I forgot!

Janet Reid, literary agent extraordinaire, held a flash fiction contest over Labor Day weekend. And I forgot to post about it. Because, yes, I did get a mention in her comment column on the Monday, when she determined who was the winner.  I was not a winner. Not even on the short-list or the long-list, but getting a mention is superlative!!  

The prize? Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to be in this Book) by author Julie Falatko and illustrations by Tim Miller.  

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We were to write, once again, a 100 word flash fiction story. What five words were we required to use?  Snap, gator, ask, tie, iron!

And here's my story: 

She dips a wee brush into the miniscule lavender paint-pot, her slouchy red chef’s hat askew.

“What?” she snaps, “You never seen an artagator in her natural environs?”

Bemused, he responds, “It’s such an unusual…trade. How’d you first know you wanted to be a chocolatier?”

Seanair.

Ah. Grandfather. That explains her tetchiness upon their entry into the thatched shop.

Artisanal chocolates pose on glass shelves. Dark sweet squares, smooth as a mirrored loch, display miniature likenesses of heather or thistle. Velvety surfaced truffles fortify fillings of liquid whisky or bramble habanero cream.

Between the chocolates and grandfather, she’s a keeper.   

Some week

Last week, the pipe to my toilet leaked and my clothes dryer died. I'm a newish homeowner yet. Love it. But these repairs! 

And then, I bumped into a big barrier as I worked on the last chapters of my Work in Progress. I'm finishing with the historical piece. Amalie lives in Scotland during WWII and I thought I had placed her in a sleepy burgh. I'd researched to make sure the train went through the village at that time. I've seen it in the present-day and decided to google 1930 pictures to see what types of changes there have been. 

And there it was, the Royal Air Force Flying-Boat Squadron. Right in the village I chose for her beginning as early as summer 1938. 

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Not a quiet sleepy village. Argh. 

I've had a whole week to think, to research other potential villages (holy cow, what a wonderful distraction!), or maybe invent a village. I've made a decision.

And...it's a far far better thing to have discovered this now rather than after I've submitted to agents or editors to become embarrassed afterwards! 

So I've more work to do and it's time to get at the revisions. 

But as we go about our week, there are many catastrophes happening in our world:

  • fires in north west U.S. and Canada,
  • hurricanes around the gulf and the Caribbean,
  • an earthquake in southern Mexico,
  • the flooding in India, Bangladesh, Nepal,
  • the slaughter of the Rohingya Muslim in Myanmar,
  • and the ongoing wars.

May we hold each of these places in our hearts and pray or offer thoughts of peace, wisdom, and the recognition that we are all on this planet Earth together. as we live through these days.  

a new Iona Community book

I received a gift in the mail the other day, We bring you everything, and tip it out in front of you published by Wild Goose Publications

In the ancient Celtic Christian tradition, routine parts of the day received prayers and this prayer book follows that tradition. There are prayers for chopping carrots and starting an engine. There are prayers for refugees and justice and peace. And there are prayers for vision of God's kingdom and the beautiful tapestry of creation.

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Though it is a small book, there are many authors, who are either Associate Members or Members of the Iona Community. I contributed a prayer, O Ancient of Days, as I lifted up my concerns for the world that we live in today.

The Iona Community of Scotland was founded in 1938 by Rev. George MacLeod, a Church of Scotland (or as we say in the U.S. Presbyterian) minister. A Glasgow minister, he brought together unemployed craftsman, during the time of depression, with ministers in training. Together they rebuilt the Iona Abbey cloisters as a sign of hope, a symbol of rebuilding community life in the larger world.

Today, the Iona Community is a Christian Community scattered throughout the world. Full members follow a four-fold rule: 

  • daily prayer and reading of the Bible
  • mutual accountability for the use of time and of money
  • meeting regularly in family groups
  • pursuing action and reflection for justice, peace, and the integrity of creation

Endings

It's The Big Solar Eclipse Day! It was sunny here but now the clouds are coming in. In Minnesota, we'll have only an 80% eclipse. It feels a lot like the Isle of Iona in Scotland during the short days of December.  

