Some find inspiration in the wilderness. Others find themselves hopelessly lost.

Blog Hiatus

Time for a break.

Between writing projects, an upcoming move, and a whole bunch of planned travel, I’m finding less and less time to write blog posts.

It’s been such fun connecting with so many readers through this blog.  Stay in touch!

I’ll do my best to get another book out for you all soon.

 

The “My Writing Process” Blog Tour

The #WritingProcess Blog Tour is connecting authors all over the world so they can share thoughts on the writing life. Each Monday a writer answers some questions about his/her process, then they tap two or three other authors to keep the conversation going.

Generally, I avoid pyramid schemes, but, as far as I can tell, as in the case of most things writing related, no one’s making any money off anyone else here. I promise, after reading this blog post, you won’t feel obligated to buy any cosmetics or kitchen devices.

The talented Kelly Ann Jacobson invited me to join in the #MyWritingProcess conversation. She’s the author of the wonderful, evocative novel Cairo in White, which I just recently read and highly recommend, as well as Dreamweaver Road and Answers I’ll Accept. You can read about Kelly, her books, and her writing process at www.kellyannjacobson.com/blog.

If you’d like to learn about my writing process, read on.

Image

No, I don’t use a typewriter, but I probably would if I had one like this and I’m seriously contemplating taking a hiatus from my laptop in favor of pen and paper, at least for a little while.

1)      What are you working on?

My writing seems to be shifting to a younger and younger audience. Drowning Cactus was about twenty-somethings, and could be classified as “New Adult” contemporary fiction.  I’m now working on a young adult novel about a girl whose story will change the future, if she dares tell it. It deals with environmental issues and the power of fiction. Think Never-Ending Story meets Silent Spring.

Recently, at my children’s request, I’ve also started writing picture book manuscripts. I’m not yet certain whether those will leave my living room, but I’m having a blast writing them. Children’s books are likely poetry. Every word counts and there’s a lot of space to enjoy the sounds and rhythms of language.

2)      How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I suppose I have more of an environmentalist outlook than many writers, although that’s hardly unique. Also, no matter what I’m writing, no matter how dire the subject, I find that humor always creeps in. That’s my personality, I suppose, and though I write from different perspectives, I can’t (or don’t try to) entirely eliminate my world view.

3)      Why do you write what you do?

The great mystery. Stories and characters spring up unbidden. I prefer to leave that process un-dissected.

5)      How does your writing process work?

Just about every day, I find some time to write. When I’m writing a first draft, the words tend to flow and my fingers do their best to keep pace. Between writing time I jot phrases and ideas on bits of paper. By the next day, those thoughts are usually irrelevant (and often I lose the scraps of paper) but I think it helps me stay engaged with the story.

After I finish a draft, I usually need a reader right away to give me some feedback. (Is this any good at all?!) Most of the time, I make my husband read it. He’s surprisingly frank with me and I’m grateful to him for that. Then, I get down to editing. I go through many rounds of edits, often chopping out huge sections, and then a few more rounds of language polishing before anyone else sees the manuscript.

Sending a manuscript out into the world—the business side of this—that’s a whole other process, though, and not nearly as pleasant. Perhaps a subject for a different blog day and a different blog hop.

Next week, authors Shannon LC Cate and Marisa Tejada will share their insights into the writing life and answer the same questions.

Look out for Shannon’s entry at : http://shannonlccate.com/

Marisa Tejada’s post will be available at : http://chasingathens.com/blog/

 

A Tempered Earth Day Celebration

I’m skeptical that personal choice can save the planet from its myriad maladies but today I:

  1. Walked my kids to school.
  2. Composted the remains of the Passover food I can no longer bear to even consider eating.
  3. Put on my sweater instead of the heat.
  4. Turned on the computer to write about Earth Day and personal responsibility.

Earlier this week, I read the New York Times article about Paul Kingsworth, an activist who has come to accept climate change as inevitable. The article has kept me thinking. To my ears, Kingsworth’s perspective is depressing, probably correct, and very troubling.

