Tag Archives: fiction

Strawberry Creek Lodge – Writing Retreat – Spring 2016

Blog 1 – The Retreat

Anticipation.

It’s been building since the day we left last year, brought on and encouraged by the positive results and the lasting effects of concentrating for days with one’s own muse. More time! So in answer to that request, we extended the trip one more night on the long weekend, which gave us one more full day of retreating to write. It’s funny that we need to retreat in order to bond or reconnect with our inner creativity. It’s the way life is, though – fast paced and loud, demanding and insistent. Surely a retreat is not always necessary – it’s a mini vacation for the mind and soul. If one truly takes the time to focus on “self”, while appreciating others’ need to do the same, the results are amazing and the argument for retreating is unarguably natural medicine for the ailing spirit.

Commitment.

Planning and soliciting attendance isn’t necessarily difficult or anxiety building until you get closer to the day and unanticipated events happen to cause holes to appear in your apparent flawless and effortless planning. Life happens – things come up that you cannot possibly foresee over the course of a year. The need to have minimum numbers causes the added pressure to ensure all the seats are filled. We are all thankful that a distress call put out there attracted the attention of like-minded individuals who could make the weekend getaway. Financial strains this year had me even questioning my spending; however, the benefit to my mental well-being far outweighed any other argument. It just means more work upon returning home.

Benefits.  

Nature. Focus. Amazing surroundings. Like-minded souls sharing your love for words. Ability to socialize, materialize, compromise – or just disappear into your own world, as needed. As a writer, the solitude is a blessing and it is made even more inspiring by the beautiful setting and lodge.

No – you don’t have to go away to write, but a retreat is an experience every writer should try during their writing journey. Most will go back for more – year after year. Others will savor the experience and move on, knowing they can always go again when warranted. For me, it is a place I could imagine retiring to in order to write to my heart’s content for the rest of my life… the whole working for a living thing-money and paying bills- thing that stops me for now. Every trip produces more work and creates memories shared with writing colleagues. Fellowships are forged – friendships are solidified. The wonderful thing about Strawberry Creek Lodge is the myriad of delightful nooks and crannies where one can hole up for a time or stake out for the duration; the rooms are wonderful sleeping and private working quarters to spread out your tools and prepare to produce; the meals… the meals are marvelous. Imagine being called to the table by the cowbell at set times to enjoy amazing meals with your retreat pals. No cooking. No dishes. No cleaning.

Pitfalls.

None. Unless, of course, you count the fact that you won’t want to go home and you might attempt to kidnap Brenda, our awesome host/cook, because you never want to have to cook again… ever…

As a dedicated writer, invested in your passion – you will utilize every moment possible to focus on your words; be kind to yourself with rest and relaxation; socialize at appropriate times; connect with your inner creativity and nature. For those who couldn’t go – there is sadness in what life brings – but there is always next year.

A Writing Retreat. It is not something that is necessary – but it is something life-altering to those with a serious passion for word creativity. The retreat is a great way to immerse yourself in the beauty of solitude away from every day distractions to focus specifically on writing. It’s a recharge for the creative battery.

See you next year – keep on writing!

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Book Review – The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood

The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood (1998) did not sit long idle before I devoured the words. But those who know me well would know it would not be one to gather dust given my propensity and love for life of William Shakespeare’s late 1500s. It was also not so overpowering and involved an investment given the things happening in my life right now. True, this book by American children’s author, Gary Blackwood, is a young adult chap book – but the subject is one that calls to me in any form. It was an easy read and I’m assuming it to be geared toward the junior high reading crowd. The author did not simplify it by changing language or situation. Instead, he peppered it with the flavor of the time using words and actions. He uses the characters to explain uncertainties and one comes to identify meaning by reading through the work and understanding their relation to the roles of the time period.

Widge, is a young teen orphan who comes to the theatre under command of his current master. He is supposed to steal the play Hamlet by transcribing it in its entirety using a specialized shorthand he masters over his young years. His initial attempt is incomplete because he gets caught up in the roles rather than concentrating on the words. His next attempt is better but the notebook is stolen and under fear of reprisal he becomes engulfed in the world of the theatre. At first, it is a way to escape punishment from his master and fulfill his duty. He knows what he’s doing is a deception but this was common at the time with competing theatre troupes stealing plays and revisiting them on their own stage. The coveted Shakespearean works were well guarded but not immune to pilfering. Widge’s attempt to comply leaves him loving the theatre and he even becomes a player while on ever alert for his mysterious, fearful pursuer, Falconer. His growth is in discovering loyalty and friendship. The story is well written and follows the guidelines for historical writing by not overdoing the language. A few words in dialect by the main character add to his charm, setting him apart from his London proper counterparts.

