing disease bad and can’t seem to stop myself. If you are okay with that upfront (being mentally diseased), then welcome to the writing world. Let me offer you a straitjacket.

You can connect with Charissa through her blog Joy in the Moments, Twitter, or Facebook.

Click each book cover for a description. The Bending Willow Trilogy is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.

A Century of Voices

bookI started the new year off with voices from the last century. I know, I’m weird.

The voices are contained within this volume of short stories. They’re in chronological order starting with the year 1915 so reading through them is like reading through history. Not the kind of history you read in textbooks, but the kind that’s filled with people’s thoughts and feelings. There have been stories about immigration and racial issues, farming communities and mobsters. Poverty. Cruelty. Injustice. And yes, hope.

Famous voices can be found through the pages, including the familiar ones of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner. But I’ve enjoyed hearing the others, the ones I hadn’t heard until now.

One of my favorites so far, “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell, was published in 1917. It shows how often women were dismissed, even though they were always there farming, cooking, and cleaning. That attitude comes through as the normal way of things with passages like this:

“Oh well,” said Mrs. Hale’s husband, with good-natured superiority, “women are used to worrying over trifles.”

The two women moved a little closer together. Neither of them spoke.

“And yet,” said he, with the gallantry of a young politician, “for all their worries, what would we do without the ladies?”

The women did not speak, did not unbend.

Reading through this volume has reminded me why I love short stories. They give the reader so much in only a few words. The best short stories could easily be novels. They’re packed full of emotion. In these times with so little time (really the way it’s always been), it’s surprising that more people don’t read short stories.

It’ll be interesting to see how writing styles have changed over the last century. I’ll keep reading through time and will let you know how it goes in future posts.

What do you think of short stories? Do you have a favorite short story writer?

Gone Dreaming

gone clamminIt’s officially the offseason here on Cape Cod. Houses are boarded up and the beach is turning into a wasteland of blowing sand.

It must be liberating to put up a sign like this while going off to pursue a dream. I’ve never gone clamming so my sign would have to say something like “Gone Dreaming.”

There’s never enough time for writing or dreaming. In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway describes trying to write in cafés while ignoring anyone who interrupts him. He makes himself unpresentable by wearing old clothes and growing his hair out so that he won’t be tempted to visit friends. I’ve been doing that for years now and it hasn’t helped.

Sometimes we have to be hermits. We have to go off and dream, even while other people are around, so that we can come up with different ways of looking at the world.

The only drawback is that you end up missing everyone. I’ve missed you all. I kept thinking I’d reappear earlier, but then life would get in the way and I’d have to disappear before reappearing. And I’m not even a magician.

I’m still dreaming. After revising for most of the year, I’m in the querying stage. So we’ll see. My hope is that, like all of us, this book will only get better with age.

Whenever I start thinking it might be done or close to it, I’m reminded of this quote by Paul Gardner:

“A painting is never finished – it simply stops in interesting places.”

It’s the same for novels. Maybe they’re only done when they’re published, but even then, are they really? Each reader brings something different to a book. So then, it’s continually recreated with each reading. That’s part of the magic. As the winds pick up around here, I’m looking forward to the magic of books.

book magic

How’s everything going with you? Have you read any great books lately?

Climbing Up a Sleeping Bear

Sleeping Bear Dunes

Tackling the dune climb at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore feels like mountain climbing. But these mountains made of sand are tricky. With every step up, climbers sink back down again by almost the same distance.

Sleeping Bear Dune ClimbersBecause of this, it takes a while to climb up the 100-foot bear but it’s worth it for the views of Lake Michigan and the surrounding sand dunes. When it’s time to go Sleeping Bear Dune Climbershome, another reward is to bounce or roll down the dune to the ground below.

The highest point in the park is 450 feet straight up from Lake Michigan. Anyone attempting to climb that dune might be forced into crawling, but that’s forgotten once the top is reached. From there, it’s easy to see why Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was named the “Most Beautiful Place in America” on ABC’s Good Morning America.

