Precious Autumn Sunshine

I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house. So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air.”

-Nathaniel Hawthorne

 

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Five Little Things

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These guys make me almost as happy as the baby goats!

Sometimes it’s the little things. That’s what this blog is all about: five little things that are making me happy.

First…if you like baby goats (and who doesn’t?), check out the Sunflower Farm barn cam. I’m a little obsessed. Sunflower Farm is a pygmy goat farm near where I live in Maine. The cam shows baby goats being born and generally frolicking. It is (a) highly entertaining, (b) cute off the chart, but (c) a little stressful (for me) to watch. Apparently I’m either a goat wimp or cross-species maternalistic because I get very worried and protective of these baby goats. Warning: this site can be very addictive. And very dramatic. But you really should check it out. Hint: It’s much more exciting with sound turned up so you can hear all the goats bleating!

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It doesn’t look like much yet, but just wait…and yes we do still have some snow

If baby goats are being born, then it must be spring, right? YES! Spring. We finally have spring! There are no leaves on the trees yet (and only a few flowers), but we went from snow last week to 70 degrees this week. Today I saw an Osprey and two Great Blue Herons flying over. Song birds are everywhere. Our temps (and winds) will be all over the place for a while, but I don’t think we’ll get anymore snow until fall—which is the important part—so we can get our garden area ready. This all makes me very, very happy. (Until I saw a fly in the house…no. I won’t complain yet.)

Parchment baked chicken breasts. I usually don’t write about food on my blog, but once in a while I need to. A few months ago I started baking chicken in parchment paper—I put (usually three skinless boneless breasts on a piece of parchment paper, squeeze juice of one lemon onto them, add a few tablespoons of wine, sprinkle with thyme, salt, and pepper, cover with another sheet of parchment, and crimp the edges. Bake until done (usually about 30 minutes), and you’ll have the moistest most delicious, healthiest chicken breasts you’ll ever taste. I’ve also used soy, balsamic, and lemon juice marinade, equally delicious. You can also use this method for fish and vegetables. Cooking Light has a better description of the method—you can find it in this article by Lia Huber.

In case you haven’t been to Google today…you’re in for a fun surprise. In honor of the 155th anniversary of the Pony Express, Google has developed a fun, easy video game. I’ve wasted spent at least half an hour on this today… and I’ve only collected 25 envelopes at best—you have to see it to truly understand. Check it out on Google.

After you finish collecting envelopes, check out today’s post on Writer Unboxed by Therese Walsh. It’s an incredibly helpful blog about multi-tasking—Therese’s third in a series. Therese says this: “If you multitask because you feel you have to in order to stay on top of things; if you’re overwhelmed with too much information and an inability to sort though it all; if you’re losing momentum on your writing projects because there is just too much on your plate… This post is for you.” She goes on to give methods for diagnosing what’s going on (or wrong) with your work habits, strategies for better productivity, and tips and suggestions to be more productive. It’s a really useful and helpful post….

Especially after you’ve been watching baby goats, cleaning your garden, playing Google’s Pony Express game, researching new ways to cook chicken, or generally trying to figure out how to focus more on writing and less on those other non-writing things.

What are some little things making you happy?

Cheers,

Julia

This winter is about…

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This winter has been trying. The coldest February on record in many parts of Maine. More snow since mid January than we get in an entire winter most years. The statistics speak for themselves.

But this winter is about more than statistics.

This winter it’s hard to get around. There are huge snow banks at the entrances to roads and driveways that makes driving treacherous. People seem grumpier. In their cars. At the grocery store. At the gym. It’s grinding us down, this winter.

This winter is about isolation and crankiness and tiredness. It’s wearing me out. Twenty-two or more days below freezing (I gave up trying to keep track), so I really don’t want to go out. I love being inside at my desk writing, but I am tired even of that. I reach out to friends, but planned outings often need to be postponed due to yet another snowstorm. For a while we were on an every-weekend then every-Wednesday snowstorm schedule. It was predictable. The weather guys on one channel who usually wear sweaters (instead of suits) for storm days stopped wearing them. They stopped playing the “storm center” music, too.

This winter is about water leaking into the house through a new window. It’s about MEH (My Engineer Husband) coming home from work early last Friday to climb up a ladder and scrape snow off the roof with a roof rake. (We have a two story house.) Then he used an axe to break ice a foot thick off the edges of our roof, all around our house, to ensure no more ice dams formed that would allow more water to leak around the roof shingles, through the walls, into our house around our windows. “The water finds a path,” MEH said before climbing another ladder onto the porch roof to shovel snow off of it. MEH spent the better part of the weekend shoveling snow off the roof.

This is usually water...Casco Bay... that's an Osprey nest out there

This is usually water…Casco Bay… that’s an Osprey nest out there on the pole

This winter is about new words and new ways of talking to our neighbors (that we see more at the grocery store than around the neighborhood). Ice dam, roof melt, roof rake, “the water finds a paths,” and “where will we put it?” become common conversation starters.

This winter is about giving up, giving in, embracing. One end of our driveway is unshoveled, unplowed. We have enough room for our two cars. Why should we shovel more? The end of the driveway (that’s not shoveled) has a five foot frozen-solid berm at the end. Snow is piled everywhere. The mailman used to avoid that end of our driveway; now he just walks through the snow and over the frozen berm.

This winter is about layers. Most winters I’ve worn fleece and (TMI?) sometimes long underwear (on top). This winter I wear long underwear (top and bottom) every day, pants and turtleneck, fleece top and bottom over that. Boots outside. Fleece slippers in. Down jacket everyday. And an indispensable lavender scarf my daughter gave me for Christmas. I often wear it in the house, while under the electric blanket.

This winter is about hats. I knit two hats in January before the historic snow season started. One for MEH and one for me. (No, they aren’t the same—color or style—I write that in answer to the question forming: “are they the same?”…a question my daughter already asked me.) I hate hats. (Especially with all the dry air creating static electricity.) But I wear that hat every time I leave the house.

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These robins found the morning sun…

This winter is about appreciating…

…the sun. Last weekend we had one day of 40 degrees. We reveled in the warm weather. It was a good day. A great day. It made us remember spring. And that spring is coming.

…the landscape that looks so foreign. The water froze over between the mainland and Cousins Island (a town island connected by bridge). Then it snowed over the ice. And the ice and snow got craggy and crazy looking. I’ve loved taking photos of the unnatural looking landscape. The landscape is so foreign that sometimes when I’m driving I miss a turn and find a new way home.

…the birds. Watching the crows roost. Hundreds upon hundreds of crows flying from tree to tree at sunset, looking for a place to roost. I’ve never seen this before. It was amazing. I also watched flocks of robins…I never realized that some robins winter over in Maine. I thought a lot about being a bird and trying to survive outside in this winter.

This winter is about new terrain, new landscapes, new landmarks, new ways of thinking and feeling and acting, new sights and sounds.

This winter is (I hope) almost over.

How’s winter going in your neighborhood? What is winter about for you?

Love Notes: things to love mid-winter

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This photo was from a much warmer day (last summer), but it seemed perfect for a post about love… 

I meant to get this blog posted yesterday, for Valentine’s Day, but I didn’t, and here’s why…

Another blizzard. More snow predicted. But here’s the thing: it missed us. (Collective sigh, followed by a cheer.) Various predictions said we’d get one to two more feet of snow out of this storm, adding to the four feet of snow already on the ground. Instead we woke up to two inches! Yesterday was a flurry of activity to get ready for the possible power outage, being snowed in, etc. We even succumbed to the “bread and milk” grocery run, except since we were baking bread and I’m lactose intolerant, instead we bought flour and yeast. (By the way, if you haven’t seen the hilarious bread and milk youtube video, here’s a link.)