What should we do knowing environmental degradation is likely to continue and even increase? Keep fighting? Make small changes we know we can achieve? Lobby for bigger ones, even those we know are unlikely? Go into mourning? Pour another drink?

One thing is for certain: On Earth Day we should celebrate. There are successes to recognize. Natural beauty abounds. Today, I’ll appreciate the splendor and resilience of the earth, the weeds clawing through cracks in sidewalks, and the tree outside my window erupting in pink.

If it weren’t raining, I’d probably be out in the woods or on the beach. Since it’s an indoor kind of day, I’ll try to make some progress on my writing.

Fiction writing is the perfect place for warnings and better worlds, a slow, introspective space for reflection. Maybe a contemplative celebration is in order today.

The New Breed of Old-School Farmer

My novel, Drowning Cactus, is about people who turn to the land to find meaning and purpose. Though my research for that book is done, I’m always interested in real back-to-the-land stories.

Racey Bingham. Photo courtesy Anthony Aquino.

 

Reber Rock Farm is a draft-horse powered farm in Essex New York, co-managed by my friend, Racey Bingham. Racey and I grew up together in the Boston suburbs, where most fertile land has been filled in with housing developments. We last met up when we were both in graduate school near Boston. Curious about how Racey ended up a farmer, and why she’s chosen draft-horse farming (and thinking, you, readers, might be interested as well), I asked her to answer some questions for us.

Right from the get-go, Racey set me straight on a few points.

 

 

  • Horse-powered farming is traditional farming. Her farm isn’t alternative at all. People have been using draft horses to farm for a long time. It’s a tried and true method with many benefits for the farm and the farmer.
  • The environmental benefits of horse-powered farming aren’t cut and dry, though. The folks at Reber Rock are clearly very thoughtful about the environmental impacts of their decisions, but those horses eat a lot of hay made by diesel powered machines, sometimes from other farms.
  • Speaking of sustainability, the finances of a small farm require some creativity. Racey hasn’t chucked her desk job. She works part time to supplement her farm income and so do her co-workers. (Sounds a lot like the life of a novelist.)
  • It’s all worth it. If you love working with horses, which is a must, small scale draft horse farming produces happy, healthy farmers… as well as delicious farm products.

Reber Rock Farm. Photo courtesy Charlotte Mararv.

 

Still intrigued? Here’s the rest of our conversation:

Carrie: Why did you decide to start farming? Money? Fame? Glamour?

Racey: I farmed in Peace Corps, in Mauritania, and felt really alive for the first time. So I went back to Graduate School and then on to a distinguished international development job working for the Millennium Challenge Corporation in Mali. I realized during that job that the better I got at development work, the more time I would spend in an office, getting promoted to management and oversight positions that took me far away from the farmers that I loved working with.

I moved back to the states and tried to decide to take a “risky” (according to some) break from my international development career path and farm in upstate NY (where my Dad and stepmom had settled) for a little while. I had dated someone in Mali who had told me to take the risk; that I always seemed happiest just puttering in my pathetic little city garden. I wasn’t happy in city life, sitting at a computer all day was sucking away my soul despite how interesting, intelligent and inspiring my colleagues were. So I left DC and move to Essex for a 6 week break….

Carrie: What have you got against motorized farm equipment?

Racey: Absolutely nothing! We use tractors, drive cars, run generators and pull motorized equipment with the horses. I simply prefer to work behind a team of sweet smelling, sweat dripping, thinking, feeling, communicative animals.

Horses on the farm back in 1945. Pictured: Dan, Don & Molly.

Horses on the farm back in 1945. Pictured: Dan, Don & Molly.

Reber Rock Farm today.

Carrie: Are horse powered farms a trend outside of the Amish world?

Racey: Seems like it. There are quite a few up in Essex, in Western Mass, out in Cali, ME, VA, etc…We’re actually being interviewed by a team of college students from Skidmore who think that horse farming – or small scale farming by young over-educated farmers- is a trend.

Carrie: Why horses rather than mules, oxens, or elephants?

