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.
———-
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

Q&A with Dina Santorelli (BABY GRAND)


I just read Baby Grand, a fabulous debut thriller by Twitter friend Dina Santorelli—and I am so happy to have her for on my blog today for a Q&A. I met Dina last year on Twitter through her #1Kaday campaign (see more information in this post!). Then when I read Baby Grand, I found out that not only is Dina a supportive and encouraging writer in the Twitter community, but she is also an amazingly talented writer and storyteller. In Baby Grand, she wove a story that was hard to put down once I started, and when it ended? It left me wanting to read more. What’s Baby Grand all about? A curly-haired toddler, a down-on-her-luck writer, and the bad guys who brought them together. Set in present-day New York. So if you’re looking for a tightly wound, well-told thriller this summer? Definitely add it to your list!

Thank you, Dina, for being on my blog!

Your story premise is very unique, and I liked in particular—not to give anything away—how Jamie Carter gets involved with the kidnapping. Can you tell a little bit about how you came up with your idea? Was there a seed?

I wish I could remember exactly how and when I came up with the premise for Baby Grand. All I know is it happened sometime in my twenties, when I was working as a full-time editor in Manhattan. I used to commute every day by bus and/or train and would read lots of thrillers by authors such as John Grisham, Michael Crichton and James Patterson. I loved them. Devoured them. And, for some reason, I always thought I had it in me to write one. With regard to that scene in particular with Jamie: On sunny days, I used to eat lunch with my husband, who was working about thirteen blocks from me, in midtown Manhattan’s Bryant Park, which is where, as you say, Jamie gets involved with the kidnapping. I imagine the idea came to me while I was there one day, but I can’t be sure. But I do know that I channeled some of my own experiences there into that scene.

I really liked the structure of your story, especially the way you interlaced chapters, alternating between the kidnapping story and introducing us to characters who would eventually enter the story. You created a lot of mystery and intrigue this way. Is this a structure you had in mind from the beginning or did it happen over time as you wrote the story? It was very complex; did you have an outline to keep it all straight? Or are you more of a seat-of-the-pants writer?

That is the structure I had in mind from the beginning, simply because that was the structure of the thrillers that I had been reading. A colleague recently asked me if I “learned” how to write thrillers in grad school. No. I simply read a lot of them and replicated the format, because I thought it worked—bringing in different narrators and providing different points of view to the reader and then pulling it all together in the end. That’s one of my favorite things about the book—interweaving all those storylines in a way that feels authentic and purposeful.

Believe it or not, I just plunged into the writing of Baby Grand. I didn’t have an outline at first or stacks of index cards with character descriptions or plot points or flow charts or diagrams. I was winging it. Then, midway in, I started losing my way a bit, so I created a very brief outline—Chapter One, this happens; Chapter Two, that happens—just to keep myself on track. And that outline helped me get to the end of the book. I knew how the book would end from the get-go, so the outline served as a roadmap that got me to my destination without veering too much off course.

I blog a lot about writing from a strong sense of place, and in BABY GRAND you’ve written very descriptively about two such places–the governor’s mansion and Bailino’s remote cabin. The descriptions are so vivid that I could easily place myself in either location. Can you tell me about your inspiration? Did you visit the governor’s mansion? And did you use a particular house/cabin as a model for Bailino’s cabin?

I took a road trip to Albany, New York, back in May 2010 when I was writing the last half or so of Baby Grand so I could get feel for the city. I mainly wanted to take a tour of the Executive Mansion there, since the building is such an important setting for the book. Perhaps it’s the journalist in me, but I like incorporating true-to-life details in my descriptions—although I don’t feel any obligation or pressure to be accurate. This is a work of fiction, after all. But I do like that mix of fact and fiction in novels—when novelists play with the facts in such a way that the story seems real, even though it’s not. I think it keeps readers on their toes.

For the log cabin, I completely made it up. In the beginning, I googled photos of log cabins, and I would sort of scroll through them one by one and say, “Nah… Nah… Nah…” I had a picture of what the cabin looked like in my mind, and, of course, nothing I came across could match that. So I decided to just go with what I had created in my imagination and so I describe it in the book as I saw it in my mind’s eye. To this day, I can still picture it, as if I’d been there hundreds of times.

When you and I first connected on Twitter, it was over your commitment to writing one thousand words a day (#1Kaday) on your WIP. Can you explain a little bit about how #1Kaday works and why it’s so important to you?

As a journalist, I’m very deadline-oriented. It’s difficult for me to get anything done without a deadline. When I first decided to get serious about my creative writing, after years of being a freelance writer and a mom, I knew that I would have to go back to school, because there I could focus on my fiction, and there they would forceme to write every week for homework. I would be held accountable to someone for my creative writing just as I am for my professional writing.

And it worked. I took a long fiction class my last semester at Hofstra University, and by the time I graduated in May 2009 I had the first third of Baby Grand completed. But after graduation, without a professor hanging over me, I fell into old habits. Work came first again. The kids came first again, and poor Baby Grand was pushed to the back burners.

Signing with my then-agent in January 2010 was the best thing that could have happened to me. Now I had incentive to put the novel first again, because somebody was waiting for me to finish it. And because I know I’m deadline-oriented, I gave my agent a date for when I’d hand the completed manuscript to her. I just made it up. End of June. Boom. Now I HAD to get it done, right?

Panic set in. Writer’s block. Procrastination. I decided to start a blog that I called Making ‘Baby Grand,’ which I thought might help me get through the difficult times and help me network with other writers in the same boat (it did).

Now, it was June, and I had asked for a six-week extension, because I was struggling so much with getting it done. Finally, I just put my foot down. I decided that I was going to write 1,000 words a day, every day. No excuses. Just sit down and bang it out. And that’s what I did. I worked in the morning or at night and spent time with the kids during the day. A thousand words was the perfect amount for me—it made me feel like I got a good chunk of writing done that day and also left time to do other things, so I didn’t get burnt out. Six weeks later, Baby Grand was born.

Now that you’re a few months out from self-publishing BABY GRAND, with some experience in the trenches, what advice or words of encouragement would you give to a writer who’s thinking of self publishing? Was there anything unexpected or surprising? Are you enjoying the experience?

I am very much enjoying the experience of self-publishing. I tend to be a self-starter, and I like the control that authors have as self-publishers, making decisions on everything from the price of their books to formatting, book covers and marketing. Marketing, of course, is tough, but I think my traditionally published friends are finding it just as tough. We’re all in the same boat, really.

