Crossing Over

I’m pretty psyched up tonight. A little anxious too. Tomorrow I’m going to speak to a group of men about what it takes to be successful in a two-year college. Although I’ve talked to students about college success for decades, tomorrow is different in one major way. The men are using Crossing the Bridge: Succeeding in a Community College and Beyond as their text.

The program coordinator and I have talked several times, and what he’d like for me to speak about tomorrow is the importance of personal choice and commitment.

“No problem,” I assured Mr. Murphy. “I latched on to Sartre’s, ‘I am my choices’ 40 years ago and have never let go.”

He also wants me to elaborate a little on being intentional. Although dictionary definitions vary, my use of intentional means purposeful and deliberate. From Crossing the Bridge, here are the chapter openings:

  1. This is your life. Be intentional about discovering the attributes that make you unique, the ones that will help you to choose the right college major and live a more effective and satisfying life.
  2. An education is the ticket to a better life. Be intentional about getting the right degree or certificate from the college that will best prepare you for your future.
  3. Don’t be lukewarm or lackadaisical about taking that first step. Regardless of obstacles, be intentional in doing the things you need to do to begin your college career.
  4. You’ve come a long way to get here, and now it’s time for class…and for homework, studying, and time management. Keep your end goal in mind and be intentional about earning your degree or certificate.
  5. What you do outside of class is just as important, if not more so, than what you do inside of the classroom. Be intentional about using your time wisely to prepare for class and practice good study habits.
  6. Academic knowledge is essential for success, but practical intelligence, also known as street smarts, is equally vital. Be intentional in learning and applying those “life laws” as you cross the bridge to the professional world.

Like me, Mr. Murphy likes the symbolism of the bridge, and he plans to incorporate it into every session this year. A bridge symbolizes a transition from one place to another. I chose the Cooper River Bridge for the cover photograph because of my numerous experiences in crossing it on foot. Always a challenge, crossing this bridge requires preparation, motivation, and determination, many of the same characteristics needed to succeed in college.

Crossing The Bridge eBook Cover2

Regardless of discomfort or discouragement, the traveler, like the student,  has to keep on moving towards the other side. That’s where the goodies are, the rewards that being intentional and staying the course can provide.

I hope the men in the workshop will realize that it’s their choice. As Jack Canfield once said, “We blame our parents, our bosses, our friends, the media, our coworkers, our clients, our spouse, the weather, the economy, our astrological chart, our lack of money—anyone and anything we can pin the blame on. We never want to look at where the real problem is–ourselves.”

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A Little Booklet??

You’ve heard of Elizabeth Gilbert, right? The woman who wrote Eat, Pray, Love? She wrote other books too, including The Signature of All Things. (I just downloaded it to my iPad.) Yesterday I listened to a podcast featuring an interview with Gilbert, and she said that although The Signature didn’t do as well as Eat, Pray, Love, she was okay with that.

She then went on to tell of a conversation that took placed years ago when she was a 22-year-old diner waitress (her words). She and a professor from the University of Pennsylvania were discussing James Jones, author of From Here to Eternity. An aspiring writer, Gilbert admitted that the book was phenomenally successful, and then wondered aloud why Jones had never written another masterpiece.

In talking with the erudite professor, Gilbert scoffed at Jones’ “one hit wonder.” That’s the last time she ever made that mistake. Immediately the professor “schooled” her when he began to ask a series of questions. What was her objection to Jones’ work? Does a person have to keep producing best sellers to be considered gifted? Shouldn’t you applaud people who keep producing their work? Encourage those who put their work out there?

Gilbert felt little as she considered the arrogance of a 22-year-old unpublished waitress who had dissed James Jones. After all, what had she done (in the writing arena)? Who was she to say such an audacious thing? One hit wonder indeed.

Decades later, Gilbert remembers that diner discussion with the prof and asks, “Even if it’s not a masterpiece, so what? Shouldn’t people keep on going? Keep on writing?” (Paraphrase)

I have no aspirations of becoming rich and famous through my writing, and neither does anyone else in my writing group. Most have been published, however, and a couple have won prestigious awards for their work. At the same time, we all have stories to tell: tales of woe, wonder, happiness, relatedness, horror, disappointment, humor, hope, adventure, and astonishment. You name it; we’ve got it.