Racey: Just our choice. We’ve got friends who farm with mules and oxen. Personally, I don’t know mules or oxen, and the breed of horses that we work with primarily “Suffolk Punch” (the only horse bred for farm work and not war – from England besides), are “easy keepers” meaning they can grow strong and be healthy on just grass and hay and not a lot of grain. Elephants? Well, don’t think they’d like the winter here…

Carrie: Do your horses ever act up? Do they demand days off?

Racey: Hmmm…sure they act up. When the mares are in heat they can be feisty and excitable; poorly trained teams, or green teams can spook easily and run. Scary. When they get tired they can get stubborn about not pulling. A well trained team won’t demand anything other than to work for you and be near you. A poorly trained team will certainly avoid the halter and resist being brought in for harnessing. I have the good fortune of working with two incredible teamsters who are also incredible horse trainers, so we have some pretty willing and amazing partners in our horses.

Carrie: Tell me about your “work/life balance?” Do you have time to socialize, travel, and read a good book?

Reber Rock Farm 2Racey: We have a seasonal balance really. Winter is for spending time with people, traveling, reading, researching, concerts, lyceums, dinner out, planning collaborations with other farmers. But we’re pretty social all year round…We gather VERY often around big meals. Sports night, too, is a big one – in summer and winter. I travel for my consulting job in the winter as well, which allows a good switch back to a social lifestyle for a bit. We have an incredibly supportive, close community, so there is quite a lot of varied socializing year round. We make sure go to the local bakery for Friday night pizza at least 40 weeks out of the year 🙂

We’ve also set-up the farm to be a two-family farm, which allows both couples to have more off-farm or non-farm time/activities, and hopefully be more sustainable over the long run (i.e. we won’t burn out).

Carrie: Some people dream of writing. Some dream of tilling the soil. It sounds like the two career paths have a surprising amount in common: Hard work, little likelihood of acquiring wealth, but fantastic colleagues, great satisfaction, and fun. Thank you, Racey, for sharing your thoughts.

Reber Rock Maple Syrup

Reber Rock Farm produces maple syrup, grassfed beef, pastured chicken, pastured turkey, pastured pork, sunflower oil, grain crops, and handmade soap.

They also sell trained draft horse teams for those of you inspired to start your own farm.

Check out their website for ordering information. http://www.reberrockfarm.com/products.html

A Springtime Ramble; Access to the Great Outdoors in Great Britain

I lived in the U.K. years ago and, at the time, really missed the wild, wide open spaces of America. This go around, though, I’ve had a real reversal. I haven’t longed for the landscapes of home, and I’ve found the local countryside enthralling.

In Scotland, walkers have the right to access any route that people have been able to walk for at least twenty years

Part of that reversal comes from living in Scotland rather than England. Natural spaces are a lot more accessible, and plentiful, up here. I think my ideas about open space have changed, too, though. I’m better able to appreciate areas of natural beauty on a smaller scale. Maybe that’s because I’m usually walking at the speed of a three year old (with my three year old). Perhaps I’m also a bit more introspective and less thrill-bound. I’m tempted to claim that writing has made me more appreciative of fine details and more observant, but, that isn’t true. I wrote more in my twenties than I do now.

Sharing the trail.

Sharing the trail.

Scotland is a great place to wander in non-wilderness areas. I’m off to the Highlands in a couple of weeks and expect to get into some areas that are truly wild, undeveloped, and unspoiled. For now, though, right near my little town, thanks to Scotland’s Outdoor Access Code, I can walk out my front door and ramble across open countryside, toward hills or coast, as far as these legs can manage.

In Scotland, walkers have the right to access any route that people have been able to walk for at least twenty years, so long as the route links two public places. I can walk on paths across all sorts of private land. Farms. Golf courses. Estates of the fabulously wealthy.

There’s an outdoor clothing and equipment store here called Trespass. I guess the company is trying to evoke a knows-no-boundaries wilderness adventurer spirit, but the name strikes me as a bit silly. It’s very hard to trespass here. In most relevant cases, landowners must let you cross their land.