According to my research of the time period, the work rings true to what I have encountered with only one blaring inconsistency ringing in my head. William Shakespeare’s son is said to have died from an accidental drowning in 1596 – the author, using a brief dialogue between players, reveals that William is possibly disheartened and distracted by the death of his son by disease. The book is set in 1587 which would only be two years after the twins’ birth. As with all work based on such remote times, it is impossible to get things exactly right – who really knows? In our creation of fiction we are given that liberty to stretch the truth somewhat as long as it is loosely based on our researched conception of it. I am in the process of writing a novel involving this time period and I would expect there may be variations that might draw the comment and insight from others working in the same genre and style.  We have our imagination and creativity –the rest is history.

This wonderful book was found on the local library discard rack – it makes me wonder why.

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Fiction: Three Years

A warm shiver made its way up her spine as she grasped the handle on the wooden chest, undecided as to the good of opening up the past. Again. It had been some time since the dreams haunted her and Kara even believed them to be done – that was, until last night. What triggered it, she knew not; only that its message was too clear to ignore this time. She heaved the heavy lid and sat back, waiting.

Many times in her life’s travels, she found the pathway before her blocked. It would be cluttered with feelings and obstacles she was unable to distinguish or determine or defeat. Decisions gone bad – there were too many to count so Kara just quit trying. She’d made a choice often regretting the results and would be unsure of how everything could go so wrong. Damien left her just because she believed she wasn’t ready to accept his proposal although being together felt right. It was like they were made for each other but met in the wrong place and time. She wasn’t ready to settle down and conform to society’s expectations of family, home, and two point five kids. She felt the compromise did her part to preserve the relationship as she relented and accepted the white picket fence and dog, all the while knowing, in the back of her mind, you can always sell the house and take the dog with you.

Three years was like a magical number – magical in the sense of black magic – because as it approached a three year mark in anything she did, she also knew it was only a matter of time before it failed. The negative vibes shook for weeks afterwards, relegating her to the confines of her apartment, her epic period piece movies and a block of comforting, albeit fattening, mint chocolate chip ice cream. The phone calls would go unanswered, text messages ignored, email jammed her inbox to the point of deletion and it would only be that inevitable knock on the door from a concerned close friend that would pull her from her self-inflicted ‘poor me’ mood. She’d pick herself up and go forth again to get another dead-end job, another go nowhere boyfriend, and an even more ill-fitting life. Three years. Just three more years to go.

The dreams brought her back to reality with a force she could not ignore – they overpowered her sleep with visions of success and positivity and well-being, so much so, she desperately wanted that reality. Rolled up in bed for days on end, she would revel in her new-found happiness, afraid to wake and face the world; she did not want to lose what she had even though she couldn’t even grasp it in her hands. He was daring yet dashing, so gentle – bold and loving. He’d hold her close and tell her all the things no one else ever did. Her life seemed so happy, but only in her dreams. Waking was like death – over and over. His voice finally told her with such conviction that her dreams could be real if she chose to make them so… She resisted, knowing her history. Three years… if she did not make a choice she knew he’d move on. Kara couldn’t risk losing him.

Love you ForeverInside the chest, there lay letters wrapped in tattered tissue paper, tied with faded ribbons. The words, however, warmed her heart as she read them over and over again. They were addressed to “My Dearest Love, Kara” and she traced his signature with her finger where he signed in dark ink, “Always, Diavolio…” His voice reminded her and echoed through her head, so loud she dropped the letters, startled by the sound as if he were right there beside her, pulling her to his chest, stroking her hair. In the satin wrapped pouch beneath the letters, was the solution to the three year curse he promised in his whispers to her nightly. She pulled the dagger from its leather sheath and drove it deep into her heart – no more three year disappointments because now his love would stay with her … forever.

