Remember?

I had coffee yesterday with a couple of friends that I haven’t seen in eight years. My family moved, they don’t do email, the friendship cooled over time.

 But they moved into my area and we met to catch up. We laughed over the Samsonite suitcase story and the 15-passenger van escapade (I’ll tell you those stories another time).

We remembered.  I’m looking forward to making new memories with them.

I’m writing a novel right now about a people, following a cataclysmic event many years before, who refuse to tell their children what happened. Their theory is that remembering brings pain and solves nothing. They throw themselves into coping but their children want memories.

Are answers submerged in memories? Or do memories hold us back?

I’m not going to disclose the ending to my novel. But the idea intrigues me.

We’re programmed to remember. At times, we enjoy the memories. At other times, memories hold us back. Does this trait help us? What do you think?

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Why story patterns matter

Patterns always start with a first time and my pattern got rolling when I couldn’t figure out how to light the gas grill in my back yard. I’d just moved into the house and never had one before.

I found the knob for the natural gas on the front and then crawled around on my hands and knees, looking for a opening in the pole to poke in the match. Found it. Then I lit the match and shoved it in.

A fireball exploded over my head, flinging the grill lid skyward. The hinges held and the lid thumped down, putting out the fire.

I’m a quick learner. I never lit a grill like that again.

But there was the time when I had to light an old furnace in a rental house we were renovating. This time, I couldn’t figure out where the pilot light ignition nozzle was located. I did a little hunting with the lit match but this time I knew enough to stand beside the furnace opening, just poking my arm into the furnace mouth.

The match finally bit on some gas. There wasn’t a fireball this time. Just a loud roar that brought my teenage kids down to the basement where they scoped out my blackened arm and singed hair.

“It doesn’t hurt,” I said. They couldn’t hear me above their laughter. The pilot lit, though.

I wasn’t concerned the day I decided to cook hamburgers on our new grill.  I knew the routine. I turned on the propane and pushed the ignition button, just like I had been told. Clicks did not lead to a fire. Phooey. I needed a match again. So I went inside, found the box of matches, opened the grill lid and tossed in a match.

This one was more of a bang than a roar.

Why am I sharing this? I’m a writer and I continue to learn that stories create patterns. In novels. In articles.

And in life, where I am no longer allowed to hold a box of matches anywhere near gas. Patterns matter.

4 great writing tools

When it comes to the craft of writing, I thank God every day for the gift of computers.  My college papers (and I did a ton of them) were all written on a manual typewriter without the benefit of Liquid Paper. Sometime I’ll write a post about that process.

Not today. Today, I want to list what tools I currently use for my writing.

  1. Evernote – I’m writing this blog in Evernote. It’s a nice app that synchs across all your devices from a computer (PC or Mac) to a tablet to a smartphone. But what’s especially nice is that I can set up folders (called notebooks) and store ideas, research, partially-written blogs (not that I’d ever let one float in non-published land too long).  Plus all this is backed up on the cloud and the basic version is free.
  2. Dropbox – A writer’s mantra (unless you’re still using paper/pen or a typewriter) is to backup. Often. Dropbox does a nice job of backing up your files on the internet and it also allows you to work on those files on a variety of devices or on the internet. The basic version is free. If you use this Dropbox link, we’ll both get extra storage.
  3. Scrivener – I love Scrivener for serious writing! In one file, I am able to store all my research on a particular story plus character sketches, photographs, outlines, and more. I can write each chapter in a separate document so that I can see the chapter titles in a list plus I can re-order the chapters whenever I want. That’s a huge benefit for me over a basic word processing program. Plus Scrivener can handle manuscript formatting when I’m ready to send the story on. I’m still learning all the features and they are many. This one isn’t free but it’s not expensive. A program that makes your life organized (well, my life at least) is worth $45.
  4. iPhone – OK, you don’t need an iPhone but a smartphone is wonderful. I always have with me a camera that allows me to photograph scenes that I might want to use in a story, a voice recorder for ideas, a notepad for writing down other ideas- all in one little digital gadget. Plus I can access Evernote and Dropbox documents. This one isn’t free but it does make phone calls, too.

I keep searching for new tools for there will be future posts on this topic, I’m sure. Any tools that you love for writing?

Regrets?

As a writer, I don’t waste any new emotion that surfaces inside of me. I probe and consider. So lately I’ve been exploring the fringes of regret.

