Fiction, Process, Uncategorized

Meandering (and some musings about character)

I originally crafted this post on Sunday, January 8, 2017 – just getting around to hitting “Publish.” Hope you’re having a good week!

Currently listening to: Blue by The Jayhawks (Seriously … I think this is one of the most perfect songs in existence.)

Current view:

meandering2
Actually, I’ve remedied the empty coffee cup, but … details, shme-tails.

Saturday/yesterday was spent with my kiddos – trying to burn off energy in January without incurring frostbite.  I think we had a successfully exhausting day.

My bears. And their matching hats.
My bears. And their matching hats.

Since hubby got a day to himself yesterday, I am at my local Caribou Coffee and I’ve been noodling over some character issues.  Not my own (although – Lord knows there are a few), but the fact that the love interest in my novel “Dragonfly” is rather … erm, vanilla. And while I like vanilla (give me vanilla ice cream over chocolate any day of the week.  [unless it’s chocolate peanut butter and then eff vanilla]), in the context of my character – that means he’s bland.  Or as my fellow writer friend Jessica astutely observed “he’s a character who’s surrounded and overshadowed by other much more interesting characters.” Uff da.  Not good for the love interest.

There are books devoted to the issue of character development, so this post is by no means a “quintessential” overview of writing engaging characters.  (If you’re looking for someone who knows a lot about craft and character development, check out K.M. Weiland’s site “Helping Writers Become Authors.”) Here’s a look on how I’m “fixing” Mike Emerson.

  • Developing backstory.  Backstory is like salt – a little bit can enhance the flavor quality of a dish; too much can make it unpalatable.  One of the challenges of writing is giving your character enough backstory to make that person feel real and dimensional, but to subtly weave these nuggets in the story (see: “show, don’t tell” or more succinctly – don’t beat your reader over the head with a dead fish [I don’t know if that analogy even makes sense, but I digress …].)

    Here’s the other random thing about backstory.  There are things that I know about the character that will likely never see the light of day in my story.  And that’s OK.  My job as the writer is to know my character front ways and back.  Then to distill those images and that knowledge into something that the reader can get enjoyably lost in.

  • Physical description.  I’ve always had an idea of what Mike Emerson looks like.  And I think that I do a decent job of describing him in my draft.  In fact, I have a subfolder in my “Dragonfly” project folder for “Character Bibles.”  (Character bibles – I specifically have one-page sheets that I have sketched out for each of my main characters.  This includes details like height, weight, eye/hair color.  This can also include mini details of the character’s greatest strengths or greatest fears.  They aren’t necessary and I need to do a better job of referring to mine, but it’s a good way to ensure character details are consistent throughout your story.)  Along with the “biographical” details of my characters, I sometimes include pictures of people that “inspire” various characters.  For Mike Emerson, I’m going the “rugged / masculine” route and I have a couple pictures pinned on my Pinterest inspiration board for Dragonfly.  (And no – that’s not an excuse for me to troll the web for hot pictures of Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Anson Mount.)

    So – why am I revisiting this issue to “fix” my character?  Well, sometimes when you’re in the thick of writing it’s easy to get lost in the midst of the forest’s trees.  I took a look at my Character Bible and pictures of “Mike Emerson” to revisit how I originally viewed Mike and to make sure I’m not straying too far from my character path.

The “final” thing I’ve thought about today are the quirks and attributes of my main love interest. That delves into how Mike Erickson walks and talks.  How he interacts with everyone from his landlord to his boss.  This is what boosts a character from something that’s one-dimensional to a character who will remind you of someone you’ve encountered in real life.

Mike Erickson’s quirks and attributes are informed by his background as a big city cop who has moved to a sheriff’s department located in a one-stoplight town.  (One challenge with this background is elevating this character sketch from a cliché.)  I’ve spent this morning building Mike Erickson’s inner world by mining my own mental catalog of various people that I’ve known and what makes them tick.

I feel like the time I spent this morning meandering about Mike Erickson was time well spent.  (Even writing this blog post – it helped to solidify some of the thoughts swirling around my head.)  So the next part is heading back to my SFD and imbuing all of these traits into Mike Erickson.  To take him from vanilla to something that’s been touched by a little bit of salt, pepper, chai, honey – whatever.  From bland to a bit more human.

And that’s what I’ve been working on today. 🙂

***

An update from Tuesday, just because I literally came across this.  This is what I’m listening to right now.  What’s sweet about this is at the very end of Sam Beam’s song, the extraordinarily competent and amazing interviewer is brushing away a tear.  Love the power of music.