According to the National Park Service, the Chippewa Indians once used the bear-shaped dune as a landmark. The bear rose about two thousand years ago and has seen its share of changes. It no longer looks like a bear. In the late 1800s, it was covered with trees and shrubs, giving it a dark shaggy appearance. For now, the bear has gone into hibernation and his sand dune looks more like a cave. With all the wind-swept changes, the bear may rise again or disappear.

Sleeping Bear Dune Lookout

Because these dunes feel so much like mountains, I was surprised to learn that Adelie from Artfully Aspiring had gone sledding there. I’ve been known for a few sledding feats, including barreling right into a raging polluted river, but I don’t think I’d be brave enough to sled down steep mountain dunes like these. Though you never know. If I find myself there again when there’s enough snow, I might be tempted.

Instead of sledding there, as a teenager I climbed up and bounced down the dunes while listening to Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon.”

Sleeping Bear Dunes View

Do you have a favorite National Park memory?

The Beauty of Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan

When I first heard of the most recent oil spill in Lake Michigan, my thoughts flashed back to the beauty that can be found there while hoping it won’t be destroyed.

Lake Michigan

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of gallons of crude oil discharged into Lake Michigan from an Indiana refinery last week. BP recently doubled its oil spill estimate to up to 1,638 gallons.

Lake Michigan

Every time something like this happens anywhere in the world, it feels like something has been lost. It’s not going to be the same. The environment has been altered again. And it’s our fault. And we keep doing it.

Lake Michigan

I visit my dad there often. The water along the Michigan side is crystal clear. I can see the sand at the bottom even when I’m out over my head. My dad worked on Lake Michigan freighters that hauled cars between cities in the early 1960s. He remembers when they would siphon water right from the lakes and use it as drinking water. It didn’t need to be purified.

Lake Michigan

Seven million people in and around Chicago still use Lake Michigan for drinking water. Although some parts of it look clean, I doubt if anyone would risk drinking right from the lake these days. But it wasn’t that long ago when people could do just that. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could turn everything around and go back to the days of a cleaner, healthier environment? If we could, would we take it for granted all over again?

Lake Michigan

Watching a Prompt and a Parrot Come to Life

parrotJust a quick note to let everyone know about Minuscule Moments of Inspiration. In a recent post, Kath Unsworth challenged readers to come up with a children’s book prompt. Her daughter chose my silly prompt of a parrot that gets into trouble for repeating things.

Take a look at the illustration and story

I love how this talented writer, artist, and friend came up with such a fun scenario while showing her daughter how true it is that stories are everywhere.

Melting Into Words

melting leaf

Frozen gray skies melt into blue. Signs of life appear: a singing stream, babbling birds, ducks visiting the birdfeeder.

visiting ducks

ducks in the woods

Ducks don’t usually visit a house in the woods. But somehow, these ducks sniffed out the birdseed from their lakeside home. Now the springtime sound of chirping combines with quacks, reminding me how funny life can be.

frozen pond

As the snow glaciers retreat, we smell the Earth again. It smells like life. We inhale it. Slices of green delight poke through the ground, waiting to bloom. Cranberry bogs that served as skating rinks over the winter are thawing out.

cranberry bog

I’ve been revising and tinkering with the novel through the winter, but it still seemed frozen into place while I knew it needed more. Lately though, whatever was frozen has been melting into words. Whether our words drip or flood in, it’s progress. Every word, every revision, brings us closer to a finished book. It takes time but that’s true for anything worth doing. If your words were frozen over the winter, I hope they’re melting.

stream

“Spring drew on…and a greenness grew over those brown beds, which, freshening daily, suggested the thought that Hope traversed them at night, and left each morning brighter traces of her steps.” – Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

“As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.” – John Muir

Happy Spring! Have you ever had a pet duck? Does the weather affect your creativity?

