Archives for category: writing

4326 words.

Never heard of it? Of course not. I made it up. With NaNoWriMo knocking at the door I had to decide. No. I will not register. I will not participate. Not that it isn’t time. For the first time in years, November arrives without needs pressing from every quarter. Not that we aren’t still “small b” building. Not that the bees and the chickens and the garden don’t continue to take up part of our attentions. But there is a pause with the approaching winter that leaves time for creative ventures. (It’s snowing out there now!)

And yet, I have at least three, good, but unfinished manuscripts from past NaNoWriMos. I really have to tackle the pending file before I can undertake some fresh new gallop across the keyboard. And I don’t feel it’s appropriate to register for NaNo, to work on unfinished business. In fact, it’s a little embarrassing. I have stories waiting. I have characters, sighing and checking their watches, resentful of my neglect. I have readers asking, “What happened to Fiona?” (or Denise, or Ben?)

The solution? PerNoWriCom. That’s Personal Novel Writing Completion! I’ll follow many of the NaNo rules–try to keep up with the word count (never my strong suit.) And shoot for completion of the first full draft of The Trial of Trudy Castor by the end of 2019. Then edit and publish by spring. Ready? Set? So let’s go!

TCA AVW facebook image

Our authors’ group held a “Local Color” event at the local bookstore. I was the primary mover and shaker in organizing this event. It is, apparently, getting harder to sell books at bricks and mortar outlets. Or maybe, it’s getting harder to sell books–the real item, with pages made of paper. So authors are looking for ways to generate ‘buzz.’

Admittedly it took some effort to get this off the ground. Directing authors in any concerted effort is like herding kittens. I shouldn’t be surprised. By definition, writers engage in solo efforts. Not all of them are up to public speaking. Many are unaccustomed to team building. Because of this, we ran a little short on the marketing time frame and the event was not particularly well attended. Or maybe it’s just difficult to get folks to abandon their screen time for actual human contact.

We didn’t sell a lot of books. But everyone who came loved it. Authors spoke about their stories, and their motivations. Some used the opportunity to expound on the research done for their backstory (after all, there must be some good use for all that work.) Some read poetry–their own and others’. In all, it was a captivating evening. Yet we didn’t sell many books.

Afterwards, I was cringing, wondering how my fellow authors would react. They could have been miffed that their energies were misspent. I was pleasantly surprised. Not only did everyone thank me on the way out the door, but I also received a number of emails, praising the effort and the outcome. One in particular expressed thanks at the opportunity to better get to know their fellow writers–and to hear, in their own words, about their individual paths in the writing venture. It turns out that authors are as interested in community engagement as they are in actual book sales. Many expressed interest in doing it again. Several even suggested it should be an annual event–you know, a tradition.

I am thrilled. I’m not immune to the lure of a successful book sale. But I also believe that  our relationship with our readers doesn’t begin and end with the transaction. The group’s objective is to create a relationship with our community, rooted in the joy of the written word. So I’m not cringing. We’re talking about ways to expand on this experience–maybe by genre, or by theme. We’ll need to experiment with better marketing. Maybe we will do this as a tradition. I don’t know where it will lead, but I know that it starts with a wider understanding of the concept of success. And that’s a great place to start.

Image may contain: Scott Couturier, standing
Image may contain: A.V. Walters, standing
Image may contain: 1 person, standing and indoor
Image may contain: Tom Carr
Image may contain: Tom Carr and Bob Downes, people smiling, beard, eyeglasses, closeup and indoor
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Bob Downes is with Scott Couturier and 3 others.

Our Traverse City Author event at Horizon Books drew an audience of mostly authors, offering some fascinating talks on local literature. I stayed for the full 3 hours and loved every presentation. There’s an amazing reservoir of writing talent in TC!

authors

TCA Fall Flyer

Admittedly, I have not been actively blogging. That’s because I’ve been back to writing. It’s been a pleasure. What with building and planting and gardening, there’s been precious little “writing-headspace” in my life for a couple of years. This winter, the frenzy has diminished enough that I’ve been spending lovely days, in front of the fire, banging away on the laptop. It’s been fun. And I expect that by fall, there’ll be at least one book launch, and that’s fun, too.

Every now and again we look up from our activities and realize that this, this moment, this experience, is why we’ve done all of it, anyway. We’re here, now.

My current book project has something I’ve not done before. It has actual villains. And that’s a different kind of thread for me. But this week, I read an opinion piece in the Washington Post that set me back a bit. It was about laziness in writing about villains. The author is a woman who suffers from a facial deformity. Her complaint is that movies and books frequently use non-standard appearances–disabilities/scars/disfigurement–in a short cut to describe villains. To her, it adds insult to injury, and increases the levels of suspicion she encounters in her day to day.

Nailed. I’d been doing just that. It’s easy in a manuscript of Prohibition Era thugs to make the villain visibly different. That way, one needn’t tediously show, by his actions, just how depraved he is. And it is lazy. It reflects a “lookism” world view that I generally reject. So this week, I’ve been re-writing. My villain is still a thug, but no longer an ugly thug. I appreciate the viewpoint and it’s timely connection to my own project.

I think the comeuppance will result in a better book, one that better reflects my values.

Tangents…

A.V. Walters–

IMG_2387

I am trying to return to writing. I have at least two novels to finish, and ideas for several more. Finally, we have moved into our home, and though there’s plenty left to do, our energies are not completely devoted to the building project. Tangents are the problem.

I’m currently working on a Prohibition era tale based, in part, on my grandfather’s rum-running days. I try to be historically accurate–which leads me constantly down the rabbit hole. In the current chapter, Trudy, our protagonist, hands a sheaf of papers outlining liquor distribution channels, to Red, who’s an overly ambitious rumrunner. Those papers, how are they attached to each other, physically?

A quick foray to the internet reveals that, though the stapler had already been invented in ’31, (the novel’s setting) it was still not a common household item. So, it’s not likely that these papers would’ve been stapled together. I suppose they could be folded, or rolled, and tied neatly with grosgrain ribbon, but that seems a bit precious in the context of this exchange. Paper clips. Hmmm, another not-so-quick trip to the internet… Yes, by all means, the paperclip was already in wide use at the time.

But, that lead me to the myth of Norwegian invention. Norwegian, Johan Vaaler, filed paperclip patents in both Germany and the United States in 1901 (Norway had no Patent Office then) for a similar but less workable product than the unpatented Gem paper clips already in common use in England since the 1870s. Vaaler’s patent described a single wire loop–a design that never made it to common usage. Other paperclip patents were filed in the United States, one as early as 1867–but none of these early patents describe the common Gem design still used today. And then there’s the role of the paperclip as a symbol of anti-fascist resistance.

Several countries had identifying pins which became symbols of national pride during the WW2 occupation of Europe, notably: some pins of national flags; a pin showing exiled Norwegian King Haakon VII’s cipher; and the Danish King’s Mark. The Germans made such displays of national unity illegal. In France, a simple paperclip worn on a collar, cuff or lapel, became a symbol of “unity” and resistance. The innocuous paperclip as a symbol of resistance spread across the occupied countries until, predictably, this too became illegal.

Learning this, it only took me a minute to locate a paperclip and to affix it to my jacket collar. It seems to me that we could use a simple unifying symbol for our own resistance to the current racist, fascist and anti-democratic trends in governments, everywhere. At least, we could use it to project our own disavowal for hate, and fear driven policies: We Do Not Agree!

There is a sculpture of a giant paperclip in Sandvika, Norway, celebrating Norwegian ingenuity in the invention. Unfortunately, that sculpture is of a Gem clip–and not Vaaler’s patented version. Sometimes “story” eclipses reality.

Except, of course, at my house, where the tangents of history lead me far from my intent to get on with the story. In this one, at least I’ll have the paperclip right.

 

Authors + Card tables + Books =

A.V. Walters

Traverse City Authors

You’ve been there—a book fair, or an author-signing event. The author sits, with a forced smile, trying to engage. Normal people, who otherwise might manage a smile or a nod, drop their eyes and rush by. They’re too polite to intend to reject, but the result is the same. They avoid eye contact.

We love books. They entertain and inform. They take us to places, internal and external, that we otherwise would never experience. They make us think. Storytelling is probably the true oldest profession. It may be the real difference between man and the other animals. Forget tools—animals use tools.

But writing is very much an internal process. There’s not much to see. It is, for everyone except the author, pretty boring. And authors are often shy, living in the world from their side of the keyboard. It makes for a marketing conundrum. As the author, how do you sell books? As consumers, we want action—writing, by itself, isn’t dynamic.

