Dec 27, 2011

Writing Challenges for The New Year

Considering a writing challenge to inspire you for the new year?  Perhaps one of these will be just the thing.

A River of Stones


Fiona Robyn, who began this micro-poetry movement, describes a small stone as "a very short piece of writing that precisely captures a fully-engaged moment."  She encourages others to join her in writing a stone a day through January. Need more encouragement?  She offers a lovely ebook at no cost: How To Write Your Way Home. This is truly one of those inspired projects destined to grow.

As a side note:  I learned about River of Stones from Anne Stormont when she participated in 2011.  She is currently writing stones for advent and her descriptions are so beautiful. The River of Stones had slipped my mind in the past year but, because of Anne, I'm seriously considering participating in January.

100 Themes Challenge


The history of The 100 Themes Challenge is well-documented here.  It became really big when Deviant Art became involved.  Basically, it's a list of themes (Introduction, Love, Light, Dark. . .) that serves as a jumping off point for artists.  I first heard of the challenge in the contexts of writing and photography, but you can apply the list to any creative endeavor.  To share your work, get involved with a community of others working on the same challenge. I know there are groups on DeviantArt.com, Fanfiction.net, and LiveJournal and I'm sure there are many more.

FridayFlash


This is a fantastic way to share short fiction in a supportive community. Although you don't have to write a story every week, many of the authors do.

Here's the brief description: "Friday Flash is an Internet meme designed to increase your visibility as a fiction writer. The idea is simple enough. Write a piece of flash fiction, defined as 1000 words or less, post it to your blog, and then on Friday announce it to the world via Twitter or some other social network along with the link to your post. If you use Twitter be sure to include the hashtag, #fridayflash."  Find out more on the #fridayflash website:  http://fridayflash.org/press/about-fridayflash/

Flickr 365

You might consider joining any one of the Flickr 365 groups.  The idea?  You choose a theme. You take a photo every day.  The big one, Project 365, has nearly 25,000 members, but there are lots and lots of smaller groups (many of which still number in the hundreds).  Some photographers focus on self-portraiture.  Some focus on their kids.  Some are a bit more obscure.  One of my favorites is bench standing. (There are multiple groups devoted to this:  Bench Monday, Happy Original Bench, Bench Anyday, Bench Monday (Anything Benchlike), and for those not inclined to limit themselves to benches, we have Standing On Stuff.)  If you can imagine it, there very well may be a group devoted to it.

The point?  Creativity.  By looking at the same subject or theme on a daily basis, you begin to stretch.  It's a gorgeous idea.

Make Something 365

Brought to you by Noah Scalin who made a skull a day for a year, the Make Something 365 website encourages you to pick your own subject and go with it.  One of my favorites is Librarian's Daughter.

Quick Thoughts About Long Revisons


I've been working on a major revision of Claire Morgane Almost Saves The World since August.  I finished the main part of the revision on last week and am now looping back through chapters to play with words. I need to read aloud and integrate reader feedback from the whole book.  But seriously? All that is play compared to the work just completed.

I can tell when I'm writing a serious revision because I keep hitting that point where I'm sure there's no way, ever, that I'm going to be able to pull off what I'm attempting.  And yet, I keep going.  And when it doesn't work that first time, I loop back and make it better.  And when that version doesn't quite work, I loop back and make it better.  And when that version is almost there, but not quite?  Yeah.  I loop back and make it better.

And when I end up with a copy that my readers race through for the thrill of the ride--and the ride doesn't go off the rails--that's pure joy.

I've written easier stories, but I'd rather write the difficult stories and make them look easy.

Over the course of this revision, I've written a few posts on my process:

The Craft of Writing:  Revision (December 14, 2011)

Raising The Stakes (September 21, 2011)

Approaching A Big Revision (August 24, 2011)

Leading up to this revision, I wrote these two:

When I Say I #amwriting. . . (July 27, 2011)

Tools For The Writing Process (June 1, 2011)

I also read this post by Mary Kohl, which I found incredibly validating: Big Revision.

Dec 20, 2011

Winter Solstice Inspiration


Winter Solstice always makes me cry before it makes me happy.

I suppose I have my rural roots to blame. Somewhere in my evolutionary DNA is the knowledge that I must work hard at the equinoxes if I intend to live through the solstices.  Establish the crops before the heat of summer. Harvest and preserve food before the winter.  We talk of cycles and seasons, but in my heart I feel the panic.  Even though it's no longer necessary, I still feel safer after putting up food in my cupboards and stacking wood in the barn. And I still feel relief when the earth tilts once again and the days grow longer.  The solstice always reminds me of the yearly near-miss of death. And the yearly near-miss of death reminds me that life is precious and work is meaningful.

So yes.  Every Winter Solstice, passing through the darkest day, I'm desperately thankful. I remember all we survived in the previous year and I let my heart go out in mourning for all the losses. Then I build a fire and burn my grief and cry.

And then the earth tilts.

And I begin again.

I wish you warmth and food and love this season. I wish you relief from sorrow and illness. I wish you all the things you need, including meaningful work that sustains you.

As you release last season into this, shifting your focus to the horizon of a new year, you might want to consider one of these challenges:


A River of Stones

Fiona Robyn, who began this micro-poetry movement, describes a small stone as "a very short piece of writing that precisely captures a fully-engaged moment."  She encourages others to join her in writing a stone a day through January. Need more encouragement?  She offers a lovely ebook at no cost: How To Write Your Way Home. This is truly one of those inspired projects destined to grow.

As a side note:  I learned about River of Stones from Anne Stormont when she participated in 2011.  She is currently writing stones for advent and her descriptions are so beautiful. The River of Stones had slipped my mind in the past year but, because of Anne, I'm seriously considering participating in January.


100 Themes Challenge

The history of The 100 Themes Challenge is well-documented here.  It became really big when Deviant Art became involved.  Basically, it's a list of themes (Introduction, Love, Light, Dark. . .) that serves as a jumping off point for artists.  I first heard of the challenge in the contexts of writing and photography, but you can apply the list to any creative endeavor.  To share your work, get involved with a community of others working on the same challenge. I know there are groups on DeviantArt.com, Fanfiction.net, and LiveJournal and I'm sure there are many more.


FridayFlash

This is a fantastic way to share short fiction in a supportive community. Although you don't have to write a story every week, many of the authors do.