My advice to writers who are thinking about self-publishing is not to think of self-publishing as a shortcut, as a way to bypass the “gatekeepers.” I’ve said this before, but Baby Grand is a much better novel having gone through the traditional publishing process early on. There’s much to be said for the input of agents and editors. And I certainly learned a lot.

In other words, just because Amazon can make your book available to the public in a few weeks doesn’t mean you should be writing “The End” on your last page and then submitting the book to Amazon the next day. Have people read it and provide feedback. I also would suggest sticking your manuscript in a drawer for a month or two and then reading it again—you’ll be surprised at what you find. I know I was. Only then, seeing it with fresh eyes, can you do a nice thorough first edit. (And, yes, I said, “first.”)

Also, seriously think about whether you want to traditionally publish or self-publish. There are reasons to do either—talk to authors, particularly those who write the books you want to write, about their experiences. If you decide to self-publish, I would suggest you have your book professionally copy-edited and your book cover professionally designed. You need to treat self-publishing like a business, which means you have to invest in your product, as you would do in any other business. And there are lots of individuals and companies out there, at varying price levels, to help you.

As I’ve discovered, readers, in the end, really don’t care about whether you’ve traditionally published or self-published. All they care about is whether your book is well-presented and enjoyable to read. And both of those things—regardless of the quick turnaround afforded by self-publishing—require time and commitment and hard work.

Thank you so much, Julia, for having me!

 

More about Dina:


A freelance writer for over 15 years, Dina Santorelli has written for Newsday, First for Women and CNNMoney.com, among other publications. She served as the “with” writer for the well-received Good Girls Don’t Get Fat and most recently contributed to Bully, the companion book to the acclaimed film. Dina is the Executive Editor of Salute and Familymagazines for which she has interviewed many celebrities, including James Gandolfini, Tim McGraw, Angela Bassett, Mario Lopez, Gary Sinise and Kevin Bacon. You can follow Dina on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and on her blog. Baby Grand, her first novel, is available on Amazon.

Words for the Picking

In my backyard, the blueberries are ripening—plump and dark blue, bursting with flavor—so many on one bush they’re almost falling to the ground. But we have three bushes, and the other two have noripening berries, in fact they have no berries at all. It’s a mystery. All three bushes planted in a row. Why are there berries on one bush but not on the other two?

I know enough about gardening to know there must be a botanical answer: the soil is not acidic enough or the bushes are too shaded or they don’t get enough water or the bees got tired after buzzing around the first bush, or… some other unknown buried deep in the cells of the blueberry bush. But I also know enough to cover the one bush that does have berries—we draped it with netting—to keep those amazing blueberries to ourselves and away from the birds—and soon they’ll be ready for the picking.

As I’ve kept an eye on those berries, I’m thinking about something else, too—my writing. My current WIP is approaching 30,000 words, and most days (these days) the writing is easy, like the first blueberry bush, with lots of words—almost falling to the page in fact. But other days I can’t seem to write a word, and my pages are as barren as those two bushes void of berries.

I know enough about writing (and myself) to know that it could be I’m grumpy or didn’t get enough sleep or am allowing self doubt to creep in or my mind is wandering, or… something else buried deep in the cells of my brain. But just like the berries I cover to keep safe, I protect my words. I make writing a habit: I sit down every day, I reread what I’ve already written, I write as much as I can, and sometimes if that doesn’t work, I read.

And I wait, confident that like the blueberries, my words will grow and ripen, and soon be ready for the picking.

How is your writing going? Are your words there for the picking or do you sometimes feel barren of words?

Cheers,

Julia


Finding Inspiration in My Own Backyard

Littlejohn Island, Maine

When I hit a bump in the road recently and wasn’t motivated to write as much as usual, Arizona writer friend Melissa Crytzer Fry gave me some advice:

“…find someplace outside where you can just go and be with yourself—take the camera. That ALWAYS inspires me. Just go take photos one day in your backyard to jar your creative juices into flowing again. You can do it!”

Well, I took her advice, and today I’m guest blogging at Melissa Crytzer Fry’s blog in a post called “The Photo-Therapist,” that you can read here, about what happened when I took her advice to heart (I’ll give you a hint: my guest post includes more photos like the one above!).

I hope you enjoy my post at Melissa’s, and if you aren’t already familiar with her great blog, you’ll definitely want to check some of her posts out too—she’s an amazing writer and a talented photographer.


Cheers,
Julia

Multiple Genre Obsession

This work is in the public domain in the United
States because it was published (or registered with
the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.

I’ve become a bit obsessed with the idea of writing (and reading) in a variety of genres, especially those new to me. For the past week I’ve been trying to figure out how to sum it all up—how to write a post about my new writing obsession. Then today, just when I gave up and decided to write a post about something else, I read Henry Denker’s obituary in the New York Times.

If you’re like me, maybe you don’t know who Henry Denker was (I’m a little sad and a little embarrassed that this is the case, by the way.). The headline grabbed me: Henry Denker, Author in Many Genres, Dies at 99. But if that hadn’t pulled me in, this quote would have:

“A writer should be active in several forms of his trade. Writing is a business and should be practiced as such. On days when you think you can’t possibly write a line you do it anyhow.”

When I read that, I knew I would’ve liked Henry. And the more I read, the more I liked him: Henry had a prolific career, during which he wrote plays, radio scripts, television movies, novels (over 30!), and more. And his writing sounds fascinating and important—I will definitely be checking it out.

But what really struck me about Henry Denker was his versatility as a writer and his interest in writing a variety of genres. Henry Denker and I, we’re cut from the same cloth in this way, because although right now my heart lies with women’s fiction, I’ve also written short stories, picture books, and middle grade novels; I’ve dabbled in ghost stories, romance, and humor. (This doesn’t begin to sum up my nonfiction writing experience, but that’s a horse of another color.)

My current WIP is a modern-cozy mystery. I’m also in the planning stages of a dark romantic-suspenseful women’s fiction novel. But in truth I’m fascinated with writing in other genres, many genres. And I confess the more I read, the more interested I am in writing an even wider variety of fiction.

A few weeks ago I read two books that gave me pause to think….what if? Would I want to try to write something like one of thesebooks, way outside anything I’ve written before?

One was a romance: The Bro-Magnet (A Nice Guy Romance Novel)by Lauren Baratz-Logsted. This novel is told from the male POV. One of the reasons I find this so fascinating is that one of my WIPs has three main characters and two are male, and I’ve been thinking of writing from each character’s POV. This novel made me think outside the box, and I like that. It was a unique and different novel, which I also like. And it was a fast and funny read, too.