The standard formula, the book fair, is death on cold toast. Uncomfortable for both the author and the consumer, it is Authors + Card Tables + Books = Boring. It’s like one of those sad little small town zoos, where the animals are housed in small, concrete cages. At best, you’re tempted to tap on the glass to elicit some response, or throw popcorn, even when the signs admonish you not to feed the animals. At worst, you scurry by, shoulders hunched, eyes averted.

I’ve joined an Author’s Group. We discussed at great length the challenge of the “author’s event.” We swapped horror stories of our collective experiences, trapped behind stacks of books in the entry of some otherwise kindly bookseller. We vowed not to repeat the equation.

Traverse City Authors announces its Celebration of Story. On June 14, at the Little Fleet, we’re holding a story slam benefit for Front Street Writers (a local nonprofit program for young writers.) After all, at its essence, what we do is tell stories. Come see the Authors, in their natural habitat, surrounded by good food and drink (because authors aren’t stupid), and yes, of course, books.

https://www.facebook.com/TraverseCityAuthors/?notif_t=page_fan&notif_id=1493079806456302

 

 

 

 

 

 

NaNoWriMo Update

It’s only day three and already I’ve missed a day!

In my real life, we’re backfilling over the new septic field (and I thought digging it was hard), moving dirt back over it and being mindful not to damage all the underground pipes; it’s more backbreaking and exhausting than digging the hole in the first place! Yesterday, I started my NaNoWriMo assignment, and promptly fell asleep. So today, I had to double up to try to catch up. Right now my word count stands at 4,295–I’ll need to beef it up tomorrow too, to get back on track. Phew. (And I don’t get to include this in my official word count.) NaNoWriMo–It’s not for everyone. Goodnight All.

Happy Hallowe’en all. October was busy. What with work and building, (and, dead-tired exhaustion) there was barely time to blog. I’m working on it. But tomorrow starts November. What can I say? November is NaNoWriMo. It’s National Novel Writing Month. Bear with me; I’ll still blog. But the challenge is on to write nearly 1,700 words a day for thirty days. At the end (if past performance is any measure) I’ll still be 50,000 words short of a novel, but I’ll be well on my way! I am so into this, that I gave a pep-talk workshop two weeks ago, at our local library. I still have some October blogs up my sleeve, and I can always take photos. No matter what, I’ll be there again at the end of the ordeal. It’s time to finish novel number three, my Michigan novel. How about you? Anyone up for the challenge?

Past Challenges= The Emma Caites Way and The Gift of Guylaine Claire

Current Challenge= The Trial of Trudy Castor

The Tyranny of Round Numbers

A.V. Walters

This is my 200th blog. Next week, I’m coming up on my third anniversary of blogging. I’ve been stuck on this momentous event. Somehow, it felt like I was supposed to be profound, or something. Oh well, what you see is what you get.

I was a conscripted blogger. “They” said that indie writers and publishers needed to blog. Apparently, we need an online presence in order to sell books. Ha!

I bellied up to the bar, and started blogging. What does a fiction writer blog about? Everything, and nothing. I followed my nose, tried to stay away from politics (a stretch for me) and focused on chronicling the rich parts of the everyday. I cannot honestly say that the blog has ever sold a book. And then, after about eighteen months, they said, “Oh, never mind the blogging, it doesn’t work for fiction.”

But, by then, it was too late. Like most writers, I live in my head. I am probably most comfortable in writing. In this funny, online world, I have made friends. Political friends (even when I pledged not to go there,) artist friends, gardeners, organic farmers, people who keep bees, people who can vegetables, celiacs, funny people, other writers, editors, ne’er-do-wells and goody-two-shoes. In short, I have found community.

They are everywhere. My “regulars” are as far flung as Australia, Singapore, France, United Kingdom, Brazil, Canada, Germany, India, New Zealand, and all corners of these United States. In the blogosphere, I travel all over, too. Over the course of three years, I’ve been visited by over seventy countries. I am continually amazed that we can connect across the ether. These connections give me hope. Even as governments fail us, and corporations sell us, we can all be ambassadors of civility, humor and peace.

Not that I’d be considered a “successful” blogger. My numbers remain relatively low. I refuse to play SEO games. I refuse to do internet marketing or advertising. (Aren’t these scams?) I refuse to amend how I title my blogs, just to capture more “hits.” Indeed, learning that the blog wasn’t going to sell books, anyway, was liberating. I am free to be stubborn! I can do whatever I want in this forum; it is my world! (And welcome, by the way.) Despite what my trusty editor, Rick, says, I am even free to use semi-colons.

Our most popular topics are about season and gardening (oh, yeah, and emus.) The single most enduring blog is still Naming Emus. Stories about living on the chicken farm in Two Rock are popular, too. The shock of relocation is wearing off; we’re comfortable in Northern Michigan and revel in seasons (and snow removal.) It’s been an adventure. And you’ve been there, all the way.

We’re hovering on many exciting new ventures for the next year. We’ll finish the cabin and move in (gypsies, no more)—we’ll get the garden started (already I’m up to my ears in seed catalogs), I’ll finally try my hand at beekeeping (after wanting and waiting for five decades!) and, if there’s time and energy, we’ll get chickens. I’ll keep blogging, and sharing, though I may slow down just a bit this spring. I’m trying to get my head back into writing—I have an unfinished novel haunting me.

So, thank you all for following, sharing, commenting and enriching my life. Raise a glass—Happy 200!
(Next time, pictures, I promise.)

 

ooops, here’s the link to the most visited blog, https://two-rock-chronicles.com/2013/03/10/naming-emus/

It’s Canadian Thanksgiving!

Guylaine Claire Cover jpg

On Monday. And I forgot to send a card.

No, really, usually I celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving with a turkey and the whole traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Thanksgiving is my favorite of all holidays. What’s not to like, eh? A day in which we get to reflect on the good we have in our lives—and to share it with those around us. (Of course I do American Thanksgiving the very next month.)

This year there’s just no time. Rick and I are struggling to get as much building done as we can, while the weather holds. There’s an oversized helping of thanksgiving in that, too. So what is missed, is sharing.

So, to share the day, for Canadian Thanksgiving, I’m offering my most Canadian novel, The Gift of Guylaine Claire*, as a free Kindle download on Amazon. It’s available, Monday only at:

http://www.amazon.com/Gift-Guylaine-Claire-V-Walters-ebook/dp/B00CMYC8LG/ref=la_B008AL153M_1_2_title_1_kin?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1413081503&sr=1-2

You don’t have to be Canadian to enjoy this offer. Because everything is marketing, if you enjoy the book, please let me know, or post a review on Amazon or GoodReads. In the spirit of the day, feel free to share the link.

Thank you, and have a wonderful holiday.

 

*Readers’ alert, my sister says this is a two-box-of-Kleenex book, but maybe she’s just a sap.

 

 

 

Ripples…

A.V. Walters–

ripples

Sometimes there are crystalized moments in your life, moments that are loaded in a way that forms who you will be, or that define a new direction that your life will take. I’m fascinated at how a chance event can snowball to construct an entirely different version of you, than the expected path might have yielded. You may not even know it at the time but, upon reflection, you can see how the impact of that moment left its fingerprint on you, and maybe on others around you.

We all have answered those “pivotal” questions, “Where were you when…” But they reflect a wider sensibility—that of a community or a nation. And I don’t doubt that those incidents that form the arc of history have an impact overall. What I’m talking about here, though, are the more personal moments—the AHA! events that took who you were, an instant before, and then mapped a new direction for who you became as a result.

 

From time to time, in this blog I’m going to address those ripples—in my life, and in the lives of those I know. I invite you to ponder your own circuitous paths, and how the “you” of today emerged. Feel free to share.

 

The Magnificent Radovini Brothers

stick built

We were stair-step kids, arriving with catholic regularity, one, nearly every year. Before long, our standard issue, three-bedroom tract home was too small, owing to our lopsided gender distribution. When the time came that my brother, the only boy, really needed a room of his own, we four girls were too much for the other bedroom.

My parents own interests were running out of space, too. My father’s woodworking and my mother’s new involvement, in the world of clay, were spilling out of the utility room and into the kitchen. So, my parents took the plunge. Together they sketched out a plan to expand our home to make enough room for our wild tribe, and enough for all the different things we did. An architect made their dreams into plans and the bank gave the go ahead. My parents found builders, the highly recommended Radovini Brothers. These young men accepted the job, but warned that, in the middle of it, they’d be taking off for two weeks for a long planned family reunion. As long as the project was enclosed before they left, and then finished before the end of the summer, my parents didn’t mind. How could they? They understood family.

