Sunday, October 31, 2010

Home Sweet Home


It's a long way from Kentucky to California and a long way back. Glad I wasn't walking the way the pioneers did or perhaps jogging along on a horse or in a covered wagon. One thing though, I'd have gotten a lot better look at the country that way. I watched out the planes' windows (I had window seats all but once) when we weren't above the clouds. I saw snow-covered mountains. I saw rivers snaking across the countryside. I saw shadows of the clouds on the ground. I saw lots of brown looking earth and mountains and cars that looked like ants trundling along strips of black.
~~
I also saw a beautiful sunset, but didn't attempt to take a picture. Once you're in one of those plane seats next to a big guy, you don't have room to shift your arm enough to turn a page in your book much less wrestle your bag out from under the seat in front of you to find your camera. Guess that's why Kindles are getting so popular with travelers. They don't require more than a whisk of the thumb or finger to get to the next page, or so they tell me. I'm still in the book age, the feel-it-in-your-hands and paper pages age. One good thing, you don't have to turn off a hard copy book when a plane is taking off.
~~
Monterey Bay was beautiful and it was fabulous meeting other Books & Such writers. Pictures are popping up all over Facebook. Laughing, smiling faces. Or very intense faces as we all tried to learn how to play Bocce. I had never even heard of Bocce before last week. It's sort of like horseshoes with rolling balls and no dirt. I played and promptly lost.
~~
Oh well, I had the ocean vistas to make up for any Bocce disappointments. The water was a beautiful blue and on the last day we were there the waves were crashing into the shore. Because of the rocky coastline, the waves can be fierce. We had thought about going out whale watching, but the boats wouldn't go out because of the high waves. So we drove down the coastline instead. Just as well. I wouldn't have been able to spot any whales if I was leaning over the rail losing my breakfast. What I really wanted to see was an eagle, but no such luck. That's on my bucket list. To see an eagle flying free in the sky.
~~
But now back home to reality. Books don't get written by thinking about writing them or talking about writing them. Books only get written by fingers pressing down keys on a keyboard. Still it was great having a little one on one time with my agent and with my editor. They both asked me what next. I said a Shaker book, but they were meaning after the Shaker books. I'm thinking a new historical novel. But that's what the Shaker books are too - historical novels. So who knows? Now I'll just remember the ocean and the sound of the waves crashing and think about how each wave made its own new mark on the sandy beach or did its best to wear down the rocks. That's the way it'll be with my books. Each one will have to mark out its own path.
~~
Hope you're having a great week with lots of paths open to you. Good paths that lead you to happiness. I'm happy to be home and putting me fingers on that keyboard.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Writers' Retreat and Fun in Sunny California

No picture and I'm a day late. I'm doing my Wednesday blog on Thursday. Not only Thursday but Thursday in California and that means I'm even later. But it's not every time you can sit on your veranda watching and listening to the ocean crash against the rocky beach in your fancy hotel supplied robe and write back home to your friends. Okay, that was taking a germ of truth and turning it into fiction. I do have a very tiny veranda but it's still dark (my head can't get off Kentucky time) and the cord for my lap top that won't hold a charge isn't long enough to reach. And although the ocean is out there and making that great crashing noise it is on the other side of the hotel. You know where those people who weren't too cheap to pay the extra whatever amount of dollars to have that ocean outside their windows are sitting on their verandas. At least will be when the sun comes up. But I am writing home to friends and being very sorry I didn't bring the cord to connect my camera to the computer so I could share one of the beautiful pictures of the ocean with you.
~~
I have seen the ocean a lot because who wants to stay in her room when you can go out and walk beside the ocean. It's a beautiful place with a lot of history. I'm learning all about Cannery Row and why it's called Cannery Row. That's due completely to John Steinbeck's book. The town grabbed the name and now it's a tourist destination with lots of shops and restaurants. No more sardine canning factories.
~~
But back to the retreat. It's a fun time my agency Books & Such have organized to give their clients a chance to relax and learn and meet each other. I've never been to a writers' retreat. This is my year for firsts. I went to my first writers' conference and now a retreat. This is similar to the conference. I'm not holing up in a quiet secluded corner writing a bestseller. Some of the other writers here might be and I'm sure our agents would have no problem with us skipping some of the sessions if that was the result. I am getting some great writing tips and promoting tips and best of all meeting so many new writing friends. I met Lauraine Snelling who has to be the sweetest lady in the world. She endorsed my novel, Angel Sister, that's coming out in February. Even better, she gave me the friendliest hug when we met Tuesday night. There are famous writers all around me and I'm hoping their knowledge is rubbing off on me. I keep telling people you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but then in my heart I'm not all that old. I think I probably can learn a few more tricks.
~~
I'll be sharing more with you in the weeks ahead. My blog imagination has been grabbed by several ideas and you know you're going to have to be looking at some of these pictures I can't upload right now. LOL. But I'll close today with the two words that have been ringing in my ears since I heard Kyle Duncan, an editor with Bethany House, talk yesterday morning. He said to be encouraged. And so I am. I hope you are too - that you are encouraged on this day and that you carry the seeds of encouragement with you to share with others. Thanks for reading and I'll be anxious to talk to you Sunday. I'll be back on Kentucky time then for sure.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Naming Characters - What's in a Name?