Here are a few more things I love this month:

For my post on Writer Unboxed yesterday I asked other Writer Unboxed writers to contribute Valentines to Writing. Why and how they love writing. Check out “Writing…Will You Be My Valentine?” to see the twenty wonderful love letters, poems, and words about writing. I loved compiling this Valentine box of words.

At Great New Books this month I posted a recommendation for Roz Chast’s graphic memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant. I saw this book as a long love letter to her parents (as they went through the aging process). The book is at turns hilarious and heartbreaking and Chast is amazing at expressing feelings through her cartoons. I loved this book.

Lately I’ve seen a lot of Common Ravens. These massive black birds, “cousins” of the crow, are larger than a Red-tailed Hawk, and I don’t see them often in Maine. (I don’t think… they are solitary birds so if I saw one alone, without comparison to another bird, I might think it’s a crow—crows weigh about half as much, but without comparison, this difference is hard to see). You can tell ravens from crows in flight by the raven’s wedge-shaped tail. I saw a lot of ravens in the west when I drove across the country, but it’s really spectacular to see them in the snow. The contrast is beautiful and striking. I haven’t gotten a photo of one yet, but I would love to by the end of the winter.

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Winter is far from over. This is a shot of the Cousins Island Bridge, looking toward the mainland.

Winter…which is far from over, despite the lack of snow from this particular blizzard. We are in the deep chill, with temperatures well below freezing (we’ve had thirteen days below zero in February; I don’t love that). I still go out and take photos, but with clear skies, sunrises and sunsets are less spectacular (we’ve had a few good ones), most boats are out of the water, and it’s harder to get access to beautiful areas—the snow banks are huge.

Another thing I really love today is that it’s only 32 days until the Spring Equinox. And even though I’m sure we’ll still have snow on the ground, there’s a lot of hope resting on that day!

How’s your winter going? What do you love this month?

Groundhog Moments

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It’s Groundhog Day, and Punxutawney Phil predicts six more weeks of winter. As two of my Instagram friends discussed this snowy morning, “there’s never been a more Groundhog Day than today.” (Thank you @littlelodestar and @lemead)

You see it’s been snowing pretty much nonstop for a while now. It all started with Juno, the Blizzard of 2015—was that only a week ago? When I realized it was Groundhog Day today, I started hoping, irrationally that Phil (the groundhog) would see his shadow and in six weeks voilà it will be spring. (I say irrationally hoped because I really don’t believe that Phil can predict or not predict anything—he is a Groundhog after all.)

But predict he did.

That’s not what this post is about. Not really. It’s about the iterative process of life. About the predictability (and unpredictability—shall we say serendipity?) of life. The hopes of life. The moments of life. Because the other side of Groundhog Day that has become legend (in addition to Phil) is the movie Groundhog Day. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. Not only because it’s good, but because it has become iconic.

And that’s what I was thinking about this morning. Not the snow falling outside (yeah, yeah, another foot. What’s another foot when you’ve got three or so already?). Well, first I thought about the snow. Then I thought about the movie, and Bill Murray’s character reliving the same day over and over again.

I started thinking. Which day, days would I want to live over and over again? Murray’s character didn’t get to decide. But as long as I’m reinventing things, I’ll say I can. Decide. I started thinking while I woke up this morning. Which days?

Topping the list (of course) are the obvious ones. The days my children were born. The day my husband told me he loved me the first time. I reconsidered, realizing that while I definitely would want to live those days over and over again, there are other less obvious contenders.

The day my son harvested garden vegetables with us when he was just four. He carried a pumpkin he’d grown from a seed onto the stage of the 4-H Perfect Pumpkin competition (alone, he told us to stay in our seats in an auditorium of about 400 people), and walked onto the stage to claim his prize for “the perfect pumpkin.” That day.

The day I strolled arm in arm with my teenage daughter down the L’Avenue des Champs Elysées in Paris. That day.

The day our young family drove across California on the roadtrip of a lifetime and my son made up a song about “Dusty Mountains in the Distance,” and my son and daughter (five years old), unbeknownst to me, got into a competition to see who could make me mad first. That day.

Actually, any road trip day with either of my two kids is a day I’d like to live over again. Talking, playing, singing, napping, looking at colleges, the companionable silences, even the bickering and the complaining (mine as well as theirs). Those days. All of them.

Or a day like yesterday. MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I enjoyed the first sunny day in a good long time by going on an outing. It was cold and of course there was snow, but it was beautiful. We went to Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth and watched children (and some adults) sledding with the Atlantic Ocean as the backdrop. We visited the “Portland Head” lighthouse. We took photos—many—as is our wont to do. Ice coated the huge rocks surrounding the lighthouse. We met a small Yorkie Terrier running faster than any dog I’ve seen, across fields of ice. We chatted with Clyde’s “parents” for a few minutes about Clyde’s Patriots shirt (yes the Yorkie was wearing a shirt). They were excited about the Superbowl, and they’re probably even more excited today. Maybe today’s a day—or yesterday—many Patriots or Patriots fans would want to live over and over again.

I digress.

Yesterday was a day—an everyday day—that I’d want to live over and over again. Days like yesterday provide the framework of my life, they give my life meaning. They remind me that it doesn’t take much. A sunny day. An hour car ride with someone you love. A beautiful lighthouse to take photos of. A call from your daughter. An email from your son. A warm house to call home. A delicious meal shared.

These are my Groundhog Days. My Groundhog moments.

What are the days you’d want to live over and over again? The moments?

 

 

 

 

 

Confessions of a Constant Writer

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It felt a little like this. Darkness with light around the edges.

Last year I had a writing crisis.

That’s not completely true. I had a blogging crisis. Based on a cascade of events that I don’t fully understand, my blogging fell off. Almost off the edge of the world, or that’s what it felt like.

I was writing like a demon—don’t get me wrong—I finished one manuscript, started another, edited a third. But I was blogging shy. It started with a bad comment experience, then my confidence and blogging interest started freefalling. The experience soured me. (That’s all I’ll say about that.)

I’m back now. And truth is, I was never gone. Not really. Not in my mind. Here’s the thing. My first confession. When I started my blog almost four years ago (then called Wordsxo), I wrote a post a day. I loved it. Because I write everyday. I’m not talking “butt in the chair time” or fiction or even words on the page/screen. I’m talking head writing. Mind writing. Constant and unceasing and incessant writing. In the background. All the time.

Have you seen the movie Stranger than Fiction? It’s kind of like that. I almost hear a narrator in my mind.

My second confession. If I’m not writing, I’m thinking about how I’ll write something. The event that’s happening.

So when I went to the library on Saturday and ran into my sometimes-I-go-to (okay I’ve been twice) knitting group, my first thought was about writing…the characters (of course).

When our dishwasher broke down, I wondered how’d I turn that into a blog.

Saying good-bye to my kids at the airport, wiping a tear away, I confess I truly thought first about my breaking heart…then my very next thought was how would I write this heartbreak, how it might translate into fiction.

Yet, here’s where I stumble. In fiction I don’t “go there” (very often).

In blogging it’s the same. I’m a very private person. It’s hard for me to be open up about my personal life, my feelings. I want to blog about things, but sometimes I hold back (it’s why I took my semi-hiatus after all—the very hurtful thing that almost stopped me completely from blogging is still too hot to touch).