It was high theater for us. It was summer and we were off school so we could watch. They were doubling the size of our house, there was digging, with its piles of dirt and concrete, and finally, The Radovinis arrived. We loved them. They were five brothers with mops of dark hair and sun-bronzed skin. They worked shirtless. The neighbor women came to watch. The Radovinis worked and laughed and sang—sometimes opera, sometimes Italian folk tunes. The brothers harmonized, in their songs and in the rhythms of their work. They brought enormous lunches, which they unpacked from coolers with great ceremony. Food was important. They ate with great gusto, the jokes and ribbing continuing between bites.

It was like being visited by the circus. They were as charmed by us as we were by them, a string of blond towheads, following their every move like puppies, soaking in the aroma of pine boards, and watching the building take shape.

Our house grew by the day—faster even than we’d been told to expect. These men loved their work, and loved showing off their skills. Our jaws hung slack as we watched the drawings from the plans take shape in the air. It was a two-story addition and they were fearless—walking out on the thinnest of planks, twenty feet in the air, tossing up tools to the outstretched and ready hands of trapeze-artist framers. We tipped our heads back and shielded our eyes from the summer sun with cupped hands, to watch. How lucky we were to have found such tradesmen! As the time for their scheduled vacation approached, they worked long hours, determined to frame and sheath the structure before their trip—as promised.

The oldest brother approached my father. Were we happy with the work? Of course! Sheepishly, he requested that my parents advance the full contract price. The brothers were traveling across Canada for their reunion and wanted a “safety reserve.” My parents, thrilled with their work, were happy to oblige. Hell, they’d have adopted them if they could.

In their absence, we clamored over the new addition like squirrels. We collected nails and pieces of scrap wood—which we hammered into odd towers. When parents weren’t watching, we walked on the skinny joists, high above what would be our new garage. It was all so exciting–we could hardly wait for their return.

My father broke the news at dinner one night. We knew that something was up. My mother’s face was puffed and red. There’d been an accident. The Radovinis, they were going over the mountains—with most of the family riding in a travel trailer. A passing car clipped their trailer and forced it, and its tethered truck, over the edge. Four of them had been killed, along with their wives and children. The surviving brother would never walk again. With him, all that remained of this vibrant family was the elderly grandmother and an infant child, who’d remained home. The singing and laughing, gone.

My parents never mentioned the money. And, from that day, we became builders. My dad rolled up his sleeves and learned. His weekends became building time. We were his cadre of conscripted workers, little fingers stuffing insulation around windows, holding the end of the measuring tape and carrying tools and supplies. He learned wiring and plumbing and tiling (Oh My!) So did we. He harnessed his intense fear of heights to finish the roof and upper walls. We learned to put our fears in context. Money was tight, but skills we could learn. We became a family that built what we needed. We never shied from what willing hands could perform. It took my parents, and us, ten years to finish, but it was done, and done well.

That continues to today—not a professional builder in the bunch, but my siblings, mostly girls, are not strangers to the working end of a hammer. The Radovinis came into our lives nearly five decades ago. Right now, I am poised at the largest project of my adult life—my husband and I are building a home. As I wrote this, the concrete truck arrived to pour the footings.

 

Pouring Footings

Pouring Footings

In my minds eye, I can see the Radovinis, perched, straddling the skeletal ribs of our new roof, drinking ice water from re-filled Coca-Cola bottles. They chug it down and pour the rest over their heads, laughing and working in the summer’s heat.

 

 

 

Of Books and Blogs

A.V. Walters

ec coverGuylaine Claire Cover jpg

I’ve written both. I’ve been blogging for a couple of years now, so the rhythm of it feels natural. The books feel more like chess, plotting and planning to get the story out, in a way that’s more like a natural unfolding. In a blog, I want to give just enough story to create a mental image, and then to make my point. It’s photorealism versus impressionism. I admit that I am often guilty of subtle. Even too subtle.

A few blogs ago, I wrote about training cats. The point, albeit understated, was that, except for very small kittens, I don’t believe that anyone can train cats. They train you. You go to great efforts to change their bad behaviors, mostly changing your own conduct to minimize the opportunity for their transgressions. It raises the question, who’s training whom? I’m not sure that my point came across through the text. I thought it was wildly funny—in a Canadian restrained kind of way. Unfortunately, nobody noticed. In that, I failed.

Those readers (that didn’t get it) probably think I’m just another middle-aged woman with cats. I’m a relatively recent FaceBook conscript. There, I notice that there’s an endless supply of middle-aged women with cats. Even some of my same-age male cohorts have begun posting “cute” cat videos. Oh stop. You know who you are.

Anyway, from a writing perspective, a blog ought to be short and, well, glib. And I struggle with shorter. I note that there are a great many blogs that use no words at all. What are we coming to? Maybe less is more, but I can’t tell. I just write until the vignette is complete.

First, I wrote the two novels. Then, the blog was supposed to be a vehicle to build platform. I admit that with some shame—shame, because I know how to put those words together in a way that conveys the lingo of shameless-self-promotion. Along the way, I learned that I liked blogging. I like the challenge of brevity, with connection. So, perhaps I’ve taken it away from what it was supposed to be—marketing—and I’ve aligned it more into the mode of reflective, journal writing.

My mother is a potter (as in ceramics.) From the time when I was very little, she would explain her pots like stories. Every pot, she contended, had to have a top, a middle, and a bottom. Each part had to define itself, and still relate to the whole. We’d go to art fairs, and she’d (discreetly) show me pots that had failed this basic design requirement. I was trained to be a ceramic snob.

It’s what I try to do with each blog. It’s not haiku, but it’s distilled, hopefully with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Some hit. Some miss. Recently though, after about a year of personal uproar, I’ve returned to working on novels. But, blogging has changed me. I used to sit down to write, throwing myself into the abyss—the only agenda was to move the story forward with every chapter. I had checklists, and l didn’t concern myself with the niceties, beyond letting every character speak in his, or her, own voice. The rest of it I left for editing. Now, I’ve become fussy in a chapter-by-chapter kind of way, and it’s slowed me down. I’m like a cross-country runner who’s over-trained doing wind-sprints. (We used to call that ‘running the telephone poles.’)

I’m not displeased with the result, only the pace. Does blogging do this to other writers? I can only wonder. This is all strange territory for me—new speech modalities defined by technology and delivery. I can only re-double my efforts. These characters are far enough along that I’m compelled to finish their story. Anything less, would strand them in the in-between. Again, I’m left to wonder—do other bloggers have this problem?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monochrome

A.V. Walters

Bluff View

Bluff View

Winter. Pretty much black and white, right? Hardly. Maybe because we are cloaked in a postcard perfect layer of white, it forces one to take a closer look. There’s a world of color out there, if you look for it. The snow itself is a constantly shifting set of hues, depending upon the light. Right now it’s brilliant white, with the edges, drifts and footprints defined in shades of grey and blue. Just after dawn or at dusk, the snow glows pink—what my mother calls “The pearly hour.”

But, it’s more than that. At first glance the naked trees are black, grey and taupe. Looking closer reveals myriad shades and colors. The dogwood tips are a deep ruby. The cedar trees mix the characteristic yellow-green of their foliage with the rusty seeds at the tips. Across the street, our snow is interrupted by some kind of dried seedpod in a dark umber and waving, golden dried grasses. That gold is echoed above in the clinging brassy parchment leaves of young beech trees. Look deep into the forest and you’re rewarded with the winter greens of the white and red pines (with their warm brick and brown trunks)—to the almost-blue green of the spruce. Driving through the county side, I am surprised by the range of color in the sleeping, winter fields; the amber corn stubble poking up through the drifts; the burgundy tips on the cherry trees; the shocking, spilling-over, yellow of the naked willow branches; and the dense green of the snow-flocked Christmas trees that survived to see another season.

Today we went for a hike along the beach. Along the shore and extending out in the shallows, Lake Michigan has its usual winter, ruffled collar of jumbled frozen piles of snow, slush and ice. Out about fifty feet, the collar gives way to the steel grey waves, lapping and spraying occasionally at the ragged edge. This is a sand beach and the winter surf sweeps the sand in with the frozen frothy foam at the end of the waves’ reach. Parts of the beach are slick and icy, dangerously dusted with fresh blown snow. Other parts are sheets of frozen sand, lifted and arched by the heave, and hollow underneath. It’s a world away from its usual summer world of flip-flops, bathing suits and kayaks.