To be honest, I didn’t expect this one. My father died recently at age 90 and we all knew he was fading. I was determined in his last years to have no regrets. I spent extra time visiting, going to gatherings and birthday parties. He got extra hugs (he wasn’t a huggy kind of guy but he seemed to like them in his later years) and I had a chance to thank him for his input into my life.

I didn’t want to have regrets. And I don’t regret any of those things.

But as I journey through the pain of his loss, I find unexpected regrets. Regret that he won’t ever finish the engine project in the garage. Regret that he’ll never again stand in his corn field, shovel in hand. Regret that he won’t see his youngest grandchildren get married.

Regrets for what he will never do now.

That regret strikes me when I least expect it, with a sharp jab that makes me draw a long breath.

I know he’s in a better place. He held to his faith when everything else slipped away. He was anxious to go home. And it helps me to imagine him with young legs, a strong back, a mind that once again can solve a broken object.

But I want to seize the new insights for my own life. What do I want to do before it’s my turn to join him before our Lord?

I have a few things on my mind and they’re rising to the top of my priority list. We’ll always have regrets but I’m planning to reduce the list. My sister and I often joke that we rush in where angels fear to tread. I’m thinking it’s time to ramp that up a bit.

From the land

My father was a sugar beet farmer in Colorado, a fact which sculpts my thinking more now than it did when I was hoeing weeds in eternally-long fields as a teenager.

Where once a farm was 80 or 160 acres, now they need to be well over 1000 acres or the farmer will go broke. That logically means there a lot less farmers – and even less family farms.

What are we losing as the family farm becomes a blip of historical nostalgia?

  • Fewer people know where milk or eggs come from. The correct answer is not Safeway or Walmart.
  • Not so many get to see the magnificent thunderclouds, roiling in purples and blacks, marching toward the tender crops. Although there’s fear that a hailstorm could devastate this year’s crop – and income – we participate in the circle of life as those storms approach.
  • We’ve lost the appreciation for smells. We demand sweet scents or nothing at all. But I’ve experienced the fresh scent of rain and the sharp slap of animal remains. Why do we shrink from authentic sensory experiences?
  • The rhythms of life – which include death – are more readily seen on the farm. I have experienced loss – of a favorite dog, a 4-H cow, a baby lamb. The sting of loss never gets easier but I’m glad that I’m not numb to it.
  • I’ve heard corn grow, the pops of expansion as the leaves stretch out toward the sky.
  • I’ve seen the stages of soil, from slimy mud to sun-parched jigsaw pieces. I know the rain will come. Someday. And I know the snows are followed by seeds punched into the ground, soon to emerge in a green fringe across the landscape.

I could go on but my understanding – and the way I write – has been molded by the seasons and the rawness of senses. I am born of the land, walking a unique path. And I love it.

About being published

I don’t consider publication to be the end-all for a writer, even though it sure is nice. I know writers who share their talents in thank-you notes and encouragement letters. Not a bad gig at all.

I know others who exclusively blog. They are putting their insights on a medium that might be seen by readers worldwide. Not bad, either.

 Some writers produce works for their children or their own amusement. Nothing wrong with those goals either.

But I’ve felt the tug to submit for publication. I’m working on a novel right now but those take forever. I wanted to submit now. So I’ve begun writing short stories.

My first appeared in Harpstring’s summer edition. Apparently the pressure of a frantic deadline helped, because I whipped that story out in about three days.

Then came a notification about OakTara looking for short stories for an anthology Falling In Love With You. Because our love story is a little unique, I decided to submit a story for that, too.  That one was accepted and should be available by the end of the month.

Since then I’ve sent in a story to Chicken Soup and entered two short story contests. No word yet on those.

I still don’t consider publication to be the final plateau for a writer but I do have to admit that it’s fun seeing my name in print.

Now, back to my novel…

Falling in Love With You… coming soon

My short story “Unexpected Escape” will appear in OakTara’s anthology, Falling in Love With You, which is scheduled to be published by the first of October. Stay tuned.

I’m not generally a romance writer but my husband and I have a unique story of how we fell in love. And this story, “Unexpected Escape,” chronicles an interesting twist for us.

If you “like” OakTara’s Facebook page, you will then receive notifications on when Falling in Love With You is available – plus you’ll be able to purchase the book at a discount there.