Saturday, July 9, 2016

Write about your loves....

Judi Getch watercolor painting copyrighted, "Cove Road, Summer's Glory,"  Wellfleet on Cape Cod 
I'm currently reading  "the house on oyster creek" by Heidi Jon Schmidt.  It's not new, published in 2010, and its cover is worn and the pages dogeared.  But that all adds to its love-ability.  Unusual for me to find a book that I really enjoy, but a friend gave it to me saying she thought I would like it.  I don't just like it, I love it..

It touched something inside me... made me want to curl up on the porch swing with a cup of coffee and lose myself in her writing.  Isn't that what we learned in creative writing class?  Write about something that will touch your readers.  Now, granted, this might not be your cup of tea, but for me, a "washashore" of Wellfleet, I can't put it down.   It touched my heart, brought up old family memories at Chipmans Cove, made me think about my childhood in this very special house that was floated up from Provincetown and placed on a large concrete pad, and all the people who drove up that overgrown winding driveway to visit us in that home filled with love.

And it wasn't just the place that she wrote about, but the way she portrayed it - she painted her characters and settings so well as she moved the story along.  It's like my paintings of Wellfleet... they glow with love and memories just as her story did.  I envy her that writing talent.  It seems so natural, but she probably agonizes over her choice of words just as we do.  She has us stand in the old long neglected living room and see the cob webs on the narrow steep stairs leading to the upstairs bedrooms, the family portraits with faces that resemble "American Gothic,"  and a furnace that is rusty and old, barely chugging out a few wisps of heat into the house.  We see it all through her eyes, but look at it through our experiences.  Here, she thinks, lies the possibility of a home by the ocean.

One of Ms. Schmidt's secrets, over and above her ability to put words and thoughts together perfectly, is that she loves her setting, knows it, and lives it.  And I know how that feels.  Two of my novels, currently in editing, are set in this town that she and I both love.  It was a joy for me to set my characters in places I could see, that I could feel and that I loved.

But keep in mind, it shouldn't be a description of the place that you love, but the feeling of being there, or what you felt when you lost a person that you loved, or the joy and pain felt with a first love, or the sorrow of the death of your beloved dog when you were a child.  These are emotions that will touch others because we have all lived through them.

Remember - show don't tell!

Well, enough of my rambling.  Happy summer and may it inspire you to write your memories of summers past!


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

This one's for you Dad...

Photograph by Judi Getch, Doolin, Ireland

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

With Father's Day coming, I thought it would be a good time to talk about my Dad - funny, I could talk about him for hours and hours.  I could tell you what a good man he was, what a great sense of humor he had, how everyone loved him and how much he loved my mother and his "three girls."  But I really want to tell you about the dream that he had of taking us all to Ireland -- a dream left unfulfilled when he died young. 

It was something that I had struggled to understand for years, not that I constantly thought about it, but when I did, I could never make sense of it.  We were of Lithuanian descent!  There was not a drop of Irish blood in us.  Why did he want to go to Ireland?  

Finally a few years ago, I decided that I had to make that trip for him - had to discover why he had wanted to visit there.   I asked my sister if she wanted to go... that I was going no matter what.  She hesitated at first and said Ireland was not high on her list of places to see, but yes, she and her husband would meet us there.

And so we all flew into Dublin and started our adventure.  Our first stop was the Guinness Factory.  We toasted Dad in the glass lounge at the top.  We felt that if we didn't discover what we were looking for, at least we were here and part of his dream was fulfilled.  

Since my sister's husband and I had both driven on the "wrong side" of the road before, we did all the driving, swapping off days.  We headed south, stopping at Glendalough and then onto Kinsale where we had a rented cottage on the water.  I wish that I had space to tell you about all the funny things that happened, but those are best left for another time.  Our next overnight stop was at the Parknasilla Lodge at the beginning of the Ring of Kerry.  After driving the Ring, we went onto the Beara Pennisula and then ferried across the Shannon River.  I thought of my Dad here.  I wondered if that crossing would have brought to mind the stories that he told of my Grandparents living on a river in Lithuania?  

