Magic of the Everyday, Nature, Writing

Finally, It’s Fall

This morning I woke to a thick blanket of fog rolling up from the low spaces. It hung heavy over the earth, dampening sound as well as grasses and shrubs. As the sun rose, it shrouded the sky higher up, making distant trees indistinct and grainy, and obscured the yellow ball of the sun until just recently. Even the crows respected the fog, remaining quieter, longer.

A sure sign of transitional weather, this is the first fog I’ve seen this season. It means cooler weather to come, and a quick check of the weather proves this to be true. I’m ready for fall–real fall, that sticks around instead of fleeing at the first sign of Summer’s pushback, letting temps climb back into the upper 80s and above. I’m ready for long sleeves, and long pants, and maybe a roast or stew for dinner. Change: it’s good, and it’s time.

I’ve been writing on the novel, but my written words aren’t as prolific as they were at my residency. This makes me feel like I’m slacking, or shirking, while in reality, it’s just life slowly gobbling away my time and attention. I’m trying not to let it get me down, but (like with so much in this world, and this life), it’s hard.

To counter the sense of getting nowhere fast, I’ve re-started a daily word count spreadsheet that some of the people I went to Taos Toolbox with use. We keep it on a Google Docs spreadsheet, available to all of us, so there is a small public accountability built in. And I’ve got to admit, seeing the “smaller” daily word count building up is helping me see that I am making real progress after all.

I’m also taking one day a week to work on editing short stories that I’ve written which have been languishing, unsubmitted, unedited–sometimes only half-written–in favor of the novel. This, too, feels good. The “instant gratification” of a short story, or a short story submission, is a shot of endorphins straight to the brain. “Look, see–I am a writer! I do have submissions out!” Brains, they’re such silly, manipulatable things, amiright?

Things to look forward to:

  • I’m approaching the mid-point of the novel! Things really pick up pace after that.
  • Thanksgiving! (and Thanksgiving leftovers!) Yum.
  • Hearing the return of the sandhill cranes as they wing overhead.
  • Watching Dasher get frisky, and run and play longer in the newly cool weather.
  • Anniversary travel in early December. Even though our wedding was in September, our big trip is planned for December. You’ll see why, once I post some photos. 🙂

Well, the crows have ceased their calling, so it’s time for me to start the writing day. Enjoy fall, in whatever form it takes for you (or spring, if you’re in the southern hemisphere!). Linger in the moment, make it a good memory. Something you can see and feel and smell again, over and over, when you need it. Yes, there’s definitely magic in that.

Personal Life, Today's Desk, Writing

Writer’s Desk, 5/29/18

Out the window: Low, dense clouds that sometimes spit sprinkles of rain. The forecast calls for storms later this afternoon, and as it’s getting darker, it looks like the forecast may be right. Oops. There it is–heavy rain, hitting the metal roof hard enough to echo and reverberate in a mysterious, lovely way that makes me crave a good book, and a nap.

On the desktop: Not much, really. The usual odds and ends of notebooks waiting for words, my glasses case, Burt’s Bees lip balm, and a pack of gum.

Today’s Work-in-Progess:  Structural edit notes to my novel, Unspoken. I’ve gotten a printout of the novel and am marking it up by hand, so I can see at a glance the length of each scene, how many pages each one is, and how many slow or fast scenes are bunching up. I can flip pages to see how long the pace has been fast, or if it’s gone from “a breather” into “catatonic,” and make notes to fix this, as necessary.

Sometimes this is a faster process than writing, and other times, it’s far, far slower. Regardless, it’s a process that definitely needs to happen, and I’m learning much from it–about myself as “a writer” (vs as “an editor”),  about my craft and skill levels, about my protagonist, and about what the novel is really, really about.

And, while yes, I wrote these words, I’m reading them from enough distance now that they’re almost new to me. And this is a good thing. I’m not just slipping over them, but I’m reading them the way I’d read another’s novel, and seeing all those flaws (OMG, the flaws! There are so many!). I’m also seeing the things I did really quite well. Which is always a pleasant surprise.

