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30 Minutes of Quiet

4 Jun

Often the most difficult part of writing is allowing myself to slow down and listen for the ideas. Although writing ideas can come from news items, conversations, and experiences, a story still requires some quiet contemplation to develop. At least for me it does.

I’ve been trying a new technique recently that I call “sprint thinking.” (The name comes from “spring writing” that I sometimes do with friends.) For sprint thinking I take half an hour, set the timer on my phone, then put the ringer on silent and turn it face down. I have my paper journal notebook and a pen in hand, and that’s it. I sit, look at the trees out my window, watch the birds. No turning over the phone to see how much time has elapsed. If an idea or thought comes to me that is worth writing down, I write it down, but I don’t force it.

Thirty minutes of quiet passes more quickly than you might think. But you have to allow yourself to slow down, and let your imagination take over. Maybe not a bad idea for non-writers as well. We could all use some slowing down.

A few more basic rules for spring thinking: something hot or cold to drink and a snack are allowed; if the phone buzzes, you may check to see who called or texted, but don’t answer unless it’s urgent. And think carefully about what “urgent” really means.

Sprint think. Try it. I would love to hear how it works for you. Below is a photo of the view from my deck, where I do a lot of sprint thinking.

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The Process

7 Feb

The book is finished. The publisher has accepted it. The contract is signed. What does a writer do next?

Start another project, of course! Truthfully, I have already started another project, several months ago. I like to have writing work in different stages of development. While I was doing final editing and polishing of Jewels in Time, the young adult novel that is in the publishing process now, I started brainstorming the next Nara Blake mystery. I have written about 25,000 words, and am organizing the plot and doing research on history and culture, since this will be set in Spain.

So my mind is in two worlds: the magic world and thirteenth century England for Jewels in Time, and present day (and a bit of the 1930s) for the Nara book, working title is Hidden in Plain Sight.

Besides the actual projects, I constantly play around with characters and scenarios in my head. Most of them stay there, and never even make it to paper. It’s my grown-up version of playing pretend. I now longer have my brothers and sister to boss around in my imaginary games like I did growing up on the farm in Illinois, but I still make up stories just for the fun of it.

View of the Pyrenees in Spain, where the next Nara novel will take place.

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Moving House and Pie

14 Mar
When you begin to get ready to move, your house is no longer yours. I have no sentimental attachment to the condominium where we have lived for almost ten years, but I do have my “stuff” arranged there the way I like it. Now things are being rearranged, thrown out, put in piles for the used book store and Goodwill. I am packing decorative items and books in boxes so the house will be better organized for real estate showing.
This is fine. I enjoy organizing. I am the opposite of a pack rat. I love the feeling of freedom I have when unused items leave my house. I enjoy tossing cans and bottles and cardboard boxes in the recycling bins. I find satisfaction in making phone calls to the handyman and the electrician for the minor repairs that are needed.
But for the next few months, until we are settled in our new home in North Carolina, my time and energy will be devoted to the move.
When will I find time to write? Instead of fitting in the chores around my writing, it is the other way around. I fit the writing in between errands, packing, phone calls.
And to make this week more interesting, it is the last week of the Bahá’í Fast, so no food or drink from sunrise to sunset. And I am committed to a week of substituting in a Spanish class for a teacher who is in Spain with her students.
It’s a chilly rainy day, Monday after the switch to daylight saving time. We have to replace our bedroom carpeting,so the carpet man is coming to measure and show us samples this afternoon. The plumber hasn’t called me back. But I will bake a pie when I get home, to observe Round Pie Day. If you round the number for “pi” to 3.1416 you get today’s date. So we will celebrate this momentous occasion with a blueberry crumble pie. After sunset, of course.

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Writing in Spain

15 Sep

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I did my best writing of 2015 sitting outdoors in the Spanish sun, writing in a lined spiral notebook. “Go write!” Peter Murphy, of Murphy Writing Seminars, told us. “Tell a secret, tell a lie, and never tell anyone which is which.”

I sat at a wooden table outside our cottage at L’Avenç, a beautiful lodge high in the Pyrenees, and I went to a new place inside myself and wrote. I found fictional characters and brought them to life by exploring their five senses. Some were characters I had written about before, from novels I have written. In my novel Lydia’s Story, I wrote about the title character’s journey into the Pyrenees from France with a group of Jewish children to escape the Nazis. The trip to L’Avenç meant a visit to the scenes I created in my novel. I visited the reality of my imagination. Other characters were new, but they slipped right into place with the old friends.