The other book was Drawn, by Marie Lamba. I’ll be honest. I started this novel because a sample chapter was available free on Amazon for Kindle. I read the sample chapter and was hooked: it’s about a young woman who moves to England and starts sketching drawings of a “hot ghost” from the 1400s. Yes, this novel is a paranormal YA novel, and it’s only the second YA book I’ve ever read. I rarely even consider reading paranormal books, but I LOVED this book. It absolutely captivated me, and it actually made me think about writing a paranormal and/or a YA novel. I highly recommend it.

Because here’s the thing. As I read in a wider circle, I’ve realized I like writing a variety of fiction. And these two books—and now Henry Denker—made me think that maybe I might expand my “genre writing circle” even more. It also made me realize once again, how much I love writing about almost anythingreally everything.

And then it made me wonder… how many other writers out there are like Henry and me? I’m so curious how other writers—how you—feel about cross genre writing. Are you tempted to write in a variety of genres? And if so, have you written in multiple genres? Or are you true blue to just one? I’m so interested to hear!

Cheers,

Julia

My Mind’s Eye

My life these days consists of editing and little else. For about eight hours a day, I am seated at my dining room table. And although I can’t say I love the editing process (I enjoy writing more), I must admit I amenjoying it.
And here’s why. My WIP novel is really taking shape, the one I finished a first draft of in September. As I was writing, it gave me a little shiver; in short, I was in love with my book. Then I started editing, and for a while I didn’t really like anything about it. But now? I’m falling back in love.

The shiver is back.

The thing is, I can live in that world—the one where my main characters live. When I close my eyes, I see their faces, I see where they live. I see the paths they walk down, both literally and figuratively. It’s like watching a movie in my mind, and I’m the director. So now I’m tweaking the writing, moving some text, carefully choosing each word, so that when someone else reads what I’ve written, they can see what I see, live in that world.

And feel the shiver.

Do you enjoy the editing/revision process? When you write (and edit) your WIP do you see a movie in yourmind? Do you fall in and out of love with your writing like I do? Do you feel a shiver?

Cheers,

Julia

45 Degrees of Separation

(Sunday, December 11, 2011, 7:08 a.m. EST, 22 degrees F)

Full moon setting: this photo was taken 45 degrees to
the left of where we stand to shoot the video, toward the mainland

I visit this spot on the bridge (at least) once a week. This morning we arrived at sunrise—at 22 degrees the coldest since we started to record the videos. The beauty was absolutely breathtaking, captivating, magical; so phenomenal that words truly cannot describe. A full moon setting, the subtle pinks rising and reflecting from the water, a flock of Canada geese floating on the water just out of video view.




So beautiful that, after taking the video in the usual direction, I turned the camera about 45 degrees and took another. Now you can see the more intense pinks, the flock of geese congregated and warming up before they take flight.





Despite the frigid temperature, we stood on the bridge for almost ten minutes and then we walked more, in another direction toward another vantage point, to take some still shots toward islands north of us.


When I watched the videos at home, what struck me most was the incredible stillness interrupted by the cars zooming by. I marveled at the fact that the people in those two cars (and others we didn’t record) drove by the stunning beauty without even slowing. And it made me remarkably glad that I started making the videos—so that for at least the time it takes to make the video, I am required to stand and just observe and truly see what I might otherwise pass by. And it made me wonder…..what masterpieces of nature do I drive by or take for granted every day?

Are there places and things you pass by everyday that you never really notice? Are there times you force yourself or take the time to really slow down and see and observe?


Cheers,
Julia 

The Great Crow Experiment, Part 2

The Gang of Seven
Abstract
The Great Crow Experiment is a non-scientific study conducted by wordsxo scientist-wannabes—MEH (My Engineer Husband) and me. As previously reported in MEH and the Crows (citation: wordsxo) and Science News (citation: Science News), American Crows are extremely intelligent animals. The hypothesis of this experiment is that Corvus brachyrhynchos (American Crow) has the ability to recognize individual people and individual cars. Part 1 of the experiment presented the hypothesis, materials, and method. This post, Part 2, presents Results, Conclusions, as well as opportunities for further research (i.e., things we just don’t know the answers to).

Results
On September 7, 2011, we started to feed the crows at the sports and recreation area where we walk our dog—about 1.5 miles from our house as the crow flies.
October 7, after a month of feeding the crows, and as evidenced by the Crow Log audio below, the crows definitely recognized us and waited for the peanuts. This is especially significant because we were not at the usual location (the softball field) but were instead at the nearby baseballfield. This indicates the crows saw our car (and/or us) and came to that spot for peanuts. Other cars did not elicit this response.

Crow Log Audio: Crows recognize the car (and us?), note the excitement in my voice!! (October 7, 2011)

Crow Log 10-7-11 (mp3)

These are the incredible contrails I mentioned
in the audio recording! Gorgeous!

On October 22 we were in a nearby town (about 10 minutes from the recreation area) and the crows saw us in the nondescript white station wagon and sat in a nearby tree and cawed at us, apparently waiting for us to give them peanuts.

On October 23,when we came out of our house, there were three crows in the tree outside our back door—this is the first time we saw crows in the trees around our house. We believe these are the same crows that we feed at the recreation area.



This video was recorded on November 12; it shows the crows arriving and descending when they note our car’s departure. (MEH’s caution: people who suffer from motion sickness may not want to watch.) 

Conclusions

“The Gang of Seven,” a murder (group) of seven crows recognize our car; and we believe they also recognize us and our dog, too. We believe these same crows may come to our house for peanuts—although we’re not sure it’s the same crows.

Feeding crows is a fun activity, but it can be hard to stop. It can also provide amusement to family members. Our college-age daughter told me that she and her friends were talking about what their empty-nest parents were doing since their kids left for college. She said our stories of feeding the crows made everyone laugh—hence it’s all worth it. After we sent her a photo of one of the seven crows, she said: “That’s one large crow! Have you considered what happens if you STOP feeding the crows and you have 7 large and angry crows outside your house?” 

She may be remembering a similar time when I was feeding chipmunks and one of the chipmunks ended up coming into our kitchen, presumably looking for food. (Note, chipmunks look really big in the house; crows probably look even bigger.)