Here's the brief description: "Friday Flash is an Internet meme designed to increase your visibility as a fiction writer. The idea is simple enough. Write a piece of flash fiction, defined as 1000 words or less, post it to your blog, and then on Friday announce it to the world via Twitter or some other social network along with the link to your post. If you use Twitter be sure to include the hashtag, #fridayflash."  Find out more on the #fridayflash website:  http://fridayflash.org/press/about-fridayflash/


Flickr 365

You might consider joining any one of the Flickr 365 groups.  The idea?  You choose a theme. You take a photo every day.  The big one, Project 365, has nearly 25,000 members, but there are lots and lots of smaller groups (many of which still number in the hundreds).  Some photographers focus on self-portraiture.  Some focus on their kids.  Some are a bit more obscure.  One of my favorites is bench standing. (There are multiple groups devoted to this:  Bench Monday, Happy Original Bench, Bench Anyday, Bench Monday (Anything Benchlike), and for those not inclined to limit themselves to benches, we have Standing On Stuff.)  If you can imagine it, there very well may be a group devoted to it.

The point?  Creativity.  By looking at the same subject or theme on a daily basis, you begin to stretch.  It's a gorgeous idea.


Make Something 365

Brought to you by Noah Scalin who made a skull a day for a year, the Make Something 365 website encourages you to pick your own subject and go with it.  One of my favorites is Librarian's Daughter.

Dec 6, 2011

The Craft of Writing: Revision

Revising is not the same thing as editing. When I edit my work, my vision of the story remains the same.  I may eliminate entire chapters, rewrite complete scenes, change every sentence in the book, but the structure remains. I have a stack of edits sitting beside me: pages full of marks and squiggles and notes to "tighten" or "rephrase" or simply "fix."  Edits are often about wordsmithery. I pour myself into a world of sound and rhythm and presentation. Editing is a delicious way to spend time if you love words.

The world of revision is a messier place.

If editing is rearranging furniture, revision is knocking down walls.

Revision takes a good deal more skill than writing or editing and I'm not convinced most writers ever do it.  It's not that they can't do it. It's just a hellishly frightening leap and it's enormously difficult.  The easier path, always, is to set aside a book that needs serious revision---and write a better one from scratch.

Remember: you don't have to make a lifetime commitment to every book you write. My first book was so bad, I don't even claim it as my first book.  I call it Book Zero.  I'm convinced gazing on it directly may cause blindness. I'm not going back there. And that's okay.

So why revise? If revising is more difficult than writing a new and better novel, why do it?

I've found only one reason: because a really wonderful idea chose me and I discovered, through the process of writing, that I lacked the skills to do it justice. I wanted to tell that story more than any of the stories I possessed the skills to tell.

We revise to become better writers, to earn the right to tell complex tales.  Is that worth our time?  Maybe it depends on the story.

So what do some of those scary revisions look like?

During the course of revising five novels, I have:

  • Changed the point of view. Changed it again.  Oh why not? Changed it again.
  • Changed from past to present tense. Fell in love with it.  Fell out of love with it. Changed it back.
  • Eliminated a significant subplot, including a major character.  (The first major character I eliminated was named Mim.  Now, whenever a character disappears from a novel, my early readers and I call it "being mimmed.")
  • Changed the focus of the entire book by changing what the main character wants. I've done this one more than once. This usually results in eliminating more than half the chapters, inserting new ones, and rewriting the ones that remain.
  • Changed the rules under which my world operated.
  • Pulled out a tightly-woven subplot to make it the focus of a separate book.
  • Eliminated an entire setting, creating new bridges from Point B to C and Point D to E.  (The real challenge here was working in the material I wanted to keep.)
  • Discovered that an existing plot hole revealed more of interest than the current plot line. Reconstructed the whole thing.
  • Changed the relationship between major characters.

And what did I gain from all this?

  • Confidence. I'm no longer afraid of any change request. I know I can do it.
  • Loyalty to a story above any set of words. If I can make the story better, I'll cut my favorite scene in the book. It will make room for one I love even more.
  • Material for future narratives.  The beloved bits I eliminate become polished material for later writing.
  • Skill and flexibility. Not only can I make the changes, I have energy to play, to see which version I like best.
  • A wicked sense of humor about my characters and the changes they go through.

What's the biggest revision you've ever undertaken?  What did you learn from it?


Nov 22, 2011

Imagination


Imagination gets a bum rap.

The stuff of childhood play, imagination is often miscategorized as childish.  Ideas imagined are often mislabeled unreal or false.

Most of us go through a point in our growing-up years when we think it necessary to "put away childish things" including our imaginations and our imaginary friends.

Ridiculous.

I submit to you that imagination is key to creating meaning in our lives.

Does that mean that all meaning is illusion?  I suppose you could go there. I don't.  I think imagination is the root of all knowledge, the foundation for understanding everything truly important.

Before scientists can test a theory, they must imagine it. Before engineers can design complicated structures, they must imagine them. Some physicists would even argue that possibilities for reality are infinite until we observe and define---and how do we define anything without first imagining that meaning?

And yet, for all its importance, how many of us exercise our imaginations? When we really, absolutely, for-sure need to think differently and come up with answers to complicated problems, how many of us will be able to imagine those answers?

For writers, imagination is essential.

Great Aunt Marge might pat you on the head and take this to mean that you're so cute, writing your little stories and avoiding the real world. (In short, she treats you as a child because she sees imagination as the stuff of childhood.)

Great Aunt Marge is wrong.

Imagination is the most serious aspect of childhood. Through playing, kids define their identities and the shape of their communities. They see themselves as superheros or explorers or spies. They picture themselves in families or without families. They contemplate birth and death and marriage and divorce. In the worst situations, they come up with understandings both inspiring and frightening. In the best situations, they come up with understandings both inspiring and frightening. In play, they find the meaning of life. That meaning serves as the foundation for everything that comes after.

As writers, we're not just jotting down stories. We're exploring those primitive building blocks of imagination to create meaning.  We may approach our writing in the spirit of playfulness, but we're creating something profound.

One of my favorite parts of writing is getting to that point when my characters start editorializing my decisions. My hero might turn toward me and say, "Are you crazy? I'd never do that."  Or all the characters might gang up on me and insist on taking Path B when all along I planned for them to take Path A.  Or, my absolute favorite thing is when a brand new character wanders onto the page, refuses to leave, and steals the scene.

And this is where people get all mystical about the writing process, even though the experience isn't all that uncommon.  The stray character shows up and, against our better judgement, we let him stay. We don't know why. We just write the scene with him in it and then we move on.  Then, in the closing of the book, that character suddenly becomes critical to EVERYTHING. And we sit there, scene written, and we ask, "how did that happen?"

I don't know.  But then, I don't really understand how my heart beats either. That's pretty weird. And respiration?  Totally cool.

The difference, of course, is that we breathe all the time. Our heart goes all aflutter at the touch of a lover or calms in the presence of a waterfall. We're accustomed to some miracles more than others.

Imagination? Especially when we've put it away with childhood and it makes a startling return?  Imagination shakes us to the core.  It wows us.