Next, we visited the Cliffs of Mohr and then went onto our house in Doolin.  We loved Doolin and couldn't wait to visit the Pubs and listen to the music.  We had been told that Doolin was the center of Irish music... and so it was.  As I sat there in McDermott's Pub, I could imagine nights long ago when cigarette smoke and the smell of peat filled the room.  I asked for a couple of songs and as I listened, it came to me why my father had wanted to come here - it was the music.  My sister and I looked at each other and I could feel my eyes fill... it was the music.  My Dad was a wonderful musician and he played the accordion, the banjo and the guitar as well as several other instruments.  I could see him there - playing with the band, tapping his feet, maybe even singing.  

We had done it - we had seen to it that we lived Dad's dream.  Our days in Ireland came to an end finally, but I have never felt closer to my Dad since he died than I did in Ireland.  His presence surrounded me - at Old Head, the Slieve League Cliffs, and especially in Doolin, where the roots of his dream were anchored.

When the plane lifted off and I looked down at green meadows, coastal cliffs and the Aran Islands off of Doolin, I knew that I was leaving a part of my Dad there and maybe, a piece of myself with him as well.

Happy Father's Day to all... and this one's for you Dad!


Friday, June 3, 2016

Reliving old... making new memories!

I'm writing from campus because it's Alumni Weekend.  Given that I'm on the Alumni Board, I'm involved in many activities these next few days.  But I wanted to take just a moment to jot down a few  thoughts because a time like this is such a rich environment for a writer.  

Tonight will be wine tasting... I'm one of the bartenders :-) You know how bartenders always hear everyone's stories :-)   And tomorrow there is a BBQ and after that, I'll be loading the Duck Boats with Alumni.  If I'm lucky, there might be an extra seat for me.  I love these tours because the drivers relate so much history and many untold stories of the city and it's founding fathers... and mothers!

Being a writer makes a weekend like this even more enjoyable.  Just think of the tales that I'll hear as I wander the quad or drink with a group of classmates in the Cafe/Pub later tonight.  The pub wasn't on campus when I was here - we only had a coffee shop.  Times have changed haven't they?  But it's a wonderful addition to the College allowing the students to gather and unwind with classmates or boyfriends and girlfriends and enjoy a few quiet or not so quiet moments away from the books.  The revelers will be there late into the night this weekend laughing, reliving individual and group memories and recounting what has happened in their lives since they last met.  Some are planning weddings, some have children in college, some have grandchildren and talk of retirement, some have suffered great losses.  Many of us have wandered down roads very far from our original dreams.... are our lives better than we dreamed they would be or worse?  Sounds like some wonderful stories woven throughout this weekend including my own.  Never in a million years did I ever think my life would play out like it has... and other than the losses I've suffered, I wouldn't change a minute of it!

I'm off to join the 'gang'  -- will write more when I can.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

'No Man is an Island'

No man is an island
Entire of itself
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
or of thine own were.
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

- John Donne -

Today my sister is gone a year.  The anniversary raises more memories, sadness, tears, and laughter than usual...  I'm trying to use these emotions in a positive way as I write to you today, showing how even hurt and sadness can be poured into your writing.

The leader of my writing group used to critique our work and the more she criticized it, the better we felt.  She read our flat black and white words on paper and said gently, “You can do better.  Look under that flat line – there is a story there.”  None of us wanted to look – we had hidden those scars away, hoping they had healed.  But she pushed us to write better, to look for the feelings we had hidden away.   We usually left disheartened, thinking we could do no better. 

But alone, where we were safe, we lifted those sentences, looked underneath and picked at those scars and our words slowly became colorful and full of feeling; we painted our three-dimensional scenes. 

“Remember – the king is dead – is that a story?” we heard her prodding us on.  And we painted with even more colorful  words … we were in Rome, in Tuscany, we met new loves, remembered first loves, we were at the side of a dying friend, selling the family home, swimming with gentle giants.  She pushed us to ‘feel’ – to tell the real stories not the broad brush ones.