 

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Fiction

A spooktacular reading list!

Halloween is kind of a big deal in my family.  Or, I should say, my husband loves Halloween, my kids have caught the bug and I’m basically along for the ride.  (And maybe for the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, but I digress.)

Our Halloween costumes from 2010.  I really can't take any credit on this one - the Mii designs are courtesy of my talented hubby.
Our Halloween costumes from 2010. I really can’t take any credit on this one – the Mii designs are courtesy of my talented hubby.

But while dreaming up the perfect costume is not my strong suit, I love reading anything that’s spooky.  So if you’re looking for a good read that’s holiday appropriate, here’s a trio of choices:

“The Historian” by Elizabeth Kostova – Vlad Tepes, the bloodthirsty prince of Wallachia who ultimately influenced Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”, is a historical figure.  But Kostova’s book goes beyond that and imagines a world where a group of scholars are tracking the historical Dracula, who just happens to still be alive.

“‘Salem’s Lot” by Stephen King – My love for Stephen King is pretty well documented, but this is a book that I revisit on a yearly basis.  Again, a story that’s told in the vampire tradition, but this 1975 novel only hints at King’s brilliance in storytelling.

“Wait Till Helen Comes” by Mary Downing Hahn – OK, so disclosure on this one.  When I dropped my eldest off at preschool this AM, I had three books all lined up in my head for suggestions.  When I sat down to write this blog post, the third choice disappeared into the ether.  So, I went to Goodreads and looked through some of their suggestions.  And I’m glad I did – I had forgotten about Ms. Hahn’s book for middle schoolers.  This book terrified me when I was a kid (it was published in 1986.)  I think I’m going to need to dig up my copy again.

Happy reading!  And Happy Halloween!

Fiction, Process

2016 Writers’ Police Academy: A Recap

A week ago, I had the pleasure of attending my first Writers’ Police Academy (WPA) in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  While I’m not going to do a blow-by-blow account of the weekend (blood spatter, helicopters, and Spice Girls … oh my!), here’s a rundown of the who, what, and would I return to the WPA?

2016 Writer's Police Academy

What is it:  For the past eight years, former detective Lee Lofland has hosted the Writers’ Police Academy, an “interactive and educational hands-on experience for writers to enhance their understanding of all aspects of law enforcement, firefighting, EMS, and forensics.”  The 2016 Writers’ Police Academy was recently held at the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay, Wisconsin, for over 250 attendees – including people who flew in from as far as the Netherlands, Bangkok, and Germany.  Although the road trip from Minneapolis seemed long, it wasn’t as long as it was for the internationals. 🙂

Why did I go:  There are a couple of stories that I’m working on that involve characters who are in law enforcement.  And while I am fortunate to have experience with law enforcement (my previous career as a cops and courts newspaper reporter) and while I still have friends who work as cops, I felt like attending this conference would help give an “authentic” dimension to my law enforcement characters.

While that was a big part of it, what put me over the edge was the announcement that Tami Hoag was keynote speaker for the conference.  (And I love me some Tami Hoag.)

The other part that I assumed, but wildly underestimated, was the ability to network at this conference.  I attended with some fellow Twin Cities Sisters in Crime members, but ended up meeting a TON of writers – folks who are at different parts of their publication journey.  While I couldn’t meet every single person at the conference and while there are some people I wish I could have met earlier or spent more time with, there are a handful of people I’m hoping will be lifetime friends.

Would I go again:  Before I give this section the emphatic, resounding YES that it richly deserves, I have a few caveats.  I think that if you’re a writer, especially one who is working on a police procedural novel or any kind of story that involves fire / police / or EMS, I cannot stress how valuable this conference is.  The instructors at WPA are veteran public safety personnel.  In many cases, the instructors “tweaked” the presentations that they give in their respective fields to either shorten an eight-hour PowerPoint into an hour-long session that highlighted the main points for writers or generated material that specifically addressed creating authentic characters or scenarios for our stories.

Also incredibly generous and valuable?  Several of those instructors gave us their emails or phone numbers, saying “hey, if you need any further information, don’t hesitate to contact me.”  I cannot say enough about the professionalism and generosity of the instructors that we encountered.  There were also several authors that gave presentations that talked about the importance of research in our writing.