I corrected my son the other day.  He wanted to watch television and we settled into our usual discussion.  This day his argument for expanding his screen time was, "but I was only playing anyway."  I told him play was important---essential even.

"But I do it all the time," he answered.

"But if you stop playing, you'll forget how to play."

He stared at me, wide-eyed.  "Seriously?"

"Adults forget all the time."

"But you use your imagination every day," he argued.  "You wouldn't be able to write without it."

"Yes. I had to train myself by writing every day. It didn't come back to me easily."

I didn't realize my younger daughter was listening. She squeezed between us and gave me a big hug, her eyes so sad.  "I'm sorry you lost your imagination," she said. Then she put hands on both my cheeks and nodded.  "I'm just glad it's back."

My son went off to play, my daughter joined him, and I sat in wonder.

Yes. I can find my way back to the very real world of my imagination, but I wish I'd kept the path open all along.

Happy

I am surprised by where I am in my writing career just now.

I've been writing every day for four years. I've written five novels and bunches of short stories, articles, and blog posts.  I've had some of the short stuff published---enough of it that my heart doesn't thump wildly about it anymore.

I'm a writer of my time, still learning my craft. I blog, I tweet, I facebook, and I tumble. I created the #amwriting hashtag where I hang out with other writers. I brave the occasional podcast and youtube video.  I have a circle of writer friends with whom I share my earliest drafts and I feel honored when they share theirs with me.  I'm a member of three professional writing groups. I attend meetings and workshops and conferences.  I can pitch my books in my sleep.

I signed with my agent almost a year ago, but it was not one of those OMG-Look-At-Her-Talent kind of signings. I met an agent at a conference. We hit it off.  I sent my book.  She gave it to her colleague.  The colleague gave me honest, detailed notes about why she couldn't represent it---and she offered to talk with me.  I jumped at the chance and we set up a phone call. I listened.  Her suggestions required a whole new approach to the story.

I kid you not. The amount of work she suggested should have broken me. The amount of things wrong with my story should have reduced me to a little pool of tears formerly known as writer. Instead? Something freakishly weird happened: her advice made my brain light up in new ways. She read my characters and she loved them and she knew what I could do to make them better.

Yes. I'd finally found someone who loved my story.

To be clear, loving a story does not mean gushing over all the details and finding no fault.  Loving the work means seeing the story as it is and feeling emotionally invested in making it all it can be.  Finding a professional who shared my vision changed everything.

I did not put myself through that grueling revision because I thought I'd secure representation from a brilliant agent (although I hoped with all my heart I would).  I revised because I saw clearly how my characters and my story could transcend that draft and become something better.

Revision, comments, another revision, lots of work, contract signing, and my book went out on a first round of subs. After a flurry of activity, we waited.  It took eight months to hear back from that first round of publishers. In the meantime?  I wrote another book.

The bad news: I don't have a sale yet.

The good news: we have enough interest for a second round of subs.  And? I received some great feedback from really smart editors.  And? My agent is willing to give me time to revise before we sub again.  And? I wrote another book.

Honestly, I hoped beyond reason that the new book would be ready to go out on sub while I was busy preparing for Book One, Round Two.  So I was disappointed when my agent wrote back and said it wasn't ready.

And then I read her comments.  And my brain started lighting up in new patterns.  Yes, it was the same thing again.  I knew how to make the book better, so I no longer wanted to submit it as it was.  But there was something more.  Those last comments, combined with the editor comments, illuminated a pattern in my writing that I had never noticed before.

The feedback I received on my last book changes my revision of the first and the editor feedback I'm receiving on the first changes my revision of the last.  The process is dynamic. One improvement makes way for another.

And that brings me back to where I started this post:  I am really surprised by where I am in my writing career.  I'm four years in. I've written five novels. None of them have been published yet.  And I'm happy.

When people talk about writers paying their dues, learning their craft, putting in their years without getting paid, they never mention the thrill of forward progress.  I know the external publishing world moves slowly, but the rate my brain cells light up matters more.

This happiness surprises me and the journey surprises me.  I really love being a writer.

Nov 8, 2011

Can you still see the moon?

Last spring, on the night of the supermoon, I decided we should have our first campfire of the season.  I was in a rush, gathering my camera and tripod, responding to the excitement of the kids, hoping we had the ingredients for a decent hotdog roast, hoping I'd be ready to snap a photo the moment the moon popped out of the cloud cover.  It was supposed to be simple and calming, this night outside with the family.

I was called upon to start the fire because I am The Fire Starter.  Others may try their hand at starting a fire, but they will be mocked when they fail (just as I was once mocked when I failed). I am the one who knows the proper arrangement of wood and paper and kindling that requires the use of only one match to create a magnificent blaze.  I am magic.

Okay, so usually I am magic. That night of the supermoon, I could do nothing right.  When my first attempts failed, I started over, arranging the ingredients based on knowledge and past experience.  I felt so much confidence in my methods that I took my tripod and walked away from the fire pit, sure I'd return to perfect flames.  Instead, Littlest came to find me, tugged on my coat, and whispered, "I'm hungry."

The longer I worked on that fire, the less logical I became.  The moon came out of cloud cover and went back in, but I couldn't see it through the smoke. Someone politely suggested putting the hotdogs in a pan of boiling water and I took it as a personal insult.  I could do it.  I knew I could do it.  I was The Fire Starter.  I was also in a downward spiral.  I was changing everything, trying to make a spark.

I finally did get a fire started---mostly by placing burning material around the recalcitrant logs.  By that time, my family was inside, eating over the sink, watching me out the kitchen window.

I sat back and stared.  I'd completely forgotten about the supermoon.  I just sat there, watching the dead center of the fire, thinking perhaps the logs rose from Hell to challenge me personally to a duel. It was kind of a Devil-Went-Down-To-Georgia thing, but without Georgia. And without fiddles. And the Devil really did nothing but transform himself into logs and refuse to burn, which was really not very devil-like, what with the flames of Hell and all. Other than that, it was just like it.  At any rate, they weren't proper logs.  Proper logs burned.

I mumbled my thoughts:  "Where did these logs come from?"

Not aware my family had returned, I startled when one of my kids answered:  "They were in the fire pit already."

Wait.  What?  In the fire pit?  The fire pit that sat out in the open and collected snow?  The fire pit that had to be dumped because it was full of spring rain?

When I started laughing, my loved ones scooched away from me.  I'm sure they thought I'd entered the final stages of my breakdown.  I laughed harder at their reaction.

Yes.  While I was trying to set up my camera, the kids dumped the fire pit and there, under all that water, were some logs.  And really, why go all the way to the barn for wood when there was plenty already, right there in the pit?  They didn't know it wouldn't start because their mother, The Fire Starter, had never bothered to share her fire-starting knowledge.

