Cherry Season!

It’s cherry season at my house.  This week I picked my first bowl of cherries, under supervision of Lilah.  Alas, there were no squirrels.      

Some years ago we planted a plum tree, a Montmorency cherry, and a dwarf cherry tree.  They grew along with our children, and every summer we enjoyed the bounty:  2 or 3 fresh cherry pies, 10-12 frozen pints, a couple dozen jars of jelly, and fresh plums in lunch boxes every day, most of September.  There were even enough cherries to share with neighbors, the squirrels, the magpies, and the bears (although the bears preferred the plums). 

All this came to a fever pitch one summer when one of my daughters asked me to make cherry jelly as favors for her wedding.  

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I made 150 small jars that time.  In the process, I spilled so much boiling water that I ended up destroying one of the burners on my stove.  Oh well.  New stove = new kitchen remodel (another story).  

Now we have fewer cherries to deal with, thanks to a couple of nasty weather years recently, and honestly, I’m grateful.  I have to get them before the squirrels do, and hopefully next week there will be enough cherries left to make jelly.  Making jelly, instead of jam, is the easiest way to deal with cherries because I don’t have to pit them. 

Here’s how I do it:  

  1. Pick enough cherries to fill a large mixing bowl.  
  2. Wash the cherries, strain into spaghetti pot, add ½ cup water, bring to boil, cover & simmer 10 minutes.  
  3. Meanwhile, prepare the jelly jars, lids, and rings by boiling them 10 minutes, then remove to a towel.  The jars will need to be hot at the time of filling, in order to seal, so it’s all about timing.  
  4. Line a large bowl with 3 layers of cheesecloth, making sure the ends extend far enough to twist over the cherries, squeezing juice.  Add a little water, if necessary, to make 5 cups of juice.  
  5. Stir in 1 box of pectin to the juice and bring to a full, roiling boil on high, stirring constantly. 
  6. Stir in exactly 4 cups of sugar, return to full boil, and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly.  
  7. Remove from heat, skim off foam. 
  8. Ladle immediately into prepared jars, filling up to ¼ inch from top, wipe off rims, add lids & rings & twist them securely.  
  9. As the jars cool, their lids seal with a pop, and then I tighten the rings a little more.  
  10. Any that don’t seal have to go in the refrigerator and be used first—enjoy! 
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The Tortoise, the Hare, and the Dog

I write like the tortoise.  The other day I wrote a whopping 9—count them—words.  But I write every day, no matter what. 

Occasionally this tortoise has to act like a hare, sprinting to the finish line.  I did that last week, wrapping up the draft of the Work In Progress for a deadline.  One day last week I wrote more than 3,000 words, or about 12 pages.  Guess I had a lot to say that day.  

I know a bunch of writers whose style is always to write like the hare, sprinting to the end of their projects, and then they write nothing for days—sometimes weeks or months.  I’ve worked that way, too (i.e, last week), and occasionally I’ve missed a day of writing.  This kind of change to my schedule makes me uncomfortable.  I much prefer being the tortoise.  Nine words aren’t much, but I always get to the end—eventually.    

So, where does the dog come into this story?  

Recently, our granddog, Lilah, arrived.  She is staying with us about a month while her family is in transition to a new home. Lilah has lived on three continents in her 14 years, and now is a little arthritic.  But she’s happy, easy-going, and a delight in our household.  Even Scout the Cat adores Lilah (although she’d never admit it).  The cat has kept an eye on the dog ever since her arrival.  

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And sometimes the dog notices the cat, too. 

It’s been a while since we’ve had a dog in the house, and I had forgotten what pet guardians often say:  “a dog is a companion, and a cat is a roommate.”  Lilah is like any child who’s missing her parents—she needs a little extra coddling.  It changes my writing schedule, but pampering her is worth it.  Besides, the tortoise will always get there in the end.  

Which is your style—tortoise or hare?  

Aspirations

Recently I had a conversation with one of my art teachers, and it started me thinking about this subject of aspirations.  

My teacher is a pro artist, and she’s at a place in her career where she doesn’t need (or desire) to exhibit her work.  Exhibiting takes a lot of time and effort–as does marketing for writers.  She’d rather spend her time creating art.  