I know this picture doesn't have a thing to do with naming characters. Or then again maybe I need to look deeper. The open gate, the roads running together speak of possibilities. I took this picture last week at the Shaker village near me. My new characters might walk down these very roads in my story. They will be facing new vistas, new paths. But first they have to have names.
~~
In a little book I have called Craft & Technique by Paul Raymond Martin, he has a paragraph about "The Name Game." He says some writers think they can't proceed with a story until they name their main characters. His advice is to pick a name, any name, just so you can get started writing. I'm one of those writers who has to have her characters named. At least my lead characters. How can I know who they are until I know their names? And saying just any Tim, Jim or Sally isn't going to work for me. I have to know what their names are. That's not to say that a character I forced a wrong name on didn't look me in the eye a few pages later and tell me emphatically that if I thought that was her name, I'd better think again.
~~
I'm thinking names now for my new book. I'll have lots of names before I'm through. Many of them will be minor characters I'll name on the spot when they make their entrance onto my story page. I want those names to be right too, so their names get changed more often than my main characters. I keep a running list of every character I name in a book and every dog, horse or cat plus all the place names. Saves a lot of grief a few pages on down the story road when I meet that character again and think "Oops! What was his or her name?"
~~
A list keeps me from using pet names I like over and over. Each book needs fresh names unless I'm letting an old character appear in a new book. I did that in The Seeker. Those of you who read The Outsider first know which characters I'm talking about. I haven't decided yet if I'm going to let any of my former characters make a cameo appearance in my next book. That could happen or not.
~~
Before I can even consider that possibility, I have to come up with my names. And so I'm searching through name books and waiting for the right names to leap off the page into my imagination. Then I write the name down and try it out with a last name. It has to sound right. I usually end up with a whole page full of names and I keep trying them out in my imagination to see which one is going to fit my character.
~~
Sometimes when I come up with a name, the character pops up too like a jack-in-the box saying "Here I am. Here I am." That's how it was with Lacey, my main female character in my Shaker book, The Blessed that will be out next summer. Other times my character lingers back in the shadows of my mind and is reluctant to come out where I can see if the name fits and if she is going to let me get to know her well enough to tell her story.
~~
So I'm trying to get the possibilites for the new story to come into focus along with the names. I hope you are having a week where possibilities of good things are coming along and that the names of the characters you're reading about or writing about fit them. I used to think my name didn't fit me. But now I think Ann is a good name for me. I'm just who I am, and a simple name with no pretentions fits. But when I was a kid I wished for a glamorous name with more than one syllable. LOL

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Enthusiam and Yeast in Fiction








"You can do anything if you have enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is the yeast that makes your hopes rise to the stars." ~ Henry Ford

I came across this great quote on Facebook the other day. I started to repost it, but then I wanted to say more than the FB police let me say. I always want to say more than the FB police will let me say. I make a game out of weeding out unnecessary words and letters on my posts. I don't know if I could ever get a tweet done, but I'm thinking about trying it just to practice brevity. And being enthusiastic about it.
~~
I'm a bread baker. I got some sourdough starter years ago and have been making bread ever since. I like making bread. I like eating bread. And my grandkids like making bread too. You can see the enthusiasm in the faces of these two dough kneaders. Of course with the enthusiasm my grandchildren show for kneading the bread, the floor and cabinets get dusted liberally with flour and sometimes their fingers get covered in gooey dough. But there is just something about kneading dough and then watching the yeast in it make it rise.
~~
That's what I liked about the quote - the idea of enthusiasm being yeast to make your hopes and dreams rise and take wing. If you can't be enthusiastic about your own hopes, then they're going to be like those grocery store helium balloons. Up for a while and then gradually losing air and sinking lower and lower until you can't find a hope anywhere.
~~
Oh, but enthusiasm can work wonders. And it's sometimes catching. One person's enthusiasm can shake awake another person's enthusiasm. And pretty soon the whole stadium is cheering. Or everyone on the team is playing his or her heart out. Or the whole church is on fire for the Lord. Or one author is sitting in front of her computer hitting keys as fast as she can to make words spread across the empty screen. Or a reader is telling all his friends about the great book he just read.
~~
It's easy to be enthusiastic about some things. Grandkids! New books coming out! The Seeker and then Angel Sister to start out the new year. New characters and new ideas! I'm grabbing hold of some enthusiasm to help me start writing Shaker number 5. You can do anything. That means it's going to do more than get me started. It's going to push me through the middle doldrums and right on past the panic of finding the perfect ending. Enthusiasm. I can do anything if I have enthusiasm. It's going to make my hopes rise the way my bread loaves do sitting on the counter next to a warm stove.
~~
Hopes and dreams? Find the ones that wake your enthusiasm and you can do anything. Do you believe that is true. That if you want something badly enough...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Day at Shaker Village