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Opposition in Characterization

Night and day, dark and light… good and evil, truth and lie…Opposites exist on every level of our life. It can be as obvious as the way we learn because of the opposite values that reside in our brains. Right brain – creativity… left brain – logic. It can be subtle. It can be overt. We struggle with opposing views and make decisions based on positive and negative consequences and even weigh choices depending upon the good and bad aspects of those outcomes. We grow up hearing that opposites attract and although the adage seems to be truer for magnets than people, we often hold trust in the truths of old and some of us even end up partnered with them. The balance is often what provides the needed spark to fuse the connection but it can also have the opposite effect if too diverse.

When talking about opposites in writing, I not only think of writing something that is different from my usual repertoire, out of my genre, a different style, or purely experimental; I also think of it as writing something “out of character.” If we do end up writing an aspect to our story that is way out there, we often are reluctant to take ownership for anything that might be perceived as “bad” and sharing that particular revelation can be somewhat embarrassing. A recent reader solicited to review a novel I have in the editing stages, commented “this is not the Linda I know…” True, my character tended to swear more than a little and anyone who knows me, knows I don’t use that kind of language in everyday conversation. I was also aware that it was uncomfortable for them to read scenes you would call explicit because they associate the words with the person they know in so many other ways – except that one. What can be perceived as a particularly dark subject is naturally not easy to write, yet if we are to have a compelling story we need conflict and we need to draw interest based on what is being read. Even the simplest controversy drives some writers into dismay and denial. I had one author tell me that she couldn’t write it into her character to lie because she was taught to always tell the truth. With further discussion, she did relent – but only a little. It was a necessary untruth for her character so that the story could move along to a discovery that brought us to a satisfying resolution. Those misgivings have to be acceptable to the writer because the story belongs to the writer. It also depends on what lesson you are trying to relay and to what audience. Sensationalizing, just to get a rise out of your reader, is not encouraged – you are trying to garner a readership based on well crafted stories, not turn them off.

In all honesty, however, fictional characters are derived from our imagination. We write what we know and include it in the situations to which our characters relate. It doesn’t mean you are a bad person because you have the ability to characterize in such a manner or that you have personally done any of things you allow your character to do. You are probably the total opposite. Being able to write real characters, means you have learned and received this training through life experience and recall, and have developed the ability to adapt other’s situations to your story ideas. We paint a picture of reality in our written images and all characters, good or bad, are based on some such perception. A writer friend tells of an interview she heard involving the Outlander series author, Diana Gabaldon. This author shares the story of readers who told her they hated her antagonist because he was such a despicable character. She replied that to hate him was to hate her…

This article is certainly not written to lay claim that every writer has done or experienced some aspect of the “dark side” in some way, whatever that “dark side” might be… it is just to open a truthful conversation on the nature of writing and how we develop characterization to make our stories as real as possible.

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Fall Writers Workshop

It’s just Tuesday and even with all that is going on I am still looking forward to the upcoming workshop this Saturday. I missed Kelly Ross’ presentation in the spring because I was staying with my mom at the time. She just had knee surgery and I took my holidays to stay with her during her early convalescence. It should be a very interesting topic – research and fact-checking. This is something that all writers need to do no matter what style or genre we write in. It is necessary to portray the facts in an accurate manner so that it validates our work – even if it is a work of fiction. An incorrect reference , one that is easily confirmed with a little research, can tarnish the whole work – the reader will doubt the validity of other references if they find a simple one that could have been corrected. We must write knowing that our audience is intelligent and will pick up on something if we just breeze over it assuming it is not important. This not only means that spacial factors such as timing and location must be probable, it means that all of our references, words and descriptions must match the situation and time period we are writing about. The whole product must match the genre, too.

The second part of the workshop is going to be interactive fun! I am looking forward to that part just as much as the first. It is another part of our writing process – using ideas, prompts and whatever other props necessary to get the creative juices flowing. Our own group president, Twilla Boyce, will lead us in “The Games Writers Play.” On occasion we have used some of the ideas she will present to do some freefall writing – it really gets the creativity happening – and out of it might come an idea or the start of something new. Even if it is a  just “in the moment” exercise for you,  it might be a great way to get your writing started if you are not one to just sit down and get right into the meat of the matter.

Hope to see all you local writers out there. You can check out our web site calendar at  www.wfscsherwoodpark.com for more information.

Take care, stay healthy and keep on writing!

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