It’s a paradox. When people leave comments on my blog or on my posts at Writer Unboxed (like my last one called The Lonely Writer), I get comments about how open I am, how brave, how transparent. But I hold back. Is it because I’m open and transparent about what I do reveal? Or am I good at making things up? Embellishing? I’m not quite sure.

Here’s what I do know. My final confession. I have a hard time being open. Transparent. I want to go there. To stop being afraid, to stop holding myself back. I wrote about this last year in my post about Pushing Through, after our beloved Abby dog died.

But it’s hard. And I’ve accepted that like my writing I’m a work in progress. The very things I want to write about, so I can touch people, make people think and feel, are the very things I skirt. (Part 2 of my final confession: Sometimes I wonder if it’s why I haven’t gotten published yet.)

The very first thought after I wrote the paragraph above, was how would I write that? In a character. My second thought was, what would I tell a writer friend? I like that question more. Because I’ve had writer friends lament that fear to me. And to them I say what I need to say to myself.

Be gentle and kind and patient with yourself. Don’t get me wrong: Write like a motherfucker. Never stop writing. But don’t be so hard on yourself. You can do this. Keep the faith. And when you’re afraid, come find me. I’m here for you. We’re in this together.

Have you ever had a writing crisis? (I’m here for you.)

 

 

 

 

My Year of Living Dangerously

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A sunrise from December…

It’s the seventh day of the new year, and I haven’t made any real resolutions yet. I’m not going to. The truth is I have only one goal this year: to live in the moment.

This is something I’m not very good at.

I like to plan. I like to analyze “what went wrong.” I like to talk about things endlessly—before, during, and after. I don’t know if that’s why I’m a writer or if I write because I like to do those things, but the two are intricately interwoven.

But for a series of reasons—a combination of reasons—it’s become necessary for me to live more mindfully, to live in the moment. Because lately I’ve felt I have very little (virtually no) control over my life or things that happen in it. I’ve sought advice, and every person I’ve asked (even some I haven’t asked) have said the same thing—

Live in the moment.

So here I am. But the truth is, where else can I really live? We’re here. In this moment. Whether we choose to look back or look ahead. We’re still here. Right? When it’s gone it’s gone.

John Lennon once said: “Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans.”  (Or was it John Lennon? I wondered and briefly searched—see, this is the type of rabbit hole I often go down. Check out this link to see if it really was Lennon. I’m not trying to withhold information, I just didn’t read it, choosing instead to return to this blog post, this moment!)

When my children were very young, I was much better at this than I’ve grown to be. In those days I had no choice but to be present. When you’re a caretaker of young children, you live moment by moment (even if you plan things, sometimes it doesn’t go the way you think). You play Legos or dress up, you draw and color and paint, you read aloud, you eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you walk to the park and pick up rocks and look at the trees and the dogs, and then you get tired out and you go home and nap. Sometimes you feel like you don’t get much done. A load of laundry is an accomplishment. Sometimes brushing your teeth is an accomplishment. But you also have that small person who is along with you, admiring and loving your every move, as entranced by your ideas as you are by his or hers. Life is fun and work all rolled into one.

Well, that life is clearly well behind me (my son will get his M.D. this year, my daughter is applying to medical school—I know, I know, it’s taken me a while to get here…what can I say except it was a dream life for me, the life of motherhood). Now I need to figure out how to entrance myself, and I feel a bit untethered about it all.

I’m living in the moment while thinking about how I can enhance my own life. What I want to do. New things. I considered giving up writing completely in order to pursue new things, but that’s not an option—I write.

But while I write I want to do new things.

Sometimes I think of it as my leap into danger. Sometimes I want to live dangerously. Roll down the windows when it’s five degrees and turn up the music really loud. That’s dangerous. That’s dangerous? No it’s not. Clearly it’s not. But that’s part of it. I’m figuring out how to figure things out. As I go.

I suppose that’s as close as I’m coming to a resolution this year.

Figure it out as I go.

And that’s okay.

What about you? Do you have trouble staying in the moment?

Happy New Year!

Julia

 

Going to the Birds

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The Arctic Tern

 

Summertime is prime bird watching time in Maine. We get the songbirds of the meadows and woodlands, but we also get the water birds. Gulls, terns, waders like Great Blue Herons and Egrets. A lot of birds of prey too. Ospreys and Eagles and hawks, oh my.

I confess I love them all.

Yesterday MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I went for a drive to Wolfe’s Neck Farm (yes it’s as beautiful as it sounds). We saw all kinds of birds. In fact on the mouth of the Little River, where it flows into the bay—on the tidal flat—we saw six Egrets along the river. It was an amazing sight. We took a few photos from afar, but when I got home I looked at them and decided none was close enough nor could be enlarged without looking blurry so I threw them away.

A hawk... I think a Broad Winged (any birders out there want to chime, er, chirp in?)

A hawk… I think a Broad Winged (any birders out there want to chime, er, chirp in?)

This is very uncharacteristic (I have almost 10,000 photos on my computer and another 6,000 on my iPhone, so clearly I rarely trash anything), and I immediately regretted it (well when I decided to write this blog). I wanted to include that distant photo of the six egrets but I didn’t have it anymore. Moral: don’t throw anything away. Better moral: Keep at least one photo of everything. Addendum: buy an external hard drive to store photos.

Anyway, last night we watched A Birder’s Guide to Everything—a sweet coming of age movie about bird watching and life. And today I went bird watching again at the Town Landing in the next town over, the place I go almost everyday. And boy was I glad I went. I immediately saw several small seabirds flitting around, plunging into the water and diving for fish. I knew they were terns, but what I didn’t know until I got home was that I was watching the Arctic Tern.

This gives you an idea of the speed these birds move. I guess they have to in order to cover as much ground as they do!

This gives you an idea of the speed these birds move. I guess they have to in order to cover as much ground as they do!

This is what I learned from the Cornell Bird site: the Arctic Tern has the farthest yearly journey of any bird. It migrates up to 25,000 miles from its Arctic breeding ground to where it winters in Antarctica. I probably could’ve stood on the dock and watched these birds all day. They were as beautiful as they were acrobatic.

Although there's no bird in this photo, it is my favorite of the week. Partly because it's so beautiful, partly because the people in the photo are friends of mine and I know how happy they are while they're out sailing together!

Although there’s no bird in this photo, it is my favorite of the week. Partly because it’s so beautiful, but mostly because the people in the photo are friends of mine and I know how happy they are while they’re out sailing together!

Although none of my photos of the Arctic Tern are that great, I still decided to include them in this post (I learned my lesson with the egrets!), because I guess the Arctic Tern may top my list as my favorite bird this year.  My all-time favorite is still the Hermit Thrush. A songbird, its song is just beautiful. (If you have time, you should follow the link and listen to the “typical voice,” well worth it!)

Are you a bird watcher? What’s your favorite bird? What’s your favorite outdoor activity this summer?

Cheers,

Julia

What’s Your Story?

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N and the Forever Young

“I don’t have a story,” that’s what he said when we first started talking, when I asked if I could talk to him sometime, hear his story. Everyone always says that. No one thinks they have a story.

Like I said in a recent post, I’ve been doing a lot of photography in one particular place—the dock and town landing of a nearby town. I’m lucky I live in a beautiful, photogenic place. The coast of Maine. “Vacationland,” the license plates say it all. It’s a five-minute drive to the picturesque spot where I go to take photos, where about a thousand boats are moored. A small community, that’s the way the Harbormaster describes it. And every boat, every boat’s owner has a story. That’s what I think. That’s what I’m after with my photos—the stories.