We’ve noticed an odd behavior at the parking-area turnaround at the township park/beach. Folks in the area drive down to check up on the Lake. Whenever we’re there, we see it. These are winter people, who, on their way somewhere else, detour down to the park for a glimpse at whatever the Lake is doing. They pull up and sit for a few moments, just watching whatever winter has in store that day. Today was not windy and the Lake was quiet. Sometimes it’s wild and crashing.

We think of it as our winter hike but we’re wrong. Today we ran into our neighbor at the beach. He’s an elderly gent; we see him out walking his dogs, regularly. There was a family, with lots of little bundled kids out cavorting and sliding on the icy beach. And then, there were all the footprints, evidence that any number of hardy souls come out regularly in the cold to enjoy the beauty and colors of winter. It’s nice to know that others appreciate the winter landscape, as we do.

A.V. Walters–

ec cover

Many years ago, I worked waiting table. The head waitress at the restaurant was a very funny woman with an incredible sense of presence. One day, she used the restroom on break and, unbeknownst to her, she got the back of her skirt caught in the waistband to her pantyhose. She returned to the dining room floor with one side of her ass exposed to the world. The woman had class. When a patron called it to her attention, she turned, looked, and without missing a beat, she said, “I suppose now you want me to turn the other cheek?”

I would have died on the spot. I’m not sure I’ve confessed to this before, but I am not a technical person. I struggle with it–especially so since Two Rock Press is a small concern and I try to be professional about it. You can only imagine my mortification when I discovered (thanks to a kindly reader) that the Amazon download for The Emma Caites Way was bollixed. We’d accidentally uploaded the wrong file. Folks who downloaded it ended up with a version that was not fully edited–once they hit the later chapters, it was all highlights and alternate wording. My deepest apologies. So, if you are one that downloaded previous version, throw that trash away. There is another free download day for The Emma Caites Way on December 2. (You may receive a notice from Amazon.)

If you haven’t previously taken advantage of the free Amazon download (Kindle version)–lucky you, you missed the muddle! Feel free to enjoy it now. Hey, tell a friend. I’m feeling so relieved that this was an easy fix, I feel like celebrating. So, come on and celebrate with me. Enjoy a free copy of my award-winning, life-affirming, deliciously fun, romp and triumph of a novel, The Emma Caites Way.

What, now you want me to turn the other cheek?

Coop d’État

A.V. Walters

“Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss”

These chickens are aggressive. They made it absolutely clear who’s in charge in our front yard. Because the emus are so much bigger, we forget that they are still little kids. If ever there was a lesson that you’re as big as you think you are, this is it. Right from the get-go, the chicken-bully (as we call the more aggressive of the two) started harassing the emus. When they’d bend over to eat, she’d rush over and peck the emus right on the top of their heads! The message was clear—the chickens are in charge!

The emus have learned to steer-clear, and give the chickens a wide berth. At times, they can eat together, (if I make sure there’s ample chicken food.) But, in their meanderings, the two species have a different agenda, and don’t choose to keep company. They’ve made their peace, but it’s not friendly.

Bob, the cat, was hiding under the lower, redwood branches. He’d crept in, to check-out the chickens. The emus spied him and took off in hot pursuit. They split up and triangulated their attack. The poor cat nearly didn’t make it over the fence, in time. And that was Bob, a cat they know and like! (Well, like may be a bit strong, but they know he’s not a threat.) Were the emus defending the chickens? Or, having been demoted in their own yard, merely defending their dignity against an unsuspecting target? And, just what was Bob doing in the redwoods, anyway?

Bob, from a safe distance.

Bob, from a safe distance.

Rick had it in his head that he could solve the underlying animosities by swapping out the bully-chicken for a more self-possessed, well-mannered chicken. (We live on a chicken farm, so we have access to spare chickens.) My sister shook her head. Even from 2,500 miles away I could hear her tight-lipped nonresponse. (The woman has her own chicken issues, I tell ya.) Finally, not one to hold her tongue, she cryptically said, “Won’t do any good; it’s about pecking order.”

I hate to admit it, but I’m enough of a political Pollyanna that I actually like the idea that deposing one bully could solve the problem of tyranny. Apparently Rick does, too. We’re not naïve. We read the papers. Has there ever been any coup that didn’t just install the next bully? I was in no hurry to do the chicken swap but yesterday Rick put chicken replacement on our to-do list.

We stuffed the chicken-bully in a box, and walked over to the chicken barn. We let her out and she immediately blended into the crowd. As for the replacement, how do you pick? What do you look for? Essentially, it comes down to who you can catch.

Not as easy to catch as it looks

Not as easy to catch as it looks

We returned with the replacement chicken and put her in the nighttime cage, to let the two chickens get to know each other through the safety of the bars. The squawking started almost immediately. The emus perked up—trouble in Chicken World could only be good news for them.

It’s official. The new chicken is the “low hen on the totem pole” resident of our front yard. The formerly docile chicken has stepped up to bully role. She doesn’t much like the new chicken and she’s loud about it. We’ve gone from nasty to noisy. She woke me up this morning, at sunrise.

The emus seem to like it. With the Chickens occupied with their own disputes, the emus are left, more or less, in peace. And actually, it looks like the emus are enjoying spectator status. I feel like I should serve popcorn. Funny how I can hear my sister’s “I told you so,” loud and clear, from across the miles.

Post-script:

Not so easy, this chicken swap. The new chicken was just too…well… chicken. She sat cowering in the corner of the porch all day.

Chicken chicken.

Chicken chicken.

Rick decided that it wouldn’t do. Another chicken swap was needed. We captured her and returned her to the barn. Rick rounded up a bunch of chickens, and then, using portable fence panels, thinned until he had just the chicken! The Goldilocks of chickens, not too bold, not too chicken. This one is just right. We brought her back to the yard and she settled in immediately, friendly, without being deferential. I think this chicken combo will work. Who knew it would be so involved? Now we need to see how the emus react.

Relaxing by the pool.

Relaxing by the pool.

Don’t forget, The Emma Caites Way and The Gift of Guylaine Claire are available as free Kindle downloads on Amazon–July 1 thru July 4.

Online Timing

A.V. Walters

I cannot tell you how many friends have been after me to go online with social media. I always resisted, citing my privacy concerns. So, finally I did it, just in time for the Edward Snowden revelations and this blizzard of media attention to privacy issues. No, I’m not happy about it. And now all those same friends are laughing and emailing me about having chosen the worst possible environment in which to “go public.” What nobody is mentioning is that, while the government is a problem, multinational corporations have NO constitutional limitations on what they do with your private information and they are out there, swapping your personal info like bubble gum cards. (Buy Them, Trade Them, Collect the Whole Set)

I heard on the radio yesterday that Orwell’s book, 1984, has been an overnight success in sales in the past few days. Too bad George missed the peak. Everybody’s trying to find a way to sell their novels.

Social Media Angst

A.V. Walters

They say you’ve got to do it. An author, especially a self-published author, has to have an online presence. I have resisted. Not that you’d notice from this blog, but I’m shy. (Really, you can be opinionated and shy, at the same time.) I have an inherent distrust of corporate ethics and, to engage in social media, you have to trust them with your personal information. They said I had to blog, so I blogged. Not that I regret it, but later when they acknowledged that a blog don’t do diddly for a fiction writer, I felt some relief. Now they say I’ve got to go on social media. I blanche. My chest tightens and my brain becomes waterproof, impervious to new information. Facebook. LinkedIn. Google+. I shudder.

Toe in the water, I’m now on Facebook and Google+. (Check it out, AV Walters) I know that registering is just the first step. I’m supposed to post regularly, to engage with the world through technology. Sheesh. I see them, my friends, with their faces glued to the screen. They’re following the cartoons and Youtube links sent by their friends. But, the day is beautiful. And, there’s gardening to be done. Still, the steady glow from the screen has them in its grip.

I don’t know. Just all part of the grand experiment, I guess. I still think you need to actually live a life in order to report on it. If this enhances the experience of living—I’m all for it. If it’s a substitute for living, well, I’ll see you in the garden.

And, here’s the irony of it—I’ll be blogging my impressions. Go figure.