If you're at all willing to consider an analogy from the same mind that brought you the devil log, I'd suggest that today's publishing scene is a wet fire pit.

The ingredients that caught fire a season ago may never spark again.  We can use the same tried-and-true methods and they won't catch. We can rant.  We can obsess.  We can build sparks and flames around the old, but the old material will not catch.  No matter how personal this feels, no matter how much your identity as The Fire Starter (or The Writer) is threatened, the devil probably did not show up as a wet log to personally ruin your life.

Sometimes there's nothing left to do but laugh and reassess.  What was the point? Why were you out there in the first place?  What were your objectives?  How did your ego get in the way? Did you ask the right questions? Were you open to new solutions? Were you able to share your knowledge and collaborate without feeling threatened?  Could you still see the moon through the smoke?


Oct 28, 2011

Radio Boise

Over the last few weeks, I've been thinking and writing about the importance of individual voices and community.  Over on Radio Boise, they're talking about individual voices and community too.  Being married to one of the DJs, I know the amount of time he volunteers. Multiply that across the week, across all the shows, across all the behind-the-scenes work, and you're seeing passion in action.

This week over on Radio Boise, they're asking for contributions to keep the station running.  I'd love it if you could stop by and lend your support.  They've set a modest goal and every individual, every dollar matters.

Oct 25, 2011

Telling Your Own Story

"If we don't tell our stories, they will be told by people who do not understand them at all."

Teresa Jordan's words resonate with me, both as a writer and as a teacher.  I was very lucky to hear her speak at Women Writing and Living The West, a one-day seminar held in conjunction with the 15th Annual Trailing of The Sheep Festival.  During the first workshop segment, professional writers read from and talked about their work.  No doubt about it, they were good.  But the second set of speakers?  They were ranching women, speaking from the heart, many of them for the first time---and they overshadowed their professional counterparts.  The authors may have inspired us, but the ranching women made us cheer and cry.

I bring this up now for a reason.  We are entering the season of NaNoWriMo or, for the uninitiated, National Novel Writing Month.  The program is run by a nonprofit group and has proven itself through twelve full seasons of madness.  They started as a small group of crazy novelists and they've become. . . Well, they've become a very large group of crazy novelists. At the end of last year, NaNoers numbered 200,530. In the Young Writers Program, there were 1,740 participating classrooms and 41,000 novel writers under the age of seventeen.  Every year, the program grows.

The goal, as you may surmise, is to write the rough draft of a novel in November. Through the program, writers get encouragement, support, and structure---and, although donations are thankfully accepted, it costs nothing to participate.

I love this. I love this so much I could jot all the reasons on little pieces of paper and roll around in them.

My reasons have everything to do with who I am and my experience.

I'm a teacher. I'm a writer. I'm a woman with deep roots in a land often misunderstood and misrepresented. I've taught hundreds of college students who do not believe they have any right to use their own voices because they are not the voices they see represented in the mainstream of life.  They are gay. Or their skin is too dark or too light or too blotchy or too scarred.  They talk funny or they don't talk funny enough.  They live in the back woods. Or they haven't lived anywhere long enough to fit in. They've been taught it's not polite to talk about oneself.  They've been taught that creative endeavors are a waste of time. They've been taught to mirror opinions rather than risk failure by speaking their minds. They've been dismissed because they're not from a place others can readily find on a map.  They're afraid.

You know what?  To hell with that.  To hell with anyone who tells others they shouldn't have voices. Words are power.  When we allow someone to take away our voices, we are allowing them to take away our power.

There will be nay-sayers.  As NaNoWriMo grows, there is a growing anti-NaNo contingent who discourage participation.  They say we don't need any more poorly-written books.  They say not everyone should write.  They say real writing should be left to real writers. I'm reminded of Robert Frost's "Two Tramps in Mudtime."  In the poem, our protagonist is chopping his own wood when two tramps come by needing work:

Out of the woods two hulking tramps
(From sleeping God knows where last night,
But not long since in the lumber camps.)
They thought all chopping was theirs of right.
Men of the woods and lumberjacks,
They judged me by their appropriate tool.
Except as a fellow handled an ax,
They had no way of knowing a fool.

It's true.  If you have little experience owning your voice, you may be called a fool by those with more experience.  Those people have no other way to understand what you are doing other than the way you handle an ax (or in this case, grammar or sentence structure or imagery).  In this time of flux in the publishing industry, there are plenty who argue that the flood of self-published works by amateur writers has become a threat to the livelihood of "real writers."

In August, The Atlantic ran an article by Peter Osnos, entitled, "Are There Too Many Books?" Osnos responds to Bill Keller, an op-ed columnist for The New York Times, and author of an article entitled, "Let's Ban Books, Or At Least Stop Writing Them."  Keller laments the number of his reporting staff asking for leaves of absence to write these things and Osnos agrees weakly, placing blame on publishers who need to use better judgement with their selections. He then goes on to say that the real problem lies with self-publishing.  His analysis:  "the quality of the few tends to be overwhelmed by the dross of many."

Wow.  Dross.

Here's where I differ:  I think audiences are smart. I don't personally know anyone who has stopped reading because "OMG I JUST CAN'T DECIDE! I'M SO OVERWHELMED!"

I would boldly suggest that the "dross of the many" contains voices of real people, including many who have been shouted down their whole lives.  I would even more-boldly suggest that the experience of writing and claiming voice is worth whatever discomfort someone writing for The Atlantic or The New York Times may feel. I lay claim to this territory not as a self-published author, but as a teacher and a writer and a woman with deep roots in a land often misunderstood and misrepresented.  We have stories to tell and it's time they're told.

National Novel Writing Month is a great place to start.

Oct 11, 2011

Anything but that.

I have an affinity for cemeteries.  As a kid, I biked and played in a nearby cemetery much more than I did any park.  I knew the names and the scant stories revealed in chiseled lines.

When my husband and I became friends so many years ago, it charmed me that he loved his family cemeteries.  He took me out to meet the family--generations of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins---filling nearly half a pioneer cemetery---and my heart was his.  Yeah.  I'm like that.

Now we take the kids and they recite their family history from the stones. They are 8th generation Idahoans on their dad's side.  On my side, only 5th.  His family came out in covered wagons.  They were miners, explorers, ranchers, trappers, farmers, guides, and they even had one mad hatter in the bunch.  My family came later, in jalopies with chairs strapped in the back for seats.  Pushed out of Kansas in the dust bowl, they started new farms from sagebrush-covered land.  On my dad's side, half are illegal immigrants---from Canada.  They were ranchers who strayed a little south from Alberta, only to find themselves Idahoans by circumstance and, only later, marriage.