And I wrote about myself, the me I was long before I knew I could travel to far off mountains, long before I knew I could write. Somehow the girl that I was growing up on a farm in southern Illinois, seven miles from nowhere, came alive to me in Spain. I felt the wistfulness and longing for a bigger world that I felt so often as a child and teenager, the longing that pushed me to move on to the world that I knew existed, if only then in my imagination.

When I am at home, I do most of my writing at my laptop, looking out over the parking lot of our condominiums. But I found that there was something liberating about writing in a lined spiral notebook. I took pleasure in the scratched out phrases, words added in the margin, and arrows drawn to indicate sentences and paragraphs that needed to pick up and move to another spot. My experience at the writing retreat brought out the creative side of my writing again. And isn’t that why we became writers? To create. To express ourselves. But what I learned this summer was that I cannot express myself unless I explore who I am.

One morning my husband, who is not a writer but came along to Spain with me because he enjoys being a “writer groupie,” found a hawk feather on one of his mountain walks, and left it on my notebook. I found the feather when I sorted through my writing materials when I returned home, and it seemed to symbolize the feeling of soaring that I felt writing in the Pyrenees.

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A change of scene, a new geography, opens my eyes and changes my life, as well as my writing. This happened when I moved to Costa Rica, and ended up staying for seven years, but that’s another story. Traveling two hours up into the mountains from Barcelona was more than a writing vacation. All the changes in daily life that accompany such a trip affected my writing. There were my writing friends — some new and some old friends from previous writing adventures with Murphy Writing Seminars. We made small attempts to speak Catalan, at least to say “Bom dia!” to the staff. We were all affected by the sense of history that goes along with staying at a site where the main building dates to the eleventh century. And we luxuriated in the modern swimming pool where we could wash off the writing dust at the end of the day.

The writing retreat in Spain focused on the creative side of writing, and I came home refreshed. Refreshed from writing from a new place inside myself, from contact with fellow writers, and the instruction and encouragement of a master craftsman.

The Value of Color

2 Mar

“I Think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” Alice Walker

image imageMarket in Granada, Spain

Our eyes are drawn to color. Visual color attracts us and demands our attention. Like a magnet, it pulls us in. Advertisers and film makers know the value of color, or lack of color, to create the effect or reaction they desire. Steven Spielberg created an unforgettable image in Schindler’s List with the little girl in the red coat. Separated from her family, she instinctively runs to escape the Nazi soldiers. The next time we see her, the red coat tells us without question that she has failed.

Creating color in a piece of writing demands that the writer evoke the same intense images through black and white words on a page. Often what a writer refers to as color involves more than visual sense. If I were to attempt to describe the photos above from the market in Granada, I would draw on my memories of the shop, the smells of spices, fruits, teas as I walked from bin to bin, the sounds of Spanish and Arabic, and the company of my brother as we explored together.

On this gray March day, I challenge you, readers and fellows writers, to look for the color in your day. And don’t limit yourself to visual color. Color is really about intensity. So look for intensity the wakes up your senses. Be aware of the smells, sounds (think colorful music), tastes, touches, and sights that add color to your life.

i would love to hear what you discover.

Starting the Whole Dang Process over Again

3 Jan

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A dungeon in Lleida, Catalonia, Spain. Might work it into a new novel.

Beginning a new novel is both exhilarating and scary. I enjoy the new ideas for plot details, setting, and characters that pop willy-nilly into my brain. Old characters poke their heads in to say, “Can I be in this one? You said it was a series.” Another says, “I’ll do one more. So you can kill me off in this one.” Then a new character comes in with “Hi there! I’m a little crazy, but I would fit right in with your story. Some of your characters are way too serious!” And I can’t forget the ones who speak to me in a foreign language, begging me to set the story in their home country. “ịHola! Soy de españa y mi pais es muy bueno. Venga aquí!”