 

 

 

And now… on Kindle…

A.V. Walters

I attended a business conference this week. Most of the presentations were dry as dust, except for one woman, who is an expert on the psychology of purchasing behaviors. From a larger, societal, perspective, what she was saying gives me the shivers. She studies people and their shopping behaviors, which are increasingly happening on-line. There is an ever-increasing shortness of attention span, nowadays, (hello, are you still with me?) that can take your breath away—in a nanosecond kind of interval. She analyzed the time spent researching (reading other customer reviews or perusing manufacturer’s sites) and how long it takes to complete the purchase-cycle. Once a decision has been made, people react in a split-second. The difference between a sale and losing a customer’s attention can literally be a question of how few clicks it takes. Too many clicks, or too much text… and you’ve lost them. Alas.

This is particularly surprising when the product is a book. Consumers who cannot instantly obtain the book they want will be drawn and diverted by “People who purchased this item also purchased that item”—and off they go! In a product that will take them hours to read, and from which they should derive many more hours enjoyment and contemplation, they’ll change their minds (or simply lose interest) if they cannot have it… now!

She reported that Amazon knows this, and designs it into their interface. Amazon now sells more books than any other outlet in this country. Industry pundits claim that in a few scant years, Amazon will be the biggest retailer in the world. And, we’re not just talking books, either—Amazon sells everything.

I guess I’m old fashioned. Apparently, I frequently stand in my own way—the only thing between me and success is… well, me. My books are on Amazon. I’m a POD (print on demand) author, so Amazon is the best distribution vehicle for the small or self publisher.  But I have never listed my e-books with Amazon. I’ve been loyal to smashwords.com.  Something about its counter-culture approach has always appealed to me. And, I’ve been offended by the war of the Goliaths—the major players in the publishing industry who seek to turn authors into “content providers.” I see the squeeze between retailers and publishers and note that more often than not, the losers in that battle are the authors.

I know that the publishing world is in flux. It is both a curse and an opportunity for authors. Caught in the new age of information, the old stuffy publishing houses have pulled in, more than ever. They are reticent to take a risk on new talent. The only sure-fire books these days are celebrity tell-alls, diet books, or Clancy-type thrillers. Oh, yeah, and anything with vampires.  Literature is lost in the mix. And yet, in the corners of the maelstrom, good books are peeking out. There is a chance that an elegant or beautiful story can find its audience. Oh yes, your story has a chance, if it can find its nanosecond.

And so, I announce that my books are now available as e-books on Amazon for its Kindle readers. For the moment, I have stopped tilting at windmills and will go with the mainstream (read–tsunami.) My sister loves her Kindle. She reminds me of this, all the time. I see it in the grocery store, people reading in line. The marketing experts tell us that gum, candy and tabloid purchases are down, because folks in the queue are busy with their smartphones. The impulse purchase has moved online. And now, for better or worse, so have I.

So, if you have a nanosecond or two, check them out—The Emma Caites Way and The Gift of Guylaine Claire—now available, instantaneously, at an on-line retailer near you.

 

 

 

 

Revealing

A.V. Walters

Skov painting

After almost a decade of owning it, I finally cleaned a painting today. I haven’t done that in a while, but once you learn the technique, you’ve got it. The painting needed cleaning the whole time but I was afraid. Sometimes you buy a painting, liking the muted hues you see, only to clean it and find it garish, or not just right anymore. I wish I’d taken a “before” picture. This painting has a lot of pinks in the sky and I was concerned that, cleaned, they’d overtake the canvas. I needn’t have worried. Even ninety years ago, the artist had more sense than that.

If you read The Emma Caites Way, you’ll see that art restoration is actually a part of my background. It’s an interesting way to learn more about art. I’m taken with the plein air paintings of the Arts & Crafts period. I like how the artist, on the fly, can suggest light and space with a few deft strokes, or even just a well-informed line or a perfectly placed splash of color.

Generally cleaning a painting brightens it and more clearly reveals the artist’s original intent. It removes accumulated oils, dirt and smoke residue, helping to protect the canvas over the long haul. In the process you become almost intimate with the work. You have to work within the artist’s original brush strokes, gently wiping clean the grooves left by the bristles in his brush. If you work the surface too hard—or scrub—you can damage the original paint. The work is painstaking. When you’re satisfied that you’ve done as much as you can (or as much as the canvas will endure) you protect it with a thin layer of conservation varnish. By the time you finish, you really know the painting.

This Danish painting is from 1923, apparently painted in Tuscany—I don’t think there are olive trees in Denmark. The artist, Marius Skov, is a “listed” Danish artist, meaning that he was recognized in his time. The cleaning lifted nearly a century of grime and funk from his canvas. It’s brighter and clearer than I would have guessed. Indeed there’s a roadway (or maybe a river) in the foreground that I never saw before. It’s a surprise.

With a good cleaning, you expect to see more features in the bright areas. What surprises me is how much new detail is revealed in the shadows. The trees in the center, once just a blob of dark green, now reveal new colors and brushstrokes that weren’t visible before. And now the countryside is dotted with neighboring villas and farm buildings, previously lost in the haze. Even the distant hills undulate in new distinct shades of blue and purple.

Once, years ago, I cleaned a painting of a waterfall and pond, and found that it’d been partially painted over–a figure, a man fly-fishing, had been painted out, covered with bushes and shrubs to convert the painting to an elegant and simple landscape. Some research on the artist showed that his specialty was paintings of fishermen. The part of the painting that made it the most valuable as an example of this artist’s work had been obscured. Worse yet, the owner of the painting had liked it as a landscape and was disappointed by the appearance of this new interloper. I was torn–how was I to be faithful to the intent of the original artist and satisfy the owner?

It makes me think about writing. It’s easy to move the plot along “in the light,” to reveal the obvious. It’s another thing entirely to look into the dark parts of the story and to reveal the texture that informs how things go wrong. It might be enough to let your readers know that a character has done something vile, or selfish. Yet, the story is more telling if we can see the brushstrokes in that life that consummate in that act. I need to remember to look hard at both the light and the dark in my writing. (And the painting turned out okay, too.)

Digital Pickpockets

They say that you should check now and then. I didn’t really believe it, but, because they say you should, from time to time I do a Google search on my own book titles. Really, to be extra careful, one ought to Google a section of text, which might be a better test.

So it’s the end of the month and I ran through the Smashwords standard SEO search on both The Emma Caites Way and The Gift of Guylaine Claire. I didn’t expect to find anything unusual, just the routine references to my blog and the on-line booksellers who carry the books. In all honesty, it’s a rote thing; I’m not even sure what I’m looking for.

And then, there it was! An on-line retailer (who, until this is fully resolved, shall remain nameless) that was listing The Emma Caites Way for download as a PDF. Looking closer it gave the online “handle” for the individual who “shared” it, and that person was not me. Somebody was actually stealing my book and making it available for online download. Can you say copyright? A few more clicks confirmed my suspicions. I don’t know whether to be outraged or flattered.

It wasn’t even a very sophisticated theft. The Emma Caites Way is a particularly distinctive title. I did that on purpose. They didn’t change it—I guess because that way they ride my negligible marketing coattails. Nor did they remove my name from the PDF (a not impossible task.) One has to wonder how this can pay. I’m a pretty small-scale target, a self-published author with only a couple of books. That leads to the inescapable conclusion that they didn’t select me specifically. It’s no measure of the quality of the product. To make such a violation financially viable, this character would have to hit many, many authors and let the numbers do their work.

This must be pretty common. The website has a message to copyright holders who contend that their work has been illegally listed. There’s a form you fill out, the DMCA Complaint Form. (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) I guess that with this kind of theft so common, one needs to streamline the process. That’s another argument that this is about the numbers, not about someone who picked me, because of the content and quality of my work. I suppose it’s an argument against smashwords free downloads, but I hate to restrict that as a marketing option for a new author.

I filled out the form and submitted it. Someone on the other end will look at the information and no doubt delete the pirated listing for my “document.” And that will be that. There was a time when theft of copyright was at least a compliment.

Heads up out there. It’s probably not about the dollars and sense of it, but you do need to watch your back. Constant diligence, in this, and in everything.

It’s that time of year again–well, it’s late for that time of year. For some reason I always miss the true peak of pruning season and sneak it in, just before the whole thing starts to bloom. So today I’m doing three trees and the roses.