A few minutes earlier, “N” (the lobsterman) had made his way up the ramp from the lower dock. It was a misty morning, and I was taking pictures of blue boats in the mist, of a man loading a red bag into a small rowboat, of dark birds against a gray sky—of anything that stood out, of anything that I could actually see in a picture.

N stopped at the top of the ramp and leaned against the dock railing, squinted out over the water. I’ve been going to the landing enough days this summer that people recognize me. I think N must have.

“If you’d been here half an hour ago, you’d have been caught in a downpour,” he said.

I nodded.

We stood next to each other at the end of the long dock, N leaned comfortably against the dock railing. We watched the man with the red bag row out in the rowboat. A kayaker went by, and I snapped a photo of him over N’s shoulder.

“It’s not really a fog, but you couldn’t call it rain either,” N said.

“Definitely not,” I agreed.

“Do you ever come here in the winter?” He asked.

I lied and said yes. Well, it wasn’t a total lie. I’d been there once or twice but not regular-like, like N meant.

“Lots of people don’t see the beauty,” N said. “They just come here and never see.”

N had a story; I could see it in his eyes. I could see it in the way he wouldn’t look me in the eyes.

“How long have you been lobstering?”

“My whole life,” he said. “That’s my boat.” He pointed down to the end of the dock at a clean and tidy—a beautiful—lobster boat.

I didn’t see a name on the boat, often it’s on the hull. “What’s her name?” I expected a woman’s name. Many boats are named after a wife, a sweetheart, a mother. Linda Kate. Nicole Marie. Skinny Girl.

“Forever Young.” He turned and looked at me. His blue eyes clear under white raised eyebrows. We smiled. “I’m seventy-one,” he said.

“You were born here?”

“Yup. Grew up on Diamond Island.” He turned and looked back over the water.

I nodded. No story.

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Another day, the Nicole Marie

“My father was at Fort McKinley during World War II—have you seen the concrete batteries that are still out on the island? He was part of the Maine Artillery, met my mother when she was seventeen, bicycling through town. He left for Hawaii less than a year later…right after that I was born…”

Definitely no story.

N and I chatted a few minutes more, much of what he told me too personal to share in this blog—or anywhere. But it certainly won’t leave my mind, and when I got back to my car I jotted a few quick notes in a notebook I always carry.

I probably have two or three conversations like this each week. I take some photos, I ask some questions, and I hear amazing stories of other peoples’ lives. I love hearing the stories unfold, especially when whomever I’m talking to thinks they have no story to tell. It makes me want to write, too. Not necessarily a specific story I hear but just write. The more I hear, the more I think about life. The stories make me think about my own life, help me make sense of it all. And the more I think about life, the more I want to write…about life…about the interconnections and intersections and relationships of life, and about how we all fit together.

N and I chatted for a few more minutes—he wanting to tell as much as I wanted to hear. I wanted to ask if we could go out for coffee, so I could hear more of his story, but I didn’t. Instead, after just enough to whet my curiosity, I said good-bye and walked down the long dock to the small parking area. As I got in my car, I looked back and watched as N stepped onto the Forever Young.

I know where to find him when I want to hear more of his story…and when he wants someone to listen.

Where do you get your stories? Are you like me that you like to talk to people you meet about theirs? Do you have a story to share? I’d love to hear it.

 

Photos + root canal + hornets = book?

What on earth do multiple hornet stings, bathroom renovation, root canals, and binge TV watching have to do with writing a book? Find out today on my post at Writer Unboxed, “Cooking a Book.”

I also talk about photography. While I’m waiting for my next story to come together in my mind, I’ve been taking lots and lots of photos (which you already know if you follow me on Facebook or Instagram).

Here are a few I’ve taken in the past few days. Hope you’re all having a wonderful summer!

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We had a lot of fog lately… this was the day after it lifted

 

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As the fog rolled out…sun rolled in

 

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I love visiting docks in the early morning when the water is glassy

 

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Cousins Island Beach last night (iPhone photo)

 

 

 

“On little cat feet…”

Yesterday's photo, taken with my iPhone

Yesterday’s photo, taken with my iPhone

(Thank you poet Carl Sandburg for the inspiration behind the title of this post!)

The last few days have been foggy off and on, which is fine with me. I love the fog—and anytime I think it might be foggy, I drive to the water’s edge (we’re five minutes from Casco Bay).

Yesterday, though, it surprised me. Sunny at my house, I drove to the Falmouth Landing—a place I go at least four times a week to take in the sights (and take photos). The dock was socked in. I had only my iPhone, but I still took a picture because it was surreal: thick fog over the water, sun and bright clouds above, dark at water’s edge.

Fog is an enigma. It gives the air a particular feel of both a lightness but also heaviness and weight. It is both lovely and also mysterious…at times it can feel dangerous. As you drive toward the coast, the fog leads you to the sea…with wisps and trails of clouds…and the scent and tanginess of salt. Standing on water’s edge, birds appear out of nowhere and boats disappear in the distance. The sky turns from white to blue gradually or the fog can blow off in seconds.

I hope you enjoy these photos!

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I got out of my car just in time to see this gull landing… and today my camera was all set on the seat next to me

 

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Stray lobster traps often dot the beach at low tide

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Families of ducks float in and out of the fog

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I love the way the islands look in the foggy distance. Casco Bay is sometimes called “the Calendar Islands” (because legend has it they number 365). The US Coastal Pilot says the Casco Bay islands number 136.

My Shrinking World

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The photo that started me thinking

In my last post I wrote about how addicted much I love Instagram. If anything—since I wrote that post I’ve become even more of a fan. But that’s not what this post is about.

The other day (for the first time ever) I met an Instagrammer in person (@montaukpete)—someone I’d never met before nor do I “know” on Instagram. A guy was getting ready to kayak on the river I pass each morning on my walk. I asked him if I could take a photo of him for Instagram and that’s when he told me he was on Instagram too!

That’s not what this post is about either—not exactly.

I’m also on Facebook where I’m “friends” not just with people who are friends in real life but also (probably like a lot of you reading this blog) lots of other writers and readers, too, most of whom I’ve never met in real life. The other day I posted one of my photos on FB instead of on Instagram (the accounts are not linked and I plan to keep it that way)—

That’s when it happened—and what this post is about. My worlds collided.

First things first: right before I posted the photo, I became friends on FB with two Instagram friends. It was wonderful. One in Montana and one in Norway. The kind of connections we all hope to make in social networking. Friends without boundaries. One of those Instagram friends “liked” that FB photo. But so did my daughter, my cousin, and my son’s girlfriend. A neighbor. The mother of one of my daughter’s friends who has become a close friend. And another two close IRL friends. Then several bloggers who are now also FB friends. Next a couple of friends I’ve also only met on Facebook. A few of these Internet friends I’ve been fortunate enough to talk to on Google Chat, too—and they’ve become IRL friends.

Back to the photo. It was also liked by my hairdresser and a former co-worker who has become a good friend, and a friend I’ve known since high school. That photo brought into sharp focus that I have several different worlds, Instagram being my latest. I also have my world of Mom and family. My world of Facebook and author friends. My world of Writer Unboxed (where I’m a contributor and also an admin assistant). My world of Twitter and blogging that I’ve been part of for over three years. My real world of neighbors and town as a Maine citizen. And the world of my childhood.

But with that one photograph, I also realized that all my worlds are closing in fast to create one small world. Kind of like a reverse big bang. And I have to say, I’m a fan. Now there’s something I like even more than Instagram—because the way I see it, no matter how I find friends (or they find me) I can never have enough of them.