My husband and I made the trip back to my family cemetery in Kansas---and I cried to see the generations of names mirroring my own, proof somehow that the family stories were real. These people once were solid enough that they needed buried once they died---and so their stories became more solid too.
Last week I visited The Ketchum Cemetery in Ketchum, Idaho.  I don't know anyone buried there.  Not really.  I just know the stories.  And no, I don't mean the stories Ernest Hemingway wrote, although I know them too.  I mean the stories I grew up hearing---about the great man living in and killing himself in my home state.  I remember seeing the images of Hemingway with the Pioneer Mountains in the background. I remember the adults in my life talking in hushed voices about the mixture of celebrity and brilliance, guns and alcohol abuse---imagination and delusion.  When I said I wanted to be a writer, they thought of Hemingway and they wanted something better for me.

In Hemingway, my family saw proof that writers suffered from unstable minds. Perhaps I bought into the mystique myself.  I did seem to have a penchant for broody scribblers.

I was nearly out of high school by the time it came to light that maybe Hemingway wasn't so delusional.  He thought the FBI followed him, bugged his car, pored over his bank records in the dead of night.  Largely discounted by those around him, what must he have been thinking?  Depression did run in his family. Ernest's father, brother, one sister for sure (maybe two), and later his granddaughter---all committed suicide.  His father's actions worried him enough that he once asked his son, Jack, to exchange a promise that neither would ever kill himself.

When Hemingway kept seeing feds, when his friends and family turned to him with sympathetic eyes and said, time and time again, that they didn't see anyone---what must Hemingway have thought?  He thought shock therapy would be a cure.  Instead, the therapy took away his ability to write and, with it, his will to live.  And the damn thing was, he still saw those feds everywhere.

It wasn't until 1984 that a Freedom of Information request resulted in the release of Hemingway's FBI file:  120 pages, 15 of them still blacked out.  Some of the notes were from surveillance while Hemingway was at the Mayo Clinic for shock treatment.

Yeah.  No wonder the treatment didn't make Hemingway's delusions go away.

Many have gone to great lengths to suggest that the FBI killed Hemingway, first making him delusional and then somehow arranging for the shock treatment that took his will to live.  They suggest this, in part, because Hemingway often described suicide as an act of cowardice.

I hear those words and I hear the words of my own dad, spoken with the same intense anger.  Although my father did not kill himself, he did battle the darkness that prematurely ended the lives of family members--some of whom are now buried in that cemetery of my childhood---the place where together we'd ride bikes and run carefree through deep grasses.  I hear Hemingway's words and I hear the fear that so often lies beneath anger.  I believe he went for the shock treatment to save himself from hallucinations he wasn't having.  Fear of the dark can sometimes lead to greater darkness.

Perhaps it was my own family's fear for me that made them look to Hemingway and tell me I should not be a writer.  Not that.  Anything but that.

And yet, even as I look at the solid stone that marks that solid stories of Hemingway's life, I know I can't live my life in fear. Fear of darkness does not just end dreams. It can also keep them from beginning.


Oct 6, 2011

Trailing of The Sheep

This week I'm in Ketchum, Idaho for The Trailing of The Sheep Festival.  I write. I raise sheep. I spin and knit. It's the perfect place for me to be.  I'm especially looking forward to attending, "Women Writing and Living The West," a day of storytelling and writing.

I've posted a few pictures on Twitter and thought I'd bring them together here for you.


I feel happy driving into this Idaho town.  How could you not?


Husband and kids walking on The Oregon Trail.  I think he lost one of them in the tall grass.  (This is near the Hagerman Fossil Beds in Hagerman, Idaho.)


Here I am at Galena Pass.  This is between Ketchum and Stanley, Idaho in the Sawtooth Mountains.


This is the road to Pettit Lake, also in The Sawtooth Mountains.



And here's The Salmon River, south of Stanley, Idaho.

Sep 27, 2011

Sheep and Writing

Recently, Pam Asberry wrote a blog post on the amwriting blog asking how writers refill their creative well. Too many rejections, heavy criticism, bad luck: it can all feel overwhelming at times. Why don't I give up when the path looks bleak? It's simple really: I like writing.

I'm the same way about raising sheep. This hasn't been our best year. Lambs didn't fare so well this spring. Our ram was struck by lightning and died. I got thrown by an agitated ewe and broke my elbow. You would think I'd just give up. Why keep going against such bad luck? It's simple really: I like sheep.

So what do I do to recharge? I remember to enjoy the things I enjoy. I give myself double points when those interests overlap.

The Trailing of The Sheep Festival

In just a few weeks, I'll be attending The Trailing of The Sheep Festival in Ketchum, Idaho. There will be spinning, a fiber fest, cowboy poetry, and sheepdog trials. Plus there will be 1500 sheep trailing down main street. I'm attending a symposium in conjunction with the festival: "Women Writing and Living the West." For me, this is an inspiration banquet.

A Little Sheep Music

The Sawtooth Bluegrass Association holds its annual Bluegrass Festival at Round Valley, Idaho. Over Labor Day weekend, we camped and soaked up wonderful music. My newest favorite Idaho band is The Panhandle Polecats. They hooked me when Hank introduced his sister, Molly, the sheep-shearing song writer. The song definitely fits into a story-telling tradition that's alive and well in Idaho. It took me a little too long to grab my camera, but here they are singing (most of) "Sheep Shearing Blues."




Stories

Yes. Sheep do often make their way into my books. A writer friend even wrote our ram into one of his books after the lightning incident.

Over on Escape Into Life, I have a short story inspired by a petroglyph found just down the river from where I live. The story is Evil's Day Off and this is the petroglyph:


In case you're wondering, I do have the usual inspirational sources of family and kids, but the unusual interests really spur me on as a writer. Think a sheep interest is crazy? Mmm. Just wait until I tell you about my cemetery ramblings and the way thrift store objects nearly write their own stories.

So how about you? Do you have unusual inspirations that replenish your creative spirit?

Sep 15, 2011

Effective vs. Efficient

My husband is a project manager and sometimes I'll be mulling some idea about how I'm spending my writing time and he'll drop an idea on me that stops me in my tracks.  Here's one of them:  being effective is not the same as being efficient.

Being effective is about results.

Being efficient is about process.

(He's not responsible for any of this further mulling. So if you know Greg, don't ask him to explain any of what I'm thinking. He gave up on that a long time ago.)

All the writers I know have other gigs in their lives.  Time is precious.  It's not enough to be effective or efficient; we need to be both.

When I'm efficient with my time, I might measure that in words written or pages edited.  I might look at how many blog posts I've written.  Being efficient is important.  How can I be more efficent?

  • Get up early so I have time alone without disruptions.

  • Watch the clock.

  • Limit frivolous distractions.

  • Write during the time of day when I think most clearly.

  • Take care of myself, so my mind is sharp.

