You can feel the moisture in the air, smell the snow over the mountain. Well, at least I think so–we haven’t seen much yet, just some rain and hail squalls a few days ago. But since I’m writing about the pioneers who lived so close to nature, I think I can smell snow? And my joints have been complaining, maybe more than usual.
We’ll see, right?
But in the meantime, it’s puzzle time on Holly Drive. This one, a vista of the Carpathian Mountains in Romania, reveals vibrant greens, rusts, blues, aquas and up in one corner of the sky, gold and yellow. Small pieces awaiting their places, their unique spots, in the final tableau. And Lance making every effort to get them to where they belong.
Yesterday I was reading about the great meteorites of 1860 over parts of India and New York State. I suppose native Americans and settlers and other citizens stared in awe at the night sky, wondering about this portent. As the year passed and tensions grew, some attributed prophetic powers to the never-seen-before-show.
A Great War was about to commence…a terrible, senseless war no one wanted. But people simply could not find common ground on the days’ issues. I also recently read William Carlos Williams’ short story, “The Use of Force.” Such an abrupt ending, leaving all the pieces in my lap to deal with.
Seemed odd, when we’re so used to authors “tying up all the loose ends.” But there you have it. Another way of arranging things.
Williams said about his style, “In my own work it has always sufficed that the object of my attention be presented without further comment. It doesn’t declaim or explain; it presents.”
Read his classic story here: https://www.classicshorts.com/stories/force.html
A snowy day in Northern Iowa. When we needed to postpone our journey to Arizona for a couple of weeks, Lance coped by cleaning out the basement. A man of action…
I’m engaging in as much action as possible, too. Thankfully, writing historical fiction involves intense research and a lot of thinking and mixing, like the fabulous muffins I stirred up today. Might as well use up the ingredients in my cupboards…might as well make them healthy and attractive while I’m at it.
Might as well enjoy one piping hot from the oven and laced with melted butter, right?
For me, life’s small pleasures include steaming cups of tea whenever possible. Accompany those cups with heaping doses of reading, writing, baking, and as much exercise as my body can handle at any given time. I add this, of course, because in both of my recent falls, I was EXERCISING to stay healthy. Oh, the irony life hands us!
Anyway, today it hit me that baking and putting together a story have a lot in common. You amass ingredients, not sure which you’ll use in the long run, but at least this gives a general idea about what your character will endure…or enjoy…or simply meet along life’s path.
Here’s the basic mix, a conglomerate of
1/2 cup softened butter scant 3/4 cup dry xylitol 2 large eggs 2 cups gluten-free flour mix 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 cup applesauce
And then I decided to include…. Famous last words. My mother-in-law used to marvel at my capacity to add and subtract ingredients at will. Well, it’s kind of like the taking-and-giving that come into our earthly lives. Win some, lose some, as they say.
It’s also quite like the way a story comes together for me. The character appears, I search out details about what his or her life might have been like, and the tale unfolds. Sometimes my proclivity for detail gets in the way, and I have to take out some scenes…too much can be too. much. Right now, with this particular story, I’m still in the adding phase. We’ll see how it goes.
For this afternoon’s baking, I merely added. Chopped sunflower seeds and almonds. Dried cranberries sweetened with fruit juice, not refined sugar), some raw unsweetened coconut–I love the texture this adds, not to mention the fiber. A few pinches of chia seeds provides a defining crunch.
And let’s see…is that it for this time? I might have chosen a little drained pineapple for tang, but that portion of the cupboard lies bare. When I have the leisure, I allow these decisions to develop over a reasonable time. I can bake in a hurry, thanks to my mom, who could, in a flash, whip up something to stave off hunger for several hired farm workers. I’m grateful for the way she instilled “kitchen confidence” in me.
But at times it’s nice to bake slowly. Today I started this recipe just after lunch and let it sit for awhile. The chia seeds occurred to me just before the oven reached the correct temperature. Yes, I do go with the prescribed temperature–changing that is usually a bridge too far, sort of like altering historical details in historical fiction. Nope.
Right now, the muffins, melding into my kind of tasty treat, are looking awfully good.
It won’t be long and my taste buds will be extra happy. Me gusto! Little-by little, I’m also studying the lovely Spanish language, perfect for this story set in Texas Hill Country, 1942. When I consider how much researching LAND THAT I LOVE taught me, I can’t help but be a little excited. So much to learn from the past–so many ways it instructs the present.