The pyracantha ought to be a shrub, but before I got here someone let it go and it was a tree–dropping its litter and berries all over the roof. I’ve been pruning it shorter and shorter each year. I’m trying to make it into an arch over the sidewalk and now, after six years, it’s finally started to take some shape. I also do the annual whack at the buckhorn. It’s a shame, really. It was planted next to the house–as though it were a shrub. Unfortunately, in its natural state it would be a lovely, large tree. Elmer, the landlord, wants a shrub, though, so each year I whack it into a sad version of its real intentions. I feel guilty doing it, but the alternative is that Elmer will. I love the man, but he is a plant butcher. So I undertake the annual ritual of pretending that you can, year in–year out, cheat nature. The buckhorn should never have been planted next to the house. Ultimately, if left to its own devices, its roots can, and will, destroy the foundation. I have trouble with this. One of my pet peeves is the short-sighted planting of trees. In any planting scheme, one should always consider the soil, the light and the size of the proposed tree as it will fit into the existing landscape. In that regard, this farm is a constant test of my patience and reserve. And finally, I’ll trim the peach tree.

The peach has it’s own history, as previously discussed in this blog. It was infected with peach curl when I came, and finally, last summer (after stripping all the leaves) we had a curl free season. The tree grew lots of new, lovely, healthy branches. It has never looked so good. So I’ll trim it with a mind to an improved shape and maximizing this year’s crop. It bears lovely peaches. Pruning the peach has its own hazards. It’s planted on a mound in a rock garden. The rocks are large–and tippy. Under one side of the tree, amidst the treacherous rocks, some enterprising garden fool has buried a large, Victorian era bathtub. I guess it’s supposed to be a water feature, though usually it’s just a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Over all of this, is a groundcover–vinca major, whose job it is to obsure one’s footing enough to guarantee a dip in the very cold, murky water of the tub, should you try to prune in the winter. I’ve fallen in once already today. The mounded garden makes it impossible to water the peach tree. The rocks and tub make it impossible to use a ladder safely in pruning. This is the kind of tree placement that is typical on this farm. It’s a good thing Elmer makes his living with livestock.

That’s what’s new on the farm. My personal life has been a roller coaster of personal trials this past month, so the pruning comes at a good time. Pruning is a very reflective chore–each cut a set of decisions about shape and future direction. I love it. It is as close as one gets to sculpture in adult life. I’m pruning in my life, too, making decisions about future directions. So there are parallels to this winter chore.

I’ve returned to writing–jumping into The Trial of Trudy Castor as though I’d never stopped. It’s funny how you can leave a story–for months even, and then pick right up with it, like an old friend. In my recent tumult, I’ve neglected my marketing on the last book The Gift of Guylaine Claire. It’s not nearly as easy a read as the first book, though I think it’s the better of the two. I also think that the French Canadian name, right there in the title, inhibits interest. We shall see. In the interim, I’m offering a free download of it–good through the tenth of March. If you have an e-reading device, feel free to download it through smashwords.com. Enter the coupon code  VH78Q at check out. If you like it, please leave a review on goodreads.com (or, if you must, on Amazon)–or comment here on the blog, if you prefer. I look forward to some input.

Now Ya Tell Me

(Not that I shouldn’t have noticed)

A.V. Walters

I’ve just logged over a year of blogging, and I‘ve been looking for a way to commemorate the passage, accounting for it, now that I’m no longer a newbie. The assessment isn’t an easy one. I broke my own rule when I started. Usually when I begin a new endeavor, I first ask myself the critical question—what’s the objective? If you don’t do that, then you’re left with no way to measure the results.

I confess that I blogged because people kept telling me I had to do it. I’d already self-published my first novel, (The Emma Caites Way) with another in the pipeline, and my writing compatriots kept saying, “You need an online presence, you need to blog.” Because I have privacy issues, I have steadfastly resisted having anything to do with Facebook. I can’t bring myself to hand over my personally identifiable information to a company hell-bent on constantly changing the ground rules, and often without meaningful notice. (Now they tell me that I’m suspect because of my failure to have a Facebook page!) Maybe I’m just old-fashioned.

Conventional wisdom told me I had to have a presence; I had to play the game. It was, they said, the way to sell books. So I gave in and blogged. It’s been like starting out on a journey without a clear destination, a little bit of a ramble, but if you pay attention along the way, not without its rewards. I’ve come to realize that I enjoy blogging. It gives voice to my gardener, rural alter-ego, something I haven’t explored in my other writing. I’ve come to know some wonderful people (and a few, slightly off-center) along the way—all over the globe. Who knew? But I cannot say that the blog has sold a single book. If it has, there’s certainly no evidence of it.

I follow a number of other bloggers. Many of them are gardeners, science geeks, or (like me) wannabee writers. I think we quietly blog for each other, lulled into the rhythms of it, like a very exclusive, private club.

Maybe I’m a failure as a blogger. But this week I made a discovery. I regularly read the newsletter from CreateSpace. I especially read anything by Joel Friedlander. He’s affiliated with BAIPA (Bay Area Independent Publishers Association) where I’m a member (and an award winner for The Emma Caites Way—Hey, it’s all about self-promotion, isn’t it?) His presentations are always informative and substantive. So after reading his headline article this month, I clicked on another selection, Is Blogging Good for Fiction Writers? (https://www.createspace.com/en/community/docs/DOC-2031)

Oh my! He nailed me (and many of you, as well.) I’ve been blogging away for a year, apparently without a clue. Yes, most of my readers are other struggling fiction authors; and yes, many of the blogs I follow are self-publishers and writers. Since my books (Yes, I finished and published the second one, The Gift of Guylaine Claire, and a third is in the works), don’t have a clearly defined, common theme, (and if they did, it’s not what’s in my blog) this lovely ramble has been just that.  It’s a clear demonstration of the blind leading the blind. And, given the fiction writer’s conundrum, a blog isn’t likely to achieve any results beyond that warm and fuzzy sense of community that I’ve come to enjoy.

I’m not sure where this all leads. I can’t imagine abandoning the blog after all this—after all, there are relationships in it now. All I can say is, Now ya tell me!

 

 

 

A.V. Walters

The rains have come. Those first showers over a week ago, have worked their magic. At first it was just a blush–a wisp of color if you caught it at the right angle. Now there’s no question, our hills are turning green. It’s a funny dynamic that our gardening season is the opposite of our green season. Still, after months of dead brown hills it’s a relief to the eye to see this transformation. There are still goodies from the garden, they’ll go on until the hard frosts hit. This is the seasonal pause, the green relief in still fine weather, before the storms and cold come. It’s a pleasure to work outside in the cool, sometimes grey days.

I’ll be posting a little less frequently this month. I am, after all, fully committed to NaNoWriMo. It could be that Editor Rick picks up the slack. He’s undertaking those end-of-season projects, readying for winter, seed-saving (he’s so organized), tool management, and soon, pulling buckets. All that stuff that I let lag until the storms force my hand. My head is miles and decades away, weaving the fabric of a 1931 speakeasy in Detroit. Outside, the creeping green is putting me in the mood with the intense colors of my childhood. While California is lovely, it is difficult to go without green for five or six months of the year. I’m not saying I miss snow (though sometimes, I do) but I do welcome the return of green.

It’s less than a week to the election–don’t forget to vote. If you’re here in California, and if you value good food and informed choice, remember to vote for Proposition 37. Let’s get those GMO foods labeled.

I’ll pull my head out of fiction at least once a week, to give you the what’s up in Two Rock.

Another View of Saint Kateri

A.V. Walters

Today, the Vatican is Canonizing a fresh batch of Saints. It’s sort of the “Hall of Fame” of the truly faithful. It’s interesting to note the blend of those selected–they don’t make new saints everyday, ya know. Among them is Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, “The Lily of the Mohawk.” This is notable because it’s the first time a North American, indigenous person has ever been granted saintly status. It seems that every 350 years, or so, they get it right.

A closer look at Kateri reveals that she presents with many attributes similar to the female saints of the middle ages. She was a young woman–of high rank (the daughter of a chief and then, when her parents succumbed to a small pox epidemic, the adopted daughter of her uncle, the new chief.) Small pox had left her scarred and partially blind–yet she still had opportunities for marriage, which she declined. Like many of the early European saints, the level of commitment to her faith was out of step with the expectations of her community. It was not regarded with favor, at least not during her lifetime. Kateri left her home and tribe, alone, and walked hundreds of miles north, to a tribe where she would be welcome because that tribe had fully adopted the new Christian faith. Disturbingly, she advocated harsh self-abdication–even to the point of endangering her already compromised health. She was a great friend to all, and dedicated herself to a life of service and toil. She died young–in her early twenties. On her deathbed, the first of her miracles was reported by the Jesuits who attended her. With her last breath, the disfiguring scars of smallpox were reported to have disappeared from her face. In the eyes of God, everyone is beautiful and equal.