Further Conclusions:

  • ·      Crows are very smart and definitely recognize our white nondescript station wagon, but they do not seem to recognize our dark blue even-more-nondescript sedan.
  • ·      We think the Gang of Seven recognizes us, too, because they turn around to look at us when we’re walking at the recreation area.
  • ·      Crows are very shy. Most of them fly away as soon as our back door opens—however, there is one larger crow that I’m convinced recognizes me because he/she does not fly away when I come out the door but instead sits and watches me.
  • ·      Putting peanuts in your yard will attract crows but will also attract squirrels, chipmunks, and Blue Jays (also in the crow (Corvid) family).  All of these are less shy than crows, and will come to get peanuts while we are in the yard (crows will not).
  • ·      MEH can drive and shoot videos (backwards!) at the same time—this is not a recommended activity but he only does this on a dirt road when no other cars are around.
  • ·      Many people we’ve talked to about what we’re doing have said they don’t like and/or are afraid of crows (some associate them with danger, death, Poe, or The Bob Newhart Show).
  • ·      Dogs (at least our dog Abby) love peanuts and will eat them shells and all (crows do not eat the shells).
  • ·      Peanuts are scarce this year because of drought conditions experienced in the south—and this has driven up their price (peanuts are expensive).
Opportunities for Further Research

We still don’t know with absolute certainty that the crows we see at the softball field (the so-called Gang of Seven) are the same crows that come to our house for peanuts. Casual observation indicates they are: we see them first thing in the morning at home; then when we arrive at the recreation area (about 1.5 miles from our house as the crow flies), they arrive about 5 minutes after we get there by car. MEH says the only way we’d know for sure is if we wore a cave man mask and banded them. (Note, if you don’t know about why we would choose a cave man mask, read about that here.)

Comic Relief

This audio recording made me laugh when I listened to it, and I thought I’d embarrass myself (even) further by sharing it with one or a trillion Internet users. (Don’t worry, my eye is fine.)

Crow Log Comic Relief (mp3)

The Great Crow Experiment, Part 1












Introduction/Purpose

The hypothesis of this experiment is that Corvus brachyrhynchos (American Crow) has the ability to recognize individual people and individual cars.

As previously reported in MEH and the Crows (citation: wordsxo) and Science News (citation: Science News), American Crows are extremely intelligent animals. MEH (My Engineer Husband) read an article in Science News about a crow researcher who would occasionally fling peanuts and/or dogfood out her car window to stir up crow activity. After she sold her car, the new owner called and asked her why a crow was following her to work. The researcher then realized that crows recognize not just individual humans but also individual cars. By the way, the car’s new owner didn’t mind the crow following, instead just “provisioned her car with peanuts for the occasional fling.”
MEH suggested we try an experiment of our own and test the theory ourselves. This was an easy task because there are a lot of crows at the nearby park and recreation center where we walk our dog once in the morning and again in the evening.

And so it was, about two months ago MEH purchased a large bag of peanuts (a preferred crow food) and we started feeding the crows—from our car and when on foot while walking the dog.

Materials
* Peanuts
* Camera
* Video Camera
* iPhone Audio recorder (we made daily audio “Crow Logs,”  like the one you can listen to at the end of this post!!)
* The car (white non-descript station wagon)
* Ourselves (MEH and Julia)
Method and Procedure

The experiment entailed a four-pronged method:

1. Placing peanuts twice a day at specific spots around the softball field at the recreation area: specifically at portions of the fence we have called “faux gates” (because they are shorter segments so they look like gates and we decided the crows might easily see them from the air).

2. Placing peanuts on the fence posts at the recreation area.

3. Flinging peanuts out the car windows (when crows are present) as we drive away from the recreation area as well as other places we see crows.

4. Throwing peanuts in our driveway if and when we notice crows in our yard or following us home.



Crow Log November 14, 2011 (mp3)LISTEN HERE for a preview of results!!







Next blog post (Thursday): Results and Conclusions



How Far Would You Go?

“Harold, I’m sorry. You have to die…It’s her masterpiece, possibly her most important work in her already stunning career. I’ve been over it again and again, and it’s absolutely no good unless you die at the end….it’s the nature of all tragedies that the hero dies but the story goes on forever.”  – Dr. Jules Hilbert (played by Dustin Hoffman), Stranger Than Fiction

The other night I watched Stranger than Fiction—one of my favorite movies about writing. If you haven’t seen this movie, I recommend it for its entertainment value alone. Harold Crick (played by Will Farrell) is a hapless IRS agent who, it turns out, is also the main character in a novel being written by author Kay Eiffel (played by Emma Thompson). It’s not entirely clear if Eiffel invented Harold or if somehow she is writing things that begin to happen to him. It is clear—however—that Harold Crick must die.

I don’t want to give away the whole movie, but to figure out what’s going on—why someone is narrating his life—Harold goes to see a professor of literature. The series of visits and literary analysis that the two go through are hilarious…as Dr. Hilbert devises a series of questions to figure out whether Harold’s story is a comedy or a tragedy. Sadly, ultimately Dr. Hilbert confirms that Harold’s story is a tragedy so he must die to ensure the success of Eiffel’s novel.

It made me consider. And admittedly, this is an outrageous question. How far would I go to ensure I had a masterpiece? Or for that matter, to have a book published? Would I care if my main character—who turned out to be a real person, albeit that I didn’t know, could die as a result of me finishing the book?

To me, this extreme allegory could be the expression of what we all go through as writers. How do we get the words on the page, get the job done. Make our characters come to life? What games must we play in our minds? How do we convince ourselves that the story is worthy of telling?

Do we need to imagine a real person at the other end of what we’re writing? I’ve been thinking about this a lot while I’ve been revising the draft of my WIP. Primarily because I have pictures in my mind of most of my characters—but two (my main character and her new love interest) have been hazy in my mind’s eye.

Then about two weeks ago I went into Starbucks, and a group of women was seated at a table a few feet from where I stood at the cash register. When I glanced over, one woman seemed familiar, almost as though I knew her (I didn’t), and I realized in a flash that it was how I pictured “Annie,” my main character. A strange sensation passed over me as I surreptitiously glanced over at her several times, memorizing details that I could write later.

And yesterday, at Trader Joe’s, when MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I went to buy some wine, we were approached by a Trader Joe’s employee. The second I saw him I knew: he was “Annie’s Will,” her new love interest. I briefly considered using my iPhone to snap his picture—but decided that was going too far, and anyway he might have noticed.

After he answered our questions about Proseco, “Annie’s Will” walked away, and as he did, MEH—who knew I was in search of a face to fit the character in my mind—turned to me and said: “Let me guess: Will?” He had seen my writer’s face.  


As I consider my main characters—these two individuals who have come to personify them, yet with whom I have no relationship beyond my imagination—I wonder. Could I like Kay Eiffel write a scene that I knew would affect them? What if it was a good thing—that as a result of what I wrote, “my Annie” and “my Will,” selected seemingly at random, would really meet and fall in love? 

