Saturday, April 16, 2011

Inspire Me

View of Mount Abraham from the Peeper Pond

“Nose to the grind stone” – how many times have you heard that phrase lately? I’d heard it last Wednesday – just after writing down directions from the B&B owner – the same ones I failed to follow to avoid the mud crisis I encountered while driving up here.

This phrase rang in my head while I was packing, while I was driving and while I was trying to talk myself out of working on one more chapter before taking a break yesterday. I can’t believe how much work I got done – keeping my nose to the grindstone.

After spending way too long trying to figure out how to upload my cell phone images to my lap top – then discovering the fabulous new world of USB Mass Storage transfer – I finally faced the 8 chapters I’d promised myself I’d edit before lunch. Did I say lunch? Bah! Try dinner!

It was easy, at first, perhaps because I’d already dropped into my novel by editing 2 chapters on Thursday night. The characters were up front and center in my mind, my belly full of fresh berries, Greek yoghurt and organic raisin bran, my little cabin quiet…too quiet.

I checked my email on the elusive wi-fi that dropped out every few seconds…that took a while…but it felt good to be contact with my “real life”, even if it was just through words on the screen. Back to editing…

Instead of taking the chapters in order, like I usually do, I decided to approach my 8 chapter goal from a new angle. As my story is told from two alternating points of view, I chose one POV and followed it through to the end of where my first draft abruptly dissolved into synopsis. This gave me the luxury of checking for timeline errors, continuity of the character’s moods and location verification. It also steeped me in the world of human trafficking, parched desert and the all-important ticking clock.

To say that my nerves were beginning to feel frayed is an understatement. I shifted my eyes from the words on the screen to my uninterrupted view of Mount Abraham. In addition to giving my eyes a break, this let me imagine that like my character, I too was gazing at the Mogollon Rim, which divides Arizona in two, and not the snow splattered peaks of the Green Mountains.  When I shuffled my lap top from the shrinking walls of the cabin, to the deck off the main house, I couldn’t help but notice the large cacti guarding the sliding door to the living room. Hmmm…

This editorial marathon was, I’m happy to say, punctuated with a long walk around the neighborhood.

I started out by circling the small pond in front of the main house, snapping shots of frog spawn floating among the tall yellow reeds that rustled against a perfectly blue sky. I wasn't the only one checking out the view - a family of Peepers called to each other to protest my intrusions.

My wellies squished and squelched in the mud, being two sizes too big for me (no idea how they ended up in my basement), I found it hard to walk at a decent pace.

So I settled into a slow rhythm of brain-break over cardio workout, feasting my eyes on the details of the emerging Spring.

I found a horse paddock a few houses down the dirt road, complete with ramshackle stables, multiple trucks in the unmarked driveway, and horses grazing in a mud bath deeper than their fetlocks. I won’t expand on another homestead except to say that everything including the kitchen sink was bursting out of windows, doors and toppling over the sides of a farmer’s porch. I wanted to take a photo but was afraid I’d get busted and have to explain myself to the owner…

Not quite the wild Mustangs of the West - but close enough
I get to spend all day with horses, or rather wild mustangs, now that I’m working on the second character’s storyline. If I need inspiration, I can simply stick my head out of the cabin door and inhale the manure wafting from the stables behind me.

The wind’s picking up and we are expecting the remnants of that storm that sent tornadoes tearing through Georgia yesterday. Oh goodie! Let’s hope these wooden walls don’t rattle too much, or I might find myself working on a whole new novel…

Friday, April 15, 2011

Mud Monsters

I must be in Vermont - Issy's horse barn, not the writing cabin!
Okay, so I should have followed the directions the B&B owner rattled off to me the night before I left for this writing adventure and NOT the route mapquest suggested! Don't ever attempt to take a Jetta up and over Quaker Street (coming from Rt 17) unless you want to start your retreat by having multiple heart attacks!

Mud Surfing anyone?
Seriously, I had to get out of my car at one point just to take a deep breath. That's when I snapped a shot of the deep gray turrets behind me, but they look far less menacing in my photo than they actually are. If you've never surfed atop a mud monster then I forgive you for not grasping the real terror of the last 3 miles of my journey to this secluded yet pretty cozy writer's cabin. I hope the under carriage of my car can forgive me.

The lavender oil worked wonders to dispel the Eau de Must hanging over the bed. Bringing my own king sized pillow, favorite soft blanket and little teddy helped me to finally relax enough to get some sleep, despite the patter of tiny feet over my head. I did have to brave the flash light walk across very soggy earth to the bathroom around 11pm, but it wasn't too bad. Rather than focus on the eerie shadows cast by the waxing moon, I listened to the frumping sound my wellies made in response to my sockless feet. Not heard that noise since I was a kid! Lovely!

I got two chapters edited last night, then discovered I'd been working in the WRONG version of my second draft when I attempted to email it to myself. Despite seeing letters floating across my lap top screen in triplicate, I managed to decipher exactly what and where to paste the new chapters into the correct manuscript. So glad I never delete anything - just rename the more recent version and work from that.

Talking of which, I have 8 chapters to get through before lunch. Then I'm off for a walk around this idyllic world of rolling hills edged by forests and framed by sloping mountain ridges. I was hoping to post some photo's of the red-roofed barn across the field to my left, the Quaker Street mud monsters and this morning's sun peeking over Mount Abraham - but I forgot my memory card adapter so can't upload them to my lap top. I'd text them to my email if my cell phone worked... Ah well, I can always post them when I get home, which, I'm happy to report, feels like a continent way from up here.

Here's a writer's tip for you - always hang mini chimes within earshot of your writing space. They help to access that part of your mind that's waiting to talk to idea how they do it...they just seem to get beneath the clutter and strike a chord of clarity that helps the writing flow more easily. If you don't believe me - try it - then let me know how it works!

PS I figured out that if I go into my cell phone's Tools, select USB Mass Storage, I can upload my phone's images to my lap top :)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tree Time!

So I'm all packed and ready to head up North to Lincoln, Vermont, where the roads have gone swimming and the mud is, well, I'll let you know when I get there...

The last writing retreat I gifted myself was way back in November 2009. It's about time I dropped back into my novel to wrap up this second draft. I'm halfway there, but I just can't seem get passed a couple of chapters (at the most) without getting interrupted.

No-one told me having a Senior in high school was a full-time job: college applications (with essays and references), IB coursework (Creativity, Action, Service - C.A.S.), Theory of Knowledge essay and 4,000 word Extended Essay on Communism. And that's just the school stuff...never mind the teen angst and my looming separation anxiety.

And just in case you thought it was all over when the beautiful acceptance letters rolls in...not a chance!! Then you have the FAFSA form to complete (online - not too bad), income taxes to prep and file (at least 3 weeks of work there), financial aid applications and negotiations to pursue...and it just keeps rolling on until one day, as if by magic, you're stuffing your teddy into a carpet bag, grabbing the lavender oil and Pinot Noir and mapquesting your route to another adventure with the characters currently rioting in your head.

Wonder why I jumped into third person there...dissociation? Me? NEVER!

This isn't like the last retreat, when I only drove to the other end of Cape Cod to stay at my friend's gorgeous B&B for a couple of nights. Nah, this one is "Rustic" with a capital R! Three nights in a former writer's cabin in the woods, then a night in a real shit-you-not tree house...lots of fresh mountain air...and possibly rain if the forecast is right. But I'm prepared for the bathroom treks to the main house - black rubber wellies (should look great with my multicolored cotton skirt) and an LED flashlight bright enough to fool a rooster. I'm almost over the shock of learning there's no cell phone tower - radio silence until next Monday? Not so bad, once you get used to the idea...

Well the sooner I get some ZZZzzzzzz the sooner tomorrow will come. I love the night before traveling - full of bags, boxes and multiple hard drives! Just in case my little Jetta gets swallowed up by the mud monster slithering across the northern states. Hey, it could happen...