On Skipping a Post, Autumn Joys, and Essential Details…

Boy, is it tough to get back into a routine, even when I’ve only missed one post. So here we go, after a week in the Deep South. Well, deep for me, anyhow! Being with my friend Patti was a joy, not to mention her family…such CUTE grandchildren! My expectations of the weather were fulfilled, hot and muggy, and that proved true of my time in Columbia as well.

But I mo tell ya, honey, the weatherman lied about the temperature in Nashville. It was nippy down there at the Nashville Book Fair! But getting to meet my publisher at Wordcrafts Press and his wife (Mike and Paula Parker), plus several other authors with this company, was worth it. Making new contacts among those who braved the cold and rain to attend the fair–doesn’t get better than that.

So now, it’s back to Iowa,  where it SNOWED while I was gone…not typical for mid-October. Today, though, it’s in the sixties, and the glories of fall are visiting us once again.

A day like this calls for some rich vegetable soup simmering on the stove. OOPS that was before I added the zucchini…

Notice the color difference? This morning our writing group met at South Square here in St. Ansgar, and one discussion point fits here…the difference one small detail can make in our creativity. The addition of zucchini in this pot brightens the whole stew…gives more of texture to the overall dish. I could add some corn, which would also have its effect.

Now that I’m hunkering down with my World War II nurse’s story again, this principle applies. In the first drafts, I may not have taken time to add all of the “small” things…the seemingly insignificant quirks about locale, habits, or sounds and sights. But these elements become vital to the overall picture for a reader.

This type of editing equals fun for me…how can I make each scene stronger, each character more vivid, each challenge more of an obstacle? On Tuesday evening, I traveled to the Nora Springs Library for a book talk, and readers reminded me of some details I’d forgotten I included in the first book of Women of the Heartland. But they remember them…those details make a difference! (Click below for a peek at the series.)

Women of the Heartland

So many readers of In Times Like These agree on one point: Harold, Addie’s recalcitrant husband, should be shot! (His personality must shine through clearly!)

Creating believable characters–that’s what writing fiction is all about, and here I am, happy to be at it again.

A New Release at Eighty!

Let me introduce author, editor and writing instructor, Mary Ylvisaker Nilsen. I had the privilege of taking a class with Mary and learned SO much. What a joy to have her visit, and to hear that she’s still writing, octogenarian or not! Please leave your e-mail if I don’t have it already, because Mary’s offering a free copy of her memoir to one fortunate commenter...I think we’re in for a treat. 

I’ve never been one to hide my age—unless you call hair coloring an attempt to age alter—but since October 1, my birthday, I’ve noticed a strange clutch in my gut, a catch in my throat, a little stammer in my speech when, for whatever reason, I have to say, “Eighty.”

Eighty! It’s crazy. My parents died at 49 and 69, a brother died at 64 and a sister at 68. Cancer all. I’ve lived with the intensity of one who assumes her days are numbered, and the number would be below the national average. Also, this Annie Dillard quotation has driven me: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Spend. Time is like money. My supply is limited. Better make careful choices on how I spend it. Better not waste a minute.

But here I am. The celebration’s over. The shock settling in. And the existential question, “Why?” now haunting my sleep. Insurance predictors tell me that by living this long, I have dodged all the big killers and will likely live to be 98. That’s almost two more decades of days!

Two years ago, I had a health event that for a year left me in pain sliding from a brusque “I’m OK. I’ll be fine,” to a wordless gasp. During that year, assuming it might be my last, I began a practice I had never before attempted and wrote every night, wrote what I called “my Marvel,” wrote on small things and close to home things, on fragile thoughts or fleeting observations. I followed Jesus’ suggestion that we “consider the lilies of the field.” So, noticing what I noticed, I planted it in my mind, allowing it to take root and grow, considering what it had to teach me. Writing about it became my daily purpose.

For a year, I tended those thought seeds. And then for the better part of a year I pruned—trimming, shaping or cutting those daily writings. Consider the Marvels: Writings from My 79thYear is the result. The project filled the two years leading up to my 80th. Now, here I am, potentially looking forward to two decades of days, and my pain-free self, which has lost the passion for daily writing, wonders what of value I can spend my time on now. A question I will need to think about, to ponder, to consider….

Calling all Octogenarians! I need help! Tell us all about the marvels in your days.

Find more information about Mary Nilsen at
www.Zionpublishing.org

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Annie Dillard

Spinning…

Look closely at this photo of some fall veggies sitting on my counter to see a metaphor for the writing life:

On the top tomato, do you spy a whitish, fuzzy object? It’s hard to get a good shot of this. Let me have my husband try. 

