Zooming along

Just when I think I’ve figured out modern technology, something new comes along.

In the past two weeks, I have participated in no less than five Zoom meetings: two club meetings, one county convention, and two family meetings.  My son pointed out that Zoom is not exactly new, for we have had Facetime and Skype, but for some reason, Zoom has caught on. I love seeing everyone, once people catch on to how it works. You know, like how to turn on their mic or camera first. And I don’t mind people seeing me, for we all have bad haircuts. My granddaughter said she has “quarantine bangs” after a DIY with scissors.

I have tried to keep my person-to-person meetings to a minimum, but when I make a necessary trip to the grocery store, I am appalled by the number of people choosing to go maskless, refusing to obey the one-way signs in the aisles, or staying the recommended distance from other shoppers. I value my health and the health of others and it pains me to see how careless people are. If they don’t care about themselves, they should at least care about their older friends and relatives. I guess there isn’t enough technology in the world to cure stupid complacency.

Is it just me, or does this look like a dragon fell from the sky instead of a broken off tree-top?

 

My less rewarding technological effort has been with formatting my book. I have done it before, but somehow I got the page size wrong and from there everything went downhill. My proof copy was not at all what I envisioned, so here I am doing it all over again. I hate being tied to the computer on these nice days! I’d much rather be outside.

And, I need to be outside. In addition to the regular yard work, the high winds lately have contributed to my chores. First, three large limbs came down from the pine tree in the left corner of the yard. I think one limb struck the limb below it, and both then took out the third. Anyway, I managed to saw off the smaller branches and ended up with three logs I can hardly move. In fact, I got the hand truck out of the basement to move two of them to one side. I don’t know how many trips I made from the back of my property to the road with a wheelbarrow full of debris.

Then, just yesterday, high winds snapped a sweet gum in the right side of the yard “half in two” and I now have that mess to clear up. Luckily, neither mishap hurt any overhead lines.

Now that would have messed up my technology — as well as my neighbors’!

 

 

Interrupted by nature

The weather forecast said it would be warm Saturday, so I planned on doing yard work. A LOT of yard work. I had bulbs to replant, bushes to trim, limbs to pick up in the back yard …

I wanted to transplant some Easter lily bulbs to a better  location, but not until much later in the year.  To my surprise, they were already popping up, thus they were on my to-do list. I dug new homes for them and only managed to kill half of them. Ugh. those bulbs are deep and the little new growth is fragile. Still, I have enough re-homed to make up for my mass destruction.

Then I found a trespasser in my potted hyacinth that I had taken inside for the winter. I pulled it out and discovered that some squirrel had planted a pecan and it had take root. So I decided to plant it where the pear tree once stood. While doing that, I saw that the Japanese lilies I had planted out back a year ago had suddenly come up — not only where I planted them, but pretty much all over the yard. I had thought they were dead as they did not come up last fall when they were supposed to. Anyway, while planting the pecan seedling, I saw my preferred site was taken over by fire ants, so I had to treat the mound.

On to chore number two. I clipped about a fourth of the growth and was growing an impressive pile of branches. My goal is to be able to reach the privet that has taken root  in the very center of the quince bush. A quince bush is very spiky, so I couldn’t just reach in with the clippers because i would have had my arms torn to pieces even with gloves and a long-sleeved shirt.  It started to rain and I worked on, thinking a little sprinkle wouldn’t hurt me, but then it came down harder and I had to abandon my plans and come inside to change clothes.

The fallen limbs remain in place, as well as the hundreds of sweet gum balls that the last wind tossed down. I could almost hear the trees snickering.

I can see how this year is shaping up. I will be outside more than inside, raking and weeding and pruning more than I am reading or writing.

The good news is, I am this far from completing my third historical novel. I need to write a bridge scene, then go over it and make any changes and go over it again and again until I feel ready to send it to my favorite editor and beg a few people to be beta readers.

I know I need to balance my time. Sunny days for yard work, rainy days for writing.

Housework? Forget about it. That is for the day before company is expected.

What positively, necessary chore keeps you from tackling your work in progress? What can you safely ignore while listening to your muse?

I’m just wondering if I am a “normal” writer — if there is such a  person.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Squirrels, Mark Twain, and pelisses

Well, that was fast!

One day I am sweating like a sumo wrestler just by walking to the mailbox, and the next I am rummaging through the closet for my sweater.

One thing about the cooler weather, I don’t have as much yard work to do. The grass  isn’t growing as fast, and the hedges and shrubs have slowed down in their efforts to add new little green leaves. So I have had time to get back to my book.