Out of these bits of inspiration, if I can call it that, I begin to see the barest outline of a plot. And I say yes to that little voice from Spain. I will set the story at least partially in Spain, Aragon, to be precise. And just in case you are wondering, Nara Blake, Alex Collier, and Lily Carrington, all of whom appeared in The Gate House and Lydia’s Story, will be back. But I have a lot of writing to do before my readers will be able to see what these three are up to in Spain. And is Nara ever going to marry Alex?

The last few days I have been brainstorming and writing down ideas for plot as they pop into my head. My next step was to do some preliminary research. The Gate House and Lydia’s Story both had to do with art theft. My new novel also makes use of that theme. I am looking for a connection between Britain and Spain through art, and I think I have found a link.

I have made a preliminary outline, even though I am not generally a maker of outlines, but I thought this time I would give it a try and see if it would make the process any easier.

As I create the story, I will spend as much time staring into space as putting words down at the computer. But as a dear friend of mine knows, “staring time” is essential for writers, teachers and anyone who is trying to get through the day with their sanity intact.

Try taking a “staring break” today. You will feel better for it.

Thanks for Great Review of Hotel Saint Clare in Suspense Magazine

13 Oct

Hotel Saint Clare by Kathleen Heady

A young woman rises from the sea and steps out of the waves with seaweed twined in her long hair. Although it sounds like the resurrection of a goddess, it is actually the opening scene for a mysterious tale.

Two young boys collecting shells on the seashore tell the people on the stunning island paradise that they actually witnessed a mermaid come out of the sea, and ever since that silly, playful moment, the beautiful girl, Nara Blake, becomes something of an oddity.

Unfortunately, her life is not that of a mermaid. Nara is twenty-two years old, and a native of the islands who has been offered a job at the Hotel Saint Clare, which is an exclusive hotel located in the Caribbean. Thanks to her wealthy father, Nara has grown up with everything she could possibly want and has, for the most part, succeeded in making friends with the workers in the house she grew up in. But Nara wants more than anything to be her own woman, and immediately accepts the hotel job in order to work her way up the ladder of success on her own steam, and not on her daddy’s dollars.

Extremely intelligent, Nara becomes an excellent businesswoman and makes herself known all over the island. Then…the realm of island magic, the power of voodoo, and the essence of suspense takes over. Just when it seems that Nara’s world is absolutely perfect, the false sense of security explodes, and shocking events put Nara in harm’s way.

Fast-paced, this is one tale filled with twists that will keep readers interested in discovering what the real Nara is all about. The author has written a unique leading lady, creating a true ‘beach read’ for anyone lucky enough to be sitting on the sand in the Caribbean just waiting for a mermaid to appear from the sea.

Reviewed by Mary Lignor, Professional Librarian and Co-Owner of The Write Companion for Suspense Magazine

What Can You Find in the Quiet Place?

22 Sep

Readers often ask where writers find their ideas. I don’t think I am alone in saying I do not come up with ideas when sitting in front of a computer. Creativity does not come from a busy place. It comes from a quiet place. Finding a quiet place in a busy twenty-first century life can be a challenge, but it is essential for any creative person. In fact, quiet time is essential for anyone.

For me, quiet time does not mean sitting alone staring out the window, although that can be relaxing at times. It means turning off the input from the outside world.

Sometimes a repetitive activity, something that keeps the hands busy, can serve as a mind quieter. I realized this recently when I was attending a knitting class. In a room of about a dozen women, there was silence as we followed the pattern for cable knitting. As I concentrated, my mind shifted to a story I am working on, and the stitches and the motion of my hands helped me with the pattern of the plot in my story.

I found discovered a few other strategies to achieve quiet in a busy day. Some of them are: no radio in the car in the morning, walks around my neighborhood (no earphones!), cooking, playing the piano, and yoga. And a shower or a soak in the tub relaxes the body and the mind.

So take some time out and stare at the sky. It really is an amazing shade of blue here today! And you never know what useful and fun ideas will pop into your brain!

Happy daydreaming!

Blog Hopping for The Writer’s Process

14 Jul

I’m doing a question and answer session today for The Writer’s Process blog. It is a little introduction to my writing, and those of you who know me may learn something about me you didn’t know before. I would love to read your comments!

What am I working on/writing?