We’re putting together an anthology of some of our stories, especially those of the nostalgic type, and we hope to have it available by the end of October. Today as I was describing our group project to a would-be writer, he asked, “So y’all are going to put together a little booklet or something?” A little booklet????

“Yeah, or something,” I replied serenely, remembering Gilbert’s conversation with the professor. Shouldn’t you encourage people who put their work out there? Do you have stories to share? Why aren’t you writing them?

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Bears, Raccoons, and Elephants

One by-product of semi-retirement is I don’t have as much structure to my days. I don’t have to get up at 5:25 to make sure I get on the road to Sumter to teach a class. Or as in my earlier years, to feed children, make sure their books and essentials were together and their socks matched before heading out to take them to school and preschool.  After dinner (we called it supper then) each evening, there were dishes to wash, homework to supervise, baths to give, and studying to do.

In case anyone thinks I’m complaining about the crazy busyness of those years, I’m not. I’m merely emphasizing the structure and tight schedule.

I still study. Or rather, I read. I read whatever I want to. It doesn’t have to be strictly related to my work (teaching psychology). I refreshed my knowledge about narcissistic personality disorder the other day, but that’s because I wanted to and not because I had too. And since I ‘m teaching Human Growth and Development this semester, I’ve been reading updates, and wow, there’s new information on a daily basis, especially in genetics.

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Now that I have more time to read for pleasure and information, I learn new and fascinating things every day. I just finished Jessamyn West’s The Friendly Persuasion and learned about life in a Quaker community of Indiana around the time of the Civil War. It was a simpler time when we didn’t know so much about the crazies of the world …or the evil either.

I picked up a book entitled Rules of Thumb by and learned these interesting tidbits:

  • If you like your Granny Smith apples extra tart, choose the ones with speckles and red patches. James Turner
  •  Effortless prose generally takes three or four drafts. Dr. Paul Trotman
  •  Bears can outrun, outclimb, and outswim a human. Your only chance is to run downhill; the bear’s center of gravity makes it difficult for it to follow.
  •  Raccoons feed heavily 48 hours before the approach of a large winter storm.
  •  The African elephant has ears shaped like Africa. The Indian elephant has ears shaped like India.

I learned that John wrote Revelation while in exile on the Isle of Patmos about 96 A.D. He wrote 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John sometime between 100 to 110 A.D. while still on the Isle of Patmos. Even though Revelation was written first, it was placed after the Johns. I bring this up because since Revelation comes last in the Bible, many people assume that it was written last. These same people delight in letting LDS people know that Revelation states that no one should add to its words.

I skimmed a travel book that I wish I’d read before going to New England last fall and learned that Maine has more obese people than any other NE state. It has more cat owners than any state in the nation!

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From Ellis Nelson’s Into The Land of Snows, I learned at least a dozen new words, my favorite being Bardo, a  temporary state of the soul between death and rebirth. It could last up to 49 days, and the eventual reincarnation is governed by the person’s karma in his or her the past life.

I know many of the above findings might seem weird to some people, but it’s a great big world out there, and if we only know and learn about the little spheres we’ve been plopped into, we can become pretty narrow-minded.

But that’s not my main point. What I’m getting at is that I learned all of the above because of  my ability to read. It’s a privilege that many (especially females) in the world don’t have.

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What’s something you’ve learned from reading just this last week…or month? 

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More Than Fruitcake

I’m super excited about the anthology that our writing group is putting together. We saw that other groups in South Carolina had created such volumes and thought, “Why not?” Still, we were a little slow in getting started, and then we saw Nights of Horseplay, a book of equine fantasies created by the Aiken chapter of the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop. That did it! If the Aiken Scribblers could do it, so could we!

I talked to Steve Gordy, the writer who spearheaded the Aiken project, and his excitement and encouragement were contagious. After a tiny bit of prodding, everyone in the Camden chapter was “in.” Steve and the Scribblers had snagged the topic of equine tales because of Aiken’s thoroughbred reputation, and we decided to write a book of nostalgic recollections about Camden.

We ran into a little challenge right away. Since some of the members are from Wisacky, Bishopville, Dabb’s Crossroads, and Germany, the stories needed to represent those locales too. We soon realized that regardless of a person’s geographic origins, some experiences and emotions are universal.