And Another Thing: Oh my gosh, the plums! The little tree is just ripening those fruit so fast now that it’s a challenge to keep up with them all, and the rains keep knocking them off the tree to the ground… We’ve had plum jam, plum cake, and plum ice cream. Next up is a plum crumble, I think. And of course, more plum jam. I think I’m going plum crazy!

plain silliness, Writing

On Not-Writing

The dog sleeps contentedly, the chores remain caught up.
Looks around for something else to do, but the eye rests on nothing undone.
Even the cat has been waxed, and run off yowling.
(It is not my cat, but a friendly neighborhood stray. I fear I may have offended it.)

Nothing for it then.

Pours Japanese green tea in fancy Thai teacup.
Sips. Dreams.
Opens file and at last, and begins to write.

Links, publication, Writing

A Little Late, but Better Than Never…

Monday was Tell A Fairy Tale Day, and I meant to post this here then…but, ya know, life, yadda yadda. Anyhow, I’m here and posting now, so that’s going to have to work for this year.

Here’s a little story I wrote a few years back. I hope you like this darkly funny tale, and can find the various stories and nursery rhymes it references.

 

Jack Spratt: The Real Story

by M. E. Garber

 

Jack Spratt could eat no fat,

His wife could eat no lean.

Betwixt the two, 

They licked the platter clean.

***

Jack leaned back from the evening meal, a dark-furred hand going up to pick at his large teeth.

“Mr. Spratt, if you please! Do not pick your teeth at the table!” His wife’s deep voice so close behind him made him jump like a nervous hare. He was glad, therefore, that she had just eaten her fill of the roasted goat. He, meanwhile, had made short work of the salad and carrots. It was a stem of said salad that was stuck between his teeth just now, but he ignored it due to the racing of his heart.

“Sorry, dearest. But I do wish you’d quit sneaking up behind me. It’s not good for my nerves.”

Elsa, his wife, came beside him and cleared away the plate, smiling wolfishly. She liked displaying her large, yellowed canines prominently; he knew she liked the way it made him squirm. Normally he had little qualms over his wife’s peccadillos, but in two nights the moon would be full, and Elsa was growing restless earlier with each moon that passed. It leached away her good sense, and he grew more and more fearful of her during the fullness of the moons.

He retreated to the hearth and poked at the fire, trying to calm his breathing and flatten his gooseflesh. Letting her scent his fear would be bad. In as calm a tone as he could muster, Jack spoke over the sounds of her washing up.

“I thought I might go to the village tomorrow. Leave in the morning, do some trading. Stay a couple nights. Maybe visit my friend Hamm.” He kept his eyes on the snapping fire, but he felt her glowing eyes caressing the back of his head.

“Ohhh, why, Mr. Spratt. I don’t think that’s such a good idea. You know I can use you here during the full moon. To keep things … settled … during my time of the month.”

That’s what she called it, now. Her ‘time of the month,’ as if a werewolf’s curse was something entirely normal. She’d rampage over the countryside for a night and a half, maybe two depending on the moon-cycle, then come straggling back home, naked and bedraggled, flushed with a shameful joy. Lately she’d been staying closer to home during her change. He’d heard her snuffling outside the door, howling in the forest behind the barn.

Jack shook his head. Ever since they’d refused to help the old witch of the wood the year before, when she wanted to lure children, Jack’s ears had grown, and a fine hair grew over his arms and hands, then his whole body. His eyes got sharper, and while living with a woman cursed with lycanthropy never made a man calm, Jack had gotten more high-strung than ever. He refused to admit it for the longest time, but there was no denying it any longer: he was turning into a rabbit. He knew that his wife knew, and found him … interesting.

“Besides,” Elsa murmured, turning her gold-flecked eyes back to her dishes, “you were just to the village two weeks ago, so I can’t imagine you need to visit again so soon.”

Jack froze. His heart hammered once more, and his ears heard the low, throaty laugh his wife gave. He scented his own panic, and knew mortal fear.

#

Jack shut the door to the chicken coop behind him. He’d barricaded the henhouse doors from the inside. Now he prepared to nail boards across the doorframe to secure it — he hoped — from entry. He lifted the hammer, set the nail and swung.