Which leaves me with just this: thank you for being a part of my world, my friend.

How has your world changed with social networking? Have you made friends with people online who have become IRL friends? Do you like your life blended or do you prefer to keep it compartmentalized?

Cheers,

Julia

Five Things Making Me Happy

photoSpring is finally here in Maine. The snow is gone and the first daffodil bloomed in our yard yesterday, and to celebrate I decided not to wear long underwear today (although I did debate; the thermometer registers just 41 degrees). It’s been a long, hard, cold winter, and I’m ready for spring.

Jackie Cangro’s recent blog really resonated with me. She wrote about why she’s thankful for spring. Even on gray, cold days like today, I’m feeling inordinately happy about Spring along with the need to celebrate the things that make me happy.

Wikipedia says…Happiness is a mental or emotional state of well-being characterized by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.

And here, in no particular order,  are five things creating my personal state of well-being…ranging from contentment to intense joy!

1. Bird life is returning! We still don’t have leaves on the trees (they’re just starting to pop), but that’s almost better—I can see all the birds I hear. This morning we saw a Great Blue Heron land at the tippy top of a tall pine (it was pretty amazing). We also saw a Downy Woodpecker, a Pileated Woodpecker, and two days ago we saw a bald eagle (that’s not the royal we…by me I mean me and MEH—My Engineer Husband). The Ospreys have also returned to the coast of Maine and I’ve seen plenty of those. Along with the exciting, the usual cadre of robins, finches, juncos, chickadees, and gulls are out in full force.

2. And speaking of MEH, he’s back at work… definitely adding to my sense of well being (although I do miss him being around all the time).

3. I’m also learning to live with 24-hour supervision…how can this be good you’re wondering? I recently got a Jawbone UP. Like I said it’s been a long winter and I haven’t gotten nearly as much exercise as I should have. On top of that, I haven’t been sleeping too well. This handy hi-tech bracelet-gadget will hopefully help me by tracking my steps and sleep. It’s also a good way to remind me to not be quite so sedentary in my writing habits—I’ve set it so that it buzzes every 45 minutes to remind meto get up and move around for a while. Now that the ice is gone and the weather is a little warmer I can get outside and walk!

4. Instagram is my new social networking favorite. I’ve been snapping up a storm and (best of all) connecting with other photographers from all over the world. What a wonderful community! I’ve found the Maine group (#igersmaine) and one of my photos was already selected as an #igersmaine picture of the day (the one accompanying this post). I’m mostly enjoying the photos of horses, ranches, cowboys, and the open lands of the western United States because they’re providing inspiration for my WIP. But I’m also loving the photos from all over the world: Moscow, Nairobi, New Zealand, Australia, England…just to name a few. And I’m learning how to do timelapse videos which has been very cool (thank you @timelapse_California for all the help!). Oh… and I love the baby goats…because what’s not to love about baby goats? If you want to connect with me on Instagram, find me @juliamunroemartin.

5. The song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. It’s on my iPhone’s “Feel Good Songs” playlist. The list is an eclectic mix featuring songs of Michael Buble, The Spiral Staircase, Darius Rucker, and Taylor Swift. Call me corny, but these songs really do lift my mood and make me feel more positive—which is one of my big resolutions for the year: focusing on the positive.

What’s making you happy this spring?

Cheers,

Julia

Magenta is the New Red

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That’s it: the InkJoy 500 RT!

These days you’ll find me in revision and editing mode. The manuscript I (almost) finished during NaNoWriMo is now just about at first draft stage. I’m doing a read through, and while I do I have my favorite editing pen close at hand: a magenta PaperMate InkJoy 500 RT. No, this is not an endorsement nor an advertisement, and I’m not being paid a penny for saying what I’m about to say.

Still, I’ll say it. I’ve always been a red-pen kind of writer (I can thank Professor Drechsel for this: Newswriting 101). In fact, editing with a red pen was one of my regular habits—like writing at one particular table in one particular coffee shop, listening to the same set of songs prior to and during writing, and wearing a special pair of socks while writing (okay that last one is untrue, but rule of three and all…).

Anyway, last Christmas my son’s lovely girlfriend gave me a pack of PaperMate InkJoy 500 RT pens (assorted colors), and I got particularly attached to said magenta pen. Not to be mistaken for the InkJoy 550 or 100, mind you—something that came up when I tried to replace my favorite pen and I accidentally bought the 100s (this is when I also found out that the RT stands for retractable, thank you kind Staples associate for this key piece of information).

But why was I in need of replacing my favorite pen, you might ask. No, it didn’t run out of ink. I actually left it somewhere quite on purpose, in a particular circumstance. I’m not trying to be overly mysterious or dramatic here, just trying to pique your curiosity enough that you’ll head over to read the whole story on Writer Unboxed… let me add that it involves Nathaniel Hawthorne, probably my favorite author of all time.

Please head over to Writer Unboxed and read: I Left My Heart At Authors Ridge!

Cheers,

Julia

 

 

The Treasure in the Box

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This morning I had a bit of a breakthrough.

I’ve been grappling with an idea for a new story…trying to figure out how to tie things together, looking for a thread. The idea came to me on my trip across the country, when I was driving across the southwest, and it’s been in the back of my mind, just sitting there. This morning I read a blog post that made me think of another story I’d started a long time ago—in fact it was my very first attempt at long fiction—and I thought of something in that story that might help me connect the dots in my current idea.

I wondered if I kept that long-ago manuscript, and I knew if I had, it would be in “the box,” the one I keep under my desk, the one labeled Phase I (I wrote about it here in The Goodbye Box). That box holds all my early drafts and ideas from my early forays into fiction: from the time I was in college, studying journalism, all the way through to when I was writing middle grade fiction as a young mother.

In the stack of folders, at the very bottom, I found the folder labeled simply: BOOK. Inside, I found almost 200 pages held together with a rusty clip. I wrote this manuscript over twenty years ago, and during that time the paper and metal had fused together—perhaps in some inanimate agreement that no one should ever open and read the pages… because…

The manuscript isn’t just old, it’s also bad. Incredibly bad. But this is a good thing. It was, after all, my first attempt at fiction. I can clearly see I’ve improved. Not just in writing but also in story and in complexity of ideas. The entire story is sketched out in a multi-page outline, but it’s simple and pretty boring. Interestingly, an old journal is intrinsic to the story, and old journals are also key to the storylines in two of the three adult manuscripts I’ve written most recently! It also involves a mystery, an historic southwest train robbery (the key piece I was looking for when I opened the box), and a dog named Homer.

Here’s a brief excerpt involving Homer:

I was interrupted by Homer running triumphantly into the room carrying my dank, filthy jeans that I’d left on my bedroom floor. Before I could say anything, he started growling and shaking them as though they were a small rodent. I jumped out of the rocking chair and ran toward him. “Homer drop those right now,” I said, which had about as much effect as a flea biting an elephant. Matthew’s uproarious laughter filled the small apartment as I chased Homer around the room. Homer took one look at me and decided I was ready for a good game of chase, which I was not. But every time I got within an arm’s length of him, he dashed in another direction. It is a frustratingly idiotic dog game that felt even more idiotic played in front of an audience…

I told you… it’s bad. You don’t want to read more (me neither). Clearly the real prize isn’t the manuscript, but I’m glad I kept the folder with those early pages. Not only did I find the information I wanted that could provide the missing link I was looking for, but I found something much more important in those pages. The real treasure in the box is the tangible proof of my progress and growth as a writer—cringe-worthy though it may be—bonded together forever with the rusty clip.