Okay, the count is in. YUM! And just in case you need it, bake these at 350 for 12-15 minutes.
Two nights ago, Lance took some photos of the moon just before it became a “blood moon.” This was about 9 p.m. Arizona time, and we could just see a rosy haze rising due to refracted light.
He didn’t think they’d turn out, but…well, I’ll let you be the judge.
He’s been snapping dozens of elk, deer, javelina, and bird pics too…but this total eclipse only happens once in a… quite a few years.
I’ve neglected blogging for the past few weeks, and could explain that I’ve been head over heels into my next WWII story featuring the POW camp in Algona, Iowa. But that would sound like an excuse, so I’m just starting in again…hopefully you’re all in a compassionate frame of mind.
The good news is that I am approaching…not there yet, but CLOSE to completing this final (I HOPE!!) edit of a manuscript that has given me some surprises and frustrations along the way. Aren’t things supposed to become easier with practice???
And just for good measure, here are a couple more pics from our day trip to Sedona.
I love the way the background and foreground integrate. Reminds me of how the main characters and secondary characters in a novel complement each other.
Each of their personal stories shares a common premise. It stands to reason that during war, that premise may become even more complicated than normal.
Picture a small midwestern town chosen to host hundreds of Nazi prisoners…many of them from Hitler’s elite SS, taken captive in North Africa. What would it be like to guard them…to provide milk, eggs, and other essentials to feed them, knowing that chances are slim Allied prisoners were being treated according to the Geneva Convention?
Doesn’t this sound a little complicated? Stay tuned – ALL FOR THE CAUSE is on its way!
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.
I’ve always thought it would be fun to bring an ancestor to life for a modern-day audience. A few months ago, I read Jayme Mansfield’s RUSH and vicariously spent some time claiming land in Oklahoma with Jayme’s great-great grandmother. Jayme is giving a print copy of RUSH to a commenter.
Jayme, how did you choose your genre? What about the writing process for this genre challenges you most?
I love reading historical fiction, so it’s a natural draw to write in that genre. Researching for accuracy and depth of story and characters is essential. Since there are so many means available for research, it’s not difficult as much as time-consuming—in a good way! I’ve learned so much while researching and find special gems of information to add to the stories. RUSH was particularly exciting to research as the story is based on my great-great grandmother’s experience in the 1893 Oklahoma Land Rush. My family had a treasure trove of letters, documents, photographs, and an oral history to pull from that brought her story to life.
Tell us about your characters. Do you have a favorite?
Several of the characters are closely based on real people from my family lineage. Mary Louisa Roberts is the real name of my great-great grandmother and the main protagonist. Her perseverance, independence, and faith are not only inspiring, but endearing for readers. Since I share her bloodline, I admit she is my favorite! To fictionalize her life and round out the story, I created several characters. One whom readers wish was real is the handsome and kind illustrative journalist from Boston who becomes Mary’s love interest. Of course, there are several bad guys, and one in particular makes the skin crawl!
What struggles in Mary Louisa’s story are still applicable for women today?
Even though life is much different today than back in 1893, women often still struggle with identifying and following their true calling, especially in the midst of caring for others. Mary is not only a woman in a man’s world, but she is a single mother of a young child. Forgiveness, daring to love again, and trusting are timeless challenges.
What underlying moral premise undergirds your story? (What universal truth can readers take away?)
RUSH’s book trailer, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lbdg6w0c3JA, shares the message that there’s something special about the past—it draws us in and reminds us we are part of it. It’s a beautiful trailer and I hope you take a brief moment to enjoy it.
In what ways has writing changed your life?
Oh, where to begin? Besides all the wonderful people who are now part of my life, my work focus has shifted from teaching language arts and visual arts to primarily writing. I still spend a great deal of time running my art studio, but writing seems to permeate everything and is always on my mind.
Gail, thank you for inviting me to share about my passion for writing. Here’s to all of us crazy about books!
Jayme H. Mansfield is an author, artist, and educator. Her award-winning novels, Chasing the Butterfly and RUSH, are book club favorites and Amazon bestsellers.
Her stories weave artistic, visual imagery with compelling plots and captivating characters. Romance, nuggets from the past, and timeless truths provide the fiber to make her novels rich and memorable.