Could I cause one of them harm? (In truth I can’t even write the words in this blog “to die” in relation to anyone, so I think I know my answer to that one.) But a broken arm? A minor accident? A cold? To ensure a bestseller, a masterpiece, or simply a published novel?

How far would I go?

How far would you go? How do you put faces to your characters? 
Cheers, 

Julia

Picture Perfect (Video) Day on the Coast of Maine

(Sunday, November 6, 2011, 11:30 a.m. EST, 50 degrees F)


Incredible. To have this weather in November is spectacular. The view from the overlook was phenomenal today. And it was a little surreal to watch the two Great Danes on the beach. (I truly thought they were ponies as we pulled into the parking lot!) An absolutely stunning day that words cannot do justice.


Meanwhile in the garden… we are clearing up the garden beds, going through a rushed fall clean up following last weekend’s surprise snowstorm. Almost every trace of the snow is gone now so today we’re tidying up: raking beds and some leaves, planting some daffodils, putting up a new mailbox (our old one was rusted through), mowing down the mint, pulling carrots, and putting away trellises, bean poles, etc., etc. Later today I’ll make a big pot of chili that we can eat for several meals this week, and then I’ll get some editing done on the WIP while MEH (My Engineer Husband) writes code to display graph overlays on a scientific instrument.

Here’s what the perennial bed looked like in July, what seems like yesterday!
This is how the perennial flower bed looked after we finished cleaning it up.
(That really WAS yesterday!) Later today we’ll plant Daffodil bulbs in this flower bed!

7 Links: Past, Present, Future

The PRESENT

When one of my very favorite blogger friends, Melissa Crytzer Fry (my Mr. Bacon Partner-in-Crime!) nominated me to take part in the 7 Links Challenge, I was honored and happy!

Then I was daunted. To go through 178 posts from the past 8 months and pick just 7 to highlight in specific categories? It was pretty overwhelming. To be honest, when I started to go through them I realized there were some posts I’d completely forgotten about!

In the end, I felt like Melissa had given me a present, and I enjoyed re-visiting blogs of wordsxo past. I hope you do too!

The PAST

Most Beautiful Post: Melissa cheated on one of her categories, so I’m going to too; I’m going to say that my Sunday videos have been my most beautiful posts. In fact, I’ve been surprised at how popular these have become. I started out thinking I’d make a video once a week of one certain beach spot near where I live: through the seasons, low and high tide, regardless of the weather. Here are two examples: “Waiting for Irene” and “Vacationland Real-live Beach Day Video.”

Most Popular Post: This one was hard. I couldn’t decide: should I list the most popular by number of comments—in which case it was a tie between “What’s a Writer to Do?” and “Are We Competing?” (each with 31 comments—not counting my responses). Or by number of hits on the post—in which case it was a guest post “Are you a Comfy Writer?” by Milli Thornton. In any case, cheating again here and listing them all! (See how I am?)

Most Controversial Post: One of my goals when I started my blog was to not write anything controversial. That said, I did write a post that was controversial without even trying! And believe it or not it was one about punctuation—commas to be exact: “I’m Just a Serial Girl.”

Go figure, writers have strong feelings about commas!

Most Helpful Post: As a rule, I don’t offer advice in my posts—I only talk about my personal experiences. However, one of my earliest posts, called “True or False, I can Help You with Your Resume” offered some tongue-in-cheek advice on resume writing. If nothing else, it’s worth a laugh and it only received one comment, so it deserves some blog love!

Most Surprisingly Successful Post: I’m tempted to say it was the posts I wrote about the message in a bottle, because I was pretty surprised at how many people enjoyed those posts! But the truth is that “Mamas Please Let Your Babies Grow up to be Librarians” surprised me most. It was one of my early posts that helped people find my blog—and it continues to be one of my very most popular posts. It was a review of Marilyn Johnson’s wonderful book: THIS BOOK IS OVERDUE! and led me to actually meeting Marilyn when she was in Portland at a book reading, which led to another very popular post: Libraries Rule, Part 3!

Post That Didn’t Get the Attention It Deserved: In my early days of blogging there were posts that never got any comments. And then there was a period of time that posts would get just one or two comments each. Like most bloggers, I spend a lot of time writing my posts and when they don’t get many comments, it can be dispiriting. That said, if I have to pick just one post (suddenly I’m a rule follower? What’s up with that?) then it’s: “MEH, the Amygdala, and Me.” When I first started out I wanted to write about science, and this was an early attempt to write about science in a humorous way.

Post I Am Most Proud Of: Of all the posts I’ve written, I’m most proud of the “personal essay” posts. Those are the posts that are closest to my heart, and I’ve written about friends, my house & neighbors, my grandmother, my kids, and MEH (My Engineer Husband). But the one that I think I’m proudest of is “The Ghost and Mr. Able” because it’s outside the usual realm of what I write, but it was still very well received.

The FUTURE

The final part of the 7 Links Challenge is to nominate five bloggers to participate in this challenge. Here are five blogs I read regularly, and I think you may enjoy reading them too! (There are many more I could have nominated, but I can only name 5!)


And now…a question…do you have a favorite post of mine that I haven’t mentioned? I’d love to hear about it!

32 Degrees

Today we had the first frost—when we left our house early this morning for the dog walk the thermometer said 32 degrees (F). 


The first thing that popped to my mind was the zinnias in the garden, always the first thing to go with a frost. But miraculously the zinnias survived this time. In a small pocket of warmth from the driveway.
I dug my down jacket out of the back of the closet. It smelled musty but I put it on anyway (thinking to myself, I need to wash this later today). Last week as I was looking for something else, I found an old pair of stretchy gloves and an ear warmer, so those I washed. I found them this morning on top of the washer.

We begrudgingly turned on the heat—partly as a test that it will still work. The old furnace boiler gurgled and grumbled but came on. (Note to self: we really need to call the furnace guy.)

It seems too early for this. That’s what I thought to myself, that’s what I said to MEH (My Engineer Husband) as we got in the car, the windshield frozen.

At the dog park, frost covered the grass, but the ground was still spongy and muddy from all the rain we’ve had recently. I was relieved, but I know that soon the ground will be frozen solid. The old dog is invigorated by the cold and frost. She frolics and digs her nose deep in the frosty grass, snorting. We shuffle along, and I wish I’d brought my scarf too. My neck and ears are cold, I tell MEH. It won’t get colder than this, will it? Time to toughen up.