Hot breath on his neck made him leap and twirl, but the hammer landed on his thumb anyway. He hopped a few steps, sucking his thumb, as he took in his wife’s narrowed, gleaming eyes and hungry smile. He noticed the way she tensed at his hopping, and he immediately froze.

“What are you doing, Mr. Spratt?”

“Just protecting the chickens, Mrs. Spratt.” His heart hammered at his throat and made his voice come out as a squeak. Her smile widened.

“Good instincts, but somehow I think the hens will be safe. There are better things on the menu tonight, I do believe.” With a last wolfish grin, she turned and loped back to the house.

#

The moon rose early that evening. His wife never left the house, but sat watching Jack, pinning him to the dark corner of the room with her intense eyes. As soon as the change rendered her immobile, he raced out the door, zigging and zagging in a panic. All too soon, he heard the howl of pursuit, and in a burst of speed, Jack zipped up to Hamm’s dilapidated, straw-mortared hovel. At his panicked knocking, his short, fat friend opened the door. Jack burst inside, slamming the door behind him.

“Why, Jack. Whatever is the matter? Onk.” Hamm always caught his breath after each utterance, sounding like a goose. Or a pig.

Before Jack could explain, Elsa was upon the house, howling for Jack’s blood. The two friends cowered in the center of the room as the wolf shouted, “Little Pig, Little Pig, let me in!”

“Go away! Onk. Onk.”

Elsa rammed the door, and it gave way in a shower of wood and straw. Jack and Hamm sprinted out, to Hamm’s brother’s house nearby.

At Pudge’s wooden house, the scene repeated itself, and Jack and the two little pigs squealed in terror as they zipped to the eldest brother’s home. Porky’s home was stout brick, and when the wolf arrived hot on their heels, Porky laughed at the wolf’s foolishness. Jack cowered by Porky’s feet, panting, as his friend’s brother told off the wolf.

The door shuddered once, twice, three times, but held. Elsa snarled and snapped on the other side, cursing Jack, cursing bricks, and doubly-cursing Porky. Jack looked up, his pulse slowing as hope bloomed in his heart.

There was a long silence, then the sound of footsteps on the roof.

“The chimney!” Jack shouted. But Porky was already stoking the fire higher. He placed a large soup pot in the hearth. The wolf popped out the chimney and fell into the pot, and Porky threw the heavy lid onto it. Jack and the others raced to hold the lid in place as the wolf who’d been his wife struggled to escape.

As the bangs and knocks came to an end, Jack grinned at his friend.

“Looks like you’ll have soup tonight, my friends. Thanks!”

“No thanks needed. But you know, there’s one thing that goes perfect with soup.”

“Oh?” Jack looked back towards the kettle, sniffing appreciatively as Porky lifted the lid. “What?”

“Roast rabbit.”

As the lid hit his skull, Jack heard the pigs cheer, and he saw only dark.

###

(This story was first published in Short Sips; Coffee House Flash Fiction Collection 2)

If you liked this short tale, here are links to a few other people who played along this year–and they actually got their stories posted on time, unlike me. (Drat them! Um, I mean, good for them!)

Cecile Cristofari

Melissa Mead

Karlo Yeager Rodriguez

 

Magic of the Everyday, Personal Life, Writing

NovemberJoys

While the days get darker, and the nights get longer, this year I’m finding much to be happy about.

First of all, our new solar panels were turned on yesterday! I am overjoyed. From now on, seeing the sun shining in the clear sky will make me happy, regardless of how hot it may be. Our excess energy will backload into the grid, feeding our neighbors’ electrical needs, so let it shine, baby!

Next up: Today is Fountain Pen Day!

What, you didn’t know I’m a bit of a fountain pen freak? Well, I am. I’m not a “power user,” if there is such a thing. I’m not really a collector, even. I just have a few pens that I love to use, and I love looking at other pens–the beautiful ones, the stunning ones, the bright ones and the sleek ones. Old-fashioned or modern and new, fountain pens are beautiful.