I am currently working on a YA historical fantasy set in England in the early thirteenth century, tentatively titled Magic Words. It centers around the royal treasure that was lost by King John in the Wash, an arm of the North Sea along the coast of England. My main character is a young girl with magical powers whose family may have something to do with the location of the treasure, but of course because of her powers, she is accused of witchcraft and is running for her life. I chose the subject of the lost treasure because it truly is a historical mystery. The treasure was lost in 1216, and no trace of it was ever found, although treasure hunters have certainly looked for it.

I have the rough draft of the story finished, and now I am revising and verifying the historical facts that can be verified. This is the first YA story that I have attempted, and I am quite excited about it.

How does my writing/work differ from others in its genre?

Although Magic Words is my first YA novel, it is similar to my other novels in that three out of the four are set in Britain. The fourth is set on a fictional island in the Caribbean. I get my best story ideas while I am traveling, and setting is very important to me both as a reader and a writer. The story grows out of the setting, and the setting is as much a part of the story as any character.

I write the kind of stories that I like to read, and that usually involves a foreign country and maybe a time set in the past.

Why do I write what I do?

I have been fascinated by British culture and history since I was a small child. When I was five or six years old I had a scrapbook where I pasted photos of the British royal family that I found in newspapers and magazines. I played “princess,” but a real princess, and I learned about the history of the royal family. As I grew older, I continued to follow the royal family, but I also studied British history and read every historical novel set in Britain that I could get my hands on. I taught history at the high school level for several years, and eventually traveled to Britain. I have been there several times now, including spending two weeks in Wales at writing retreats, and I never tire of it.

I was also inspired by the mysteries of Elizabeth George, an American writer who sets her novels in Britain. I admire her attention to detail and knowledge of present day Britain and their criminal justice system.

How does my writing process work?

As I said before, setting is very important to me. I usually start with a character in a scene, in a specific setting. Once I have this germ of a story written down, I think about what I want to happen with the character, and so give myself a direction with the story. I find outlines too rigid, and I don’t stick with them because I come up with other ideas as I write, but I do have a direction in my mind where I want the story to go. I sometimes write sketches of the main characters to flesh them out and learn about their personalities and how they handle situations. I keep track of the characters on a chart or list, because they tend to go off in unexpected directions, or pop up in a scene where I didn’t plan on them appearing.

Once my rough draft is finished, I go back and tighten and clarify the story, add color, and verify facts and historical details. I don’t try to do all my research before I start writing, but it is very important to have historical and geographical details accurate.

Writing the rough draft is the easiest part, because I can just let my imagination flow. I have even worked on rough drafts while walking around the classroom when I was substitute teaching. Revising takes more concentration and focus.

This is how I write. I would love to answer questions or respond to comments.

One Strip of Lace, Ninety-six Years Old

15 Oct

I consider myself an organized person — make that very organized. I usually plan menus for the week and go to the grocery store with a list. I make daily to-do lists. I keep up on car maintenance (and don’t you dare leave trash in my car), go to the dentist twice a year, and make detailed lists when I am getting ready to travel. But like everyone, I have numerous projects lying around the house, or floating around in my consciousness, that I would like to do. I am much better at checking off things like “pack up Hawaiian shirt and mail to brother” than I am at tackling the giant ongoing projects, although I have a list of them, too. Some of the residents of that list are: organize photographs (most unpleasant task I can think of), scan Dad’s old slides, do something with Mom’s letters from the 1940s, practice piano, clean butcher block counter top, put things in frames that should be in frames. Ouch! Too much! And that doesn’t even include writing.

I have not solved this problem, although part of the problem may be that I try to do everything. I like to bake. I grow herbs on my deck. I knit. I read — a lot. But when I feel overwhelmed, my solution is to to knock off Imagesmall bits of things. I just wrote 100 words. That isn’t much, but I wrote. Even a small bit of an important project will bring me back to it. I will think about it as I go about the rest of my day.

This brings me back to the ninety-six year old strip of lace. This strip was the bottom of my dad’s christening gown in 1917. I have no idea what happened to the rest of the gown, but the strip of lace was in my parents’ house after my mom passed away a few years ago. It is now in my house, hanging over the back of a chair in my office, where I can see it and remember I need to do something with it. My goal is to buy a floating frame for it and hang it on the wall. I just have to get to a store and buy the frame. It’s on my list.