It’s a story about finding a place for smart, uppity, young women. Scholars have noted the similarity between the female saints of the middle ages and young women of the modern era who suffer from anorexia or cutting behaviors. From a psychological perspective, unusually saintly behavior is coupled with refusal to adhere to the gender-determined norms of the day. It’s a narrow avenue of control by those whose social options were more limited than the powers of their intellectual, or spiritual, capacity. Not that I want to discourage selfless devotion to a cause–that being one of the hallmarks of humanity–but today I hope that the pathways to self-realization for young people are more open than, well, martyrdom.

I discovered Kateri during my research for The Gift of Guylaine Claire. Her story was the perfect counterpoint to the title character–who was herself an odd fit in society. Guylaine had been raised in a loving home, one that, almost accidentally, found space for her to bloom creatively. Kateri’s tale mirrored the pivotal story of Guylaine’s indigenous grandmother, Claire, and tied into some of the central themes of my book. Kateri was so perfect, that if I hadn’t found her, I would have had to invent her. Her actual role in the book, as the subject of one of Guylaine’s sculptures, is minor but thematically she is woven in throughout the story in terms of forgiveness, transcendence and making one’s own way. Kateri was drawn to her faith, despite the fact that her tribe blamed the “Black Robe” Jesuits for the very epidemic that had taken her family. In an odd way, both she and her tribe were correct in their convictions. So, today we celebrate the recognition of a young woman challenged by personal circumstance and race. Maybe we can all learn from it.

NaNoWriMo– Cheaper Than Therapy
A.V. Walters

So, what finally got me writing? I’d meant to do it, literally for decades. I had outlines, ideas, concepts…you name it. Two things finally turned the corner for me. The first was the complete unraveling of my life. Convinced that there had to be more–maybe even something in it for me–I walked out of a twenty-eight year marriage. I moved to the middle of nowhere, in part because I sought to recover the rhythms of my rural childhood and in part because I was broke and couldn’t afford to stay in the city where I was. And there I was. If ever you thought that you were held back by the cloying demands of a relationship, freedom comes with the hefty realization that if you don’t do it now, you have no excuse. If you don’t do it now, you might just as well have stayed, stayed to dedicate your every breath to the needs of someone else and let the creative spark within you suffocate and die. So there’s a pretty good incentive.

But, how do you start? Admittedly, for a little while, drinking helped. But the real impetus was NaNoWriMo.

What the hell is that? National Novel Writing Month. (NaNoWriMo.org) It’s a nonprofit group on the net that sets aside the month of November to challenge anyone brave enough to try, to write a novel in thirty days. A friend turned me on to it. The goal is to write every day with the objective of completing 50,000 words by the end of the month. There is no prize, only a lot of support, nagging, wonderful and dreaded email updates and writing for the sake of it. Really, check it out. Honestly, I never finished the 50,000 words in a month. Too much for me–but I got far enough in that I couldn’t stop and the end result of that first NaNoWriMo effort was The Emma Caites Way, an award-winning 400+ page novel. My second attempt–still without being able to finish the challenge of 50,000 words–was The Gift of Guylaine Claire, the novel I just published (though that one took two NaNo cycles to complete, even though it’s shorter.)

I’m gearing up again for November–and I hope to substantially complete my current manuscript, The Trial of Trudy Castor (again, a second time around Nano effort.) If you’ve ever dreamed of trying your hand at writing, I totally recommend it. It’s a maniac vacation (especially if, like most of us, there’s still the day job and Thanksgiving to distract you) into a self-inflicted world of angst, release, charging on–regardless and losing oneself totally in the story. It’s wonderful and hell, all in one. Its pressures (about 1,700 words per day) shake you free of the inclination to dither and sharpen your pencils relentlessly. You have to just do it.

For me, it came at just the right (write?) time. I was phenomenally depressed. I didn’t know where my life was going. I did know that I could weave stories and thus it started. Now, this is not the best option if you’re thinking that becoming an author is the path to wealth and fame. (That’s really fiction.) Writing is worthy in and of itself. It lets you explore the you of you. It helps you sort out your story and your characters and gives you insight into the you who created them. It is centering and terrifying. Here I am, five years later and I still don’t know where my life is going. Don’t expect NaNoWriMo to solve all your problems. But I have written two perfectly acceptable novels. I am a writer. I find that in a lifetime of experience, the only place you can really tell the truth is in fiction. I will continue with this, because I enjoy it, and because it allows me to explore and express. It turns out there was more to the me of me.

And so, if you ever thought that there was a story in you, I invite you to give it a try. November is coming. Sharpen your pencils. Breathe deep and ….. go!

Who Knew?

A.V. Walters

My last blog addressed the issue of produce theft. Who knew it was a trend? I discovered that community gardens all over the country have been vexed with this garden pilfery. And I thought gophers were bad! Friends sent me the following links.

http://kstp.com/news/stories/s2712848.shtml

http://www.chicagonow.com/chicago-garden/2010/08/please-do-not-steal-the-vegetables/#image/1

http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/news/2012/07/27/tomato-thieves-plague-st-paul-minneapolis-community-gardens

Since then, they’ve hit the corn and more tomatoes. Not that I’m left without; I’m still canning and at this rate it’s a question of what will happen first–the last of the tomatoes ripening or the first hard frost. Still, it’s a shock that garden theft is so common. It never occurred to me that the old organic maxim “And a third for the pests,” meant people.

We’re having one of those hot and muggy residual summer weeks. I’m not complaining, it will help to ripen tomatoes (who, so far have kindly not come ripe all at once.) I can only can so much at a whack–earlier this week my stove was simmering at capacity–a pot of sauce on every burner. Fifty pounds of them cooks down to about nine quarts of sauce and whole canned tomatoes. So the rest of October looks like tomatoes–and then NaNoWriMo in November. (What’s that? Oh, next blog I’ll explain and encourage.)

If you’re from a small town, you’re always from a small town. They don’t let go of you, they welcome you home when you visit and they celebrate your triumphs with you, even from afar.

 

http://www.mininggazette.com/page/content.detail/id/526936/In-the-Catbird-Seat-Joe-Kirkish.html

Serendipity

A.V. Walters

How curious, that something I researched years ago, intended to play a small part in The Gift of Guylaine Claire, would surface as a current events issue simultaneously with the publication of the book.

I was looking for a concept sculpture, something to tie Guylaine to her indigenous roots and to Canadian history. (Something beyond the famous Maisonneuve monument in Montreal.) Even in fiction I like to find actual historical events that give my work texture and depth. In my search, I found Kateri Tekakwitha. Kateri was perfect. Her story mirrored the story I’d created for Guylaine’s grandmother, Claire, in that she was a native Christian convert, whose family and tribe ostracized her for her conversion. And, like Claire, her faith was deeper than that of those who’d lead her to it. Her childhood affliction with smallpox left her partially blind and disfigured and yet she was not bitter. She traveled hundreds of miles alone through the wilderness to find a community that would accept her. There, she lived a short life of service. Kateri is historically documented, as are many of the miracles attributed to her. In short, Kateri was a dream story come true as a subject for my fictional French-Canadian/Métis sculptor. She became a small part of the Guylaine Claire story.

It turns out that, after three and a half centuries, Kateri is about to finally achieve the ultimate recognition for her toil. On October 21, the Roman Catholic Church will canonize her as Saint Kateri. She will be the only First Nations individual to ever be so recognized. (Saints don’t just come along every day, you know.) Her story straddles the current day borders of New York and Quebec so she will be celebrated as an American, Canadian and First Nations Saint.

The Gift of Guylaine Claire is not exactly a glowing endorsement of traditional Catholicism. It is, however, a tribute to finding one’s own transcendent path regardless of any specific belief system or circumstance, in an atmosphere of forgiveness, loving and tolerance.

And with that, I announce the print release of The Gift of Guylaine Claire. It is now available* at your online retailer or, by request, at many fine brick-and-mortar book stores.

 

*also available as an ebook through Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and other ebook outlets.