I met a writing friend for lunch at the Pleasant Hill Shaker Village near here last week. And as always I was drawn to the beautiful curving stairways in the Trustee's House. I made those stairways a reason for Adam to go to the village in my book, The Seeker. It's fun to use places in the real Shaker village in my fictional Harmony Hill Shaker village. But I am writing fiction so at times I have to find a new place that will work in my scene.
~~
I bring that up because my writer friend asked me about the pool of water in The Believer. She wondered where it was in the village, and I had to admit I invented that particular spot. I thought there could be a pool of water like that on the extensive Shaker property, especially with the river on one side, but I hadn't actually seen one like it or read about one like it. I made it up because I needed a way to get Elizabeth and Ethan together in a scene. That can be difficult in a Shaker village where the leaders are determined to keep the men and women separate.
~~
My friend was a little surprised by my admission, but a writer does what a writer has to do to make her story work. That's not to say that I play fast and loose with the village setting. I don't. I like staying true to the layout of the village buildings and to the village's history. But a pool of water in the middle of the woods seemed to be an okay invention.
~~
It was a stressful day for my friend. She had an auto accident on the way to Shaker Village and had to have her car towed. Her phone wouldn't work, but the deputy sheriff was kind enough to bring her on out to Shaker village to meet me. (I posted a picture of her getting out of the sheriff's car on Facebook. She was a real sport and kept her million dollar smile on her face.) Our meal wasn't nearly as relaxing as she'd hoped since she had to keep thinking about what she was going to do next and how to get a rental to get home and where and how to get her car to a repair shop in Louisville where she lives. Her cell phone wasn't getting a signal so she had to borrow mine or the village's to make the necessary calls. Then we look at the beautiful staircases and she gets ready to take a picture and her new camera won't turn on. I know about then she's thinking what else can go wrong while she was wishing she'd stayed home and never ventured out to meet me. But she put on a brave face. We ate our lunch, strolled around the grounds, met the oxen, Star and Moon, in training, and then headed for the car rental agency. We had to go all the way to Frankfort for that because the one in nearby Danville didn't have a car to rent. We get to Frankfort and all they have in a gold colored truck. Mary decided gold would work.
~~
But the village was beautiful as always, or perhaps even more so because of the beautiful fall colors and being with a friend. Mary's hoping to write an article about the Shaker village and maybe about a writing friend who likes to write stories about the village. Or one very like it.
~~
Hope you have a good beginning to an even better week.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Simple Gifts

My editor e-mailed me with some questions about the Shaker song, "Simple Gifts" this week and that got me to thinking about the song. "Tis the gift to be simple, tis the gift to be free" is probably the best known line of a Shaker hymn. Many people sing it incorrectly as "Tis a gift to be simple," but that little change of the to a makes a world of difference in the meaning of the song. The lyrics and music were written in 1948 by Shaker Elder Joseph Brackett of the Sabbathday Lake Village during what the Shakers called an "Era of Manifestations" or "Mother's Work." During this time many Shakers received what they considered "gift" songs from the spiritual realm.

I'm not sure if this elder felt that divine inspiration, but his song has certainly come to represent Shaker music. But it's gone farther than that. It began its rise to popularity in the "world" in 1944 when it was used by Aaron Copland in the ballet Appalachian Spring. Many who hear the song think it has a Celtic background. It does have a very lyrical sound and you can almost imagine someone playing the song on a flute as they dance across green fields. Of course the Shakers didn't have musical instruments until very late in their history. Their voices were their musical instruments.

"Simple Gifts" has been adapted and arranged many times over the years. You sometimes see the song with two additional verses that were not of part of the Shaker song. Perhaps the best known adaptation of the tune is Sydney Carter's "Lord of the Dance" in 1966. But it's been on t.v. (Little House on the Praire) and in the political realm too. John Williams incorporated the tune into "Air and Simple Gifts" that was performed at President Obama's inauguration in 2009. It's gone off to school and been a popular piece for various schools' drum corps and marching bands including the WV Mountaineer Marching Band.