So will I go back next year?  I’m not sure if I’ll make it in 2017.  And that has nothing to do with the conference itself, but more about my overall conference plans for next year.  I hope to have my novel ready for querying agents next year and want to attend a conference like Killer Nashville or New England Crimebake.  Several mystery conferences have pitch sessions and I want to go to at least one of them.  I also have plans to attend Murder & Mystery in Chicago in spring 2017.  Although these “local” conferences (i.e. – cheap plane ticket or within driving distance) are easier on the pocketbook, there’s still an expense in attending a convention.

Will I go back again?  Absolutely.  The police component is not *huge* in my stories, but I write mysteries.  During this year’s conference, I was able to fix two lingering questions / problems that I have in my current work in progress, as well as get some killer background information for another project I’ve had on the back burner.  Between the people I met / networked with at the convention, the instructors / staff for WPA itself, and the information and sources I was able to acquire this weekend – I cannot say enough about the value of WPA.

Action Plan: I’ve tried to establish a “plan” that guides my path to publication.  And it will come as no surprise to the people who really know me, that I’m pretty shittacular at actually following my plans.  (I’d blame the fact that I’m the mother of little children, but no … it’s me.)  However, if I’m going to be shelling out hundreds of dollars for a convention, I need to have an action plan at the convention’s conclusion – not just go and marvel at how hunky the hot cops were.  Here’s my action plan that I’ve developed after attending the 2016 WPA:

  • Do a search of #2016WPA and start following the folks who generated posts from the convention on Twitter (and Instagram, if applicable.) I feel a bit like a social media whore if I start trying to friend strangers on Facebook, but Twitter is a better venue for this sort of thing. I’m doing this to make my social media platform more robust and potentially attractive to future literary agents.
  • Go through the business cards gathered and follow up with those people via social media or email.
  • I received a book from a conference attendee, as well as just bought one off of Amazon by a new friend/author I met at WPA. Read those books and write reviews for Amazon and Goodreads.
  • Email the instructors that offered PowerPoints and get those for my “Research” files.

In conclusion, and to quote my mom’s and my favorite movie “Shag,” I had “the most fun.”  My experience at WPA was a valuable one for my writing career (not to mention the fact that I totally fan-girled Tami Hoag and danced like a fool to the Spice Girls.)

I heard someone refer to WPA as “a writer’s Disneyland” and honestly … that’s pretty accurate.  It was a weekend well spent.  My sincere thanks to Lee and his team for a wonderful convention.

Fiction, Friday Fare, Random

Friday Fare: 5/6/16

050616 - Books

Although the Interwebs have been ripe with all sorts of interesting article (some of which I’ve actually been able to read!), I didn’t have time to assemble a formal Friday Fare today.  So I’ll leave you with a picture and a quick story.  I’m re-reading Stephen King’s “IT” (for the zillionth time?), because I want to see how he does it.  I was in high school the first time I read “IT” and I remember being too scared to look out my bedroom window, because I was sure that I’d see Pennywise the Clown looking in at me through the screen, his Ronald McDonald hair illuminated by the yard light next to the lilac tree.  Now as a writer, I want to figure out how he did it – what senses did King play upon to scare the bejesus out of me?  Was it the backstory?  Character development?

So, I’m sitting in the sunshine while my kids are playing in the sandbox.  My eldest (3 1/2) comes running up to me.  “Let me see, mommy.”  (Usually, he calls me mama, but eldest has been binge watching “Caillou” again, so my given name has taken on a Canadian inflection and borders on whiny.  Damn you Caillou!)  Not thinking, I lift my book so he can see the cover and I hear a little gasp.

“What are those claws doing down there?”

Dammit.  “Um … that’s a dinosaur.”

“What’s a dinosaur doing in there?”

My husband had been snoozing in a deck chair next to me, and at this he opens eyes and gives me a look.

I give my eldest a hug.  “That’s a very good question.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Happy Friday!

Editing, Fiction, Process

Adventures in Editing: Clunk.

_AdventuresinEditingAfter several years of toiling, I finished a SFD draft of After Life (AL) in July 2015.  I let it set on the back burner until March 2016 and am editing in earnest.  Adventures in Editing is an occasional feature that chronicles the travails of trying to bring a bunch of muddle into a more cohesive draft.  Thanks for reading!

I think the following picture tells a pretty decent story:

clunkAs my mentor mentioned in my earlier “Adventures” post, reading your draft out loud is an effective way to catch any parts of your story that are … well, clunky.  As I read through my draft of AL to see how the story flowed together, I marked the sentences / sections that were clunky upon reading them out loud.

Still don’t believe me?  Check out what the experts say in the hyperlinks.