  • Set a timer so I persist through writing discomfort.

  • Listen to music that sustains my writing frame of mind.

All of this efficiency is great, but what if I am channeling my energy ineffectively?  What if I really need to re-envision my rough draft and I'm checking for typos instead?  I might end up with a manuscript 99% free of typos and then need to go back and rewrite every scene.  Maybe I've been efficient in hunting typos, but I've been ineffective in producing that final draft.

What about blog posts?  What if I'm blogging like crazy to build an audience for my novel--but I never have time left to write the novel?  I can be efficient at writing posts.  I can even be effective in building an audience.  Yet, when I stop to assess, I'm no closer to my goal of becoming a novelist.

What can I do to be more effective?

  • Define my goals in concrete terms.

  • Identify steps toward completing my goals.

  • Of those steps, identify the most time-efficient processes.

  • Be honest with myself about how I spend my time.

  • Be honest with myself when something isn't working.

  • Take responsibility for the path I'm on.

So that's it, right?  Be more efficient.  Be more effective.  End of story.

Not so.

All of these steps improve my odds at becoming a better writer, but the creative process requires something more.

I can't always measure the effectiveness of daydreaming, but I feel it.  I can't always explain why I need to research some weird aspect of Idaho history, but I feel it.  I can't always explain why I need an hour to block out a relatively simple scene, but I feel it.  Whether we call it intuition or inspiration or motivation from the muse, these gut feelings are rarely wrong for me.  Often impulsive actions feel neither effective nor efficient and yet they are essential.

How do you spend your writing time? Are you effective and efficient?  Do you follow your intuition?  How are you with setting goals?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

- - -

This post first appeared as a guest post for Ev Maroon.

Sep 13, 2011

Raising The Stakes


As writers, we're always hearing the importance of raising the stakes.  Not enough tension in a scene?  Raise the stakes.  Midpoint dragging?  Raise the stakes.  Reader doesn't care about the main character enough?  Raise the stakes.

Like most writing advice, we can hear something so many times that it fails to have any meaning for us anymore.  Not everything can be a life or death situation, right?  And if it is, how do we top that when it's time to raise the stakes later in the book?  So now it's life or death for me and my best friend.  In the next scene it's me, my friend, and the dog.  In the next section, all those plus two more dogs.  Now it's the two of us, the three dogs, and the orphanage.  Right.  Plus their goldfish.  Fine.  Now are the stakes people happy?

Nope.

Why?  Because too often we're looking at public stakes rather than personal stakes.  Instead of asking what will happen to the world around the character, we should be asking what will happen inside the character's heart, mind, and soul.

And the great thing about this?  Our characters are complex and layered, so there are always ways to increase the stakes.

We should be asking, "What matters most to this character?"

What one thing could you threaten that would make your main character completely wig out?

How has your character structured her life to protect that one thing?  It might be a belief system or a moral code.  It might be a need to nurture those in need. It might be an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.

You know your characters better than anyone.  If you really wanted to make them hate you, what buttons would you push?  Could you make them so angry they'd never talk to you again?

Now you're getting somewhere.

Raise the stakes.

Aug 30, 2011

Night Owl, Morning Writer


I begin my writing day every morning at 5AM.

Never in my life have I considered myself a morning person.

Never.

I can't stand anyone speaking to me first thing in the morning. At a breakfast gathering, I'm the one slouching and staring into my coffee cup, avoiding eye contact lest someone expect actual conversation from me.

I've practiced saying that line my whole life:  "I am not a morning person."

Yeah, so that turns out not to be the case.  No one who knows me in real life can believe it either.

My late night hours began as a teenager.  I needed nights for one basic reason: I am an introvert. I needed space.

Growing up, I shared a bedroom in a smallish house with one bathroom.  No one had space.  I did what I had to do:  I outlasted everyone else.  In a family full of night owls, the last person would go to sleep between midnight-thirty and 1AM.  That left two hours between 1AM-3AM for me.  I had the living room and kitchen to myself.  I made cream puffs.  I wrote poetry.  I danced.

Then, early the next morning, I stared into my coffee cup and avoided eye contact.

It became a vicious cycle.  The more I craved alone time in the middle of the night, the more obnoxious mornings felt to me.  I couldn't imagine anyone who would wake in time to see the sunrise--on purpose.

Then a funny thing happened: I became the parent of kids who are night owls.  I cannot outlast them. From the time they were born, they would outlast me. We would all fall asleep cranky and, the next morning, they would stare into their Froot Loops and I would stare into my coffee.  It turned out staying up late wasn't worth it without the reward of being alone and we developed new routines.  Now we're all night readers.  We tuck in early and read quietly together every night--each of us inside our own cone of silence--snuggling, but not talking.

When I started writing every day, I turned to early morning hours the same way I once turned to the stillness of the night. In the time between 5-7AM, my house is blissfully quiet, just as it used to be between 1-3AM.

I've discovered, however, that the magic of the early morning hours extends well beyond the magic of the late nighttime hours.

Dark mornings contain essential stillness. In these hours, I breathe well knowing my roof does not leak, my house is warm, and food fills the cupboards.  The presence of dreaming children contents me.  I see their fluttering eyelids and I know this blissful, stolen time is a time for dreams, written or otherwise.  It's a time for deep imagining, a time to believe in the power of words and stories, a time to focus on the aspects of humanity that run deep.

I've discovered something so profound about mornings that I'm certain I knew it all along: mornings are not normal times of day and they should not be approached as if they are.  Mornings are a time when dreams break gently into reality.  Mornings are sacred.

Mornings are a perfect time for writing.

I still need my coffee.

I still do not speak.

But I am definitely a morning person.

Aug 21, 2011

Western Idaho Fun


Everything I write has a bit of Idaho in it.  I belong to Idaho and Idaho belongs to me.  I wouldn't want it any other way. Western Idaho is a particularly great place to be at the end of August.

I adore the Power of Pink night at The Caldwell Night Rodeo.  Not only do they raise money to provide needed mammograms, but all those guys really look hot in pink. Here's a pic of steer wrestling:




This year we arrived at opening and left just as the gates closed.  So much to enjoy!
Some of my favorite things, in no particular order:

Carnival Rides

Pronto Pubs

Open class photography

The midway

Livestock exhibits

Antique tractor display

Kids Carnival

Sheep being shown in the show ring

Old fashioned lemonade

Old fashioned milkshakes

Favorite midway prize: Rastafarian banana dude

Pony rides

Bungee trampolines

Hamster ball water rides

Jugglers on unicycles

Frozen coke

Hypnotist shows

Lumberjack show


The Midway After Dark
I love summer evenings like this, when the heat of the day recedes, the air smells of fair food, and fun is a ticket away.