And so I try to remember her words on days like this... I pick at those scars, relive those hurts and write.  I'll be spending a few hours today picking at my memories,  feeling and writing. I hope you do the same.

Here's an excerpt from a short piece that was published in a magazine a few years ago.  To write this section, I had to return to a very hurtful time and place....

"I looked down at my father’s casket. He had always been there for me – my whole life. I talked – he listened; I cried – he comforted; I lost my way – he guided me back. One minute he was there, the next minute he was gone.

Someone softly spoke my name; I turned wiping the tears from my face – an embrace, a word of sympathy, a kiss on the cheek.

I heard only the hum of the priest’s words at the grave, “May he rest in peace… let us pray for him.”

I stood there in a daze. Someone took my hand, kissed my cheek, moved on to my sisters and my mother. The mourners milled around and then softly made their way to their cars until our family stood there, alone. I pulled a pink rose from a floral arrangement and placed it on his casket, placed my fingers on my lips and laid them on my father’s casket. My final goodbye kiss. I turned, hollow eyed and empty, making my way back to the black limousine. My only thought,
What would I do now?  He had been in my life forever…

The wind whipped my hair against my face as I pulled the collar of my coat tighter around my neck. My ears stung and my eyes teared. It always felt much colder here as winter approached. The dampness of the water, I guessed. Most of the boats in the harbor were gone now.

It was November 5th, my father’s birthday. I had been struggling since August, when he died, to put my life back on course. He had always said, “If you need me, you’ll find me by the ocean,” so here I was, by the ocean, and in desperate need of him.

I stood looking across the lonely empty harbor, bracing myself against the cold, icy wind. It looked the same as it did when I was a child. I closed my eyes and could see us, my two sisters and myself, running up the sand dunes, screaming and pointing at horseshoe crabs, throwing the beach ball, toasting marshmallows over the fire, laughing; my mother sitting on the blanket, leaning back on her arms, her face in the sun, a smile on her lips; my father, dripping from his swim, running to the blanket and spraying her with water. He bent over and kissed her playfully. I saw myself floating on an old tire inner tube, watching my parents on the shore. Suddenly, I slipped through the center of the tire. Down I went under the water, valiantly trying to reach the surface when suddenly a strong pair of hands grabbed me and lifted me out of the water into the sunshine as I gulped for air. Coughing and sputtering, I rubbed my stinging eyes.

“You’re safe,” he said as he hugged me. “I’ll always keep you safe, I promise,” he whispered in my ear.

He always kept his promises I realized standing there. He had given me the strength and courage to cope with whatever obstacles life laid at my feet. And with tears in my eyes, I smiled knowing that this was where I would always come to replenish my soul and mend my heart. This was where I could always find the rhythm of my life."


Friday, April 22, 2016

Happy Earth Day!

The Blue Marble
NASA photo - "the blue marble"

HAPPY EARTH DAY no matter where you are... sea, shore, mountains, valleys, east or west or north or south or in between!  No matter which continent - where you stand right now is a precious piece of our planet.  Please take care of it!


Saturday, March 26, 2016

Show versus tell when we write....

I'm often told that I write like I paint - with passion and color and depth.  I think that's mostly true. When I'm in a room in my mind, I want to see it, feel it, hear it and smell it.  I want to know what's cooking in the kitchen and what the rain sounds like on the window pane. :-)

We, as writers, need to create characters that our readers love or hate, like a painting that people see and love or hate.  There is no middle ground.  Our characters have to be real and known or the reader will feel nothing and won't care what happens to them; our characters have to be 3-D people, not paper dolls.   We anchor them in a city or town, a house, a room...  we show what they like or dislike, have them fall in love or pick up the pieces of a broken heart;  we will convey somehow through a dress or painting their favorite color;  we will envelope the reader in the smell of their favorite dish or flower.  Characters can be like us or  be totally opposite to us.  We form our character to live within our story, within their world not ours.  Our words can't just set them down in a place, like he lives in Boston, Seattle, or she lives in Paris in an apartment.  Our readers want to "see" that city as your character walks the streets, the building he lives in as he leaves for work each morning, and the apartment that he or she spends their off hours in.  But the hard part as a writer is not stating the boring facts -- it's a 12 by 14 foot room, with a window, a rug and a pull out bed.  So? What have we learned about the character?  Are they rich or poor?  Like nice things or decorate with second hand items?  Are they living here to save money or are they only here for a short time?  We know nothing.