At first, we were thinking primarily of holiday memories, especially those centered around hearth and home. Gift book! Or so we thought. But as the weeks rolled by and we began submitting our manuscripts for critique, our original focus started to change. We had holiday memories, yes, but we had much more. There were recipes, photographs, sketches, pithy advice from yesteryear, and poems. A couple of “boy meet girl” stories were submitted for review.

We must have copies of the book in our hot little hands by October 20th, so that means we’ll be working diligently to polish our pieces, organize the content, format the chapters or divisions, and upload it to CreateSpace. I guess we could wait for a traditional publisher, but since we want you to have your copy by Christmas, we’re going the self-published route.

Everyone is supposed to work on the same fun assignment this week:  find some photographs to complement our submissions, come up with the perfect title, and decide on a cover. More Than Fruitcake is our working title, but whether we’ll keep it depends on how things progress in September. In any case, we’re planning to serve squares of that delectable dessert at our signing. And Cowboy Cake too.

Are you a part of a writing group? Have you  worked together on a group project?

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From the Himalayas to Arizona

 

Yes, yes, I’ve been writing, but today I’m posting brief reviews of two books I’ve read lately. I learned something from each one of them, about writing and about the world and the fascinating people who inhabit it.

Into the Land of Snows, Ellis Nelson

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This book met two of my major criteria for a book to pass the so-called litmus test. It was both entertaining and educational. Blake and Ang, the primary characters, held my interest throughout the novel, and their experiences and encounters were captivating, dangerous, and sometimes magical.

Blake is a teenager whose parents have divorced, and he’s feeling lost and a bit sorry for himself. He’s now in Base Camp at Mt. Everest with his father, a busy, busy, busy doctor who doesn’t seem to have any time for Blake. Soon after Blake’s arrival in the Himalayas, there’s a dangerous avalanche, and because of his fear for Blake’s safety, his father sends him away with Ang, an experienced and trustworthy Sherpa.

Ang and Blake have several interesting and sometimes harrowing experiences. In fact, I wondered whether it was realistic for a 16-year-old American teen to be tested and tried in such dangerous situations. After weeks of exploration, the two travelers return to Base Camp where Blake and his father reunite. Blake has matured during the interim, and the reader senses that his attitude towards his father has softened.

Never having traveled to the Himalayas, I learned quite a bit about the land and its people. Truthfully, I didn’t even know what a Sherpa was before reading this book, much less a Rinpoche, tumo, yidams, or stupas.

I liked Into the Land of Snows so much that I was sorry to see it end. My only issue with was the believability factor. Could this have really happened to an American teen? Still, it’s a book I enjoyed and would recommend to anyone with an interest in mysticism, Himalayan culture, and adventure.

The Orphan Train, Christina Cline

This was one of the most thought provoking and heart wrenching books I’ve read in months. Thought provoking because I never knew about the orphan trains that took approximately 250,000 abandoned and neglected children from Eastern cities to new homes in the Midwest from 1854-1929 and heart wrenching because of the absolute cruelty that many experienced.

There are two “girls” in this saga, Molly and Vivian, whose lives intersect at a crucial time for each. Their relationship proves beneficial to both. Molly is a young teen at a crossroads in her life, and Vivian is an elderly woman who supposedly needs help in organizing her many possessions.

After she loses her family in a tragic fire, Vivian is alone in the world at the beginning of the book. Soon, however she and Dutchy and dozens of other unfortunate children are placed on a train bound for homes with people who are looking for slave labor. Their train stops in various towns, and the children are cleaned up and marched on stage for interested townspeople to inspect both visually and physically.

The Orphan Train is a well-written, fascinating, informative, and interesting book. Christina Kline successfully managed to inform this reader of a huge social phenomenon AND weave a story (several actually) from it.

I have two chapters to read before finishing Jessamyn West’s The Friendly Persuasion, and I find myself procrastinating…not sure why. Maybe I just don’t want to say good-bye to the Birdwells. At night, I’ve been enjoying State by State a compilation of essays about each of the 50 states. I’m loving it!! Naturally, I started with South Carolina, and last night I read Arizona’s entry and loved it. Here’s the last sentence.

“This valley tells me that when it’s time for me to die I don’t need to be afraid. I can die happy , because the world is stunning and the sky will go on forever.”