A fountain pen is (or in my mind, should be) a work of art as much as a functional thing. If I merely wanted “functionality,” I’d use a cheap throwaway, right? But no. I want something pleasant to look at, something that feels right in my hand, and whose ink I can change to match my mood. And oh, the inks they make these days! Try looking at these. And that’s just one brand of ink at one retailer (a favorite retailer, I might add)! Check out the other brands there by clicking the “brand” on the left side. A couple favorites of mine are J. Herbin’s Stormy Gray, Pilot Iroshizuku’s Fuyu-gaki, and Diamine’s Eau de Nil. But there are so many more to try!

Thirdly, this is November, and for writers, November means NaNoWriMo–NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth. I’ve never been much of a fan of this event. It’s just not my type of thing, and never really has been. I’m all for others doing NaNo, mind you; if it works for you, go for it! But I don’t do well chugging out words to meet an arbitrary word count in a long-haul kind of way. I get exhausted partway through, crash, then get depressed that I couldn’t “make my goal.” Bleah.

And yet…this year, I’m doing a modified version of NaNo, along with a group of like-minded friends. We’re calling it “Nearly NaNo,” and each of us has made his or her own private goal for the month. Since I’m already partway through a novel, my goal is another 20,000 words on this novel–not a crazy amount by any means, and utterly achievable IF I don’t slack off at the end of the month!

Cooler weather is another fine thing on this list of happy things. The AC is off, the windows are open. I’m even wearing sweaters in the morning. Sometimes long pants all day! Rotating to a new set of clothes–look! I can wear sleeves!–is such a joy. Enjoying long walks outside is even better.

Speaking of walks outside, don’t forget here in the US, on Sunday we roll back into Standard Time. Which, well, yeah. Time change is not something I’m happy about.

But so it goes. Happy November, all. Go write something with a pen today. Yes, by hand. Maybe sitting in a sunbeam at lunch. You might be surprised how much you enjoy it.

Magic of the Everyday, Today's Desk, Writing

Writer’s Desk, 10/25/17

Out the window: Clear blue skies, sunshine, and gorgeous coolness. Fall has landed with a thud on north central Florida. Last night the temps were in the low 50’s, tonight should plummet into the 40’s! That’s a far cry from the 90+ degrees of only a few days ago. And I’m soooooo glad.

On the desktop: Other than the plain green tea? A big old mess, quite honestly. Post-It notes trail off and sprawl everywhere, as I attempt to tame and structure a short story that’s had me flummoxed for over a year. I know the basic plot, and the story arc, but it’s still missing that certain spark that will lift it above “meh.” At least I found the obvious structural flaw that was killing it before, right?

Today’s Work-in-Progess:  The novel with the working title “Unspoken.” What with having been gone nearly 2 weeks (and this shortly after having started the novel), I thought I’d have a hard time diving back into the work. But honestly, I haven’t.

The first day back to writing (and yes, after traveling I took the weekend off to recuperate), I re-read the most recent 3,000 words, just to get back into the flow, and to find my protagonist’s voice and emotional state. Apparently it worked, because I wrote that next 1,000 word scene as easily as anything. And the following day, the next scene of 1800 words flew from my fingers onto the keyboard! It was a combat scene, so the action practically wrote itself, and I felt glorious, so accomplished and good!

Spousal Unit said, “Well, that’s because you stopped writing at a great point, leaving yourself an interesting place to dive into.” To which, I replied, “Well of course! Because it’s ALL interesting. I’m leaving the boring parts out of this one.”

Honestly, I’m trying really hard to conquer STRUCTURE on this novel, both on a macro and micro level. I want the final shape of the book to more than vaguely resemble the first draft, you see, because I’ve learned that nothing kills me deader than a really HUGE, HARD revision draft. (I feel tired and cranky just thinking of that!) Enervation seeps from my pours like a late August sweat at the prospect of such an edit. So, you see, I really needed to do something. Studying my craft (as usual) was the answer.

And Another Thing: How is Halloween just around the corner? If the weather cooperates, I’m going to dress up like a living scarecrow and flop on my porch swing to hand out the candy, freaking out (in a good way) all the kids that come by. So, hope and pray for good weather, okay? I’m feeling devilish! 🙂

Magic of the Everyday, Nature, science, the dog, Travel, Writing

Mid-June Update

Things have been busy here, and I’m still in a bit of a whirl. Dasher is fully recovered, according to Monday’s liver enzyme test, which is the biggest news for me. And the best. He’s been acting fine, so it’s good to see it’s more than just a temporary reprieve.