As a writer, I can relate to that.  My time seems more limited now than ever before.  Time is so precious, and personally, I’d rather spend it creating new stories instead of trying to sell the ones I’ve already written.  I’m lucky to have that choice now–it’s a luxury, and it hasn’t always been that way.  

But back to my art teacher…  It seems to me that creating art is a personal journey.  A beginning artist may not want the world to see his/her creation and perhaps would never dream of aiming to sell.  When I started painting, it was for the sheer pleasure and sense of fulfillment of creating those stick figures.  Go figure!  

But I’m not sure it’s the same for a writer.  Why does a writer write, if not to share those tales with an audience one day?  Sure, there’s pleasure and fulfillment and all sorts of personal rewards, but I’ve never met a single *fiction* writer who hasn’t looked forward to reaching a marketable level one day.  

Of course it’s different for everyone.  As for me, I aspire to capturing those fleeting stories that dance around in my head the best way I know how, and then making them available for a potential audience.  That’s about it.  The next book, which comes out later this fall, will pretty much have to find its own way in the marketplace, which is pretty similar to my teacher’s position with her lovely art.  

 What about you?  What do you aspire to?  

Calling All Mystery Readers!

We mystery fans love the fascinating detectives or the thrill of the chase or the baffling puzzle or a glimpse inside the mind of the criminal.  Sometimes it’s the interesting setting or profession or other new information to learn about that pulls us into the mystery.    

Some of us are mystery writers, too, but for now I want to think like a reader.  Readers know what they like and dislike, and they are the best judge of story structure.  

I’ve been pondering some questions that the writer part of my brain says “No!  Don’t go there!”  But since these questions are best answered by mystery readers, I’m posing them here to you in the form of a brief yes or no quiz.  

Does it bother you if:

 1.  A subplot isn’t resolved until a later book in the series?  

(a) no, as long as the main plot is resolved.  

(b) yes, I want to know right now how all subplots resolve. 

(c) yes, and furthermore, I’m throwing the book against the wall for such a major violation.  

 2.  The villain gets justice, but not by the hands of the protagonist?  

(a) no, I don’t care how it happens, as long as the villain gets justice.  

(b) yes, it’s just not right otherwise.  After all, it’s the protagonist’s story.  

(c) yes, and furthermore, I will never read another book by this author ever again.  

 3.  Characters are introduced who don’t have a big role in this book but are on deck for the next book?  

(a) no, because interesting characters can make the book richer.

(b) yes, I don’t want to slog through a cast of extra characters just to make the story feel real.  

(c) yes, and furthermore, I’m putting the book down because it’s way too tedious to keep track of everyone.  

 4.  The main character has a lot of baggage and reveals secrets little by little?  

(a) no, as long as the secrets are revealed by the end of the book.  

(b) yes, I want to know everything as soon as possible.  

(c) yes, and furthermore, I no longer care about any stupid secrets.  

 5.  There are occasional passages of narration, where time passes and the events of the story are told rather than dramatized?  

(a) no, because otherwise the book would be about three times as long.  

(b) yes, because I want to see everything played out in detail.  

(c) yes, and furthermore, I am so bored by narration that I’m tossing the book.  

Thanks for playing along!  It’s helpful for all writers to know readers’ thoughts on these issues, and I look forward to your answers/thoughts in the comments.   

Block that Writer’s Block!

One of the fun things about writing is seeing how every writer has a different process.  There are so many ways to write a book, and each of them is the right way.  

But sometimes the book doesn’t cooperate, and the writer “gets stuck.”  Words dry up, and we stare at a blank page (or screen) while we think this is the stupidest story ever created on the face of the earth.  Many of us suddenly experience an urge to clean our ovens.  

We call this “writer’s block.”  

Sadly, many writers just give up at this point, and the world loses another potentially wonderful story.  Because who knows?  Maybe it really would have been, if only we’d finished the story.  

