Friday, February 24, 2012

Everything is Research

So, you may be wondering…doesn’t she do anything but sit on the porch and count birds? Well, yes, she does. It’s called research.

In my work in progress, A Trick of the Light, the protagonist (not the heroine; this one’s straight fiction and not a romance) Julia, has left her childhood home and moved into an abandoned barn. Julia is thirteen years old. It’s fall in Kentucky. The landscape is pretty pitiful, as is her life, and there’s not a lot of beauty to describe. Her fall and winter will be, stylistically, pretty bland. She’s learning the lessons of survival (with a little help from her friends) and doing a lot of growing up. 

What I’m doing now is soaking up spring for the time when I start to write about it. Spring in Kentucky is glorious. Spring in Kentucky in the woods is breath-taking. Spring for Julia (all four of the springs she spends in the barn) will be life affirming. Summer will be hot. Her second fall and winter will mimic the first, but she’ll have the lessons of the year before to fall back on, and then, once again, it will be glorious spring.

For now, my “research” includes these activities and sightings:

I planted some Creeping Phlox seeds on the 15th and had seedlings on the 21st. I took this photo last night.

Tiny, huh?  Imagine what they'll look like in a month.

One of the many squirrels populating my woods is sprawled across the peaked roof of a feeder, sunning. I guess they have to occasionally take a break to digest. I think one of them is pregnant. Yippee, more squirrels.

There’s been a large yellow butterfly, a Cloudless Sulphur, flying around the yard for the past week. Nothing is blooming around here so I don’t know what they’re eating. I put the Hummingbird feeder out on Sunday. Last weekend (Friday through Monday, actually) was the Hummingbird count in Florida. My count was zero, but my hopes were high. Sometimes you have to have a feeder out for a long time before the hummers notice you. On my next trip to the home store I’ll be looking for firecracker plants and hibiscus. Red. Hummers love red.

And here come the Titmice, loud and raucous. The squirrels are wising up and vacate the feeders before the onslaught. The Cardinals are also catching on to the ability of the Titmice to temporarily clear the room. They fly in with the Titmice and snatch a seed or two while the squirrels are cringing up in the branches. There is a fledgling titmouse who can land on the feeder but hasn’t yet figured out how to navigate its way onto the ant-trap above the hummer feeder, now filled with water and serving as a water station. Did you know a nesting Titmouse will hiss like a snake when disturbed? Ah, well, I digress.

Here's a Cardinal who's stopped by for a drink:

Did you know that Cardinals generally stay up about half an hour later than squirrels?  And that they are often the first birds active at dawn?  When seed is low at the end of the day I wait until the squirrels have gone to bed, then fill for the late diners and early risers.  Julia will discover this in A Trick of the Light as she learns the rhythms of the woods where she lives.

The bottom line? Everything is research.

Happy writing (and researching)!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Powering Up the Way-Back Machine

February 20, 1962. 

I don’t remember it like it was yesterday.

The memories come back to me in snatches.  The pale green paint on the walls, the desks in orderly rows.   The waist-high bank of windows that ran the length of the room and looked out over the playground.  No one’s eyes were on the playground that day. 

That day, fifty years ago, when I sat in my sixth grade classroom watching the grainy picture on the black and white television our teacher brought in.  The smart alecs in the back of the room making bets on whether the rocket would explode and our place in the space race would be lost along with our newest hero, John Glenn. 

I do remember the faces of my classmates.  Oh, we were so young, babies really, with our whole lives in front of us.  Don, who dreamed of being an astronaut like Glenn, musical Jane, shy Sandy, artistic Charles. 

A year and a half later, on the day of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, I sat in a room with those same classmates and listened to our teacher read Walt Whitman’s Oh Captain, My Captain.  Six years later we mourned the death of a beloved teacher together.  We graduated.  We parted.  We swore we’d never lose touch, but we did. 

A lot can change in fifty years.  We still have lots of life ahead of us, but the question still remains…

Where are you guys??? 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Writer, Weathergirl or Bird Watcher?

After whining about the cool weather on Monday I can now report that Central Florida may break a record high temperature today.