Winter Ocean

winter ocean

There’s a certain beauty to a winter ocean. It’s a desolate beauty: one that makes you feel.

winter ocean

winter ocean

The wind is strong enough to push you along. Flying seems possible with open arms. Once the cold sucks all the air out of you, a warm numbness takes over. The sand blasts your face. No matter how tired you might be, a visit to a winter ocean will always wake you up.

snow art

It’s not the one sunbathers worship. It doesn’t comfort. As raw and brutal as nature can be, it challenges. In meeting that challenge to walk along its shores, you’re rewarded with a new appreciation for life. The beauty of a winter ocean leaves you breathless.

winter ocean walk

Have you ever walked along the ocean in freezing temperatures? What kind of beauty takes your breath away?

Author Interview: Kourtney Heintz

sixtraincoverJust in time for Valentine’s Day, Kourtney Heintz is stopping by to talk about her novel, The Six Train to Wisconsin.

Six Train is such a classic love story. Did you set out to write a novel like that or is that how it evolved?  

Thank you Sheila! It was very intentional. I wanted to write a love story I could relate to. No idealized hero and heroine who live happily ever after. For me finding someone isn’t the journey. Staying together, growing into each other, and dealing with the times you aren’t connecting – that’s what love is about. I wanted to write about people who have good intentions and sometimes make bad choices. I wanted to play with all the gray in relationships and capture what it’s really like to find love and to keep it.

Where did the idea for your novel come from?

The telepathy aspect came from thinking about how great it would be to read someone’s mind and realizing how much more complicated a relationship would become.

The central core of the story is about what you would do for the person you love. What a husband will do for his wife and what she will do for him. The book begins with Oliver as the caregiver and Kai as the care needer – this came from my experience with a back injury. I wanted to take all that pain and use it for something. To tell the story of what it is like to be on both sides of an injury – the caregiver and the care needer.

Do you think telepathy is possible?

Believing in the unbelievables is my tag line on my blog and my website. And I do. I think it’s all possible. I’ve had lots of woo-woo experiences and know people who also had them. I think there is so much beyond our five senses. I’ve never met a telepath, but I like to live in a world where that is possible.

I couldn’t help thinking that the colorful aunt in your novel sounded like Grandma H. What does she think of that character?

She is actually a bit from Grandma H’s sister, Julia, who always wore floral and paisley print dresses when I was a kid.

Unfortunately, we may never know. Grandma H is a niche reader. She only reads non-fiction. Specifically biographies or autobiographies. Usually of president’s wives or movie stars. So she hasn’t read the book. She did buy two copies though, so she is very supportive. :)

What made you decide to go the indie route?

I spent one and a half years pitching agents at conferences and sending out queries. I received a good amount of full manuscript requests and personalized rejections. Even got a revise and resubmit two-page editorial style letter from my dream agent at my dream agency. But we had a different vision for the opening and it didn’t work out.

Most of my feedback centered around great writing, but not sure how to sell it. That told me this was a book that might do best in the indie market. I also had a very specific vision for this book down to the cover and the formatting of the chapters. I felt like this was something I needed to bring to market myself.

IMG_0891Kourtney Heintz resides in Connecticut with her warrior lapdog, Emerson, her supportive parents and three quirky golden retrievers. She dreams of one day owning a log cabin on Butternut Lake. Years of working on Wall Street provided the perfect backdrop for her imagination to run amuck at night, imagining a world where out-of-control telepathy and buried secrets collide. 

Her debut novel, The Six Train to Wisconsin, is a 2014 EPIC Ebook Awards Finalist, a 2013 USA Best Book Awards Finalist and a 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Semifinalist.

You can connect with Kourtney through her blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

Where to buy: The Six Train to Wisconsin can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, or iTunes.

Loving Life and Visiting Friends

flowerThere are so many things to love about life that it can be overwhelming when we stop to think about it.

When Britt Skrabanek asked me to be a life enthusiast, my mind whirled with all the possibilities. Britt is one of those easy to love people and her Life Enthusiast series reminds us of all there is to love. If you’re up for an adventure, let’s hop on over to Britt’s site for my Life Enthusiast guest post. While you’re there, I highly recommend following Britt if you haven’t already. Her posts always make me smile. I’ll close comments here and will hope to see you there for some fun while we stop to inhale the flowers.