Writers all have different methods for overcoming writer’s block.  Some examples include:  

  1. Brainstorming with trusted readers
  2. Switching to another project
  3. Taking a writer’s retreat
  4. Interviewing the character (why are you being so stubborn?)
  5. Typing a letter to yourself, explaining why you don’t want to write this book
  6. Taking a day off
  7. Spending some time researching
  8. Trying a different writing venue or using a different writing tool 
  9. Tricking yourself with a reward method 
  10. Sending the problem to your subconscious, which will eventually return with an answer

Fine and good, but what happens when the stuck writer has a deadline?  And panic sets in?!?  You don’t have time to take any time off or to trick your subconscious, or…  What then?  

  • First of all, take a deep breath.  
  • Then, bite off one chunk of the elephant at a time.  Do the math to figure out how big the daily chunk will have to be.  
  • Consider this quote, which I keep taped to my computer:  “If this were real, with what the character knows, with what he/she is capable of, what could he/she do next?”  
  • To get to the end (you do know your end, right?) make a list of the information the characters need to learn in order to reach that end.  Possible scenes generate from such lists.  
  • Rent a room somewhere, free of distractions, and stay there until the book is done.  A writer friend of mine always swore by this.  
  • And never give up, because magic tends to happen under deadline.  There’s nothing like a deadline to motivate us to finish.  

Are you a deadline person?  Do you have another method to overcome whatever block tries to stop you?  

On Hobbies

I have a hobby, and it is painting.   

Last week I attended another painting workshop in the picturesque mountain setting of Estes Park, Colorado.  The master artist who led the workshop reminded me once again about all the similarities between painting and writing.  

  • First, we paint for the joy of painting.  
  • We choose a subject to paint that speaks to us.  
  • We have to ask ourselves “what is it about this subject that we love and want to express?”  

Writers, does this sound familiar?  

I’d spent days pouring over photos of potential subjects to paint.  I wanted to paint all of them, but which one should I start with?  Inexplicably, I kept returning to one photo–it wasn’t easy with its rocks and water, but it kept surfacing to the top of my pile.  

It’s the same in writing:  I have more ideas than I can ever possibly write.  I end up choosing the ones that won’t let me alone.  

Once I settled on my subject to paint, I set up my blank canvas, laid out my tools,  and…stared at the blank page–I mean, the blank canvas.  Oh good grief, what in the world was I thinking?!?  Who was I to think that I could possibly paint such a lovely scene and do it justice?  I didn’t have the skill set.  I was a fraud.  It was just a fluke that I’d ever painted anything before.  I couldn’t possibly do it again, and I had no idea where to start.  Which paints should I use?  What details should I include?  

Yep, it’s the same in writing.  

The similarities go on and on, and it’s probably similar for all right-brain activities.  But there’s one very big difference for me:  

Painting is a hobby.  Writing is not a hobby.  

I’m a writer who likes to paint in my free time.  The key is “free time.”  Writing time, on the other hand, is necessary time that is carved into my clock and schedule, ahead of everything else.  Painting time is a reward for whenever I can squeeze it in.  Having a hobby gives me something to look forward to, but it’s a challenge to keep it under control!  

What’s your hobby?   Would it take over your life, if you let it?    

Sick-Room Cat

Scout, here.  

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Posting for Sue, who’s sacked out on the couch with flu.  You may remember me as the cat she described as her “personal writer’s helper” in one of her earlier blog posts–give me a break.  I only do what I gotta do.  Like that bit about waking her up every morning at 4:30 on the dot?  It’s for her own good, y’know.  She’s got a new book to write and can’t waste her time wallowing around in bed.  

So, this morning I knew we were in trouble when she didn’t respond to my gentle taps upon her forehead.  

I finally managed to roll her out of bed, but instead of heading to her desk, she headed to…the couch!  Who’s complaining?  I get to curl up beside her, but it comes with a price:  listening to her feverish mumblings.  They range from failing word count for her cabin at Camp NaNoWriMo to where does her story REALLY begin?  

She’s supposed to start with the inciting incident, but it’s hard to recognize when there are so many riveting incidents in the backstory.  And then she moans about the backstory being so complicated that no reader will understand the inciting incident without knowing the backstory first.  One of her writing coaches suggested that if you have to have too many flashbacks, maybe you haven’t started your book early enough.  

So, if I’m to live up to my title of “personal writer’s helper” I’m passing the ball to you readers.  Any suggestions?  Or is this something that should be referred to Peggy Pixel?