What about you? What’s on your bookshelf? Have you read any of the above, and if so, what did you think? Please share.

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Sudden Shifts

I’m trying to practice the concept of The Daily Post, and here’s a recent prompt.

You’re at the beach with some friends and/or family, enjoying the sun, nibbling on some watermelon. All of a sudden, within seconds, the weather shifts and hail starts descending from the sky. Write a post about what happens next.

The older I get, the more lessons I see in just about everything, and an adventure at the beach with my daughter Carrie and her four children four summers ago was no exception. Within the space of 30 minutes, I was reminded of a host of things.

On our way to the strand, we rode in and out of sunshine. Carrie expressed concern over the overcast skies, but I reminded her of how things could be sunny on the beach and raining like crazy of blocks away. We found a parking place at a beach access area, and within minutes we were basking in the Carolina sunshine and getting our feet wet in the warm water.

Carrie was snapping pictures right and left, and all was grand. Then suddenly, she shrieked, “It’s raining!” I turned around to see her gathering up our things, and about that time the sky fell in…or seemed to. Blinding sheets of rain pelted us, and wherever I looked, I saw people trudging, heads down, as fast as they could towards shelter. Then the wind picked up, and sand stung our legs.

In all of my decades of coming to the beach, I’ve never experienced such a deluge of rain and wind-borne sand. It was more than a little disconcerting, especially when I saw my little granddaughters, Emma and Brooke, screaming as they tried to wrap their towels around their tiny bodies. Around and around they spun.

Their older brother Braden didn’t look too happy either, but he managed to get his towel around his torso, thus protecting his skin from the stinging sand and pouring rain. I had the baby in my arms, and all I could see were his blue, blue eyes searching my face as if to ask, “What’s going on?”

Carrie got the truly necessary items, and we left the chairs behind as we made a dash to the car. Once inside, the children enjoyed their Fruit Snacks, and Baby Colton and I shared a banana while his mother closely monitored the weather. As an aside, it’s always good to be prepared for life’s storms.

Within five minutes, the downpour was over. The rain and wind ceased completely, and the sun popped out. The sky was a beautiful Carolina blue with only a few white fluffy clouds. We sat silently for about ten seconds, wondering if we had truly witnessed one of Mother Nature’s wildest and shortest storms or whether we had imagined it.

Satisfied that the coast was clear (literally), we again trudged down to the strand and got set up again. What followed was a delightful afternoon of fun and sun. While I pondered several lessons from experience, the primary one is that storms always pass; that’s nature’s way. This is true for “real life” too. The sun always comes out again, and sometimes the brightness is even more brilliant that before.

Sometimes our trials in life last much longer, but they always pass, and at some time, you’ll see a ray of brightness shining through. Even if it’s just a tiny glimmer, it can give you hope.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/sudden-shifts/

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Reading to Write

Have I been writing? Yes. In the past, I thought of writing as “working on a book.” Now I think of it in a different way. I don’t have to be working on a big project. I can be working on a scene for future use, recording a thought or memory in my journal, or polishing something I’ve already written. I can even be reading and call it research to improve writing.

Lately I’ve been working on my writing group’s anthology and doing a little of the above mentioned activities. Mostly though, I’ve been reading. I’m amazed at the ways different writers can use words to evoke feelings, describe a setting, or develop character. And dialogue…some of them can write some of the most realistic dialogue I’ve ever heard – er, read.

I needed a beach read the other morning and couldn’t find The Mastery of Love by Miguel Ruiz that I had taken to the strand the week before, so I selected a book off the shelf. My random choice was The Friendly Persuasion by Jessamyn West, and what a marvelous selection it has proven to be.

Ms. West begins the novel with a description of Jess Birdwell’s home, a white clapboard; his family, including his good wife Eliza, a Quaker minister; Jess’ business as a nurseryman; and the land surrounding his home, so beautiful in the fall that “heaven and earth seemed bound together.”

As I read the opening paragraphs, I thought, “This is too good to be true. There’s got to be a fly in the ointment somewhere.” Sure enough, here’s the sentence that informs the reader of Jess’ vague discontent: “Jess wasn’t completely happy, and for no reason anyone could have hit upon at first guess.” Turns out it was music Jess was pining for, and there follows a fascinating story of an organ purchase and a woman who sits on the cold snow-packed ground in protest.