 

Hmm… maybe a little clearer. Or not…

When I picked that top tomato from our vines sprawling wa-a-a-y out of control, this small caterpillar attracted my attention. Spinning away, in the business of transformation. 

That’s how my days pass–spinning stories, except when I surface to instruct a class, facilitate a writing workshop, or attend a grandchild’s ballgame. On September 10, 17, and 24 this year, I have the joy of interacting with an incredible group of writers at an Iowa State University OLLIE class. Such fun discussions–wish I lived closer! 

Spinning, spinning…that’s my task, weaving the threads of characters’ lives together. Or in the case of the WWII nurse I’m writing about now, discovering how the actual threads of her life carried her through the horrors of war.  Five long years she gave to the effort–the best of her twenties.

This past week, I had the privilege of hearing this incredible woman’s voice in a DVD as she spoke to a group in her later years. Oh my! What a memory she had…what a lovely, intriguing woman. I’m indebted to her daughter, who sent me that video presentation, along with photos and information.

In November, I get to meet this daughter, and possiblly her brother as well. I’ll be facilitating a writing workshop at the Joliet, IL library, and be able to walk the streets Dorothy walked during her post-war life, see her photo albums, touch the many campaign badges she earned…

And it will all center on spinning. 

Interesting that I’m a disaster at sewing, and after several knitting lessons, never did master that precise art.

But I am spinning, always. 

August activities, and…comparing

My FB page report for the week says activity is up by 1,450 percent. That sounds great. The trouble is, I have no idea why.

I traveled to Ames this week to meet potential students for my September OLLIE memoir writing class, and had fun chatting with some writers. Ahh…my favorite folks–looking forward to getting to know them and their stories better in a few weeks!

Friday night we saw “Annie” performed by Cedar Summer Stock. All of their 2018 performances featured incredible voices, choreography, costumes, and scenery…what more could anyone ask? Watch for them next summer.

On Saturday, we went to a cousin’s house for a family picnic. Oh my, what a spread. My gluten-sugar-lactose free offering turned out fine, but compared to the other great fare, well…actually, another one of our granddaughter’s quotes says it best: Comparison is the THIEF of joy. 

So there you go–why compare? And that brings me to flowers: observe.

Specimen one, an amazing geranium.

Specimen two, Gerber daisies in full spread.

And last, but not least, this year’s spectacular yellow begonias. I can’t get over how from delicate pale yellow clamshells (lower right), such incredible blossoms emerge.

So what’s to compare, right? Three lovely floral beauties, each with so much to offer. Yet, we compare things…and people… constantly.

Merriam-Webster defines compare as to examine the character or qualities of especially in order to discover resemblances or differences or to view in relation to.

I’ve been comparing the manuscript I’m working on with its predecessors. Why would I do this? Maybe because this story  has given me lots of challenges from the get-go. The research  leads me deeper into comprehending the vast effects of World War II…but how can I possibly do this topic justice? Does comparing help? Not so much.

I’ve grown as a writer since the last one, so maybe I expected the process to be easier this time. Yes, maybe that’s it.

Yet this is a whole different flower. Yes, it’s that THIEF at it again! Just get back to this story unfolding right now. Forget about the others…seize the joys and frustrations of this one.

It’s healthy to have little self-chats like this from time to time, don’t you think?

On Being Away…

That’s what I’ve been – away. We had company for a week, and went to see the beautiful Red Rock country around Sedona. Oh my…such glorious natural beauty.

The weather has been far too dry for safety up under the Mogollon Rim, but yesterday the rain came. Ahh…blessed relief. I’m so grateful, and also thankful that it came before and after I drove up the mountain from Mesa, where I met with a group of women intrigued by words.

Older women like me: I know I ought to label us mature women. But right now, only the magic of words matters. Oh, how words bound us together! Phrases and word-pictures enveloped us in shared wonder, reminded us of our moorings and our deep connection, and urged us forward in our private pursuits.

As in reading fiction, we allowed words to spellbind us, original words straight from the heart. Two members created incredible metaphors that still linger. One depicted life as an onion…being peeled, chopped, sautéed, and in the process, coming alive to one’s unique personhood. The other painted life as a sailboat gracing turquoise-blue waters, feeling warm wind wrapping one’s face and freedom bracing one’s heart.

Mmm…there’s nothing like gathering around words, working with them, playing with them, embracing them. Yesterday, we allowed words to infiltrate our consciousness and tie us to each other, or to unlock  memories.

This coming weekend, I get to embrace words again, with an eclectic group of writing retreat participants. I’ve been remiss at posting photos lately, but surely will after getting to know these seventeen other word-lovers better. We’ll see you then.