Editing, Fiction, Process

Adventures in Editing: In One Sitting

_AdventuresinEditingA little back story, after several years of toiling, I finished a SFD draft of After Life (AL) in July 2015.  I let it set on the back burner until March 2016 and have started the process of editing in earnest.  Adventures in Editing is an occasional feature that chronicles the travails of trying to bring a bunch of muddle into a more cohesive draft.  Thanks for reading!

I do believe in the adage that to write is to be a constant student of the craft.  I see this as I discover new writers or glean some nugget of information in the writing blogs that I peruse.  However, while all things can be good in moderation, I have found that too much information causes creative paralysis.  I rediscovered this as I started thinking about how I was going to approach the editing process on AL.  My current draft is hovering around a chunky 113k mark.  I feel OK about the beginning, I’m a little meh about the ending – it’s there, but it needs some loving, and the middle?  Uff da – don’t get me started on the middle.  There’s good stuff there, but there’s flab.  Oh sweet Lord, there’s flab.

But as I’ve purchased my red pens and have mentally been gearing up for the editing process, I found myself paralyzed.  First and foremost – do I have the tools to accomplish my goal?  This goes beyond red pens and Post-It notes.  Do I have the knowledge to bring draft one to a better second draft?  That question tends to paralyze me.  It’s not only do I have the knowledge, it’s also a question of efficiency.  Gestating a book and getting it ready to send it off into the world takes time, but do I approach the editing process correctly?  Are there things that I should be considering as I read my draft that I don’t know about?  Should I take a(nother) class where I learn more about the editing process?

There was one concept in particular that kept me procrastinating on the start of my current round of edits.  Somewhere along my journey, I read you should read your draft from stem to stern in one sitting at the beginning of the editing process.

I don’t disagree with this concept and I think that the intent behind this is so that thoughts and perceptions remain fresh in the author’s mind and that any mental progress isn’t interrupted by having to read your draft in several different sittings.

And I really, really tried to do this with my latest draft of AL.  I did.  So how long did it take me?  Four days.  So do I think that my novel is now doomed because I wasn’t able to follow the advice of the experts?  Nah.  I think in my dream world, I’d have endless amounts of time to chase my dreams of fiction and publication.  But in my real world, the world that fills me with ideas and introduces me to potential characters and … well, pays the bills … it took me four days to read my draft and rediscover my old friend Kate and her father Simon.  I realized that there were a couple extraneous characters that could be jettisoned.  I saw plot threads that were started and then fizzled out.  I got what I needed.  And now I’m crafting my action plan to go forward.

So the moral of the story?  I’m learning to cut through the noise and I’m finding what works for me on this creative journey.

I’ll leave you with the following thought. I came across this status update in November on Facebook from Louise Penny.  I liked this … this encapsulates my hopes as I hop from a shitty first draft to my second draft and beyond: “Started the second draft of the next book yesterday. The first few chapters are, of course, the ones that need the most editing. When I started this book, I knew the outline of the plot, and some of the themes, but as the book went on things evolved. These first chapters drag their knuckles on the ground. Need to have them stand upright. And in the next draft will make them lean and strong and swift. And, if I do a fourth draft, will see if I can teach it to make cappuccino.”

Fiction, Process, Random

Hel-lllllllo!

Digger

I guess if I had a spirit animal in the writing world (beyond the grumpy feline that’s in the picture above), it would be a snail.  Because it’s February and I don’t have much of a (personal) word count to show for it.  Writing is a marathon and not a sprint, but I still need to show up to practice every day and that’s what’s been lacking lately.

We’ll catch up on Friday.  **Muah!**

Book Review, Fiction, Random

2015: Favorite Reads

2015 - Favorite Reads graphicOne of the things that I love about this time of year (other than copious amounts of sugar cookies) is that this is when news outlets start assembling their “best of” lists. The best movies of 2015, the best songs from 2015, best books, best memes, etc. Since I’m firmly behind the eight ball when it comes to trends, I’m usually reading a book that was a smash hit five years ago and has already been adapted for the big screen (looking at you Gone Girl. Haven’t watched the movie though …). So I went through my Goodreads list for 2015 and picked out the books that impacted me during the year. This year’s goal was to read 30 books. It was something of a laughable goal, because if I really put my mind to it – I can slam a book down in a day. But I work full time. I’m a mom. And on the side, I – you know – like to write. So 30 was doable. I’ve already exceeded that goal by one. 🙂

Here’s what has stuck with me, long after I’ve turned the final chapter:

Shivaree – JD Horn Amazing – the first couple books on this list were actually published in 2015. This makes me feel relevant! But back to the book … I read Shivaree in one evening. Started in the afternoon, could not put it down, and went to bed shortly after midnight. And then proceeded to have some pretty haunting dreams. Shivaree is set in the south after the Korean War and is a paranormal, Southern Gothic horror. I almost didn’t make it past the first chapter but was glad that I stayed the course. Mr. Horn uses rich characterization of the setting, the historical context, and the people he’s created to drive a gripping narrative. Seriously – I need to read more of this man’s work.

Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert In my Goodreads review of Ms. Gilbert’s non-fiction on nurturing your creative life, I wrote that I felt like Ms. Gilbert had wrote this book for me. There were so many spots where I wished I was reading a physical copy of the book (checked out the book from my library for Kindle), so I could take a highlighter and mark pages to go back to and re-read again and again. I will be purchasing this book when it’s out in paperback. (Don’t get me wrong – I love hardcovers, but I’m a paperback kinda girl.)

Winter Garden –Kristen Hannah Oh man, this book got me in the feels. I liked the historical nature of Ms. Hannah’s book, but even though I was reading about fictional people, there were parts of this book that had me sobbing. That’s how invested I was in the characters. (Yes, books make me cry – don’t get me started about “Harry Potter” or “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” My nose is turning red just thinking about it.)

Crazy Old Coot / Old Coots Never Forget – Jerry Johnson If you’ve read this blog for awhile, you’ll know that I talk a lot about Jerry, my mentor from college. I talk about him a lot, but I probably don’t talk about him enough, because Jerry’s one of the first people who really made me believe in my ability to write and he’s been a good friend and one of my best and fiercest critics.  If you’re a fan of creative nonfiction, you need to read Jerry’s books.  (Here’s the link to his Amazon page.)  His essays run the gamut between capturing the atmosphere of curmudgeonly men in their hunting camps to elegies Jerry has written for lost friends.  There’s something for everyone in Jerry’s work – reading his blog is time well spent.

What the Night Knows – Dean Koontz There is a fabulous indie used and new bookstore in Red Wing, Minnesota called Fair Trade Books. They have a nifty policy that if you are a newcomer to the store, the owner or one of the employees will try to find a book from their used selection that they’ve specifically chosen for you based on what you’re interested in reading.  What the Night Knows was the book that was chosen for me and it was a good read.  Koontz is an author I had never read before, but Koontz wrote a convincing thriller that had a heavy supernatural tone throughout.  And I loved it.  He built a world that I was not able to shake for awhile after finishing his novel.

~*~*~*~*~

As for next year, I think I’m going to be bold and try for 35 books. (Sorry … sarcasm.)  J.T. Ellison, one of my favorite authors, has a standalone novel coming out, as well as a prequel that features her Taylor Jackson character.  I’m looking forward to reading both of those.  I’m also going to start diving into some of the classics of my chosen genre – Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler.  I also have a goal to read every Sackett novel that Louis L’Amour ever wrote.  (When I was in college, I once spent a Christmas break reading a box of L’Amour books my dad had bought at an auction. I think I averaged two a day, figured out that L’Amour liked to plagiarize from himself and had one hell of a good time reading Westerns.  Then I passed them onto my grandpa.  Books can build bridges between generations … that was time well spent.)

What are you going to be reading in 2016?

Fiction, Friday Fare, Internet Articles, Process, Random

Friday Fare: It’s on the Internet … must be true

Friday FareFriday Fare is a round up of my “best of” when it comes to Internet links that I’ve read this week. Enjoy!

There were a couple things I read that got elevated to “Post-It” status on my desk this week.  Sure, I had to unearth said Post-It from my desktop, but these items were important enough for me to remember and post for your reading enjoyment. 🙂

First is this post called Slow Berkshires from Alana Chernila at “Eating from the Ground Up.”  Ms. Chernila is known for her incredible recipes and their reflection of the “farm to table” movement and while this post is a departure from the typical fare of her blog, it is in line with the aesthetic of her recipes – local, organic, intentional.  The post is a reflection of the hike that Chernila and her husband took from one end of the Berkshires to the other.  And while I know that such a jaunt is a few years from my present life (hel-lo, mother of toddlers!), it is something that’s on my bucket list.