Have you ever found old work of yours that makes you cringe and/or makes you realize how much you’ve grown as a writer? Do you, like I do, keep everything you’ve ever written?

Cheers,

Julia

Wasting autumn sunshine

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I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house. So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air.

When Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote those words, it is believed he was living in Lenox, Massachusetts, where he wrote The House of the Seven Gables. So I’m guessing he spent a lot of time inside, writing, in addition to being out in the open air.

I immediately thought of his words when I was driving home from Starbucks this morning, passing the red and gold woods infused with autumn sunshine. The sun hit the trees just right and not only did the trees blaze, but the sky around them glowed, too. All I had with me was my iPhone so I rushed home to get my camera… I wanted to be outside, but—more importantly—I had a blog in mind.

When I found the camera, tucked on a shelf in my study, the battery was dead. A year ago this would never have happened. A year ago I was taking more photos, putting more photos in my blog, spending more time on social networking in general. I looked back at my autumn post from last year, “Amidst Swirling Words & Leaves,” and not only does it have three photos (taken with a real camera) but it also has a full poem (Longfellow) and I made a special trip to nearby Bowdoin College to take the photos.

Times change. I’m outside a lot less (sorry Nathaniel), the camera battery is not charged, the garden is ill-kempt, the house is unclean, meals have been reduced to the speediest possible, and my blog has taken the backseat. I’m still writing, but I’m focused more on fiction.

I’m writing every day, and I’m loving it. So let the camera battery remain uncharged (I can always use my iPhone if I have to…which is what I did for the photo accompanying this post), let the Twitter account collect dust most days, let the blog take the hit with fewer postings, because my mind is swirling with words…and stories.

What are you up to this fall? Are you enjoying the weather outside? Taking photos? Or are you (like me) happily (inside) at your writing station?

Cheers,

Julia

Post-Thanksgiving Let Down


Abby with “her chair” in background

Every day MEH (My Engineer Husband) heads out the door to work around eight. Our ten-year-old black lab is used to this routine. Walked and fed, she jumps up into “her chair” and settles in for the morning. She waits until the door closes, casts a final look at me to make sure I’m not going anywhere except to the dining room (where I write), then she puts her head down and goes to sleep.

But not today. Over Thanksgiving weekend our daughter was home from college. Truth is, she’s Abby’s “real mother.” Last Wednesday, before we picked up our daughter from the airport, Abby was on high alert. She followed me around the house all day; she knew something was up. When my cell phone buzzed with an incoming text message she rushed over to my side and wagged her tail. When we got home from the airport, she was ecstatic, and she kept her eye on her real mom all weekend long—until we took her to the airport yesterday.

9:30 This morning it’s been hard for her to get back into routine. (Me too.) Feeling restless, I decided to edit on the couch instead of in the dining room. Abby jumped up onto her chair but her eyes kept opening. After a few minutes, I heard a chirping sound—at first I thought I was hearing things, but then Abby lifted her head and looked at me as if to say: “Aren’t you going to check that out?” When it chirped again, from somewhere upstairs, I headed up and discovered the smoke alarm battery was low.

I replaced the battery and returned to the couch. By this time Abby had jumped down from her chair and was sitting down in front of me. It was going to be a long day. She stared at me. Then somewhere outside someone started up a leaf blower….then another. Abby’s ears were perked up. Stupid lawn care companies.

10:13 I picked up my iphone to write an email to a friend, sending her the (above) photo of Abby.

“Abby is now on high alert—she usually sleeps in the chair in the distance, all day. But today she won’t leave my side, someone’s outside w a leaf blower and one of our smoke alarms is chirping …. No rest or editing for the weary. Must be my cue to write a blog…”

Mid-email Abby nudged me. Maybe she has to go out… I mean, most days she’s just fine from six a.m. until at least four in the afternoon, but you never know…

I put the email aside and snapped on her leash, heading outside for a walk. Nothing. Back inside. Back to the Abby stare down. 10:35. I got up and got a snack (okay, if you must know I had a powdered donut). Abby wanted some of it, but there was no way. I finished the donut and gave Abby the plate to lick (apparently there was a way). For some reason powdered donut crumbs are her new signal. She finished licking the plate then headed over to her chair and jumped up. She settled in and closed her eyes.

Back to editing. Still hard to concentrate—but then again, I miss Abby’s real mom too. 11:45 I finished a little editing and headed to the kitchen for lunch. Tomorrow maybe Abby and I will both have an easier time getting back into routine. 

But then what will I blog about?

Hope you had a nice Thanksgiving (like we did). Are you having trouble getting back into your routine? What about your pets? 

Cheers,
Julia

Friday Four


As a child and teen I traveled with my family to
remote places in the world where I felt isolated and
alone. I wrote in a journal and letters to friends
back home…when something happened my first
thought was “how will I write it”?

“How will I write it?” These words, more than any, define and inspire me as a writer. I’d go so far as to say they define me as a person. So when writer friend Lisa Ahn asked me to contribute to her BE INSPIRED series, those words were my first thought.

I love Lisa’s blog, and I was honored when she asked me to write a guest post. I hope you enjoy reading about my sources of inspiration in Be Inspired by Julia Munroe Martin. While you’re there, check out Lisa’s inspirational writing and “tales of quirk and wonder.”

And it’s not too late… if you haven’t already read my Q&A with Erika Marks, my lovely friend and author of The Mermaid Collector, you can read it here. Make sure you leave a comment on that post (before tomorrow night!) to be entered into the giveaway—on Sunday one lucky commenter will be chosen at random to receive a copy of Erika’s book!

Finally, I am very happy to announce that yesterday I finished revisions to the latest draft of my mystery WIP (Desired to Death)! And today I’m moving ahead with excitement to start the YA book I talked about in Julia and the Purple Crayon. Thank you all for your excellent comments and writing advice—I appreciate it so much. 

It’s a beautiful sunny (but cold) day in Maine, perfect for writing, and I’m inspired!

What’s going on with you this fine Friday?

Cheers,

Julia xox


p.s. Thank you to Jackie Cangro for inspiring the title of this post… every week I read her wonderful Friday Five, and when I was trying to come up with a title this morning for this collection of disparate links, I thought of her. I only had three things to share (now four with Jackie’s blog)… so hope you enjoyed my Friday Four! And make sure you check out my inspiration… Jackie’s blog! It’s awesome!

Erika Marks: The Mermaid Collector

Today on my blog, I’m happy to interview writer friend Erika Marks, author of the recently-released novel THE MERMAID COLLECTOR. I met Erika on Twitter right after I first joined, almost two years ago, and we quickly discovered I live very near where she grew up in Maine. We’ve traveled many of the same paths in Maine at different times, making for some fun and lively Twitter discussions. Last summer when Erika came home to Maine, we met in person—it was so much fun! Time flew as we talked like old friends.

Erika has generously offered to give a copy of THE MERMAID COLLECTOR to one lucky commenter! To enter to win, simply leave a comment on this post before midnight on Saturday, November 10. On Sunday, November 11, I will pick a winner at random. Contest now closed: congratulations Amanda Hoving, you won! :)

Please join me in welcoming Erika!
Thank you so much for being a guest on my blog! I’ve read (and loved) The Mermaid Collector. One of the things that makes it such a distinctive novel is the 1888 story about The Mermaid Mutiny. I’m curious how you came up with the idea? Was there some historical event that sparked it?