We take winter seriously in Maine. We have to. Maine winters are a serious matter. The snow won’t start until November or December if we’re lucky. But when it does, it doesn’t stay on the ground for a few days and then melt like some places. It stays the whole winter long. And layer upon layer of snowstorm like a sedimentary rock ledge will line the streets. Sometimes so high that it’s impossible to safely get out of our driveway—the piles hide oncoming cars.

So cold that when a sunny day starts to melt some of the snow, it refreezes that night, causing treacherous conditions for driving and walking too. How many times have I fallen or heard of friends breaking bones when falling? Too many to count.

When we get home from the dog walk, we come into our warm house. I am thankful that we have heat, oil in our tank. I pour MEH and myself a cup of hot coffee, and I remember the better side of winter. Sitting and reading by the glow of a tableside lamp, huddling over tea, making savory stews and soups and apple pies.

Even better: our son and daughter and their friends home for the holidays, a feast in the dining room, sleeping under one roof, snow falling all around. The outside noises quiet and muffled, we are insulated in our own world.


Do you have winters (or other seasonal change) in your part of the world? How do you feel about yet another impending change in the weather?

Cheers,
Julia

The Story from the Message in the Bottle

One of these bottles made its way to the shore where Mr. C found it…
a staggering 2.8 miles in 3 weeks 2 days!

Is anyone out there listening? I asked that question in this post. Before that, my husband, daughter, and I threw three bottles containing messages into bodies of water leading to the Atlantic Ocean—asking whomever found them to let us know.
So when I opened my email inbox last Sunday, my heart beat a little faster when I saw an email with the subject: “Your Message in a Bottle.”

Here’s what it said:

“Arrived yesterday at my parents’ house in Cumberland Foreside. Took a long time to get here! Maybe it went around the world first.”

Cumberland Foreside is about 2.8 miles from where we dropped two of the bottles—but still, I was curious about the particulars. What did they think when they found the bottle? Were there any details they could provide? Maybe a story?

I was lucky—when I emailed back, asking if the sender’s parents would be willing to talk to me, explaining: “I’m a writer, I write a blog. Might they be willing to tell me their story?”

The sender said “yes,” then generously gave me his parents’ names and phone number.

When I called, his mother answered. Mrs. C, a lovely older woman, immediately apologized: “You probably wish someone in a more exotic place had found it!” (I wondered if maybe she and Mr. C hoped it would have come from a more exotic place!)

She went on to explain that it was her husband who found the bottle on his morning walk on the shore—he brought it home. “It was exciting!” she said because it was their first message in a bottle they’d ever found; they’ve lived in their house, on a point jutting into Casco Bay, for 34 years.

“It looked like it was a pretty good bottle of wine,” Mrs. C said. “Was it?” They unscrewed the top and then tried to get the note out first with tongs and then with a “lobster poker.” Neither worked.

“Finally I said to Mr. C ‘why don’t we just breakthe thing!’ so that’s what we did! We put it in a paper bag and we broke it!” That’s when they read my note. She went on to tell me that since they don’t have email, they asked their son to send me an email about finding the bottle.

I explained I was going to write a story about the bottle and how they found it, and asked her if she’d ever found anything else unusual on the beach, could she tell me about it? She said they hadn’t, but she offered to tell me a story, if I had time to listen. Of course I had time to listen!

Mrs. C’s Story

Before Mr. C and I owned this house, his uncle owned it for a very long time. And his uncle’s first wife, E—a very beautiful and vivacious young woman—was invited, and attended, the opening of King Tutankhamun’s tomb. While she was there she was sickened by a terrible fungus. It was so sad, because when E returned home, she got sicker and sicker, and finally she died.

It was terrible! But my husband’s uncle went on to marry another wonderful woman, and they lived a good long life together in this very house. When my husband’s uncle died, he left the house to my husband, and that’s when we moved in, 34 years ago.

One day shortly after we moved in, I was going through things left in the attic, and I came across the loveliest photo of Uncle and his first wife E. I bought a beautiful frame for it, put the photo in the frame, and then placed the framed photo on the shelf over the television. And do you know what happened? As soon as I turned around, that television fell right off its shelf! Yes it did!

I picked up that framed photo, put it right back into the attic, right where I found it. And it never happened again!

*  *  *  *

“And what do you think of that?” Mrs. C asked me.

I told her it was one heck of a ghost story, and explained how my blog readers are pretty fond of ghost stories. And she said I should go ahead and share it with you.

Before we hung up, Mrs. C apologized once more that the bottle wasn’t found in a more exotic location. But how could I possibly be disappointed? Then I offered to call her if and when I hear back about those other two bottles.

She was thrilled! And I definitely will call her back—because I would love to have another conversation with a storyteller the likes of Mrs. C!


Have you ever had surprising results from a conversation with someone, like I did with Mrs. C, that started for one reason but ended with another? Are you, like me, always interested in the stories people have to tell

—no matter what path brings them your way?


Cheers,


Julia

Quiet Stillness on the Coast of Maine

Sunday, September 11, 2011, 7:50 a.m. EST, 50 degrees F



For the first time this late summer, it was colder than 50F degrees when we got up to take the dog for a walk. I’m here to say that 48.9F feels pretty cold after a hotter-than-average summer, and I’m a little nervous about the impending winter.

By the time we got to the bridge overlook it was just 50 degrees on the water. A beautiful, glorious clear day with almost no clouds in the sky. The video is remarkable by its uneventfulness.

We talked to two birders today (first ones we’ve encountered on these Sunday mornings!): one, a young man on the bridge with binoculars and a camera with a long telephoto lens—photographing “migratory birds” he said. I asked him what kind, and he simply responded: “oh, loads.” The woman, who we met on the way down to the beach (we took our dog down to walk by the water), when asked if she’d seen anything interesting, first said…. “oh, a little,” and then casually commented on a “Pileated” (Woodpecker) that was exhibiting “weird behavior.”

I found it mildly intriguing that for the first time in seven months we met our first birders by the bridge—and this time two of them—and both independently were looking in the same direction and seemed to be purposeful in their activities. Yet both were vague with what they were looking for when we asked them and were not very specific in what they had seen. My vivid writer’s imagination kicked into overdrive.

Meanwhile in the garden….wabi-sabi is setting in, and I am trying to enjoy the late-summer overgrown and fading garden. We continue to harvest eggplant, beans, tomatoes, and many other vegetables. We made two large pots of tomato sauce this week. And we will harvest apples from our apple tree for the first time since we moved into the house more than 10 years ago—for some reason it’s apparently a good year for apples!

The row of sunflowers outside our living room window is now about 9 feet tall!