I'm currently working on a third manuscript, and here's what I say about the female character, "While the driver placed her single piece of luggage in his trunk, Brielle kicked off her black suede Louboutin pumps and massaged each foot slowly.  Her feet tended to swell on long flights."  While this might not be the best example of what I've been saying, I had this file open on my computer as I wrote my piece.  It does show however, many things about the main character without telling you directly all of the dry facts - we know her name is Brielle, very French; she travels light with a single suitcase; she likes expensive clothes - Louboutin heels; her pumps are suede, therefore it's not summer; and she had taken a long flight from somewhere to here with little luggage - thus a short trip?  She also knows that her feet swell on long flights, so she flies often enough to recognize this fact and yet has chosen to wear a pair of shoes that will hurt her feet.  Is it choice or necessity?   Ah... more information to be uncovered as we move on through the chapter.  We are building a puzzle, pulling in our readers as we lay out each piece so they wonder what the next piece will reveal.  Each sentence has to be polished - a gem.  And that's not an easy task - trust me.  I labor over my writing... hours, days, and sometimes weeks to find the perfect word or sentence... and still, I  find words and phrases that can be eliminated or made better.

This is both the joy and frustration of being a writer - carving the pieces out so that they fit together and eventually show the entire picture.

Well, enough for today.  Back to my travels and writing...


Monday, February 15, 2016

“There is no greater agony...

"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you."

-- Maya Angelou, I know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya had a way of saying the obvious, didn't she?  Well, I'm reducing my agony level a bit by finally letting one of my manuscripts free... soon!!  I'm in the final edit stage and hope to have it in print by spring.

A draft excerpt:

"Yet, he haunted her thoughts awake or asleep. It was always his face that she saw in her dreams; his voice that she heard in the night. She was possessed, bewitched as he would say, by a man who had lived centuries ago, and whom she had only met in her dreams."

How do my story characters grow into three dimensional individuals?  When I begin writing, they are usually flat. I have that untold seed of a story inside me, as Maya call it.  I have always wanted to write a time travel story.  I love those tales - someone travels to the future or goes back a few hundred years. In this case, my female character travels back in time, not by choice and with no idea why she's pulled back to the year 1804.  Next, I name my character - in this case, I call her Rachael.  Sometimes, as my female character evolves, I change her name, but in this case, Rachael remained Rachael.  In fact, she has been chosen to perform a task in 1804 for Lady Rachael whose body she inhabits.  So now I have two characters to develop - the two Rachaels. What do they look like?  I decide that one will be a tanned, tall, green eyed redhead with wild untamed hair; the other is a petite blue-eyed curly haired blond with alabaster skin.  As the story evolves and the manuscript grows, traits that they share become known.  Why was she called back?  I felt that I needed to call upon a rather outspoken friend of Rachael's, Kayla, to be the voice of reason when Rachael decides to go to an estate sale at a house Kayla believes is haunted.  The stage is set.  So you can see how both my story develops and my choice and number of characters grows.  There are other persons in the manuscript, of course - a prime one is the male character who weaves the web across centuries. 
As the story evolves and my fingers fly, personalities emerge with all their foibles and quirks.  I have loved this story for many years and have worked on it piecemeal as I wrote other manuscripts. I find that as I edit it, I'm laughing, crying... totally enjoying the journey that Rachael is taking me on.   
I hope this gives you a bit of insight into how I write.  In this case, I love how my characters take me along as they journey back in time.  

Keep writing - it's good for the soul!