I’m also reading Jane Martin: Selected Plays based on a recommendation by a writing workshop instructor. It’s an awesome book filled with plays and monologues. I’m not planning to write plays, but I would like to try my hand at monologues. Although it’s a tad embarrassing to admit, I didn’t even know what one was until last week!

At night, I’m reading Into the Land of Snows by Ellis Nelson. It’s on my iPad and is an evening choice because of the iPad’s backlight. Reading it has been educational, and I’ve learned about sherpas, monks, yetis, and the Himalayas. Although it seems to be a YA novel, it’s holding my interest.

But back to Jessamyn West’s novel. I found this classic  (my opinion) for $2 at a Friends of the Library Sale a couple of years ago. Lucky me. It’s a perfect book for actually studying the craft of writing. Whether I can improve my own efforts at scene and character description is another story.

What about you? What have you been reading and writing lately?

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Six Pack

Six pack. What was I supposed to do with that? It was prompt given to us in a monologue writing class that I attended Saturday. I was at the Intensive Day Workshop offered by the Rock Hill Chapter of SCWW (South Carolina Writers’ Workshop), an annual event that offers instruction, fun, food, and exposure to other writers and their ideas. I also learned about Sunscribe Publishers, a new publisher in South Carolina.

Nick, a member of the Camden chapter, and I arrived about 8:30, and after registering we pored over the program, marveling at the myriad of choices available and wondering which sessions to attend. After much deliberation, we decided on Create and Organize Your Story for Dramatic Effect; Using the Semiconscious Mind to Spur Creative Thought; How to Make Your Dialogue Snap, Crackle, and Pop; and The Art of Monologue.

Between morning and afternoon sessions, we ate boxed lunches from McAlister’s and listened to several authors read their work. While polishing off his chocolate chip cookie, Nick spotted a woman whose work he had admired last year. At last spring’s conference, she had read a fictitious story about a woman coming home to find a dead man in her bathtub. From the discovery to the solution, the tale was entertaining and “fun.” After lunch, Nick introduced himself to the author and bought her book.

As an aside, I deliberately added “fictitious” to the above because when Nick was telling one of our table mates about the story, someone asked, “OMG, what did she do??”

It would be impossible to recount all of the many things I learned at the Rock Hill workshop, so I’m going to list just a few of my notes:

  • After you’ve written your story, go over it again and add more details. Do it again.
  • It’s a moment in time for your character and you have to become that person. What does she see, smell? What kind of furniture does she have? What’s her favorite food? What does she do on a Saturday night? Does she have friends?
  •  Look at novels and see how they’re organized.
  •  You’ll need to interweave the character’s past and present.
  •  We don’t want the reader to ever be confused.
  •  The verb is the most important word in the sentence.
  • What goes into your story must be important enough to be included.
  • Metaphors pull your story up to a higher level.
  • Dialogue reveals character, unveils attitudes, discloses personalities, and divulges thoughts.
  • Use dialogue to drive your plot.

In our last session, Nick and I learned about the art of monologue. After reading several examples and teaching us what a monologue was, our instructor, Barbara Lawing, gave us some prompts to work with. I was crummy at this exercise, but some of my session-mates produced some amazingly good monologues using “six pack” as the prompt. Anxious to learn more about this type of writing, I ordered Jane Martin: Collected Plays from Amazon as soon as I got home.

Saturday was a day well-spent. We learned and laughed and rubbed shoulders with people who were trying to learn more about writing. I came home with a number of good ideas and a wealth of information and inspiration.

 

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Stories, Photos, and Poems

No major projects on the agenda right not, at least no huge ones (like a book) that I’m tackling all by my lonesome. My writing group, however, has something fun and exciting going on. We’re putting together an anthology that we hope to have completed by mid-October. Let me rephrase that to “that we will have completed by mid-October.”

We’ve changed our direction a couple of times, but now that we’ve read and critiqued the majority of the submissions, we’re focused and on target. We have a compilation of poems, stories, recipes (with accompanying tales), photographs, and good old memoire-type pieces. We’ve laughed, reminisced, encouraged, and edited for the past three or four meetings, and at last we think we’re getting somewhere.