Foggy Morning Birdlife on the Coast of Maine

Sunday, August 21, 2011, 8:40 a.m. EST, 68 degrees F




The day started out with pea-soup fog. I wanted to capture a sunrise in the video because they’ve been so beautiful lately, but at 5:30 on the foggy dog walk this morning I realized there was no hope. Instead, we waited until later this morning, mid-tide, and went to the bridge overlook as the fog began to burn off. And what a reward for our waiting: just as we arrived we saw an osprey diving toward the water.


Minutes later, as we began the video a large bird, I assume a gull, lands at the very end of the point. Then about 30 seconds into the video, a Great Blue Heron flies into view and lands right next to the large bird. What an amazing, beautiful, and peaceful morning video punctuated only by the sound of a solo runner, one car, and me snapping photos in the background. This is one of my favorite videos we’ve shot because it really captures the feeling, sights, and sounds of the place: its stillness yet life.




And meanwhile in the garden…. it’s looking like late summer. Unfortunately many of the plants (black-eyed Susans, squash, pumpkin, beans, and even the tomatoes) have developed some “late blight” and other mildews—which generally means the plant will die. Harvests have been way down this year as compared to last. Still, we ate our first eggplant this week, and we are harvesting lots of tomatoes, spring onions, a few pole beans, kale, the last of the zucchini, and a few small turnips.


In the photo of the garden this week, the morning glories—volunteers from last year—have made it to the top of the basketball hoop. I love this photo because it represents the perfect garden to me, a mixture of flowers and vegetables, natural yet slightly structured. I also love having the basketball hoop as a garden framework because of the memories it invokes of happy family games.


Cheers,
Julia

Is Anyone Out There Listening?

It was a beautiful moonlit night

With all writing, you throw things out to see what sticks, if anyone connects with it. Usually for us as writers it’s a blog post, an article, maybe a book (if we’re lucky). We wait and we find out if it was a good idea—if anyone out there is reading what we write.

But sometimes it’s literal, you really throw it out there—like if you’re communicating via a message in a bottle thrown into the Atlantic Ocean.

Such it was that last Friday night, by beautiful moonlight, MEH (My Engineer Husband), MOD (My Outstanding Daughter) and I found ourselves in the car under the cloak of darkness. We had a mission: throw three bottles containing messages into flowing bodies of water leading to the Atlantic Ocean.

Just the words message in a bottle conjure up a romantic vision….not to mention they’ve inspired songs like the 1979 hit “Message in a Bottle”  by The Police; short stories like “MS. Found in a Bottle” by Edgar Allan Poe; and of course the book (and subsequent movie) by Nicholas Sparks, Message in a Bottle.

Legend and Wikipedia have it that the first known message in a bottle was released around 310 BC by Greek philosopher Theophrastus—as part of an experiment on water flow.

I was curious, what would happen if I did the same thing? Would I ever hear anything back? Would bottles get lost or end up as seaglass on some near or far beach? 

MOD generously agreed to help me with this “fun activity.” For our experiment, to ensure best success, I purchased three clear glass bottles with screw on tops. Okay, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit I bought the two cheapest bottles of wine I could find at Trader Joes (plus one bottle of “fizzy water”). Suffice to say we enjoyed the contents.
If you see one of these bottles on a beach near
you, please let me know! 
I wrote three identical messages and put one into each of the bottles, then wrote on the outside of the bottles in black permanent marker and in pink nail polish: “Message in Bottle” and 

“Open Message.”

Friday night we started making the rounds, first to a harbor at a river mouth. We stood at the end of the public dock and I flung the bottle in. Unfortunately tide was coming in, so the bottle immediately started flowing toward me. Not exactly encouraged, we moved locations, to the bridge overlook (where we take the videos each week). This spot had much deeper water, but was problematic because we had to stop in the middle of the bridge.

Traffic was light (actually we probably saw two other cars the whole time we were out), and MEH stopped mid-bridge. I got out and flung the bottle into the dark water below. MOD hunched in the backseat, not wanting to be seen. I offered MOD the opportunity to throw the bottle, but she declined:

“No, Mom, I don’t want to be arrested for littering. I don’t want a record for my medical school application.” (MOD wants to be a doctor.)

Just as I threw the bottle, MEH said: “I hope it doesn’t hit a seal.” And then he yelped.

Gales of laughter filled the car as I got back in. (You had to be there; take my word for it, it was pretty funny at the time.)

Our last stop was a small point where boats are harbored, where there’s also a public dock. MEH and I walked out onto the dock. This time MEH did the deed and flung the bottle out into the darkness. MOD stayed off the dock, pretending to be involved with texting a friend (okay, she may have actually been texting a friend since this is an almost-continuous activity for college students).

As I watched the bottles, one after another, floating toward us, I thought about the irony of communicating with someone via such an ancient method during this electronic era—and decided that Theophrastus and me, we’re on the same wavelength.

The bottles flowed toward us, so fortunately our
message is not as dire as if we were shipwrecked!
But not just Theophrastus; I join a long line of other famous and well-known bottle messengers, including: Christopher Columbus, the British Navy during World War I, and a group of 88 shipwrecked migrants who in 2005 were rescued off the coast of Costa Rica after they placed an SOS message into a bottle.

Fortunately my message isn’t so dire. Honestly, I’m just plain interested in whether or not anyone will find it and how far it might travel. It’s such a romantic notion—to toss a sealed bottle with a note into the ocean and have it travel to somewhere far away and have someone you don’t even know, on a far away beach, find it and read its contents. What’s not to love? 

Stay tuned to find out what happens!

Have you ever sent a message in a bottle? What happened? What other non-electronic communication methods fascinate you? Have you considered trying them and then blogging about them?

And for us as writers? Do you, like me, ever feel like blogging and writing for the Internet is almost like throwing a bottle out into the ocean? Do you ever wonder if anyone is listening?

Cheers,

Julia

6 Months, 26 Videos

This is where we stand to make the videos….on the bridge, behind those two trees. In the winter, when we picked the spot, there were no leaves (we weren’t trying to hide!)

This weekend marks my six month blogaversary (Woohoo!). Six months ago I started this blog called wordsxo: a blog about words, writing, and life. Loosely translated, wordsxo stands for love of words.

Shortly after that—February 13 to be exact—I started posting short videos of one view of the coast of Maine: one of my favorite views, a five-minute drive from where I live. That first video was shot in the dead of winter when the beach (a small sand bar exposed only at mid- to low-tide) was covered with snow.

MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I stood on the bridge overlooking the small beach and made a video using the Flip camera he received as a Christmas gift from our two wonderful kids.