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And today, I've been thinking a lot about endings. Especially as I wind up this second revision on my story before I hand it off to a beta reader.  I've also been thinking about endings in the sense of history. 

 

How do we choose which memories, which people to lift up in reverence?  

Two questions that are important to ask, according to Josh Marshall of TalkingPointsMemo.com

  1. What is the person known for?
  2. How did they earn a place in our collective public remembrance?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A German pastor theologian, Bonhoeffer moved away from Germany in disagreement with Hitler's use of the Christian churches for his propaganda. Bonhoeffer moved back to Germany in 1939.

What is Bonhoeffer known for?

He was an anti-Nazi dissident and a key founding member of the Confessing Church movement. He wrote The Cost of Discipleship and put his life on the line for his beliefs in Jesus by vocally expressing his opposition to the persecution of Jewish people.  He became involved in the conspiracy to overthrow Hitler. Arrested in 1943, he was transferred from prison to a concentration camp. He was executed on 9 April 1945. 

Robert E. Lee

Son of Revolutionary War hero--Henry "Light-Horse Harry" Lee, Robert E. Lee graduated in 1829 from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. In April 1861, President Abraham Lincoln offered Lee the command of Federal Forces. Which Lee declined. 

What is Lee known for?  

When Virginia seceded from the U.S on April 17, 1861, Lee resigned from the U.S. Army and accepted a general's commission in the Confederate Army. He served as military advisor for Jefferson Davis, the Confederate President. He later led the Army of North Virginia and in 1865 was appointed by Davis as General-in-Chief of all Confederate forces. Lee surrendered two months later and the Civil War ended. After his parole, Lee became president of Washington College (now known as Washington and Lee) in Virginia until his death in 1870.

 

If you are interested in learning more about the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865), the Reconstruction (1865-1877), or the Jim Crow laws (segregation and disenfranchisement laws against people of color), you can read Josh Marshall's article, Some Thoughts on Public Memory or National Trust for Historic Preservation's article, Statement on Confederate Memorials: Confronting Difficult History.

The Last Letter: A Book

I recently finished a wonderful book: The Last Letter by Susan Pogorzelski. It's a semi-autobiographical account of Susan's experiences living with Chronic Lyme Disease told from the point of view of 15-year-old Amelia. For anyone who has dealt with or had a loved one deal with a misdiagnosed disease that sucks the life out of you, this book takes a creative approach to letting you know you're not alone. The story will draw you in. 

Susan is a consultant, editor, and creative coach at Brown Beagle Books, and an all around great cheerleader for authors and a courageous speaker for Lyme Disease sufferers. 

In June, Janet Reid, Literary Agent at New Leaf Literary Agency, sponsored one of her 100-word flash fiction contests with this book as the reward (no, I did not win). We had to include five words in our story:  last, letter, pogo, ease, lime. 

This was the week we had two winners! Go here to read Janet's analyses and the qualities she looks for in determining the winning entries.  

This was my entry:  

Sidewalk Café

“Gah! Why can’t I remember its name?”

Complaisant, I listen to ma femme courageux.

“Ugh,” she taps a fist to her forehead, “Italian. Begins with the letters p-o.”

I savor the shish ta’ook with tabouli, melding and mingling the aroma. Délicieux.

“Pobo…poco…”

Ha! She is returned! Ma femme méthodique.

“Podo…pofo…”

Gone, at long last, la fatigue.

Bless.

La cuisine Lebanese? Her favori.

Pogo...pojo…”

I relish her energie.

“Polo…pom—”

Ah! Anticipation is merveilleux.

“That’s it!” Delight dances on her lips, “The Pomodoro!”  

This Lyme Disease? Long has ma femme laborieux.

“See! I will be a writerly dame!”

Wordsmithery

Wordsmith describes a person who works with words and is a skilled writer. 

I'm not laying claim yet to being a skilled writer but I have been working on words rather than plots or characters or settings.

I've been working with revisions of my first full draft since January.  Until July, the revisions focused on plot holes and whether or not my characters were realistic. And I needed to write a few new scenes.