The other three things I jotted down are a little more random … one of them is down below in “Listening,” while the other two are food related.  1) If you have an abundance of cucumbers right now from your garden or CSA, make these pickles.  Now.  2) I’m kind of obsessed by the concept of turning zucchini into noodles.  It seems like a travesty, but it sounds like a tasty one to try …

BUT THIS IS NOT A COOKING BLOG.  Now to the articles that enriched me as a reader and writer this week …

I grew up in the Midwest and I was reared on the Laura Ingalls Wilder books.  (Do not get my mom started about the side trips I begged to go on during our bi-annual trip to South Dakota where I would seek out random LIW-related sites.)  So this literary mystery about whether or not Pa Ingalls brought a heaping helping of vigilante justice to some serial killers was interesting (even if unlikely).  Side note – I still need to read “Pioneer Girl.”

Here’s another bandwagon I’m late for:  Ann Rule.  Turns out that one of my FB author friends was real-life friends with the late author so upon Ms. Rule’s death, I found myself reading a lot about this amazing ex-journalist, turned author.  And while it seems that everyone and their mother has a Ted Bundy story in the Midwest, I need to get my hands on “The Stranger Beside Me.”

Finally – Facebook, it’s ability to stalk me via whatever “feels” I’m having and its targeted ad suggestions should squick me out, but I tune out ads as handily as I ignore whining children.  However, I’ve noted that FB thinks I should take James Patterson’s “Master Class” for writers that is offered online.  Luckily, another writer did that for me.  Joyce Maynard’s piece is light on the snark and her conclusion is surprising …

***

Here are the other mediums that have been inspiring me:

Listening to: One of my coworkers texted me an article the other day about the television debut of Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats.  I’m in love.  Jimmy Fallon said that their music is pure barroom soul and he’s not too far off the mark.  NPR is currently streaming their upcoming album.  I have a sense that this album is going to find it’s way into my home soon.  And hopefully, my children won’t start running around singing “S.O.B.”

Reading:  Just finished “Winter Garden” by Kristin Hannah.  I’m still processing this one … it was an incredible read and it’s the kind of book that an aspiring writer can learn a lot from …

Fiction Update:

Wine and song ... er, outlining
Wine and song … er, outlining

This was the scene at Casa de My Kitchen Table the other night … I unearthed the folders that had the notes for my “resort story” and I started to page through them.  I was surprised to see how much I had written (I apparently went on a jag with this project in October 2012 through February 2013 … my eldest son would have been three months through eight months old during that time … no wonder I barely remember anything!) and even more thrilled to discover it wasn’t total shit!  Woo for some postpartum progress!

Happy Friday, friends!

Fiction, Process, Random

For the Summer

My dad ... circa 2009.
My dad … circa 2009.

I am admittedly late to the Ray LaMontagne bandwagon.  It happens to me frequently – there will be a musician or a band that is burning up the charts or have become the indie darlings of the radio and I’ll find out about them five years later.  Then I become a little obsessed with their music and email all of my friends something along the lines of “you need to hear this band!”  And then … crickets.  Because they typically will have heard of said band when they were relevant.

Anyway … Ray LaMontange.  Love his music.  And although I’m just writing about him now, I’ve been listening for a couple of years.  And as I’ve written in the past, music tends to inform a lot of the atmosphere around my writing.  Some writers need absolute silence to write.  I’ve heard that Stephen King likes to listen to heavy metal when he’s penning his work.

I’m in a bit of a limbo right now in waiting to hear feedback from some of my beta readers.  I have a couple of items that I want to work on in my writing life, but I’ve been thinking about using this time to start outlining the next full-fledged fiction project that I’m going to work on.  To give you an idea where my head is right now (beyond trying to come up from air under the amount of boxes and crap that my husband and I need to unpack … bleh), it vacillates between a story set in my heart’s home of northeast Iowa or the story that’s set in the lake country of west central Minnesota.  The northeast Iowa story starts in the fall – it always has had its starting time frame in the fall, when the trees along the Mississippi River bluffs display their quiet riot of fall colors and when the farmers are in the field, trying to harvest the last of the corn.  But the west central Minnesota story is a resort story – it belongs on a place called Dragonfly Lake where time is moving on, despite the memories that would keep Marv Carlson trapped in the past.  And when Ray LaMontagne’s “For the Summer” cues up on my mp3 player and when I think about the summer I spent cleaning resort cabins on weekends for a couple extra bucks, my heart knows what story to tell next.

PS – The picture above is of my dad.  When my mind isn’t thinking of Minnesota lakes, Mr. LaMontange’s song makes me think of summer on the farm – one arm out the rolled down window of my mama’s pickup truck.  Spring Grove pop.  And I think of this particular day on a long ago vacation when my dad and I found a riot of flowers in South Dakota.