He also got his shots yesterday, including a new one for the canine influenza that’s hit Florida. With his frequency of appearance at the UF Vet Med Hospital, which is a hotbed of diagnosis for this outbreak, I think it’s wise that he get all the protection a dog can get; after all, he’s had enough issues without adding one more. (Trupanion will probably thank me for this, too!)

Last week, spousal unit and I took a short trip north. Our first night we spent at a friend’s home in New Jersey, near where we used to live. The weather was cool and fine, and we got to harvest some of the last asparagus out of the garden! Oh, so delicious. I miss garden-fresh asparagus so much after tasting that lovely treat! The gardens were also a delight, with columbine, roses, iris, foxglove, and clematis. The long, cool spring held the blooms perfectly for our visit.

Afterwards, we traveled into New York City and absorbed city atmosphere and energy. We walked neighborhoods and parks, ate a a few favorite restaurants and tried a few new ones, took in some new sights as well as revisiting some old favorites. Can I admit that it was relaxing? Yes, NYC and relaxing don’t normally work together, but it was. Both of us just slowed down and enjoyed being on vacation. It was great.

Back home again, I’ve started to dive heavily into the research end of the literal “world building:” How long would the planet’s rotational period be? How about moons–could I have two, and what would their cycles in the night sky be? Could/should the planet have a great rift, like the one on Mars? How would that affect the story, or would it be located elsewhere? What are the different languages spoken by the various peoples, and how are they visually/aurally different? Etc…

Yes, it’s work, but it’s fun work. And it’s calling me, calling…

Bye for now. Time to research biology and form for a cool critter I’m making.

Magic of the Everyday, Nature, Personal Life

April Update

I’ve been missing again–sorry. Life has taken a rather “full to the brim” tack, keeping me jumping.

First there’s been an injury to my knee–no surgery, thankfully, but it still hurts, and limits my motions and actions. I’m not good with this. 😦  Unfortunately, I’m learning.

A rare moment of peace in the sunshine, as Karla waits to steal the bone from Dasher.

Then we did a 2.5 week dog-sit stint. Karla is a pup, bouncy and active and big and strong; basically, all the things Dasher is not. They get along fine, mostly, but Karla sometimes forgets that Dasher’s “no” really means “no,” not “pester me until I give in.” And Dasher sometimes needed reminding that he really does need to share the toys, not need to possess whatever Karla wanted (and vice versa!). We also don’t have a fenced yard, and the dogs wouldn’t walk well together, so it was double dog-walking with a sore knee. Let me tell you, two weeks of this wore me out!

On top of this, the day Karla went home, I discovered termites! Not in the house, fortunately, but far too close by! They swarmed out of the raised garden’s vertical posts, blossoming up and out like endless dandelion seeds, their wings glinting white in the morning sunlight. Kinda pretty, actually, in the way a nuclear mushroom cloud from afar can be pretty. Formosan termites are destructive invaders, and I’ll be happy to see them gone!

Anyway, it’s not all doom and gloom. Strawberries have been ripening in my garden, and the hummingbirds are back. The feeder is filled, and I’ve already seen them hovering there, sipping their fill. Also, my hibiscus are blooming once more, including the expensive true tropical I bought last year. It really suffered through winter, and I wasn’t sure it would make it, which made me very blue. But it’s popped back vigorously as recent temps have soared, and put out its first bloom. To top off the good news, yesterday it poured, raining for hours. We needed that rain so badly! Yay.

On the writing front, I’ve managed to keep writing most through all of this, but ran into a snag with the ending of the final Jessamin book. I needed a bit more oomph–action–going on. It was an easy thing to sketch out once I realized it, but it took me two days of struggling to write to realize what the problem was! I only needed to backtrack two scenes, restructuring them a bit to fit the new layout. It’s going well, and is sooo much more satisfying already.

On that note, I need a bit more “action” myself–on to writing fiction! Happy April, everyone, and if you’ve been having the terrible winter, Happy Spring, as well.