I feel pretty good about my writing this week. I’ve added pages and I can see where I am heading. I’ve gone over the last scene in the book so often that I’m now eager to get there.

The abrupt change in the weather reminded me of something, though. No, not Twain’s comment that everybody talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it. (Fact check: It might not be Twain who said it, but Charles Dudley Warner, who was an editor at the Hartford Courant in the late 1800s. There, now we’ve both learned something new.)

Image result for pelisse

A reader asked me what a pelisse was. It’s outerwear, essentially a long cape with sleeves.

I  try to be cognizant of the passage of time in my stories, noting the passing of one season and the advent of another by describing the weather as sit affects the protagonist. She might be glad for her straw bonnet on a hot day, or the the warmth of her wool pelisse on a cold one.  Candles must be brought out in the long, dark evenings while a rooster’s crow might wake her early on a summer morning.

If a story takes place in a short period of time, such as a few months or a year, it’s pretty easy. It’s more difficult if it spans a decade or more, which happens in the first two books of my historical series. In “Riverbend” and “Morven,” I solved it by jumping ahead a few years, hoping my readers would catch on without my explaining, “Now, 10 years have passed …”

I must get my present protagonist from seventeen to her mid-twenties without dragging the story out by describing each birthday. I don’t want to make a sudden leap, but had the idea of showing the passage of time by the dates on her correspondence. Whether that will work or not remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, I have a little success to report. I have complained about the squirrels eating the bird feed, no matter where I place the feeders. When one dragged a songbird feeder from the deck to where I found it in the yard, empty, I had had enough. I rigged a line from the persimmon tree to the post that holds the sun-flower feeder (that particular feeder is squirrel-proof, by the way) and hung my finch and chickadee feeders from it. It’s too high for the squirrels to jump up, and the line is too thin for them to crawl along it.

I thought I had the last laugh when I saw a squirrel attempt to reach the finch feeder. He made it, but the tube is glass, and he slid down it like a fireman on a pole, and fell to the ground. Several times.

Or has he simply figured out a way to spill the seed to the ground where he can eat it as his leisure?

You decide.

 

 

 

 

 

Tall mountains, big fears

It is a truth universally acknowledged that once you have faced something you feared and conquered it, you wonder why you were afraid in the first place.

I put off going to California to visit my middle son, Scott, and his wife, Dana, for three years. I considered driving there, or taking a train. Anything but flying.

But flying made the most sense.

It’s not that I haven’t flown before, and it isn’t that I’ve not flown by myself.  I took the three boys, the youngest not even potty-trained yet, from Pittsburgh to Tampa without a qualm. In the months after 9-11, I flew from Pittsburgh to Greenville, N.C., with a stopover in Detroit. Didn’t ruffle a hair.

I’ve flown from Atlanta to Frankfurt and to Rome, and from Charlotte to London. Nothing to it. The caveat is, my overseas flights were with a group and I didn’t have to worry. Just follow the crowd.

So why was I hesitant to fly solo to Los Angeles?

The answer in one word: the airport.

This was the view out my window that greeted me every morning  when I finally got to California.

I didn’t think I could navigate the huge, confusing airports without someone to guide me.

When Scott said I could skip LAX and fly into Ontario, a much smaller airport, I began to think it might be possible. I didn’t know that in trying to book a flight to Ontario, CA, the site read the “CA” as Canada and routed me to Toronto, Ontario. After three attempts, I finally typed in ONTARIO, CALIFORNIA. Bingo. And, Scott suggested I should leave from Atlanta so I could park my car at my oldest son Rob’s house for the week and not have to fight Charlotte traffic.

I drove to Atlanta and Rob drove me to the airport and came inside to show me how to use the check-in kiosk. Things had changed, and I grumbled, cranky old lady style, that I had tucked away enough cash to pay the baggage fee and hadn’t planned on charging it to my card. I was pointed toward my gate and arrived just in time to board.

I won’t dwell on the flight itself. If you’ve flown, you know all about it. If you haven’t, I don’t want to spoil your illusions.

All through the trip I feared I would, indeed, land in Canada. Needless to say, I was spellbound when I stepped out  of the terminal in Ontario, California, and had my first glimpse of the mountains.  Scott met me and we set off for their home which was very, very high up the mountain. The road was a succession of hair-pin curves, and when I dared look out the window to see the valley below — far below — my remarks were reduced to “Oh! How high are we? Has anyone ever driven off? How high are we?” 

I took this from the car window. It’s hard to tell, but that valley is waaaay down there.