Erika:The idea for the legend came from a photograph I saw in an architectural magazine of a mosaic that depicted a local sea captain and his mermaid lover. As soon as I read that, it clicked for me what a romantic backdrop that would make for a novel: a town with a mermaid legend and what it would be like to live—or visit—a place that thrived on such magic and mystery. And of course—as you well know as a coastal Mainer, Julia!—seaside life always bring with it an irresistible element of enchantment.

I loved the scene in the book where Tess is preparing food for for her romantic evening with Pete. You always write the best descriptions of food! (I have only one complaint: your books always make me hungry!) Are the dishes in this book ones you make in your real life (as in Little Gale Gumbo)? Do you use food to represent something more?

Erika:Julia, thank you! I do find myself writing romantic scenes that center around cooking—either in preparation for an intimate scene (such as the one you mentioned with Tess and Pete) or building a romance around a meal. For me, the romance and food go hand-in-hand. As I talked about when LITTLE GALE GUMBO came out, my husband and I do a great deal of cooking together so I can’t help but find it a natural and appealing way to reveal a romantic relationship, whether it’s one just starting out, or one that is well-established. How people cook together can reveal a lot about their intimacy as a couple—as well as about themselves as individuals.

In the background of The Mermaid Collector’s cover is a photograph of a lighthouse in Portland, Maine—very near where I live now (and I know you grew up seeing a lot of this lighthouse)! When you were writing, was this the lighthouse you were envisioning? If not, what lighthouse or type of lighthouse did you imagine? And was there a house that you were thinking of as a model for the lightkeeper’s house?

Erika: Oh, you and I know that lighthouse well, don’t we? And I love that the art department picked it without knowing how much personal significance it had to me. Actually, I wrote the book envisioning the lighthouse and keeper’s house at Marshall Point Light in Port Clyde, Maine. In the book, the keeper’s house is set a good distance from the tower, and my family and I were staying in Camden the summer around the time I began writing THE MERMAID COLLECTOR in earnest, so that setting and the orientation of the keeper’s house to the lighthouse, and that wonderful white-fenced walkway down to the tower all quickly fixed themselves in my mind when I went home to start writing.

There are certain characters, certain love stories that stick with me long after reading a book, and I have to say that I grew particularly attached to Lydia and Angus as a couple. Was there one character over others that you could particularly relate to or felt akin to? How about a favorite character? What about a favorite couple?

Erika:As I mentioned to you before, Julia, I LOVE that you appreciated Lydia and Angus—I too treasured them as a couple because they were both such genuinely good people put in a very difficult situation and they learned to survive together. I loved Tess and Tom too because, while they are an unlikely match, they are both deeply flawed people who needed to connect with one another on a very raw level. Unlike in LITTLE GALE GUMBO, where the couples have years and years to nurture their affection and their attraction, Tess and Tom have a much more condensed love story—as do Lydia and Angus, really—and I loved the idea of exploring that. So often we focus on the permanence, on wanting the confirmation of the happily ever after, when in life we also can experience those connections that are more immediate, that are somewhat “lightning in a bottle.” They are no less powerful or meaningful, but they may be briefer and without that guarantee of forever.

One of your main characters, Tess, was an artist by profession, a woodcarver. I thought it was a great fit for her character! I’m curious if you yourself are a wood-carver? If not, what kind of research did you need to do to write her character? Did you actually try your hand at it?  

Erika:I’m not a woodcarver but I have spent a lot of time around woodworkers (and am married to one!) I worked for several years for a woodworking magazine and gleaned some techniques there. I think there is something so romantic about working with wood—and I loved the idea of Tess sculpting this mermaid out of a piece of raw wood, of it coming to life as her own story evolved.

You mentioned on your website that you had started a mermaid collection—how many are in your collection? Did you have any mermaids before you started writing this book?

Erika:I have started a collection—yes! It is woefully small still (but growing!) and my daughters are always eager to help me expand it. This year’s Christmas tree will have several mermaids on its boughs.

Please remember to leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Erika’s book!



BIO: A native New Englander, Erika Marks now lives and writes in Charlotte, NC. She has worked as an illustrator, an art director, a cake decorator and a carpenter. This is her second novel after LITTLE GALE GUMBO.


The Curious Writer’s Mind

Prince Edward IsAland

I am writing this post far from home: approximately 430 miles southwest of Maine. This early morning in Philadelphia, in a guest bedroom—more specifically guest bathroom (stay with me here) of my aunt’s house—I discovered this: I never turn off my writer’s curious mind.

But I get ahead of myself. MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I are here to celebrate an important birthday. Our daughter’s 21st! Last night we took her and four of her wonderful friends out for dinner at a delicious Malaysian restaurant. Then we wandered behind them through the streets of Philly, in search of a bar. Can I tell you it’s been a long time since I’ve done this? Of course I’ve never done it with my daughter! We had so much fun!

(An aside: If you have a daughter who at age two asks for a pony? Don’t expect she’ll outgrow wanting one. Even at age 21. Even as she’s sitting next to you on a barstool, ordering a drink called “Bulletproof.”)

I digress. What does this have to do with the writer’s curious mind? Earlier, on our way to the restaurant I took a photo—two houses with pretty unbelievable art displays in their front yards. I thought it was Halloween decorations, MEH thought it was more of a year round thing—and we discussed it for a while. But more importantly, I wondered: who lives there? What is their motivation? Why? What is the course of life events that leads someone to have such an assorted display.


The houses with the amazing art displays in their front yards.
Later, when MEH and I left our daughter and her friends to enjoy the late night scene, we wandered back to our small nondescript white station wagon. On the way we saw an amazing old building, beautifully lit up. I had to take a photo, of course, but I had no idea what building I was looking at—yes, I wondered and briefly tried to figure it out via Google on my iPhone. After I took the photo, we walked by the Ritz-Carlton Hotel—a couple dressed to the nines was getting out of a dark Mercedes, being helped by the doorman with their luggage. I had to wonder: who are they? Why are they in Philly? What’s theirstory? Are they in the foreign service? Are they spies? Are they here for their daughter’s birthday?
The mystery building turned out to be
none other than Philadelphia City Hall!
It just doesn’t stop. And so it was this morning (I told you, I’d come back to it), standing in my aunt’s guest bathroom, looking at the Map of the World shower curtain I noticed something. An island off the coast of Africa labeled: Prince Edward Isaland. No, that misspelled word is not a typo (well, not my typo). Of course I did what any curious writer would do: rushed back to my room for my iPhone to find out if there really is a place called Prince Edward Isaland—more specifically is it a typo?
The answer is yes, it is a typo. But, wait, there’s more! The first five search items returned in Google were other blogs written about this very same typo on this very same shower curtain (well, not my aunt’s shower curtain but another one just like it)! And one of the blogs was “overly harsh” (that blogger’s description, not mine) about this shower curtain, and not just because of the typo, but more about the mapping strategies and politics. And again, I wondered: why? Why the harsh reaction? What was that blogger’s motivation? It is, after all, only a shower curtain.

And that’s my short (not overly harsh) blog for the week—a look into this writer’s curious mind.

Do you, like me, see stories everywhere you look? Do you try to imagine what the people (and places) around you are all about? Can you turn off yourwriter’s curious mind?


Cheers,
Julia

A Change in Setting

Last week I was in Philadelphia helping my daughter move. A few days before I got there I finished the first draft of my current WIP, and I was at loose ends—between projects and figuring out what I want to write next.
Of course there’s still plenty to do with revisions so I have some time to think about it. But my writing mind was restless and searching, and the change in setting gave me the feeling of a fresh start, with lots of new ideas to think about.