The Shakers might have liked the idea of people marching to their song since many of their dances were marches. In this one they bowed and turned as they danced and sang. It is one of the songs the historical interpreters use when they demonstrate the Shaker worship at Pleasant Hill, the Shaker Village near where I live. Popular songs were shared between villages and this is one sung by all the villages.

So now you know more than you probably ever wanted to know about a Shaker song, but for fun you can click on the video above and listen to a beautiful rendition of the original words and tune by Judy Collins. Enjoy. I may post a different video of the song on my Facebook page. Come on over and join my page. I post something at least once a day. You can just search for Ann H Gabhart and look for my author page or click on it from the Facebook symbol on this blog or my website.

Talk to you again on Sunday. Oh yeah, and to the winners of the birthday celebration giveaway, your books are in the mail. Except Amy's. She still hasn't gotten into touch with me.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Story Glimmers


A writer needs time to gather a story. To let the glimmers spark out of that mysterious dark center where stories are sometimes born. But there are times when the glimmers sparkle but are as elusive as a sunbeam. You see it but you can't really grab it. Sometimes the story glimmers tease you and entice you down the wrong story road. And yes, sometimes a writer can't just sit back and wait for the glimmers to settle in her head to light the way to a story. A writer has to grab a flashlight and go hunting in the dark for that story.
~~
I'm definitely at the glimmer stage with my next story. And about ready to grab that flashlight and venture out into the dark unknown. The glimmers are there, but they aren't very bright. I see a Shaker sister keeping a journal. Perhaps she's sitting at a desk like the one above and dipping her pen into a pot of ink before carefully forming the letters of her words. She doesn't want to make a mistake because she's writing the history of her sisters and brothers. I see another character, a young sister, who is enchanted by the possibilities of life. But I don't yet know when. Or what. Maybe I can't know what until I know when. I think it's time to read some history. That always helps me focus on an idea or even discover an idea.
~~
And yet I stall. I have to do these other things. I have a deadline to come up with discussion questions for Angel Sister. I have questions to answer for someone to do an article. I need to update my events calendar. I need to copy edit Angels at the Crossroads so I can get copies with the new cover. I need to do this blog entry. All these things are writing related. If I'm doing them, I'm surely working. Surely writing.
~~
But the truth is, I'm not. Those things are important and need doing. The same as the clothes have to be washed and the meals cooked. My mom has to be taken care of and the grandkids visited. The deck needed a second coat before winter sets in. (And I got that mostly done this afternoon and am paying the price with sore muscles and blisters and too much sun.) But I'm not writing. I have to do all those other things, but I want to be writing. I want to be chasing down those story glimmers. And yet I stall.
~~
It can be a fearsome thing to write that first word. Will it work? Will the story magic happen again? I've done it many times. I'm confident the words will come. The story will be there if the characters are there. It is time to grab my flashlight and pursue those characters.
~~
I got the proposed cover for The Blessed, my Shaker novel that will be out next July. I'll post it here soon. And I also got those Blue Monday candy bars so I'll be mailing out the packages to my birthday celebration giveaway winners next week. No mail on Monday. Columbus Day. But Sunday has an interesting date. 10-10-10. Hope you have a day of perfect tens.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Blank Page Full of Possibilities



