Sunday, April 24, 2016

meet buttercup

Meet Buttercup:

I'll be walking her for the Central PA Animal Alliance until they can find a foster home, or better yet, a forever home for her.

A woman in North Carolina came across her during the winter, out in the cold, trying to keep her litter of newborn puppies warm. They'd all died.

So, to make a terrible situation worse...Buttercup ended up in a "kill" shelter. Thankfully CPAA rescued her. She is now living at Farm-View Kennels, about 20 minutes from where I live. They've been looking for volunteers to walk her. 

If you know me, you know I love dogs and I love to walk so, hey--it was meant to be!

I met Buttercup last week and I walked her on Saturday. She's such a sweetie. She was a little excitable when I first got there, but once we took off, she did fine. There are acres of pastureland around the kennel, so we had a good long walk--lots to sniff (she snorts like a pig when she finds something interesting to explore) and lots to see now that the birds and groundhogs are out.

Certain individuals, who will remain anonymous, are convinced I'll end up adopting her...but I'm holding out. Stoically.

You can find out more about Buttercup and her friends at Also, check out . 


Monday, April 18, 2016

are you a wave runner or a tree hugger?

Are you a wave runner...

...or a tree hugger?

This issue came up over the weekend at a retreat I attended with a friend.

We found ourselves with some free time and we had to make a decision: Should we head over to the beach (even though it was too cold to put even a toe into the water), or should we head to the park and walk in the woods?

In the end, we ended up at the water's edge...because she had the car.

I am a tree hugger. I love the woods. When I need peace of mind or strength for the day, I like to lean on a tree. After all, trees are rooted deep in the the Earth. They survive right where they're planted, even though they don't have any choice in the matter. They weather the ravages of Mother Mature--wind, rain, and drought, and they change with the seasons. I think we can learn a lot from trees. They are wisdom, and strength, and support to me.

My friend, on the other hand, is a wave runner, drawn to the water. When we got to the beach, she kicked off her shoes and planted her feet in the sand. For her, the ocean is cleansing, soothing, rejuvenating.

She has her source...and I have mine. She prefers one thing...I prefer another.

This is important to understand if you're a writer. It raises the age old question: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Do you sketch out your entire story before you write the narrative? Or do you plunge right into the story, then let it develop as you go?

I am a tree hugging pantser, myself. My mind wanders when I write. I can't work out every detail in advance. After all, how do I know where my characters will take me until they figure it out for themselves?

Nevertheless, as hard as it is for me to outline a book, I gave it my best effort last week. I'm working on a non-fiction manuscript that, I thought, lent itself readily to an outline: Chapter--point, point, point. Chapter--point, point, point. The problem is I would start to make a point, but  the narrative would carry me away. I just kept writing until, before long, the whole chapter was written. I hadn't thought about what should come next. Before I knew it, I was pages into the book in true pantser form.

Plotting and outlining are as uncomfortable for me as a cold dip in the ocean, as water up my nose, as sand in my shoes.  I'll never be a plotter, any more than I'll ever be a wave runner. Remember:

Do you prefer to frolic in the surf, or wander through the woods? Are you a wave runner, or a tree hugger? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

success is like a snowy day in April

A couple of weeks ago the thermometer hit 75 degrees. To celebrate the arrival of spring, the optimists among us dusted off our patio furniture and arranged it on the deck. We put our winter coats and woolen sweaters into storage. Some of us ran to the garden center to pick up some early bloomers.

Today we got snow.

Just when spring felt like a sure thing, it slipped away.

Success can sometimes feel the same way. You spend months at your desk, laboring over a manuscript, or a poem, or an essay. You plant yourself in your seat and write even though you'd rather be outdoors, or shopping, or visiting friends. You trudge through bouts of writers' block. You start to wonder if it's worth the effort. You just want it to be finished.

Then, one day you get that letter in the mail. You have a publisher! Your poem has won a prize! Your story is going to appear in print!

You celebrate the achievement as if you have uncovered the secret of success. As if it will be clear sailing for you from now on. As if nothing can stop you now...

...until the first rejection letter arrives. It feels a lot like a cold, snowy day in April.

Nevertheless it is inevitable that, sooner or later, spring will arrive. Which is why you must always:

Sooner or later, it will arrive.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

finding the right words

As if writer's block weren't enough of a problem for hopeful authors, there's another obstacle we all encounter. It happens when we've already come up with a great idea--a beautiful setting or a compelling action scene. Even a sexual encounter. It comes to us intact in our mind's eye, ready for the page but for some reason we just can't find the words for it. The description sounds flat. The action feels sluggish. The romance lacks passion.

Mark Twain came up with one solution for this problem:

But, there are other ways around the problem, too. Metaphor and simile work well...if you can come up with something fresh and new, not these old rags:

Instead, try something like this:

Telling the reader that something has reawakened her character's feelings of guilt, Ann Patchett puts it this way: "The great lumbering guilt that slept inside of her at every moment of her life had shifted, stretched."

And later, instead of describing her character as giving up, she writes: "The clear resolve she had had in the restaurant seemed to have broken like a fever in the night..."

The senses speak louder than adjectives. Don't tell me the man is angry...let me hear the teacup clatter on the saucer when his fist hits the table. Smell, taste, and feel your way through the story.
  • She smelled her own wooliness." (A woman, dressed for the winter weather she left in Minnesota, arrives in the steamimg Peruvian jungle, from "State of Wonder" by Ann Patchett.)
  • "The accent in Naples is like a friendly cuff on the ear." (from "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert.)
  • "There is a sweetness about him. A bitterness. Something irresistible, like Swiss dark chocolate. Like good red wine." (from one of my drafts...)
In my last post I suggested you describe the color red. Like me, you may have come up with a few similes and metaphors: the color of blood, a ruby, a cherry. The color of the setting sun that promises fair weather. A color that angers a bull. A lost balloon.

Then, I asked you to describe the color red to a blind person. I drew a blank. How did you do?

I still sometimes have trouble coming up with the right words. How about you?