I live in a small town with quiet tree-lined streets. My usual view is out a window toward a bird feeder, and my daily companions are birds and squirrels and chipmunks. My seat at the dining room table (where I write) is on the first floor of our house so I look out at the same level as these furry and feathered creatures.

My furry feathered friends.
In Philadelphia, I was on the sixth floor looking out over a cityscape view. I had a great view of the changing skies, parking lots below, many varied buildings, people walking by—even a party gathered under a tent in one of the parking lots. In short my setting was completely different than the one I was used to.

Inside, too, my activities were very different. At home I write and then I take a break to exercise, eat lunch, then I write some more. I lead a very solitary and quiet daytime life (of course in the evenings, MEH—My Engineer Husband—is home). But in Philadelphia, as we packed and cleaned (okay, to be honest my daughter did most of the packing and cleaning and I helped out as requested) we watched the Olympics, we talked and laughed, we listened to music, we went out to eat, and we moved the car to keep from getting tickets (okay to be honest, I moved the car, AND I got a ticket. I swear I didn’t see the fire hydrant I partially blocked…sigh…).

It was a good time to have a change in my venue and activities, having just finished the first draft and all. Not only because it helped me clear my mind, think about something other than what I had just finisheda step away before starting to revise and edit, but also because I came away with a lot of new ideas. 

Things I never would have thought of in my own little world. Ideas from my observations out that sixth floor window. Ideas from all the people watching—lots and lots of people. Ideas from riding up and down in an elevator and sharing a larger space with others—instead of simply walking in a door and being home. Ideas from a change in setting.
Are you, like me, restless and at loose ends after you finish a draft? What do you do to inspire new ideas and to move on to revisions? How does a change in setting inspire your writing ideas?

Cheers,

Julia

Author Mia March says "Thank You, Maine"

Today I’m happy to introduce you to author Mia March and her wonderful debut novel The Meryl Streep Movie Club. Mia and I met on Twitter and thenin one of those real life meets Twitter life storieswe realized we both live in southern Maine. We met for coffee and the rest is history. After I read The Meryl Streep Movie Club (and loved it!), I was delighted when Mia agreed to guest post on my blog about something near and dear to both our hearts: Maine. 
GIVEAWAY! Mia has graciously offered to give away one signed copy of The Meryl Streep Movie Cluball you need to do to be entered is leave a comment before noon on Friday, August 3, when I will select a winner at random.  The giveaway is now closed. Congratulations Christine Grote! 

Thank you, Mia!
Almost ten years ago, my then husband brought home a guidebook on Maine and a copy of a magazine article about how the Greater Portland area was rated the #1 place to raise a child in the U.S. We lived in a city, and I am a city girl through and through. I like crowds of strangers. I like tall buildings. I like billions of twinkling lights. I like the idea of turning a corner and passing Harrison Ford (who smiled at me when I gaped at him). But that summer, my son was turning two, and the idea of a back yard, of preschools that you didn’t have to apply a year in advance to possibly get into, of an easier lifestyle, all won out. The husband said it would be like a writing retreat from which I’d never have to return. I said yes, and we drove up to Maine and rented a house in a small town with one traffic light and a great school system. Just like that, we were Mainers.
The first month, living in Maine, with all those trees, all that fresh air, all those bodies of water, big and small, including a narrow creek running across the winding, hilly, rural road from our house, in which I had my own tiny office with a view of it all, it really did feel like a writing retreat. And Maine, as you know if you’re a regular reader of Julia’s blog, is not just beautiful, but beautiful in a way that soothes and calms the soul. Three months in, though, I was ready to go home. My husband wasn’t. And our son, well, he did love the open field of wildflowers on our property, the tire swing in the yard, hunting for treasures in the creek after breakfast every morning. The horse farm a few houses down from us was a three hour activity as close to life-school as I could dream. My son had nature and the freshest air on earth out his door. So I stayed. But I’ll be honest: I didn’t like it, not one bit. The ocean, the lighthouses, the rocky shoreline, the state parks—none of it moved me. Two, three years in, Maine felt as unfamiliar as it always had. It didn’t feel like home.

Yadda, yadda, yadda, my marriage ended—very far away from friends and family. Two things saved me. The first, I expected. The second, I didn’t.

The first was movies. And particularly Meryl Streep movies. I rented five and plunked myself on the couch with tissues and popcorn and was swept away by the stunning Out of Africaand the funny, poignant Heartburn. My Meryl Streep marathon reminded me of another time a Meryl Streep movie had a huge impact on me, and I got myself off the couch, opened the laptop, and wrote the words: Chapter One, inspired in a way I hadn’t been in a long time. I had an idea to write a novel about a fractured family of women who reunite in an old family inn on the coast of Maine and find themselves reconnecting through “movie night” in the parlor—via the surprising and heartfelt discussions raised while watching Meryl Streep movies together. I had a good sense of that old family inn in my mind, but I wanted to really see it, not just in Googled images, but in person. I wanted to find that inn in order to have my characters, my story, inhabit it.

So I set out on a road trip along coastal Route 1 with my son to find a Victorian inn that would bring my fictitious Three Captains’ Inn to life in my mind and heart. My son, with the promise of stopping at the aquarium in Boothbay Harbor to visit the shark tank, kept his eye out in the small towns we stopped in on our inn hunt. This mini road trip was the second thing that saved me.

I didn’t find the exact inn of my imagination, but all that looking, all that searching, made me notice Maine in a way I hadn’t before. For a few years by then, I’d been so busy wanting to “go home,” that I never stopped to pay attention to Maine’s small treasures, beyond the vast Atlantic and the rocky shoreline and lighthouses. Suddenly, I was enchanted by yellow cottages with low white wood fences poked through with blue hydrangeas. By plaques on the front of centuries-old houses with the original owner’s name and year built. By blueberry stands on the side of the road with baskets to leave money. Farms dotted with belted galloways with their black and white big bodies making my son laugh. Narrow paths, lined with rosa rugosa, down to little beaches strewn with shells and interesting little creatures for my son to collect. And the dogs. I don’t think I’d ever really noticed Maine’s dogs before. From big to small, from mutt to champion breed, but all very happy looking. Up along the coast from our small town just north of Portland to Camden, now one of my favorite places on earth, I fell in love with the adopted home state I came to kicking and screaming, the state I ignored for several years. I saw Maine in a new way, my own way. I came home with the setting of my novel, its spirit, firmly entrenched in my heart, and I wrote about the coastal harbor town setting, about that robin’s egg blue Victorian inn perched high on a hill overlooking the harbor—the inn I never did find—with the same love and affection that I had for my characters.

Were it not for the idea for a novel and a life-changing road trip up the coast, I might have never known that a pot of blue hydrangeas has the power to change my mood, that you can take a class called: How to make whoopie pies, that you can see things in a whole new way if you go looking for something that only exists inside yourself, inside your imagination. So thank you to Maine. And thank you to Julia for inviting me to share my story with you.
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Mia March lives on the coast of Maine, the setting of The Meryl Streep Movie Club, published this past June by Simon & Schuster. The novel is slated to be published in over 18 countries. Kirkus Reviews kindly describes The Meryl Streep Movie Club as “a heartwarming, spirit-lifting read just in time for beach season.” Mia’s next novel, Finding Colin Firth, will be published by Simon & Schuster in the summer of 2013. For more info, please visit Mia’s website at www.MiaMarch.com. You can also friend her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MiaMarch.author and follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/March_Mia