We talked about it that day: wouldn’t it be cool if we came back to this spot every weekend and we made a video and I posted it on the blog every Sunday? And then at the end of the year we (and any interested blog readers) could look back and see how the view changed through the seasons and by tide level.

This mosaic header, representing the seasons of
Maine, was used on this blog until last week.
(In the interest of full disclosure, the leaf photo was
actually taken in Vermont by my son!)
When I first started wordsxo I used a generic header—something I pulled off of Blogger. Then I switched to a mosaic of photos representing the seasons in Maine. After some time, I started using more and more original photography of MEH’s and mine in my blog—and sometimes I thought the brightness of the header kept the post photos from standing out.

We used a stick we brought from home….
I went to a local framing shop and studio called the Yarmouth Frame Shop and Gallery run by two great people named Beth and Lee (you can visit their Facebook page here). I was interested in purchasing a piece of art, a simple sketch or muted watercolor of the coast of Maine, that I could use as a header. Although there was nothing on display in their lovely gallery, they suggested I might think about contacting a few artists to commission a piece.

But then Lee had another suggestion…. would I consider an idea he’d used for a CD cover: writing the name of the blog in the sand on a beach and then taking a photo of that for the header? This idea really appealed to me because that small beach, the small sand bar, had become somewhat synonymous in my mind with my blog.

We wrote wordsxo a lot of times…and took
even more photos…more than 50!
That very day and the next, MEH and I went out to the small beach and experimented. We wrote wordsxo again and again in the sand and took a lot of photographs. We came up with one I particularly like (the one I now use for the header!). I picked this one because I like the way the water is washing up over the letters, because as time goes on, and I find my legs as a blog writer, I want my name to represent, be my brand, my blog more than wordsxo.

Oh, and here’s today’s video (#26)! (Since the end of March we’ve been posting the videos to the wordsxo youtube channel, too; you can see those videos and a few more here.) Today is a rainy rainy day on the coast of Maine…and it was pretty high tide so none of the small sand bar beach is visible….arguably the most uneventful video we’ve posted in this six months! We saw lots of soggy ducks and gulls, of course right off video view. My apologies to my blogging friends suffering through heat wave and/or drought; I wish I could ship some rain and coolness your way. Since I can’t, please enjoy this brief video reprieve!


Sunday, August 7, 2011, 8:02 a.m. EST, 68 degrees F


Huge thanks to all my blog followers and readers! Do you enjoy these Sunday beach videos? Are there places or things that have in your mind become synonymous your blog?

Cheers,

Julia

The Book Barn

The Book Barn

In our small town, residents have the option of contracting with a curb-side trash service for pickup or taking trash, recycling, and the like, to the Town “Transfer and Recycling Station.”

The Transfer and Recycling Station is what most people might think of as the classic landfill or “dump.” That’s what it would’ve been called in the old days. Our Town “dump”  is anything but.

For one thing, it’s beautiful to look at—and also quite the social scene! You see all your friends and neighbors there, and it’s a place to catch up on local news!

Plus 75% of everything brought into the Transfer and Recycling Station is recycled or reused. Yard waste is composted in giant piles and bins (residents can help themselves to compost, and they can also take a home composting class), discarded lumber is brought in and then is often taken out by others who will reuse it, and the “free wall” offers household items that one family no longer needs and anyone is free to take. Of course there are also recycling bins and a Goodwill drop off box. 


But my personal favorite is the Book Barn.
The Book Barn is a small brown shed where residents can drop off and pick up books, free of charge! A few years ago when I tried my hand at used-book selling on Amazon, I found many books in the barn that I eventually resold. It’s a wonderful place that children (and adults) can take as many books as they can carry. I love the way it encourages reading in kids (and adults, too), but I also love that it gives books another chance to be read!




And this seems especially important now, as Borders closes its doors and we have only a couple of small bookstores anywhere nearby.

Last Saturday when we took our trash and recycling to the Transfer Station, I took some photos of the Book Barn. And I also had an opportunity to talk to Phil, the superintendent of the whole operation. Phil was quick to apologize for the state of the Book Barn, which—as you can see from the photos—was packed to the brim. He explained that a local book sale had just dropped off leftovers.

How the Book Barn looked on Saturday


(Understand, I had no problem with how the Book Barn looked; I was simply amazed there were so many books to choose from!)
“In a few days we’ll clean it out,” Phil said. “We do this four times a year. But nothing goes to waste.”

Phil explained all paperback books and magazines could be recycled; all hardcover books went into the trash (vinyl covers and press board can’t be recycled—Phil said a lot of obsolete encyclopedias end up here). All trash (the 25% of the Transfer Station’s refuse that is not recycled) is sent to a company that burns the trash and creates electricity.

How it usually looks
The day we went in, MEH (My Engineer Husband) brought home an Aristotle book on politics and I brought home How to Write the Modern Mystery. We had a huge variety of other books to choose from, and I could have taken many more. I never worry about not liking a book or what to do with it when I’m done because I can always re-donate it to the Book Barn!


I didn’t spend much time looking on our Saturday visit, but often there are very recent releases—one woman I know takes joy in leaving new books she’s just finished reading, just knowing that someone else will enjoy reading them, too!

Just as my friend considers her book donations as a gift to an anonymous receiver, I see the Book Barn as a gift from the Town to ourselves.

Is there a place where you live that you can donate and receive free books? 
Cheers,

Julia

Bee-ing the Writer

Do you have trouble concentrating on writing in the summer like I do? There’s a lot going on, no question. For me, summertime means spending a lot of time in the garden. Growing fruits and vegetables and flowers.

And along with all that growing goes pollination: bees, beetles, all kinds of other insects, birds and sometimes even mammals.

Bee on Oregano flower
This week I started watching the pollinators—especially the bees—and it occurred to me I could learn a thing or two from them about beeing buzzzy (sorry can’t resist). They are industrious all day long, buzzing from flower to flower, feeding on nectar and collecting pollen.
As a writer, I wish I spent as much energy on my writing as those bees do on pollination. Buzzing around my WIP as though it were a garden, honing in on each individual idea like a new flower—and collecting as much from one before moving on to the next. Then cross-pollinating my ideas with new thoughts picked up at my last stop. Working all the time, industrious and focused.

Wasp on Dill flower
Next time I’m having trouble concentrating, I think I’ll try to “bee the bee.”

Do you have trouble concentrating on writing in the summertime, like I do? What are your distractions? And what can you learn from them that you can apply to your writing process?


Cheers,
Julia