A leaf covered wagon road through a woods can be a path of possibilities to a hiker. Who knows what might be around the bend? Deer or a hawk whistling a warning to the woods inhabitants below or a beautifully decked out maple tree. Perhaps there will be nothing but more of the same, but in this case the same is enough if I'm the hiker hearing the crunch of the autumn leaves underfoot with the autumn scent in my nose.
~~
"We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize." (Thich Nhat Hanh)
That's true not only for a path through the woods, but also when a writer like me sits down in front of a computer and faces that blank page/screen. So many possibilities. So many directions to take. Is this the story road or perhaps only a detour? A pleasant detour perhaps, but one that doesn't lead to the possibilities of our story.
~~~
That's where I am now. Staring at the blank screen and considering the possibilities. I've written four Shaker books. All my characters made their way to my Shaker village by different roads. And now I must find another new road to travel for this next journey to my Harmony Hill. I am going to write my "what if" question this week. I am going to find a road to start down even if I have to chop down the trees of blocked thoughts to make my new road. Another quote I came across when I was looking for inspiration is this one from Jeri Ryan. "Impossible is a word humans use far too often."
~~~
I'm not saying impossible. I know I can find my right characters. I have many times before. One character already is in my thoughts - a Shaker sister who has a rich history, but she's not the main character. I see that girl, my main character, vaguely the way one might spot movement out of the corner of one's eyes. She's there, but she's not yet playing out her story in my mind. She has no name, no age, no desires. Well, that last is not exactly true. Even with her playing just outside the comfortable range of my eyes (mind) I know a few of her desires. But are they story making desires?
~~~
That is the question I will have to answer, and when I answer it I will have to keep in mind this Mark Twain quote. "Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn't." I have to make my story believable. If my readers say (as I wanted to say in a book I read recently) that what I wrote could have never happened, then I've lost them. The magic aura of story over their minds has been shattered. It doesn't matter that every bit of the book is not true from Chapter one, word one. The story has to read as if it is true. Truer than truth, because amazing things can happen in real life. Amazing things can happen in fiction, but if they do, the writer better write about those amazing things in such a way that the reader is ready to say, "Okay, maybe it could happen this one time."
~~~
What about you? Have you ever walked down the magic roads of possibilities as a writer or reader and had the magic fade? Or did each new bend in the road just make the possibilities more enchanting?
~~~
Here are the winners in my birthday book giveaway. Linda of PA chose my book The Outsider and also gets The Carousel Painter by Judith Miller. Dee of VA picks my book, The Believer, (and plans to give the copy she already has to a friend, bless her!) and gets a Shaker bookmark. Sylvia of Nova Scotia wants The Seeker and also gets The Shunning by Beverly Lewis, Jo right here in KY picked Summer of Joy and will get an autographed copy of A Daughter's Legacy by Virginia Smith. Amy of MO and Marilyn M haven't let me know yet which books they want. So Amy and Marilyn if you're reading this and didn't get my "you're a winner" e-mail, get in touch. Thanks so much to all of you who joined in the fun of my birthday giveaway. For sure I'll be doing something new around Thanksgiving or Christmas. So stay tuned. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Happy Possibilities


Where do you feel happy? And if you found such a place, how often would you make every effort to go there? This would be a place where you would feel loved and worthy and safe and engaged in life. No boredom there. No hard testing. Except, of course, some of us are happiest when faced with challenges that we have to give our all to meet.
~~
That's probably why people run marathons. I haven't decided that would be a happy time for me. I love to walk, but running 26 miles is another matter. But my son-in-law and daughter enjoy testing themselves by running in races and feeling the accomplishment of finishing with a faster time than they did in the last race.
~~
Me, I'm happy when I'm writing and it can certainly be challenging to come up with the right idea that can start the snowball of story creation rolling. At times the idea can explode and lend itself to a dynamite beginning that maybe writes itself but then somewhere along the story writing way will come some writing doldrums. I usually have a few stretches of doldrums when I'm writing - times when I wonder if I'll ever finish this story or even if it's worth finishing. And yet I'm only really happy when I'm somewhere in the process of telling a story.
~~
Not that I don't get happiness from other things. I certainly do. I love my family and I'm crazy about my grandkids. I am blessed with a life chock full of happy possibilities. Even now staying with Mom so much, there are happy possibilities as Mom and I spend more time together than we have in years. Of course there are also the happy times when I do get to go home and just be me. And part of me - a big part of me - is a writer. That was part of me before I ever met my husband. It can be a frustrating part - a maddening part - a consuming part. But in the center of all of that it can be a happy part.
~~
I got going on the idea of where to find happiness from our Sunday bulletin today. In the printed material on the back the writer asks, "Where is a good place to find happiness?" And he suggests we might answer "the church." I do hope you expect to find that inner happiness so necessary to your well being in your chuch. I do. But I also know I need to be writing words that will slide one sentence into the next and the next until I have a story going. And then I'm happy - at least until I hit the doldrums. ;o)
~~
I've been so busy this weekend with the trip to Books by the Banks in Cincinnati and then staying at Mom's and trying to cook for Homecoming meal and going to Homecoming and then back to Mom's that happiness hasn't been much on my mind. More survival or perhaps endurance is the better word. Maybe I'm running those races just like my daughter and son-in-law, but they're private races - races to get everything done and some words written too.
~~
I haven't even been home long enough to pick my winners for my birthday giveaway, but by next blog post for sure. Oh yeah, and I just put the flower picture because I liked it. It's been way too chilly today as if winter is trying to leapfrog over autumn and so I needed a little bright time. Plus, the area where I took the picture of those Dutchman's-breeches is one of the places I can always find a good dose of happiness while I'm hiking. Church is another, especially on a day like today when we were celebrating 198 years and welcoming so many friends back home.
~~
Where is a good place for you to find happiness?