The Show Ring
These kids are really amazing.  Their dedication impresses me every time.


Carnival Goldfish
Carnival Goldfish Games are a lesson in abstinence. One weak moment and that little life is yours.  Our goldfish turned a year old this year.  Bah.


The Lumberjack Show
Great fun! Just watch:

Aug 16, 2011

Approaching a Big Revision



Not long ago, a Twitter friend said she needed to jump into a major revision and the enormity of the task made her feel defeated before she started.  She asked what I would do, so I'm sharing my recipe.

First, gather ingredients:

  • Notecards:  I like a mix of blank cards in different colors

  • Pens that provide the right sensory experience for jotting bold ideas. Ultra fine point retractable Sharpie markers do it for me.

  • A clothes line or a blank wall. I have an IKEA dignitet curtain wire strung along the top of my bookcases for this purpose. (See the picture at the top of the page?  That's mine.)

  • Paper clips, binder clips, clothes pins---something to afix note cards to the line or wall. I find aesthetically-pleasing supplies make the process more enjoyable.

  • Some sticky notes in a variety of colors

  • A manuscript (no need to print)

Start with one note card per chapter.  I usually start with plain white.  Skim through your manuscript and observe key elements in each chapter.  Jot them down.  You are not judging or evaluating at this point.  Judging and evaluating take too much time.  Observe and jot.  That is all.  Get it done. String up your cards.

Look!  It's your book.  How cool is that?

With a few notes jotted down from each chapter, you should be able to work from memory now.  One by one, take down each card and evaluate the chapter like it's a short story.  I know, It's not a stand-alone short story. It belongs in a series.  It may even have a cliff-hanger before the next story in the series, but each chapter should have a beginning, middle, and an end and it should have a purpose.

Pick up another note card.  It can be a nice bold color this time. As briefly as possible, write down the point of that chapter.  Why does that chapter exist?  If you're not sure, don't agonize too much. Put a big question mark on the card.  Paper clip that card on top of the first one and hang it back up.  Move to the next.  (If all or most of your cards have question marks, it's okay, but you'll need to do another run through before you move to the next step.)

Now take a look at your novel again, with all the main points.  Identify the chapters with the following information and hit them with sticky notes.

  • It becomes clear what your character wants

  • Your character hits a point of no-return (Impossible to say, "Oh forget it.")

  • The critical turning point when all the action starts to move toward conclusion

  • The darkest point for your character

  • Resolution of the central problem in the story.

Now check out where these things happen in relation to the whole. If it doesn't become clear what your character wants until 1/3 of the way through the book, you might be starting with back story.  The point of no-return should be fairly close to the beginning too.  Turning point?  Top of the story arc & middle of story. The darkest point is probably toward the end. If resolution happens too early, you might have forgotten to shut up when the story was over. (Oh yeah--did I mention?  One of the best parts of self-critique is that you don't have to be polite with yourself. You can also laugh at your own jokes. It's kind of awesome.)

So now you're looking at the story arc. You know where the story begins, how it ends, and what the point of the whole thing is.

Now you go back to each note card and see if the chapters belong in this story.  Do they contribute to your overall story arc?  If not?  Take them down.  If they contain one or two tiny plot points, but they don't really pull their weight?  Add sticky notes to surrounding chapters, reminding yourself to insert tiny plot point there--and then take the weak chapter down.

Remember:  you are not evaluating whether that chapter is fabulous.  It probably is!  After all, you wrote it.  How could it not be fabulous?  All you're considering is whether that story fits in this particular book.  If it doesn't fit, you can save it for a different book--or actually write it into a full short story.  It is fabulous, after all.  Just take it out of this book.

Next?  Use your notecards to revise the remaining chapters.  Now that you know what you're trying to achieve, you can aim more accurately for that target.  Your working time will be much more efficient and your writing time will be more satisfying too.

Now go!  Get note cards!  It's time to play.

Aug 4, 2011

I won. I won. I won.

I won. I won. I won.

I played a word game at Dina's Lair of Doom and I won.

She said I won a signed copy of The Eternal Kiss.  And I did. She signed her short story entitled "All Wounds." If you're not following Dina, you might not know that she expanded that story into a novel, All Wounds. Yep. She made it long enough for italics.  We'll all be able to buy it this October from Mundania Press.

But seriously:  check out the rest of those pictures!  She sent yummy, hand-knit, fingerless gloves. And candy! And crayons and a word search and a coloring mat---and VAMPIRE FANGS!  This woman knows how to do a giveaway.

So I'm dancing and oh-so-happy.  You can send me eviltry any time, Dina James.  No wonder you have so many happy minions.

#Amwriting Birthday #Blogparty Wrap-Up




Wow!  That was some #amwriting birthday #blogparty!  It was the busiest day ever---for both the hashtag and the #amwriting website.  So. Much. Fun.

I spent all day reading and playing and only a couple hours writing. For those of you who didn't take the day off to celebrate, I give you the #blogparty re-cap, complete with an annotated list of stops:



  1. The Amwriting BlogThe beginning point for the blog party.  I talk about the hashtag and how it started.  I provide links.

  2. Robert McKay's Chronicles of a Wandering Writer: Robert describes #amwriting as, "a continuously running Twitter chat that is an endless font of inspiration for writers."

  3. L.S. Taylor's What I Learned Today: L.S. offers a not-to-be-missed filked song, featuring #amwriting, "To the tune of: "Truck Stop In LaGrange"

  4. Marian Allen's Fantasies, Mysteries, Comedies, Recipes: Marian offers us a limerick with this memorable last line: “I #am, you #am, we all #amwriting!”

  5. JC Rosen's Girl Meets Word: JC remembers early days of #amwriting and thanks all for the continued support and writing advice.  We love you too, Jess!

  6. Gem State Writers I blog with a wonderful group of Idaho writers. Here I offer you a tour of my home state and explain one reason #amwriting is so important to me.

  7. John Ross Barnes' Love This Live, Onward Through The Fog: John has an amazing, poetic voice. Here he talks about how #amwriting gave him more confidence to accept his journey forward as a writer.

  8. Linda Poitevin's Angels Gather Here: Linda takes time out from her busy schedule to share her #amwriting space---and a great photo of her keyboard kitty.

  9. LK Gardner-Griffie's blog: LK describes how she found #amwriting through #amwritingparty---very cool.

  10. Khyiah Angel's author page: Khyiah talks about hearing voices in her head---and how only other writers understand it!

  11. Johanna Harness' Big Thoughts: I post some pictures from the last couple years---including my previous twitter pics and some photos from the 2010 PNWA conference.

  12. PJ Kaiser's Inspired by Real Life: PJ says #amwriting has "become an entire platform of not just Twitter chat, but valuable content over at the #amwriting site along with author profiles so we have an opportunity to showcase our work." She also links to a picture of her office space!