We were very high, indeed. More than a mile above the Pacific Ocean.

 

I had a lovely visit, and then it was time to go home. I dreaded arriving in Atlanta and navigating the airport. Something told me it would be different from my previous experience.

I got off the plane and dutifully called Rob. Then I followed the crowd: moving sidewalk, check. Mile-high (or so it seemed) escalator, check. All the while following signs that pointed to Baggage Claim. At one point I couldn’t figure out what the next  step was, then realized I was supposed to get on the plane train, which looked suspiciously like an underground transit to me. Well, I had learned how to ride that  in London, so I got aboard when the doors opened and grabbed a bar as, just like London, no seats were available.

The next stop was Baggage Claim. I looked at a board to see what carousel my flight’s bags were  on, found it, and immediately saw my little green bag. I grabbed it, went outside, and there was Rob. We had timed it perfectly.

“How was your trip?” he asked as we pulled away.

“Wonderful!” I replied, and I meant it. I may have been preening just a little. Maybe all my fears were unfounded, but I had overcome them anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

Backyard bullies

We all know what little bullies hummingbirds are. When I sit on the deck evenings, it is like the Royal Air Force meeting the Luftwaffe over the channel in WWII. I have even heard them body-slamming each other.

I didn’t know that wrens were also bullies. Yes, the wren couple is back, building another nest for a second family. I didn’t know that about wrens, either.

Father wren sits on the deck and warns every other bird away. I have a finch feeder and a suet feeder on the deck along with the bird house and humming bird feeders. I tried putting the feeders elsewhere, but the squirrels always found them. So far they are afraid to come on the deck.

Now the male wren in defending his territory has managed to frighten off the finches as well as the cardinals, mockingbirds, and woodpeckers that used to come to eat. He has not frightened the hummingbirds away. They just ignore him.

One last evidence of bullying: While watching the bird feeders in the yard (squirrel-proof) I saw a male cardinal take a sunflower seed from the beak of a sparrow! This was not a father feeding his young, this cardinal was definitely the boldest thief I’ve ever seen.

You are probably wondering what this has to do with writing. Nothing. It’s what I do when not writing.

I took this picture in the Tower of London.

As for not writing, I’ve been busy with that also. I decided to go ahead and publish the second book, Morven, in the series so that I can then finish the third one. Because it will be part of a trilogy, I needed to make the word count somewhat equal  in all three books. Riverbend, published last year, is 245 pages and 73,256 words (don’t you love the word count feature in Word?)

Morven came in at a hefty 355 pages and 103,680 words. No wonder no agent would touch it. Unless you are already established like Ken Follett or Edward Rutherford, you can’t get away with it.

I told a friend about my dilemma and she said she thought Riverbend was just the right length. Sigh. I love big, fat books with long, intricate stories, but I realize I am part of a limited fan club. If I want to sell my books, they had better be a reasonable length for today’s readers.

So I have been cutting. Long, descriptive scenes? Gone. Philosophical conversation? Deleted. Loving details of a room, a gown, a dinner? Off with their heads!

When someone said “Kill your darlings” I didn’t know what he meant. Now I do. Pardon me while I weep.

I am down down to 328 pages and 95,000 words. I still have a way to go.

The result may be a tighter, more easily read book. Readers will never know what they missed.

But I will.

 

Avoiding distractions — or not

I promised myself I would sit dutifully at my computer and play catch-up. First on my list was reading three contest entries and then filling out the score sheet. I don’t take this duty lightly, reading each at least three times and then trying to leave thoughtful, encouraging remarks. I know too well what just one disparaging comment can do to a writer’s soul. I’ve been on that end, too.

But distractions happen, and this time the distraction was not the telephone, doorbell, or a sudden emergency with my computer. It was the constant chirping from a small birdhouse filled with baby wrens.

I knew they were there. I’d seen the parents busily building their nest, heard the first feeble chirps. Maybe if I’d kept the deck door shut, I wouldn’t have heard them, but the cooler weather was too enticing.

One evening earlier this week I sat out on the deck with my book and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.  The hummingbirds didn’t seem to mind, nor the the finches eagerly prising seeds from a cylindrical mesh sock. But the mother and father wren kept up a constant chatter. I looked up to see one parent scolding away with a bug in his or her beak.

I wondered how they could make a noise with their beak filled with supper for their little ones. Just as the thought crossed my mind, the bird gulped the tidbit down and flew away.  Then the other parent appeared, this time with a grub, and repeated the same scenario. Meanwhile, having been cheated out of their supper, the little ones cheeped pathetically.

