Sunday, October 26, 2014

Brainstorm to treasure

In a couple weeks, I'll be one of the speakers at Keystone College's Young Authors Day. My audience will be 50+ students grades 3-12 and their teachers from various schools around northeastern PA. The presentation topic for my 40 minutes of fame? Whatever I choose.
Now don't get me wrong. I like having choices. I'm not a fan of being told what to do, especially in the creative realm. But choosing one topic to engage creative kids with such a wide range of ages is daunting, to say the least.

I asked my daughter Katie, an exceptionally creative and insightful first-grade teacher, to brainstorm with me. What we came up with was the concept that both non-fiction and fiction writers have to do research as part of their creative process. I could focus my presentation on showing the research I'd done for Risking Exposure (and am still doing for the sequel.)

So I sat down this week to work on my Power Point. In it, I likened the process of research to a dig for buried treasure. We use different tools for the various surfaces we encounter, pick axes for rock (secondary research sources), shovels for loose dirt (primary sources.) When we uncover a gem, we hold it in our palm, turn it this way and that, examine it with a magnifying glass to clarify its tiniest details. Only then do we determine its worth, whether we should toss it aside or place it in a silk-lined box for all time.

Hopefully, the kids will be inspired to set off on their own digs and research topics of interest to them.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Choosing a community

Once we both retire, Michael and I want to live closer to our daughter, son-in-law, and grandkids. (They currently live 3 hours south of us.) We'd like to be close enough to help when needed, but not so close that we're a pain in the neck. So with that in mind, we spent a couple days this week exploring some communities in Lancaster County, PA.

We stayed at a little B&B in America's Coolest Small Town, charming Lititz, PA. As we explored it and other nearby towns, we used several features as our 'starting points' to determine whether or not we might want to make the town our future home - the local library, churches, and public parks among them. This approach is based on our own short list. We utilize those services in our lives now and most likely will in the future. We think a community which support a variety of faiths, has a strong interest in public lands, and is home to a well-utilized quality library system is a community in which we want to live and grow.

Which brings to mind an interesting parallel. No community, whether a place to live or a place to develop a love of stories, is right for everyone. But the Writers Group at the Dietrich , where I have been a member for 8 years or so, continues to attract writers of all stripes.
Some folks attend one or two meetings and decide it's not for them, and that's fine. Others come for a short time, contribute and grow, then move away. Some, like me, make the group their writing community. We use it as a place to connect with like-minded people who share the same values. We plant, nurture, encourage, and contribute to our mutual growth.

That's home.

Monday, October 13, 2014

What I thought I knew

An old PBS radio show featuring Paul Harvey was called "The Rest of the Story". In it, he added little known facts and unexpected connections to tales we thought we knew and understood. That show came to mind this week while reading "America's Hidden History" by Kenneth C. Davis, a "Rest of the Story" type book chock full of honest truths about America's roots. Some of those truths are relevant for today, the day in which we Americans celebrate Columbus' landing in this new world.

Remember Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain, the ones who bankrolled Columbus' voyage? In my elementary school textbooks, they were portrayed as people who saw the potential in his exploration, no doubt with the possibilities of expanding their own kingdom's reach and power. For a king and queen, good guys.

Or so I thought.

Turns out that they were staunch Roman Catholics and the force behind the horrific Spanish Inquisition. During their reign, Muslims and Jews of Spain were removed from Spain, either by force or by death. Genocide was the fate for all who did not follow Catholicism. Interestingly, Isabella and Ferdinand's daughter, Catherine of Aragon, later became the wife of England's Henry the Eighth. Yikes.

On one of Columbus' later journeys back to America, Queen Isabella suggested he bring pigs on board. The pigs were meant to provide food for the long voyage as well as the beginnings of a conventional European-style farm in the new world. Ends up the pigs brought more than food to these shores. The diseases the pigs harbored, to which the sailors were apparently immune, devastated the nearby Native American population. For the Native Americans, it was clear that these new residents brought nothing but trouble. Not a good tone to set for future relations.

The more I learn, the less I know.
I love that.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Cooking up a good story

I love to cook. Give me a couple hours free on a Saturday, and I'm quite content in my kitchen. I put on some tunes and dance and sing while (I hope) no one is listening. I might try a new recipe or a familiar favorite for dinner, make a pot of soup for my weekday lunches or a loaf of banana bread to share with a friend. In any case, I lose track of time as I chop and saute and mix until my house smells glorious and my appetite is whet.
There's a great deal of pleasure to be had in both the process and the product when I cook - the process is a creative experience for me, multi-sensory and totally enjoyable. And most times, the end product, a scented home and delicious foods made from scratch, is quite satisfying. Even if I do have to do it all over again the next day.

I love to write.Give me a couple hours free on a Sunday, or any day for that matter, and I'm quite content in front of my computer. I sit in the silence of my basement with the company of my own thoughts. After assembling my ingredients, the ideas I've entered in my voice recorder over the last few day, heaps of research materials, my plot notes, and character sketches, I get started. I chop the scene I'm writing apart, verify some historical details, and mix them with the 'what-if' scenarios my recorder and my imagination hand me. I lose track of time and often re-emerge from the depths well after dark, having forgotten to switch out the wash or eat dinner.
The process of writing is a creative experience, one that completely overtakes me. I find myself lost in my fictional world wondering how my protagonist will ever get out of the mess I've made for her. The end product for the day, a few more finished pages, satisfies me. And it leaves me itching to get up the next day and immerse myself again.