Jayme lives in Lakewood, Colorado, where she and her husband have survived raising three hungry, hockey-playing sons. Currently, a very needy Golden Retriever runs the roost. When Jayme isn’t writing, she teaches art to children and adults at her long-time art studio, Piggy Toes.
Who knew? Purslane, a native Arizona plant I included in one of my novels, also grows in our Iowa back yard. But I only recently discovered at the Des Moines farmers’ market that purslane is edible and also offers a TON of health benefits.
Suffice it to say I’ve now re-instated a weed into my vegetable patches. And we’re eating purslane in salads, soups, and a truly delicious pesto.
Sometimes we say, “Who knew?” about other treasures hidden in our own heritage. Maybe a fresh whiff of wisdom reveals a different side of a conundrum that has puzzled us for years, and we grasp the meaning behind someone’s behavior.
Maybe even our OWN behavior . . . life’s journey finally exposes a facet that we’ve missed until now. In the past couple of years, for example, my husband has discovered amazing sights, simply by taking the time to look up.
Until Now might make a good title for a novel some day … Kate, the heroine of With Each New Dawn, experiences many until now moments. Maybe that’s because as an orphan, she entertains so many questions about her past.
What a positive thought–the more questions we have, the more opportunities for new discoveries. May the rest of your summer send some your way! (Just found a purslane plant with bright yellow blossoms!)
Today, I welcome Connie Cockrell – we have yet to meet in person, but it’s fun to host an Arizona writer this week.
A 20-year Air Force career, time as a manager at a computer operations company, wife, mother, sister and volunteer, provides a rich background for Connie Cockrell’s story-telling.
Cockrell grew up in upstate NY, just outside of Gloversville before she joined the military at age 18. Having lived in Europe, Great Britain, and several places around the United States, she now lives in Payson, AZ with her husband: hiking, gardening, and playing bunko. She writes about whatever comes into her head so her books could be in any genre. She’s published fifteen books so far, has been included in five different anthologies and been published on EveryDayStories.com. Connie’s always on the lookout for a good story idea. Beware, you may be the next one.
She can be found at www.conniesrandomthoughts.com or on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/ConniesRandomThoughts or on Twitter at: @ConnieCockrell or on Amazon at amazon.com/author/conniecockrell
Connie, what motivated you to write fiction?
I’ve always been interested in writing stories but I never knew how and with the press of working in the military and being a wife and mother and going to college, there just wasn’t time to figure it out. After I retired and moved to Arizona, my daughter moved in with us for a time. She met a young woman who was working on her first novel and told my daughter about National Novel Writing Month, a writing challenge to write 50,000 words, a short novel, in one month.
I asked my daughter how hard could that be and she challenged me to do and loaned me a copy of Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. Well, it was already mid-October, 2011, so I sped read through the book, put scene ideas on sticky notes on the back of the closet door and on 1 November, began writing my first book, The Bad Seed. I did the whole book in one month and it was pretty darned exciting. It took me months and months to rewrite and revise it but I did publish it in 2012.
Please tell us more …
One question I get all the time from readers is, “How do you write a book?” What they’re asking is, “How do you get started?”, “How do you know what to write?” and even, “Where do you get your ideas?”
The idea comes first. For me it’s usually plot. I see a documentary on TV, or read some trending memes on social media, or it’s a subject my friends are talking about. Anywhere, really. So, I get start with the question, “What if…,” then I take off. What could possibly happen in that situation? What people would be involved? How can I make the situation unusual? For example, instead of a down and out woman being the protagonist fighting against a corporate controlled world, what if I choose a woman from the upper 1% of the population? How would that change the story?
Then it’s a matter of writing those possible ideas down, lining them up, thinking up connecting scenes, maybe even adding a plot line or two. I arrange the scenes in some sort of order, doing my best to make sure the three or four-part story beats are in the right spots, and start to write.
After that it’s a matter of sitting down each day and writing to the scene. Do I stick strictly to the scene as written? Only as far as I get to the critical point, where the scene leads to the next one. But within the scene, I could create a new character from the past, I could reveal an unknown aspect of my character’s background. I could reveal a new plot line. All kinds of things could and do happen while I’m writing.
I don’t shoot for a certain number of words per chapter or book. It’s done when it’s done. Give it a try. It’s fun!
Connie’s giving away an e-book to a commenter. Just leave your contact info with your comment. Happy second week of January, 2017!