  13. Jamie Ridenhour's Blog: Jamie shares his office space.  I especially like the skull!

  14. Everett Maroon's Trans/Plant/Portation: Ev describes meeting me and @KerrySchafer at the PNWA conference last year.  He says I've "built something of a benevolent empire," and that really makes me smile.

  15. Carol Despeaux's One Wild Word: You don't want to miss the fire hydrant picture. That's all I'm saying.

  16. Julie Butcher's Fire Drill: Julie invites us into her #writerclubhouse for birthday cake.  I'm loving the clubhouse.

  17. Johanna Harness' House Lamb: I teased everyone with a partial pic of Baxter the House Lamb and now I unveil the full pic.  @KerrySchafer says he "looks like such a dork."  Yeah. Isn't it great?

  18. Lily White LeFevre's Blog: Lily shares her office space and also a haiku "to be read in the style of William Shatner."

  19. Jennifer Spiller's Blog: Jenn shares memories of writing with a five-month-old. (I remember those tweets!) She also calls #amwriting a writer's "spiritual gatorade."  Gotta love that.

  20. Another House Lamb Photo:  So Kerry would have a nice counter-balance to the dork-lamb photo, I posted another of Baxter in shades.

  21. David Ozab's Fatherhood, Etc.:  David looks back on his last year using the #amwriting hashtag.  Go, David! I can't wait to see what the next year brings.

  22. M.K. Hutchins' Books, Board Games, and Writing: I met M.K. just this week! She came to my twitter talk in Boise. I was so happy to see an entry from her here. In her post, M.K. talks about using the #amwriting hashtag without realizing it was a group---and she also discusses deadlines.

  23. Phoebe Jane's La Vita Ho Vivere: Pheobe Jane says she follows #amwriting like, "the white rabbit to a world of other writers."

  24. Johanna asks, "Can you name these twitter peeps?"  Yes, I added a party game to the day, but it's late and people aren't playing.  There's still time, you know. I don't intend to reveal the answers unless someone plays. :)

  25. Mike St's Many Stories: Mike shares his writing space.  I especially appreciate his mention of rituals.

  26. Elizabeth Saunders' Travels With Books: Elizabeth does a great job explaining why Twitter is such a great platform for writer support. I will point people to this blog post when they ask, "why twitter?"

  27. Robyn Leatherman's The One AM Pen: Robyn says she appreciates that, "information is shared about the writing world and not hoarded as private property."

  28. Nik Barnabee's Blog: Nikki ends our party with her short story, "Written in Stone."

Many thanks to all who participated, whether as bloggers or readers (or both).  It was a great day and I'm already hearing talk of next year.

Whew.  I need to get some writing done before then!  Back to work.

Aug 3, 2011

Can you name these twitter peeps?



I had these books out on the table for my recent talk, "Twitter for Writers." Can you name these authors by their twitter names?  Extra credit if you know the twitter name of the photographer featured in the open book.

Aug 2, 2011

Making Connections

Two years ago today I wrote the first tweet that sparked the #amwriting community into life on Twitter.  Today, the energy within this group continues to blow me away. To celebrate the hashtag's birthday, more than 25 bloggers have signed on to post photos, essays, short stories, poetry---gifts for the community from the authors who participate there.  The idea of a blog party only came to me a few days ago. I posted the idea---with very short notice---and writers jumped in with enthusiasm.  (I say we have more than 25 writers because every time I attempt to get the number right, more writers join in.)  Today, as part of this blog party, I want to share with you one of the many reasons this community is vital to me as a writer in The Gem State.

Idaho is big.  There are not a lot of writers near my home.

If you live outside The West, you might not realize just how big Idaho is.  Heck, a lot of people who live here can't quite grasp it.

Southeastern Idaho is full of farmland and small towns. The rivers chisel right through volcanic basalt and the waterfalls will take your breath away in the springtime.



The Sun Valley area boasts movie stars and resorts, but drive a few miles farther and you'll find campgrounds filled with trailers and tents.  The lure of The Sawtooths crosses boundaries.


In Southwestern Idaho, we have mountain scenery to take your breath away. We also have deserts and sand dunes. We have sagebrush and evergreens, sometimes co-existing.


Central Idaho is farther north than many Southern Idahoans ever venture. When I was living in Lewiston, Idaho, we had a politician tell us he'd crawl all the way up Highway 55 to Lewiston to get our votes.  Yeah, funny, since Highway 55 doesn't go north of New Meadows--and Lewiston is another 2.5 hours north from there.

There is no interstate connecting our state from North to South (or South to North, depending on your Idaho orientation).  But before you get cocky and think we're backward yokels, I remind you that America's deepest river gorge runs through the middle of our state:


And the prettiest drive you can imagine is the one between Lewiston, Idaho and Missoula, Montana.  Highway 12 is the kind of beauty that makes me use swear words as adverbs:  ____ beautiful.


And you want geothermal?  We do claim part of Yellowstone--and we have these great old hot springs resorts. (That's not even counting the amazing undeveloped springs.)


But wait. Don't start thinking Lewiston is North Idaho.  And don't start feeling you've seen it all just because you've traveled Highway 12.  It'll take another 2.5 hours to drive up to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho (where you'll find Interstate 90 cutting up from Missoula, MT).

Now you think you can just cross over into Canada from there? Think again.   You want to zip up to Sandpoint, Idaho?  It will take another hour.  Of course, you have to see both Coeur d'Alene Lake and Lake Pend Oreille while you're there, so you're going to need more time.


From Sandpoint? You'll still have to drive about an hour north to get to the Canadian border.

To drive the direct path through Idaho, from South to North (or vice versa, depending on your Idaho orientation), it will take over 14 hours.  That's in the summertime, when roads are good. And on that route, you'll miss that whole big, beautiful portion of the state near Yellowstone National Park. You'll miss The Sawtooth Mountains. You'll miss that gorgeous stretch of Highway 12. You'll miss the wilderness, the rivers, the sand dunes, the boat trip up Hells Canyon. My heart breaks with all the things you'll miss.

Idaho is my home.  I love it here.

And yet I need the community of other writers.

So every morning, I get up before dawn and switch on my computer.  By the time the Boise foothills glow with morning rays, I've chatted with authors all over the world.  By the time the sun sets over the Owyhee Mountains, I've finished a good day's work in the presence of some of the smartest people anywhere. And I've managed it all in the gorgeous solitude of my home state.

Thank you, #Amwriting. Happy birthday.

If you'd like to continue on the blog party, the next stop is the blog of John Ross Barnes.  John is an integral part of the #amwriting community and I look for his tweets every day.  His blog is: "Love This Life, Onward Through the Fog."