 

 

 

A Busy Week

A.V. Walters

It’s been a busy week. Not only is this high season for the garden (and gophers) we are preparing for the print release of The Gift of Guylaine Claire.  We had to enter the last of the edits and then check to see that the ebook and the print version were both fully edited, and textually identical. After that, those last details, editing the new Acknowledgements, getting the ISBN and Library of Congress numbers in, and the bar codes ready, the final tweaking on the front and back covers, and I’m sure that even now I’m forgetting things. Editor Rick is the technical guy, and he wrestles with that end of it—getting the Smashwords final version through the dreaded auto-vetting process (again!) and finessing the cover colors and interior images—hopefully in a way that Lightning Source won’t overly darken the cover images this time. He takes his graphic responsibilities very seriously and the end results show it. Yesterday the files went off to be printed, and now we’ll nervously await that exciting proof copy. It will be a relief to have it finally finished, and listed for sale with the POD retailers.

Late summer has extra chores as well. The other day we re-stacked the firewood (from a loose drying stack to a tight, ready to go for winter, stack), checking for winter readiness. (We think we’re set with two solid cords of walnut, some apple and pine for kindling.) This could have waited, but it’s cool in August. September is traditionally our hottest month, so it’s nice to do the heavy lifting in the cool. We picked up a load of pine, for kindling, and I started splitting it. A little each day and it’ll be done in a week or so. Meanwhile, the temperatures are heating up and I’m wiping my brow in relief that the heavy lifting is complete.

And, of course, there’ll always be the day job.

Unlike most of the country, where mid-summer is the hottest, many areas of Northern California have a searing September. The lag has to do with ocean currents and how their “season” is a step slower to shift. The result is that in September we lose the fog that pours in from the coast, morning and evening, filling the valley, with moist, cool air. When that natural air conditioning shuts down, we get a glimpse of what they see all summer in the inland valleys.

That’s why I’m not sweating the myriad of still-green tomatoes, peeking out from under their leaves. If the butternuts are still blooming—well, let them take their shot. I’ve been in this valley long enough to know that September will turn it around. Even with this year’s late start, I’m sure we’ll bring in the crop. Don (whose advice has devalued since he abandoned his zucchini/pumpkin patch) is trying to spook me. “What you need is them floating, row covers. Winter’s just around the corner. Could happen any day, ya know!” Right.

Not that I’m against row covers as an experiment in lengthening our already long late season. In a mild year I can harvest tomatoes well into November. With row covers, maybe we could go to December or even into January. But I’m not buying into the fear factor. The season is what it is, and there’s still much to do.

 

 

A.V. Walters

I’ve been tapped…

I’ve been blogging away, quietly, for months now and, suddenly, I’ve been tapped for a bloggers’ award. (A Bloggie?) I’m a little surprised, since my blogging efforts have been, well, quiet. It is very sweet to have someone you’ve never met (but yet, have come to know) reach out and give you the nod to let you know that your efforts are appreciated. Thank you Sarah—half a world away and still a part of this strange, new kind of community.

I understand that there are rules about these things—which has delayed my response, a little. So, for those people that I will, in turn, nominate, the summary of those rules is:

a) You must thank the individual who has nominated you;

b) You have to turn around and tap ten others, to recognize them with the same award;

c) You need to tell seven things about yourself that you haven’t already revealed in your blog, and;

d) You must post the award symbol somewhere in your blog.

For me, the most difficult will be the seven revelations. Blogging was a challenge, for me, from the start because I so jealously guard my online privacy. I don’t do Facebook or the kind of personal, social media that is readily available. Some years ago I had an unfortunate experience with a stalker and I learned how cautiously one had to guard one’s sense of privacy. All the writers and self-publishing folks said I had to Facebook, and tweet, and blog (oh my!)  There was no way I would do Facebook (or, the pictorial kinds of “sharing.” I hate to break it to the Facebook folks, but those aren’t real friends. It took me almost a year to agree to do an author photo and, even then, I did it as a spoof. So, I decided to try blogging instead.

In the spirit of shameless self-promotion, I was dragged into it—but you wouldn’t know it once I started. I’ve found that I really enjoy sharing that one little corner of my life—a rural/gardening perspective. It’s an important sliver of who I am. I find solace and warmth and humor in the everyday of rural life. It has almost nothing to do with my more formal writing, so far there’s not even a gardener in any of my books. (What’s up with that, eh?)

I’m not a very good blogger. I am forever getting notices that tell me I need to “optimize my online presence.” I just shudder. I’m not technical, can’t even figure out how to post photos—there’s no way I could do all that technical stuff to “reach out to a wider audience.” I can’t even get the Twitter feed thing going. I have no idea how the people who did find me, did so. I laugh when I read the word searches that brought people to my blog—usually about gophers, or bucket farming, or some poor soul desperate for a solution to those damned noisy mourning doves. (And I have no remedies to offer that don’t come from the end of a double-barrel. Sorry.) But blogging seems to have stuck and, whether it sells books or not, I seem to be here, to stay.

Thank you

As for this award, I’m touched to have been recognized. (“I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.”) So, thank you, Sarah the Gardener. I’ve loved watching and hearing about your garden, in its Down Under oppositeness. I’ve learned from you just as I hope others may have picked up a tidbit or two from me. (For example, until your last entry I didn’t know pepper and eggplants were so temperature fussy for germination. I thought I had bad seeds! One of this year’s eggplants seedlings came up after eight weeks, and there was Sarah, explaining to me just why.) So thank you, thank you, thank you (and the seedlings thank you, too.)

There are others…

I have come to enjoy many other bloggers. I’ll nominate the ten, but there are more. These ones are special because they showed me that there are others who take the garden pleasures seriously. I am not the only one whose very favorite thing is to go out to the garden to see what’s for dinner. There are some blogs that I follow just because they make me laugh, sometimes uncomfortably so. And finally there are blogs from whom I learn and enjoy a little different perspective, even wickedly so. They are, in no particular order:

1) Soulsby Farm, A Very Small Farm—for giving me faith that there are younger people out there reaching back into our agricultural heritage. http://soulsbyfarm.wordpress.com/

2) Planthoarder—for a glimpse of gardening and what’s in the weather back home and totally luscious photos. http://planthoarder.wordpress.com/

3) A Stay at-home Scientist—for a touch of gardening and a spoonful of science that speaks directly to the heart of this wonk. http://stayathomescientist.com/

4) Cristian, because he’s very, very, young, and yet runs full tilt at writing what matters to him, and because he has his own aesthetic. http://cristianmihai.net/

5) Catherine Caffeinated because she gives out pep talks and dispenses the self-publishing scoop (at least her version) unselfishly and with a dollop of humor. (Though the pink is a little much.) http://catherineryanhoward.com/

6) All the fearless contributors at Fresh Ink, for their bravery and for providing and using a platform to showcase new writers. http://fresh1nk.wordpress.com/

7) For the chronicler of Joe’s Shitty Ideas, because you make me laugh and sometimes wince. http://joesshittyideas.com/

8) Clotilda Jamcracker, because she gardens, she has a wild perspective, she’s a hoot and makes me think. http://www.clotildajamcracker.com/

9) Dianne Gray, because she writes, and writes about writing and takes her characters as seriously as other people. http://diannegray.wordpress.com/

10)  A French Garden, because she has lovely photos, she gardens with sincerity and she’s so brave to have picked up and followed a dream. http://afrenchgarden.wordpress.com/

And now the damnable revelations……

1. I have a cat named Kilo (No, not that! Because when I rescued him he weighed 2.2 pounds) and my cat has a cat, named Bob.

2. I’ve known all about the Hispano-Suiza since was about four because my dad thought it was important and loved to hear us little kids say it. Excellence at all cost!

3. I just learned that you can eat pumpkin greens! (Not that I’ve tried them, yet.)It’s a good use for those creeping vines once you know that you’ve got all the pumpkins you need (and, then a little, in case the gophers get them.) One year we went to harvest a lovely pumpkin, only to find the gophers had hollowed it out and eaten the interior then, stuffed it full of dirt! (It was actually, pretty impressive.)

4. I am a news junkie and a policy wonk. Moving to the farm helped a lot because it made me cut back on my news sources. Of course, you could keep busy full-time, just on the net… At least I got rid of the television.

5. I am not a technical person. I can’t even put a photo in the blog! (I don’t have a camera, and couldn’t transfer the photos if I did. (There’s only so much begging one can do… Rick?) I almost rejected this award because of the requirement that you post the award logo on your blog. I’ll have to figure it out.

6. I just sent two pounds of Manzanita ash to my mother in Michigan.

7. In 1974, I was an E.C.S.S.A. cross-country running champion. (Yeah, go a ahead, figure that one out.)

And, that’s it. I addressed all the responsibilities of this awesome honor and I can now go back to regular blogging… once I figure out how to post that darn picture. (Rick?)