Originally, our intention was to stick to holiday memories germane (if that’s not the appropriate word, maybe a member of the group will point it out) to the midlands, but that didn’t last long. Fifteen minutes tops. One of our members is from Germany, and although she immigrated to America three decades ago, she hasn’t lived in South Carolina but a few years. Hmmm. What to do? She wrote a lovely piece about baking Christmas cookies with her grandmother, and although the kitchen scene takes place in Germany, the feeling it evokes is a universal one.

Eventually the group expanded the book’s collection to include all sorts of nostalgic stories, including love stories of the “boy meets girl” variety and family reunions in the sweltering hot summertime. I’m working on one of the love stories, and although I knew that it wasn’t where it needed to be, I didn’t know how to make the story sing. The group gave me some suggestions last night, including one to “brief it up” in the beginning.

One of my favorite contributions so far tells of a Thanksgiving celebration that took place 14 years ago. My sweet mama had passed away in October, and three of her children and a few grandchildren gathered at her home that evening with some “take-in” food. At some point, we ended up in my parents’ bedroom rummaging through their old hats. Like kids playing dress-up, we each tried on several before finally settling on one of special meaning, and after the meal, my son-in-law took the above picture. The piece also includes memories from Thanksgivings-past, all conjured up by my mother’s cornbread stuffing recipe that I wanted to include in the anthology.

It probably hit me for the first time that evening: My family holidays with kith and kin in the manner I had known all of my life were over. Sure, I’d share turkey and dressing, red velvet cake, and other seasonal fare with various relatives each year, but my mother’s passing on October 20, 2000 marked the end of gatherings in the family home.

I personally know several individuals with tremendous writing skills who could benefit from our group AND add much to its composition. Two of them live in my neighborhood, and I hope they read this. Because of Mindy, I double and triple check my to-be verbs to make sure I haven’t overused them, and because of Doug, I watch out for gerunds. And now we’re joining forces to put together this awesome anthology. How else could that have happened for me?

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Anthologies, Novels, and Photographs

Just because I don’t post here every day doesn’t mean that I’ve put writing projects to the side. I earnestly try to follow the oft-seen instruction to write something daily even if it’s just a few phrases in my journal. My current projects include bits and pieces of two books and the resurrection of an old one. If that sounds confusing, let me explain.

The Camden chapter of the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop is putting together an anthology of stories, poems, recipes, and memories. The original idea was to create a collection of holiday tales, but as members began submitting work to be critiqued, the focus enlarged to include all sorts of contributions. The primary stipulation is that nostalgia permeate its pages. I’m working on my fourth entry now, a love story about two people who met in Camden fifty years ago. And yes, they’re still together.

When I worked full-time at Central Carolina, I was fortunate to work with some creative, hard working, talented, and zany folks who are writing something called Summer Novel. Each person involved writes a chapter based on the one that came before. I have NEVER written fiction, but when the project manager asked me to write a chapter, I thought, “Why not?” It’s just for fun…or so she said. I’ll just say that I’m glad I’d read The Alchemist the week before because it gave me some ideas.

And finally, a few years ago I began creating a book of what I perceived to be beautiful beach photographs with quotes, stories, and short paragraphs. I even held a contest promising to include the best entry in the future book. Then something happened. I started working on Crossing the Bridge, and that became so all-consuming that I put Seas the Day on the back burner.

Initially, the “beach book” was to include photographs taken from November to November with my iPhone. I included only pictures of Carolina coasts in the original collection. Now that I’m semi-retired and have more time to explore other shorelines, however, I’m expanding the Carolina coastlines to include those of  Georgia, Florida, Virginia, and Maine.

And did I mention that I’ve been reading, reading, reading? I call it research. As “they” say, good readers make good writers.

    • If I hadn’t read The Alchemist a couple of weeks ago, I might not have contributed to Summer Novel.
    • Today I’m going to finish The Orphan Train, a heart wrenching novel about Molly and Vivian and Dutchy, and I’m learning more about how to write fiction from it.
    • I’ve been reading The Mastery of Love by Miquel Ruiz on the beach each morning, and it’s given me much to ponder about how childhood relationships affect our psyches.

What’s your current writing project? What are you reading? Would you like to contribute a photograph or beach memory to Seas the Day?  I’d love that.

 

 

 

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