Last weekend, I was dropped at the end of a road nine miles down the coast and walked home. I climbed a few stiles to cross farmers’ fields, dodged some golf balls, waded across a stream or two, and had to hustle several cows up a hill, but otherwise my journey was unimpeded. I filled my pocket with colorful seashells, sidestepped thousands of daffodils and, after returning home, met someone for tea and scones.

Despite the dark winter, life in Scotland is pretty good.

For those interested in learning more about outdoor access and the right to roam, I’d recommend a look at Ramblers, an organization dedicated to open space access in Britain.

A Bee in My Bonnet about the 800-Pound Gorilla in Fiction: Empty Idioms

Heads up! If you want to be a literary star, keep your eyes peeled for dime a dozen metaphors. Your writing will be dull as dishwater if you get stuck in a rut with commonplace similes.

I don’t want to mudsling, but I’ve seen a lot of top-notch writers, writers who are rolling in dough, pouring on tired symbolism. Worn-out metaphors can make writing that otherwise sparkles flat as a pancake.

I don’t have a silver bullet to help you ferret out overused phrases but here’s some advice you can take to the bank:

  1. Cultivate fresh imagery.
  2. Cherry pick your metaphors.
  3. Think you don’t use idioms mindlessly? If the shoe fits, wear it.

After reading this, you might be scared to death that your writing is chock full of lame clichés. Don’t throw in the towel! Just remember, laughter is the best medicine, and though editing can be a pain in the butt, every cloud has a silver lining. Pour your heart into your writing and, when all’s said and done, you’ll get over this hurdle.

Head over heels for common idioms? Cutting metaphors left and right? Share your experiences in the comments section, preferably via clichés!

The Flu Writing Phenomenon

I’ve been down with the kind of illness that makes me wish I could dissociate from my body. Remarkably, though, I’ve produced heaps of new writing.

I’ve got a few theories about this phenomenon.*

  1. The Conversation Theory. I have no voice and so can’t communicate with others. Dialogue and description continue to rush into my mind. I can still type.
  2. The New-Found Free Time Theory. I’m attempting to accomplish almost nothing. All social outings have been cancelled. The house isn’t tidy. I’m not getting any exercise. Suddenly, I have much more time to write.
  3. Pep pills. Yes, I’m on drugs. Maybe some of the credit for this creative outburst belongs to Merck or the makers of that zippy wellness tea I like.
  4. The Food Theory. Or rather “the lack of food theory.” With such a sore throat, I’m subsisting on sorbet and instant oatmeal. No food prep. No cooking time. I’ve got very few dishes to wash and dry. This one is similar to “The New-Found Free Time Theory,” but there’s another angle. It’s also about a sensory void.  Without the pleasures of taste and smell, I’m less distracted.  Or maybe my imagination just needs to work overtime to supply delight.
  5. The Low Standards Theory. I may very well be experiencing fever-induced delusions and writing nothing but nonsense. Time will tell on this one. Actually, I suppose this might already be obvious to all you blog-readers. Wait until I’m less fragile to break the news, alright?

Today, for the first time this week, I went out for a walk. It was the perfect Scottish morning. Within the span of an hour, I experienced every possible combination of sun, clouds, wind, rain and calm. Snowdrops carpeted the hills. Here and there a crocus surprised me.

SnowdropsI headed out because my shaking chills finally subsided, and because my friend Johanna wrote a timely blog post about getting outside to counter doldrums. The walk really did lift my spirits and I feel energized. Let’s just hope it didn’t quash my flu-induced writing explosion.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll walk by the sea. That should be uplifting but cold and windy enough to help this illness linger a little longer, at least until I finish another round of rewrites.

*Just a disclaimer for those writers thinking of going out and licking dirty tissues at your local pharmacy: In truth, “The Flu Writing Phenomenon” involves a trade-off I wouldn’t recommend, even for the most ambitious writer. Aside from the fun writing, I’ve mostly been huddled under a blanket unable to focus on anything, except Olympic figure skating highlights.


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