But a couple weeks ago, I finished with that piece of revision and editing. Now I've moved on to wordsmithery. Why don't I just send it off to my beta readers? Because my story was over 100,000 words. So in the interest of finding all of my extra thats and justs to cut I came across Janice Hardy's column on August 4, 7 Words that often Tell, Not Show. And intrigued, I decided to apply it straight away to my story. 

By the way, I've saved the version of my story before all this wordsmithery stuff I'm doing just in case I edit the life out of it.

What's the difference between tell and show? (Check out Grammar Girl definition here.)

  • to tell is to summarize a scene or an action
  • to show is to let the reader experience the scene or the action through specific details and a specific point-of-view of one of your characters

Which is preferable? Readers like to escape into the specific details of a story but there are times when summarizing or telling works better. It all depends upon the scene or action. Transitions, that have nothing important happening within them can be told. 

With Janice Hardy's Fiction Writer column I've searched my documents for the seven words she listed and determined whether I needed to change my sentences or if they were fine as written. My weakness (besides adverbs and gerunds) are the to (verb). And no, I did not take out all my to (verb)s! Check out Janice's column here as she explains it very well and creates examples. 

One of the interesting side effects of doing a search to determine if I need to change a sentence, is that I am not so caught up in my story (yes, I'm still in love with it). I notice each sentence as a stand alone. And the highlight feature allows me to notice how often I use certain words or phrases within a paragraph or a page. Repetition that may irritate certain readers! 

Happy writing! 

 

Research time. Again.

I finished writing a fully fleshed second draft of my year 2013 story strand. Yay. The last ten chapters are much stronger and I'm so excited that his part is ready for beta reading.

Now I need to work on my 1930s and 40s strand, (not as many chapters as 2013).  So with that in mind, I've a few books to read.

  • Farewell to East Prussia: A German Boy's Experiences before and during World War II  by Erhard Schulz, 2003, the 2015 English edition Ortrun Schulz
  • Forgotten Land: Journeys among the Ghosts of East Prussia by Max Egremont, 2011
  • Vanished Kingdom: Travels through the History of Prussia by James Charles Roy, 1999 

I'm particularly intrigued to read Farewell to East Prussia as it was originally written by a man who grew up in Elk Valley County,  East Prussia until he was 11 years old, when they fled.  

In my story, the 1930s is told from the point-of-view of a woman from Konigsberg, East Prussia, just on the eve of World War Two.

I have already read some non-fiction books about East Prussia, trying to get a sense of place and time. These are the other books, although the first book, I only read the chapter pertaining to East Prussia:  

  • Vanished Kingdoms: The rise and fall of states and nations by Norman Davies, 2012
  • The Fall of Hitler’s Fortress City: The Battle for Konigsberg, 1945 by Isabel Denny, 2007
  • Before the Storm: Memories of my Youth in Old Prussia by Marion Donhoff, 1990

And I've also been scouting for novels that take place in East Prussia. 

the Driftless Area

I live in a geographically beautiful area. 

view from Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa looking toward the bridge between Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin and Marquette, Iowa

view from Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa looking toward the bridge between Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin and Marquette, Iowa

Summertime in the Mississippi River valley is beautiful.

Oh, who am I kidding? Anytime in this river valley is beautiful. 

January sunset looking from Alma, Wisconsin towards the Minnesota bluffs

January sunset looking from Alma, Wisconsin towards the Minnesota bluffs

I love the four seasons (except the hot muggy in the dog days of summer). The river draws bald eagles, fishing boats, barges, and tourists. Its backwaters attract white egrets and great blue herons in the summer and in winter, little towns of ice fishing houses. 

This area of the Mississippi River valley--southwest Wisconsin, southeast Minnesota , northeast Iowa, and northwest Illinois--is called the Driftless area.  It's an area that escaped the "drift" of the last glaciers retreat.

But, the deep river valleys were carved by the force of megafloods from the melting of ice dams that held in the gigantic glacial Lake Agassiz and the smaller glacial lakes Duluth and Grantsberg.

Imagine the torrential power of that ice cold water, filling these valleys to the brim, cutting out the faces of the bluffs? It gives me goosebumps when I stand on top of a hill and overlook the valley. I am so minuscule and frail next to the noise and rush of those melting glacier waters.  In comparison, the largest watershed in the U.S. of our grand Mississippi River and its tributaries pales and becomes insignificant.