It dawned on me that the parents would eat the food themselves before daring to cross in front of me to enter the birdhouse. Feeling like a schoolyard bully, I took my book and wineglass indoors. Peering out of sight through the screen door, I was relieved to see the parents resume their feeding ritual.

But this day, a day when I needed no distractions, the baby chorus had definitely increased in decibels. Even shutting the sliding glass door didn’t mute it. To add to the din, both parents kept up a loud, irritated cheeping of their own. I thought perhaps they were coaxing the youngsters from their nest, so I put my work aside and went to look. This event was something I’d long wanted to observe.

But no, the birds were scolding a cat, or another bird, or some other object of their ire. In between, they’d swoop in and temporarily silence their offspring with another morsel.

I eventually managed to put the outdoor racket from my mind, completed the score sheet, and sent it on its way to the judging coordinator.

I sometimes think I would be a more prolific, or at least a faster writer, if I didn’t succumb to such distractions.

But then, look what I’d miss!

 

 

 

 

Is it Summer yet?

Where I live in North Carolina, it feels like August. It has been unseasonably hot (or if you believe in global warming, as I do) maybe it is seasonably hot. Just a new normal. Honestly, it feels like late August and it isn’t even June yet!

I’ve been putting many, many hard hours doing yard work. I wish I could say I have been weeding pretty flower beds, but mostly it has been just keeping up. And I am not even doing that as I am behind with my raking up the winter’s accumulation of pine straw, pine cones, sweet gum balls, and general sticks and twigs along the creek edge of my property. Don’t get me started on mowing the yard! What with the rain and sun, the grass seems to grow an inch overnight.

In the interest of making the yard less labor-intensive, I took out six bushes along the front of the house, cutting my pruning chore in half. (Actually, I didn’t take them out. My son did, bless him.) Then we planted some dwarf hydrangeas and vintage gold cypress that won’t need so much care and will add color to the front.

I still have to pressure wash both decks and repaint them. Hopefully, my kids will organize a work party and come up to help me with that.

Along with that, I’ve been traveling. May is graduation month, so there is that. My granddaughter graduated from community college and my grandson will graduate from high school May 31, so there were trips to Wilmington and one coming up to Atlanta. In between, I am going to visit my sister in Pennsylvania! Lots of driving, but my motto is go while you can.

So as for writing … not so much. I am diligently trying to get in at least 1,000 words every day, but some days I just don’t have the time or the energy. I’ve been sending out queries but nothing to report there yet.I continue to be hopeful that some day someone will read my first 10 pages and be blown away and beg for the rest of the manuscript. However, I am realistic and know that the chance of that happening is slim.

And, this weekend I will be attending an author event which is always fun. I love to meet new readers and other authors! Maybe I will even sell a book or two, who knows.

So between writing, gadding about, and yard work, the summer is flying by before it even gets here. I do find time to sit on the deck evenings and watch the birds. A pair of wrens has nested in the birdhouse on the deck rail, and a cardinal mama is guarding her eggs in the gardenia bush. The hummingbirds are on their nests now, but soon will be coming back to fiercely guard “their” feeder. The purple finches and sparrows are at the finch feeder, and a mockingbird is enjoying the suet ball. All of which proves entertaining not only to me, but the cats, who chatter their teeth every time they see a bird. I keep them strictly inside as I do not want to encourage murder.

I hope everyone had an enjoyable Mother’s Day and that you are making Memorial Day plans. Before we know it, it will be Fourth of July!

Yep, summer isn’t even here and  it’s nearly over already.

 

 

 

 

 

Previous Older Entries

My Mad Siberian Gulag

Hostage to Two Siberian Huskies

Blue Ridge Vinlandia

The Wineries of the Applalacian Foothills

Summer in New Hampshire

NH - America's Vacationland

Mimosa Mornings Writers

Writers Wearing PJs, drinking coffee, dreaming mimosas

Jennie Spallone

MYSTERY AUTHOR, SPEAKER, AND BOOK REVIEWER

The Dream Well

Dream Well, Be Well

Ozark Pagan Mamma

Folk Magic, Druidism, Heathenry, & Pagan Parenting

WTFville

Sketches and Journaling

Farm to Table Asian Secrets

Full-Flavored Recipes for Every Season

The Daily Post

The Art and Craft of Blogging

Pam Grout

#1 New York Times best-selling author

Hiking Photography

Beautiful photos of hiking and other outdoor adventures.

Book Ends and Odds

Mary Incontro blogs on books, pop culture, and criminal cases

Writer Unboxed

about the craft and business of fiction

%d bloggers like this: