It’s a rare occasion when a full moon falls on Halloween, and rarer still when it’s a blue moon! To celebrate this banner event, I offer a poem for the season.
Down from the forested mountains run Broad shadows from the waning sun. Hovering in the mistbound air, The hidden moon waits, pale and fair. A lingering rim of sun burns on, Then the mountains gape and the light is gone.
Deep shadows drowning barren trees, A whisper rustling fallen leaves, A shiver in the wind, a sigh, A mournful undulating cry~ The moon lets fall her veil and breathes Her grace upon All Hallow’s Eve. Gemma Brook
And inspired by VT Dorchester, whose mouth-watering date cake recipe makes me hungry and ready to bake, I also offer a recipe (though without VT’s flair).
I got this recipe as a kid from the Peanuts Cookbook by June Dutton, put out by Scholastic (long out of print, I believe). I made a “healthier” variation several years ago. We’ll start with that; it makes a dense, not too sweet cookie. It’s not for every one’s taste, I readily admit!*
Gemma’s “Great Pumpkin” Cookies 1/3 cup granulated fructose 2 ½ T canola oil ¼ cup plus 1 tsp liquid egg whites 2-4 T water as needed 1 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling) ½ cup whole wheat flour 1 cup whole grain rye flour 2 ½ tsp baking powder ½ tsp cinnamon ¼ tsp nutmeg 1/8 tsp ground ginger 4 ½ T dark seedless raisins, chopped ½ cup walnut pieces, chopped
Preheat oven to 375˚. Sift all dry ingredients together. Beat egg whites lightly. Mix oil, pumpkin, and water (I usually need the full amount of water). Fold in egg whites. Stir wet into dry ingredients, then fold in nuts and raisins. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (I use unbleached compostable). Drop batter by spoonfuls onto the paper-lined cookie sheet. Bake 15 minutes. Makes about 2 dozen.
Peanuts’ “Great Pumpkin” Cookies 1 ½ cups brown sugar, packed ½ cup shortening 2 eggs 1 lb. can pumpkin [do they make 1 lb. cans anymore?] 2 ¾ cups flour, sifted 1 T baking powder 1 tsp cinnamon ½ tsp nutmeg ½ tsp salt ¼ tsp ginger 1 cup raisins 1 cup pecans, chopped
Pre-heat oven to 400˚. Mix sugar, shortening, eggs, and pumpkin thoroughly in a large bowl. Sift dry ingredients and add to pumpkin mixture. Blend well. Add raisins and pecans. Drop batter by teaspoonsful on ungreased baking sheet. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven, and lift off with a pancake turner. Makes about 6 dozen. A delicious snack while you’re waiting for the “Great Pumpkin.”
Or a great snack while you’re waiting for the Halloween Blue Moon! It will rise a little after sunset hereabouts.
Happy All Hallow’s Eve!
*I baked this recipe on All Hallows’ Day, with what I had on hand (only whole wheat for flour, and olive oil for oil.) And — I quite like this batch! Of course, they’re always best fresh from the oven…
Aud Supplee, my critique group friend and Running Wild Press colleague, has recently been published in the Friends Journal. This is a monthly international journal of the Quakers, and Aud writes about her faith with humor, warmth, and spirituality. Her article appeared in both the online and print versions of the journal. You can read it free here.
I’m equally pleased to report that another writing friend and RWP colleague, VT Dorchester, will be published online in the Winter Solstice edition of All Worlds Wayfarer. This is a quarterly speculative fiction literary magazine; I’ve peeked at a couple of stories and found them so excellent I was immediately sucked in. As VT says, “If you pre-order, the issue should be delivered to your Kindle on Dec. 21 and Kindle editions will include a bonus story. The issue will also become available on the All World’s Wayfarer website for free in December.” You can preorder the full baker’s dozen of stories for just $2.99! I just did, and I was pleasantly surprised by the low price.
Happy reading! And well done, VT and Aud! I can’t wait to read what each of you has in store for us in the months to come.
One of the things I’ve found most helpful in coping with the Covid-19 pandemic is to learn something new. So I was very glad and grateful to participate in Kathy Otten’s online writing course hosted by Pennwriters, which frequently offers such courses. Kathy’s class, “Weaving History into the Historical Novel,” was of particular interest to me as I write some historical fiction. Her class was very interesting, practical, and helpful, and I got a lot of enjoyment from it.
Now I’m pleased to invite Kathy to join me on my blog for an interview.
Gemma: Tell me a little about your writing, and how you came to write historical fiction.
Kathy: Hi Gemma, Thanks for having me. I write mostly historical romance; a mix of short stories, novellas, and novels. My dad loved the old westerns from when he was a kid, so when they were popular in the seventies, we went to see every John Wayne picture that was released.
Gemma: Ah, the classic westerns! I’d like to refer you to VT Dorchester’s blog — VT posts reviews of westerns, both movies and books (along with writing western stories). Pardon my digression – please tell me more.
Kathy: My mom loved old houses and antiques. Our house was full of them, and each one had a story related to some passed family member.
Gemma: Oh, that’s wonderful. Is there any antique with a particular story that really stays with you?
Kathy: The house was filled with things like Limoges china, a spinning wheel, yarn winder, antique sewing table, dressers, hundred-year-old steamer trunks, cooking utensils, furniture, etc. However, it was the more personal things that were passed down, which to me have a deeper connection. I have a recipe book from my great, great grandfather who had come from Sweden to NYC, and all the recipes are in his handwriting. I had thought it would be fun to have his handwriting analyzed to find out about his personality. My mother gave me an old leather purse which had belonged to my great-grand mother and it still had old coins from the 1800’s in it, along with some old fractional currency, which was issued in the mid 1800’s in lieu of coins because of a coin shortage. Old money is cool to think about anyway, but she would have been the last one to handle it and it might even have her fingerprints on it.
Gemma: Those are some amazing family heirlooms. And the thought of having currency with your great-grandmother’s actual touch on it is enough to give me chills.
Kathy: Together Mom and Dad instilled a love of history for both my brothers and me. My writing melds the happily-ever-after of romance with the romantic myth of the old west and my personal love of exploring different eras and stories from history.
Gemma: What are some other eras you’ve written about?
Kathy: Contemporary is not my usual time period, though I did write a short contemporary romance years ago. Mostly I write out west during the open range cowboy era. I did write a middle-grade historical short story which took place in the 1850’s and I have a soon to be released World War I short story. Since my characters come to me first, I tend to write whatever time period they drop me into.
Gemma: That’s cool to follow the characters to their time period! Do you write in other genres?
Kathy: I’ve written some contemporary romance and a YA novel yet to be published.
Gemma: Tell us a bit more about the YA novel.
Kathy: The YA book is a contemporary story about a teenage boy dealing with past trauma and self-doubt. I’ve submitted it to over twenty agents and editors, but it has been rejected every time. For now, it’s on the back burner. I may go back and rewrite parts of it and try the process again someday when I have the time.
Gemma: It sounds like you have the persistence so vital to being an author. Do you remember when you realized or decided that you wanted to be a writer?
Kathy: I’ve always made up stories in my head, so I don’t really remember when I decided I wanted to be a writer. My mom tells the story that when we went grocery shopping, if she had enough money she’d by each of us one of those Little Golden Books. One day I wanted one, but she didn’t have enough money. When I became upset she told me to write my own and that’s when I started putting stories on paper.
Gemma: Oh, the Little Golden Books – I have some fond memories. What a great response from your mother – and from you, to take her up on it. Can you trace some of your writing history?
Kathy: I’m guessing when I say I must have been in about second grade when I remember writing “Lucky the Dog.” I wrote simple sentences on the lower half of the paper and colored pictures on the top half. The book had a paper cover and I had tied it together with yarn. My mother kept it, that’s why I remember it. I went on to write “The Lost Uranium Mine” and “The Mystery of the Old Yellow House.” When I was sixteen, I wrote “The Letter” for a contest and it won and was published in a Christian magazine for teens called The Young Ambassador. That was the first time I saw my name and my story in print. That really hooked me and I’ve been writing steadily ever since.
Gemma: That first time of seeing yourself in print is so exciting! What’s the first piece you wrote that you’re still proud of/happy with?
Kathy: Aside from that first short story in print, I’ve been happy with each story I’ve written. There are aspects to each one I’m proud of.
Gemma: That is excellent. What’s the hardest part of writing for you?
Kathy: Not procrastinating. Sitting my butt in the chair and doing the work. There are some days cleaning the bathroom seems preferable.
Gemma: You know the procrastination bug is bad when cleaning the bathroom looks better! I know the feeling well; and even when my butt is in the chair, I often feel compelled to straighten my pens and notebooks, and then wonder if I should dust the desk…What’s the best part of writing for you?
Kathy: Sometimes going back and reading a sentence or paragraph from an older work, and I read it and think, Wow, I can’t believe I wrote that.
Gemma: Oh, that is a wonderful feeling! Where does your writing fall on the plot-driven vs. character-driven spectrum?
Kathy: I used to say my stories were character driven, until I read something that James Scott Bell wrote in one of his books on writing. That without a good strong plot the characters have nothing to react to, and without that reaction there is no catalyst for change. I’ve read a lot of romance where the characters are flat and boring. Stepping back, now I can see that it’s the weak plot and lack of conflict that keep the characters, flat and one dimensional.
Gemma: That is an excellent insight; I’ve never thought of it, and it rings very true. What books and authors did you love growing up? Did any particularly influence you?
Kathy: I used to read a lot of books by naturalists, then I fell into the westerns of Louis L’Amour. I love his historical detail and sense of place. Elmore Leonard is another, either his westerns or contemporary police dramas. I love his characters and dialogue.
Gemma: What are you reading presently?
Kathy: I read mostly history on whatever topic I’m researching. If I ever have time I’ll read historical romance or some contemporary.
Gemma: What are you working on now?
Kathy: I’m working on another historical romance novel that touches a bit on the views of sexuality in the Victorian period.
Gemma: That sounds intriguing. I remember being surprised when I realized that the Old West and the Victorian Age overlapped – they seem so different. What is your next project you hope to do?
Kathy: Ideas and characters constantly tumble around in my head, who know which one will jump out at me next. I’m trying to stay focused on one project at a time. No more three novels at once.
Gemma: Wow! Three at once sounds daunting, to say the least. What were the three novels, and what brought you to write them at the same time?
Kathy: In hindsight, I wouldn’t recommend doing it. Because writing and researching one book is time consuming, doing multiple stories takes that much more time. It created a gap of years between release dates which in this day and age of search engine optimization and readers who binge read backlists, keeping a steady stream of product is important if you want people to remember your name. At the time I was working on the YA novel, my Civil War novel, A Place in Your Heart, and the rough draft for the novel I’m currently rewriting. I’m having to learn not to listen to the muse and work on the story I might feel like working on and focus on keeping in the zone and sticking to one story at a time.
Gemma: I’ve felt challenged by that, too, and it’s resulted in some stories left unfinished for long periods. For readers who want to see what you’ve been up to, how can they connect with you?
I’ve loved Greek Mythology for as long as I can remember. One of my older sisters told me myths as bedtime stories (I still remember first hearing the tale of Baucis and Philemon from her). My family had a copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology tattered from much reading. And mythology has influenced my writing, including the novel I’m working on now. So I was quite intrigued when I saw Madeline Miller’s Circe** at my local indie bookshop. When I read the first page, though, somehow I wasn’t pulled in to read more. I’m not sure why – it may be that her vision of the Greek gods and Titans wasn’t mine. But when the pandemic hit, I wanted to support my local bookstore, and so I ordered it from them – it was the first book, but not the last, that I got via “curbside delivery.”
This time when I opened that first page, I was hooked. I think this speaks of the power of Miller’s writing, and also the power of commitment – that book was now mine; I was literally, though in a small way, invested in it. Whatever the reason, I was pulled in and didn’t want to stop (it happened again, when I glanced inside to write this review).
Her vision of the Greek divinities is indeed different from mine, which has formed over decades. But her portrayal is vivid, visceral, and immediate – you feel in their presence. The Titans and gods in her story are so very human – sometimes petty and squabbling. But they can also be chilling, even terrifying.
From the time I read of Circe as a kid (in Edith Hamilton), I always felt some sympathy for her. After all, the way she treated Odysseus’ sailors felt like poetic justice. Madeline Miller has made Circe deeply sympathetic – starting as a child hungering for her father’s attention and basking in his literal radiance. (He is Helios, Titan of the sun, and his gaze can warm – or scorch.)
I loved how the writer wove so very many beings from mythology into the story. It was startling to realize Circe’s brother was Medea’s father. And how had I forgotten, or not known, that Pasiphaë, mother of the Minotaur, was Circe’s sister? I’d always thought of bull-besotted Pasiphaë as cursed and somewhat pitiful. The author has transformed her into something – someone – quite different. With Pasiphaë comes the tale of Daedalus, the Labyrinth, and the Minotaur – no longer distant and misty, but close, vivid, and as frightening as a bull-headed monster should be.
Prometheus also appears; it’s one of my very few regrets in the book that we don’t see or hear of him again. And of course, Odysseus plays a major role. But his appearance is not the end of Circe’s story. In some ways, though he comes in late in the book, he marks a new beginning for Circe.
I highly recommend the novel, not only because of its Greek Mythology, but because it is a novel of rich story and characters, centered on a vibrant female narrator.
When I finished Circe, I wasn’t quite ready to leave the world of mythology. I pulled out an old book of mine that seemed promising – The World of Odysseus by M.I. Finley.
It’s a slim, dense, scholarly book that uses the Iliad and Odyssey as sociological documents to learn about the environment Odysseus lived in (which the author believes was Iron Age Greece). It feels dated, which is no shame to the book – it was first published in the 1950s and revised in the 1970s, so no wonder there. But it is jarring, even repellant, when he refers to some modern-day non-industrial cultures as “primitive” or “savage” – even if only in quoting the titles of works he refers to. He does have some interesting insights into life of very ancient Greece. But I did not enjoy reading it enough to whole-heartedly recommend it.
His work draws not only on much more recent archaeology, but also on other sources including Hittite and Egyptian texts, to make a compelling case that the Trojan War was not only real, but occurred in the Bronze Age (earlier than the Iron Age, and in the general period Homer said it did). Even better, he paints scenes as colorful and dramatic as any novel, then expands on them with what he’s gleaned from other sources, while treating the characters of the Iliad and Odyssey as real people with real, Bronze-age motives. He not only treats Homer with respect, but helps make that world come vividly to life. His book also includes a very helpful timeline (for those of us who need help keeping the Bronze Age separate from the Iron Age and from Homer’s time), and a series of maps with ever-increasing detail, which give the reader a firm footing on where and when the Trojan War took place.
I’m sorry to see that Barry Strauss’ book may not be available in print, though it does appear to be available as an e-book, and I recommend it as a good read.
For more about the archaeology of the Trojan War, PBS has an excellent show: Secrets of the Dead: The Real Trojan Horse; Barry Strauss is one of the experts who speaks. And the magazine Archaeology has online an interactive map of the many layers of Ancient Troy, with context: Uncovering Troy
The book Circe is about so much more than the Trojan War and Odysseus, though. It begins when the world is young and the wounds of the Titans’ war with the Olympians are still raw. Hesiod’s Theogony tells of that war and of the birth of the world and all its divine beings. I read two translations of the Theogony, one by Norman O. Brown and one by Dorothea Wender; they returned me to the world of myth and wonder. And there, near the end, Circe is mentioned, bringing me back full circle.
If I were to do it over, I’d skip The World of Odysseus and read Barry Strauss’ The Trojan War instead. And I’m glad I reread the Theogony. But it’s Madeline Miller’s Circe which lingers with me. I look forward to reading it again someday.
*All book cover photos are of my copies. I could find no art credit for the left-hand Theogony.
**The word nerd in me was pleased and surprised to read that Circe’s name means Hawk. The masculine form, Circos (Kirkos in Greek) is a particular kind of hawk named for its circular flight. Circe, Madeline Miller’s novel says, was named for her golden eyes and piercing cry.
Writers Aud and Gemma have two things in common: they attend the same critique group and both have short stories in Running Wild Anthology of Stories, Volume 3. (Available at independent bookstores, through Bookshop.org, and from Barnes and Noble and Amazon.) They are also good friends who, during the pandemic, came together via Zoom to talk about writing and to share their creative plans for the future.
Gemma: So, Aud, it tickled me that our short stories were next to each other. And you have a story in Running Wild’s thirdNovellaAnthology, too!
Aud: First, me too! I’m excited that we’re not only both in the short story anthology, but my story comes directly after yours!
G: So tell a little bit about both of your stories.
A: My short story in Running Wild Anthology of Stories, Volume 3, “Monkey in the Middle” is about a marriage falling apart as seen through the eyes of the couple’s young daughter, who has no clue what’s going on. My novella in the Novella Anthology volume 3, book 1 is called “Broken Soul to Broken Soul,” about two characters, suffering from separate traumas, who come together to form an unorthodox friendship that might lead toward healing.
G: I love both of those stories – in different ways because they’re so different. My piece in the Anthology of Stories, “The One that Got Away,” catches a group of fishermen in the middle of swapping tall tales. The one my story’s about is the tallest one of all!
A: I reread your short story and liked it even more this time around. It is so well done and with such a short number of words!
G: Thanks, Aud!
A: I don’t know if I ever told you this, but your blog inspired me to start one. I had one years ago, but not about writing. Can you talk a little about your blog?
G: Wow, I didn’t know my blog inspired you to start yours – I’m glad you did. My blog’s focus is reading and writing, and also my love of words. That’s why I subtitled it “Writer and Word Explorer” – also ’cause it’s a fun sorta-pun. I love words. I haven’t explored that facet as much as I want to on my blog, things like word origins.
A: You’ve done some of those. I remember some of those, yeah.
G. It’s one of the things I love. And highlighting other authors, giving them one more opportunity to be out there. It’s a nice way of networking and I get exposed to new things that way, too. And I can’t wait to start posting character interviews. Including one of yours! How about you, Aud? What’s your blog’s focus?
A: The writing process and how to get there, namely through living, reading and writing, which is what it’s called, “Live, Read, Write.” That’s my process; have experiences, read early and often and after that’s all done, digest it, and spit it out in the form of fiction.
G: [Laughter] So what are you currently reading?
A: I am currently reading a travel memoir by an English guy named Tony James Slater and it’s called Kamikaze Kangaroos! It’s about his year traveling through Australia with his sister and his sister’s Australian girlfriend. I’m almost finished that one, so on deck is a cozy mystery that takes place on a Caribbean cruise ship. I never heard of the author, but I like cozy mysteries, I like Caribbean cruises and I like 99¢ for eBooks on Kindle.
A: And, there’s a reason that I like 99¢ eBooks – they’re not always good. I learn more from the bad stuff than the classics.
G: That is an excellent point. I think you have a lot of patience because I want to get lost in the books I read. I don’t want to be critiquing them.
A: Well, I’m not really critiquing them either, but I’ll read something and think, “Aww! I wish that person had a critiquing group because they wouldn’t have done that!” But it doesn’t stop me from enjoying the story. And I read so fast, that I just zip right through them. [Editor’s note: Aud has already read 12 more books since this joint interview. She is currently rereading Judy Blume’s classic middle grade novel, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. ]
G: You’re a fast reader. I know there have been some books I’ve read where I thought, “Oh man! My critique group wouldn’t let that fly!”
A: That’s exactly it, yeah! I know you’re also a big reader, Gemma. What book is on your nightstand right now?
G: I’m not nearly as fast as you, though! Right now I’m savoring Circe, by Madeline Miller. It’s the story of the nymph Circe from The Odyssey. She welcomed Odysseus and his crew to her island and gave them a feast. Because the men acted like pigs, they were turned into pigs. That’s the myth, and we’re seeing her from her birth. She’s just a minor nymph at the beginning and she’s not loved by her parents. The gods and Titans are very human in some sense – they squabble – but they’re also bigger than life. I’m really enjoying it. It’s an interesting view of mythological things. It’s well written, detailed but not too detailed. She captures the scene with just a few words and I love that. I’m trying to learn from that. [Editor’s note: since this interview, Gemma has finished Circe, still loves it, and is now reading The World of Odysseus by M. Finley.] So, tell us a little bit about what you’re writing.
A: I am editing the never-ending upper middle grade novel, This Way/That Way about a girl drummer who learns about love and acceptance after befriending a schoolmate whose father is suffering from cancer. I might change the title because during this latest edit, it seems to be heading toward the spiritual. I’m wondering if I can make a cross-over story. I don’t want it to be 100% Christian, but God will have a cameo. What are you currently working on?
G: I am working on a novel that the idea for came to me decades ago. It’s about a girl who finds out, when she’s a teenager, that there’s a prophesy that she will become so beautiful that people will wage war, there will be battle and bloodshed and death over her. And she’s horrified. She thinks, “No! I’m not going to be responsible for the ruin of my people. I’m going to do everything I can to prevent that.” To do that, she has to become a warrior. That’s where I am in the story right now. I have the general course of the story planned out. And I know how it’s going to end, but between here and there a lot will happen.
A: Do you know, This Way/That Way is over 80,000 words long right now?
A: I can’t have that for middle grade or upper middle grade. No way. I’ve gotta cut some of that back. There’s a question they ask in the Quaker Sunday school after they tell a Bible story: “What can we take away from this story and still have everything we need?” That’s a really good question that I want to answer while editing.
G: Yes. I’m telling myself that now as I’m writing a scene. “Do I need that?” Nope. It can go. That’s the challenging thing. But you’re the one who told me this — you don’t know what you need until you get to the end.
A: That segues us to the benefits of a critique group. I’m impressed that you’re able to be in two critique groups. You read everybody’s pieces, comment on the pieces, write your own piece, plus do your blog! I don’t know how the heck you find time to do all of that!
G: It’s challenging sometimes. I used to take people’s pieces out to Starbucks or the library or a bookstore and enjoy reading them over a coffee. I miss that.
A: Do you think there’s a time when a critique group gets too comfortable since we’ve known each other so long? I wonder if we ever let each other sort of get away with stuff because we know the story. Like if we’ll read one of the pieces and fill in blanks that aren’t technically there.
G: That can be a good thing, because you’re supposed to trust your reader and let them fill in the blanks. But it can also be a troublesome thing. In our own group I think we do cut each other some slack. We have faith in each other. But on the other hand, we don’t necessarily let each other get away with stuff. Like you guys will call me on things. It’s not just typos, it’s like, “Wait. Don’t you remember this?” or “Would somebody really say that?” or “Wouldn’t somebody ask this?” So, I think we can get too comfortable sometimes, but we can remind ourselves, “Okay, I’m coming to this as a reader.”
A: The bottom line is, you as the author, have to decide what’s right for the story. Sometimes our group says majority rules but maybe not. It might be the one person is correct and the other two are not quite right.
G: Once it was told to me by a wise person, “A tie goes to the author,” so if you’ve got opposing opinions, go with yours. There can be times where someone makes a really valid point, or somebody comes up with a cool idea. And I think, “Yeah, that would be cool, but that’s not the story I’m telling.”
A: Sometimes when a critiquer asks, “What’s the person thinking here?” There isn’t really an answer. Sometimes, the character doesn’t have time to think, she’s just acting.
G: And that’s tricky to bring the reader along with that. There was a PennWriters session once where an author was saying, “Don’t overuse emotional words, but in the first draft use them all you want.” Then, when you’re rewriting it, try to bring the reader with you so the reader doesn’t need to be told the character is heartbroken, the reader is heartbroken with the character. But not in the first draft, because that’ll just paralyze you.
A: Right. Make it authentic. For me, the first draft is the hardest thing to write. My work around is I’ll use present tense. I’ll write, “Nickie looks up and asks if classrooms are up there.” When my inner editor sees that it thinks, “Oh, we’re not serious because we’re not in past tense.” That’s how I get past the inner critic.
G: That is so tough.
A: How do you handle your first draft? Your blank page as it were.
G: I guess I try to write when the inner editor’s not looking. [Laughter] “You go do something else. Your turn will come when I revise.” Sometimes I hear – I’m not proud of this – but I’ll hear the voice, “Well, Aud would catch this,” and “Steve would catch that, and Laura would say this.”
A: That’s what I do! Yup, I’m doing the same thing. [Laughter]
G: And I have to say, “They don’t always. I may be wrong.” I find first drafts easiest if I’m not thinking about all the revisions I’m going to have to make. [Laughter]
A: That makes me feel better, knowing I can fix it if it’s not quite right. [Laughter]
G: There’s that too, there really is. What does your writing schedule look like right now?
A: I’m out of school for the summer, so I take early morning walks. I keep a pen and little notepad in my pocket. As I walk, I think about the story. Whenever I hear dialog or description in my head, I’ll stop cold and start writing. Sometimes I don’t even stop. I walk and write.
A: I try to type my notes as soon as I get back because writing while walking isn’t always legible. Then I try to work on my computer outside until it gets too hot. I try to work until lunch and then I read in the afternoon. Sometimes when I’m just not feeling it, I don’t write at all. Which I know isn’t good. You have to make yourself sit in front of the computer. It’s been said before: Just put your butt in the chair and work. One thing I love is my laptop can read to me. When I hear back what I wrote the day before, it gets me in the mood to write. But even with that, I don’t think I’m as productive as I should be.
G: It goes both ways. Sometimes you have to sit down and do it. I’ve told myself, “Oh, I never got anything written today, but I don’t write after dinner.” I remember one day I just sat down after dinner and wrote. “What do you know? I can do it.” But generally I’m kind of a morning person. It often works well if I get up early and go for a walk and think about what I want to write next. I’ll often rehearse scenes in my head. On a good day, once I’m home I’ll sit down and write it. Revising usually happens after my second group has met. I’ll go through and think, “these are the little things I can do right now.” But for big things, I have a file of notes to revise – “Think about this in the future.” If I can’t decide if I want to go this way or that way – no pun intended – I will make notes about it, or if it’s too big of a change and I can’t face it right now – “Let’s not and pretend I did.” [Laughter] So, it’s a lengthy process but that’s sort of what mine is like right now.
A: Have you ever gotten inspiration in the middle of the night?
G: Not so much in the middle of the night, but sometimes when I’m getting ready for bed, or reading before bedtime. I do have a pen and a pad of paper next to me so I can scribble it down. More than one time, I looked at it the next morning and thought, “Oh what the heck was that?”
G: I must have been half asleep when I wrote that.
A: I’ve got a clipboard and a pen on the floor beside the bed. In the middle of the night I’ll write it down but can’t always read what I wrote. For some reason, when I get a magnifying glass and look through it, sometimes I can figure out what the letters are and then it’ll click. “Oh, right, that’s what I meant!” Or I’ll get inspiration in the night and some of the times you’re thinking, “This is genius!” Then the next morning go, “This isn’t genius at all. This is stupid.”
A: I’ll write it down any way, just in case.
G: You never know. It might be good.
A: So here we are, stuck at home. How has covid19 affected your writing?
G: It’s been hard sometimes, admittedly. It’s just because it’s so overwhelming. On the other hand, sometimes writing’s been a real welcome release. I can make happen in a fictional world whatever I want – I can tell myself that it doesn’t even have to be good. I can see that justice prevails in my story. Things will be done right in my story. And that’s helped. But sometimes I’ll have to go off and read something totally unrelated to world events and to my own writing. How about you?
A: I would say Covid gave me some writer’s block. What saved me from that was when a local theater group, the People’s Light, offered prompts for people to write about what they were experiencing. Later, the actors acted them out on Zoom. The prompts they suggested were things that I never in a million years would have thought to write about. I really liked that it got me writing again.
G: That was wonderful, and I’m so glad it helped with your writer’s block. What would you like to do differently in your writing life going forward? For me, I want to get back to taking morning walks and writing. I want to get more into the part of the story that matters. And to have a sense of urgency about it so it doesn’t take me another twenty-five years to finish it! How about you?
A: I want to be more productive than I am right now. When I start school in the fall, I’m going to look back and think, “Look at all these full days I had where I could have spent all this time writing and didn’t.” I have a tablet with sound effects. So, I’ll sit outside under my umbrella with my ice tea and my laptop with ocean waves playing in the background while I write. Boy oh boy, that’s fun! It got a little hot yesterday. I had some water and I doused my head and pretended I went swimming. [Laughter]
G: [Laughter] That’s cool. I used to go to Starbucks, especially when I was writing Green Midnight, I had earphones and I would play forest soundscape while I was writing. It put me in the mood.
A: Yeah. That’s cool. Anything that can get the creative juices flowing. Speaking of that, we better stop and get back to work! Happy writing!
G: Thanks for this chance to chat together, Aud! Happy writing to you, too!
P.S. from Gemma: check out this interview on Aud’s blog – she’s got fun audio snippets! And you can read a transcript of Aud’s piece, and the others, on People’s Light here.