As a child, I took swimming lessons in the river and enjoyed the waves that the barges caused. Now I enjoy the beauty of the valley and watching the bird life. 

Story-shaped lives

If you've checked out my About Me page, you will know that I am a pastor in addition to being a wanna-be author of fiction.

About a month ago, one of the blogs I read recommended this book, Grace Without God by Katherine Ozment

Wonderful book. Thought-provoking. Written by a woman who describes herself as a None, a person who does not belong to any particular faith community although she was raised in the Christian tradition.

A person can be spiritual without belonging to a religious community. But (remember, I'm a pastor and therefore biased) how does spirituality develop, mature, and become action if not through the relationships nurtured within a faith community--whether it be church, synagogue, mosque, or temple. How can the stories or tenets of our faith be fully understood if our interpretation is not challenged or confirmed.

Faith can be shallow if we only have yes people around us. Faith can be destructive if a narrow parameter of what is God is fenced around us. 

I have not finished reading this book yet but my attention was particularly engaged through her chapter titled, Moral Authority.  

My muddied thoughts or take-away from that chapter:  

If we believe stories from ancient texts no longer have meaning for us today, what will pull at or draw a commitment from individuals or groups to be concerned for the other, to give of their time or money, to seek justice and love kindness. If we do not care to become steeped within a common story or narrative, are at danger of becoming narcissistic people? 

We are a story people, whether the stories are autobiographical or historical or fictional. Stories shape us and form us, whether written as poetry or prose. What stories do you reread? Those stories, and their underlying themes and subtexts, shape you. 

As a teen, I listened to John Denver songs over and over, and over and over and I'm sure my parents wished they had never introduced me to him!  But through his songs (and our family camping and canoeing trips), I developed a deep abiding affection for earth. I try to live a life that is sustainable, green, simple, minimalist, a lifestyle which focuses my money and my time on relationships with people rather than necessitating overtime hours in order to pay or care for things that I've purchased. 

Growing up, I heard many Bible stories and, especially the stories about Jesus, many were repeated. After being social worker for several years, I went to seminary and studied those same Bible stories. For 20 years I have preached from the Bible. Those stories tell us so much about the people of that time--what was important to them, how they perceived God, how their faith shaped their tribe, and how their understanding of God changed through the generations. 

At any rate, I encourage you to check out this book if you're at all interested in spirituality and how religion affects the broader fabric of our nation. 

Focus. Goal. Plan.

I'm new to my house and for the past couple of summers I've taken pictures of my gardens so I can see the changes and feel like I've accomplished something. 

Year 1: The orange tiger lilies after they had bloomed--late summer. A bit weedy. And the harebells were falling into the grass. 

Year 1: The orange tiger lilies after they had bloomed--late summer. A bit weedy. And the harebells were falling into the grass. 

Year 2:  Ahhh! Weed free. And tidy! You can tell it's May. I left the lilies and harebells and added bee balm. 

Year 3:  Red bee balm and purple harebells in July. The harebells are restrained with a wire tomato cage to keep them from getting wild and tipping into the lawn. 

Year 3:  Red bee balm and purple harebells in July. The harebells are restrained with a wire tomato cage to keep them from getting wild and tipping into the lawn. 

I found it so interesting to see the different looking wall behind the flowers. I have not painted it. But it faces the east and I took the bottom picture in the morning.

Did I have a grand plan for this little garden? Outside of tidying it up and figuring out what colors I wanted, I did not have a particular grand plan. But now I see that bumble bees love to crawl inside the harebells and ruby-throated hummingbirds sip at the bee balm.

Having been out of flower gardening for awhile, I had forgotten about these beautiful side effects (and in the case of the bees, the potential hazard!) 

Is this garden done evolving? For the near future, yes. I've other areas of the yard and other gardens to put my primary focus on now and I have added inspiration and impetus! 

An analogy to being storytellers? In writing, our voice, the character point-of-view and the setting color the story. With a specific end in mind, there are small steps, small plans to support the plot movement towards that ending. And being absorbed in the story we wish to tell is just as thrilling as working with a flower garden.