I've been reading a lot lately, since it's so pleasant to sit on the porch with a book.  I just finished Diana Gabaldon's The Scottish Prisoner.  It covers part of the period when Jamie Fraser was on parole from Ardsmuir Prisoner and serving as a groom at Helwater.  This is after Culloden and Claire is back in her own time, pregnant with Brianna (although Jamie thinks the baby is a boy).  Jamie and Geneva Dunsany's child, William is on the scene here, at age 2 or thereabouts, and it's so touching to read about him bonding with Jamie, although, of course, wee William has no idea Jamie is his Da.

Claire appears in this story in spirit.  One of the things I loved about this book is how she is never far from Jamie's thoughts.  In a chapter titled "Fridstool" Jamie walks into a glass walled conservatory with Lord John Gray and  is assailed by the scents that greet him.  Gabaldon writes, "for an instant, he smelled his wife's hair among them and gulped air as though he'd been shot in the lung."  The reader who knows Claire and Jamie's story also gasps for breath.  I cannot wait for the next book in the Outlander series, Written in My Own Heart's Blood.

As I am probably one of the most easily distracted people on the planet, while reading, writing, cleaning, thinking or checking my eyelids for cracks, I usually have one eye on the backyard action.  Birds have been plentiful the past few weeks, especially  cardinals and titmice.  I love the titmice.  They come flying into the yard in a pack (I call them The Gang of Twelve, because there are so many of them I can't count them and they are terrible bullies), swooping and screeching and generally scaring the squirrels out of their skins.  The cardinals have begun to run with the titmice because when they're on the scene, the squirrels scatter.  About mid afternoon I looked up from my book and saw a woodpecker fly up into one of the trees (still bare) and then onto the feeder.  It was probably a Downy Woodpecker, but I think it might have been a Red Cockaded Woodpecker. 

I spent 2 hours on the Iinternet this morning trying to find a stock photo of a Red, but this photo of a Downy was the best I could do.

At the feeder this little guy would nibble a seed then rock back and toss the shell into the air.  That's when I would get the flash of red on his head.  I spent about five minutes studying him before he flew off.  I rarely see woodpeckers even though the woods behind my house are filled with longleaf pines, the preferred nesting tree for woodpeckers.

I wonder if the warm/cool/mild/rainy/warm/cool weather is giving the birds an opportunity to wander around and seek out new homes and nesting places.  I'm so glad they stop by my feeders for seed and a sip.

What's going on outside the window at your place?

Happy writing (and bird watching). 

Monday, February 13, 2012

"Brrrr" Is Not A Word

We've had a chilly couple of days here in the usually sunny South, although we're expecting temps in the 80s by the end of the week.  The birds and squirrels are keeping me busy, since the cooler it gets the more seeds they need to keep up their energy.

I'm expending most of my energy on a new project I started.  What? you say?  What happened to the other projects that languish in various stages of completion (I wanted to say unfinishedness, but I don't think that's a word, either)?

I think my worst habit as a writer is jumping from story to story, getting all caught up in the new and ignoring the not-quite-old but not-quite-done.

I also use too many dashes and parenthetical asides, but that's another matter.

Since I love charts and calendars and tracking devices I'm tempted to begin scheduling my writing time a little more tightly than I have in the past.  Most of the writing I've done on the new project (it's a coming of age story that takes place in Kentucky) has been in the evening.  Maybe I should work on editing/rewriting the cowboy stories at another time during the day.  Maybe I could substitute writing time for my house cleaning time!

The more I think about that idea the more I think I'd like it.  Or would, until I found myself awash in a sea of dirty laundry and comtemplating renting a front end loader to remove the tracked-in dirt from the living room floor.

Back to the drawing board...

Happy writing!

Friday, February 3, 2012

I Hope Heaven Looks Like Hobby Lobby

It's no secret that I'm a crafter.  If I'm not putting my hands to some hobby or other, well, it's just a wasted day.

I went to Hobby Lobby for the first time today, with my friend Jennifer, and I'll never be able to thank her enough for the experience.  I found at least one hundred new things I want to try.  It was like a theme park for creativity.

Unlike Ikea, where they herd you through like cattle, Hobby Lobby lets you wander like a kid in a candy store.  My head was spinning by the time we left.  I want to go back as soon as possible, in better shoes, to fully appreciate the beauty of choice and color and fun and craziness. 

Eat your heart out, Michael's.

Happy writing!