Sometimes, we need to hear something said again in a different way before it really sinks in. This happened to me recently. A conversation with a writing friend reminded me that I had both of Lisa Cron’s writing craft books, Wired for Story and Story Genius on my bookshelf. I had started reading the first book before we moved last year, then never finished it.
That conversation prompted me to read both books. I am so glad I did! First, because I was fascinated by her explanation of how humans are still biologically wired not just to learn through stories, but to actually crave them. I always like to learn the “how” and “why” of things, so I found this to be a captivating read.
More importantly, the associated tips for writing stronger stories truly resonated for me. The sad thing is that, if you get right down to it, she did not say anything I haven’t heard before. But something about the way she said it – the way she told her story – forced me to really listen this time.
I guess we have all had something similar happen at some point. How often have we heard something (maybe from a coworker instead of a parent or spouse) and instead of rolling our eyes because we’ve heard it before, we stop and pay attention this time?
Maybe we give more weight to words spoken by people we don’t know as well or need to hear the words phrased in a different way. Or perhaps this person is simply a better storyteller. Whatever the reason, the result is the same. Suddenly, light bulbs are going off, brightening our world in literal and figurative ways.
In my case, I am glad I listened to my friend and read Lisa Cron’s books. I am in the process of applying her techniques to my current manuscript, and am excited to see if they improve my writing as I think they will. I’ll keep you posted on my results. If you are a writer who would like to learn more about Lisa’s techniques, you can find her at http://wiredforstory.com/ .
In the meantime, if crazy old Uncle Henry starts telling you something, don’t just use the time to check messages on your phone – pay attention. He just might have something worthwhile to tell you!
Ahhh, summer. Remember those long, lazy days when we were out of school and the days stretched before us, full of promise? Those of you who have been reading my blog for a long time know that every now and then, I like to include a fun trivia quiz. Here is one to celebrate the last bit of summer. All of the questions are about songs with the word "summer" in the title. Enjoy!
#1 – What word completes the title of 1985's "Summer of _____" by Bryan Adams?
I hope you enjoyed this musical summer quiz. The answers are below. I also included a link ( https://www.braingle.com/trivia/27741/summer-songs.html ) to the website where I found it, in case you want to click the buttons online.
Mata Hari, arguably the most well-known femme fatale in history, was born 143 years ago this week.
Her life started quite conventionally. She was born August 7, 1876 as Margaretha (“Gretha”) Zelle to solidly Dutch parents in the Netherlands. Her father owned a hat shop, invested in oil, and provided a very affluent lifestyle until he went bankrupt in 1889.
Her life was a series of tumultuous events after that, which may explain how she ended up as a reputed spy. Her mother died when she was 15 and her father remarried two years later. Gretha did not get along with her new stepmother, so went to live with her godfather. She attended a teacher’s school until the school’s headmaster began to pursue her and she left the school. A few months later, she moved to her uncle’s home, for reasons unknown.
Gretha was only 18 when she answered a newspaper ad for a bride. She married a Dutch army officer in 1895 and went with him to Java. However, her husband, who was 21 years older than her, was a violently abusive alcoholic and openly kept a mistress. Gretha found escape from her unhappy marriage by studying Indonesian culture, especially the dances. This is when she chose the name “Mata Hari” which was the word for “sun” in a local language. Gretha and her husband divorced after their return to the Netherlands.
She moved to Paris in 1903, and by 1905 she had established herself as an exotic dancer. She claimed to be a Javanese princess and performed what was essentially a strip tease. Mata Hari was instantly and wildly successful. She was blatantly flirtatious and provocative, and seemed to enjoy flaunting her body. She was in high demand as a courtesan, known to have relationships with millionaires, politicians, and high-ranking military officers. These liaisons caused her to travel frequently across Europe.
After WWI started, Mata Hari fell deeply in love with a Russian officer. After he was severely injured, she begged a French officer for permission to visit him near the front lines. This seems to be when her career as a spy began. There is some speculation that the French officer only allowed the visit after she agreed to spy for France. French intelligence then offered her one million francs if she would seduce the German crown prince to gain military information.
During a meeting with a German officer, she offered to sell them French secrets. It is unclear if she genuinely wanted the money, or if it was part of a larger ploy. The Germans hired her, but soon realized Mata Hari had no information other than social gossip to provide them. Wanting to get rid of her, they sent a message, using a code they knew the Allies had already broken, naming her as a German spy. The French, as expected, intercepted the message and arrested Mata Hari in February 1917.
Her arrest seems to have been a useful tool for the French government, and her trial was not a fair one. The French military had had some severe failures, the country was on the verge of collapse, and the new government desperately needed a scapegoat. Her reputation as a well-traveled courtesan made it easy to paint her as a foreign spy. Through it all, Mata Hari steadfastly denied spying for Germany against her adopted country. She is reputed to have said, “A courtesan, I admit it. A spy, never!”
As expected, she was found guilty and was executed by a firing squad on October 15, 1917. Accounts from the day say she refused the blindfold and stood calmly until the shots rang out. Then she slowly sank to her knees, still silent, and eventually fell backward.
History has treated Mata Hari a little more kindly than she was during her life. Did she spy for Germany during WWI? No one really knows. But whether spy or patriot, her life was not an easy one. Looking back, one can see a pattern of adverse events which led her down a sad and unhappy path.
Though it is difficult to know who Mata Hari really was, I wonder what she would say if she learned that 100 years later her name still lives on as a byword for a seductive female spy.
We made the trip back to Wisconsin to visit family and friends last weekend, just returning this week. It was a great visit, but too short.
Along the way, I made a few observations. To wit:
Traveling with two small children for ten hours doesn’t have to be painful. Since my husband was already in Wisconsin, I made the drive with my son and his family. I’ll be honest, I have never made a long road trip like that with small children before, and I wondered how it would go. But it was pleasant, and did not feel long at all. I sat in the third row, behind the two girls, and spent a large portion of my time helping to keep them entertained. Their parents had brought along a stash of toys for them for the trip, so it wasn’t too hard to do. The biggest issue was the one-year-old’s tendency to drop whatever she was holding down in the gap between her car seat and the car door – on the far side where none of us could reach it, of course!
Sometimes, it pays to reserve hotel rooms way in advance. When we arrived at our hotel, we learned that it (and the others in town) was fully booked for the weekend. And no wonder, given all of the events occurring in the area. There was an air & water show in Milwaukee, the always-popular Germanfest was happening down at the lakefront, the Brewers were hosting the Cubs (always a big rivalry,) there was a bike festival nearby, and probably other things which I’ve since forgotten. While our rooms were not ideally located, I was glad we had reserved the rooms we wanted. The gentleman behind us who tried to get a room was out of luck.
The best family members are always willing to help. Because we were holding a family birthday party for the one-year-old while in Wisconsin, we had to work out the logistics of holding a party in a location where we no longer lived. Thankfully, my husband’s sisters stepped in to help when we had a couple of last-minute issues. When we learned the park where we were holding the party was not providing as many tables as we expected, one sister offered to bring a bunch from her employer. And when we learned the weather would be hotter than we expected, another sister offered to bring a couple fans to help move the air. Both also stayed afterward to help with cleanup. It is amazing how much people will help, if you ask.
It is always good to return home. As much as I loved being back in Wisconsin, it was nice to return to our current house. After sleeping in a somewhat noisy hotel for a bunch of nights, I was really looking forward to sleeping in my own bed again. And to just having the stress of the trip logistics behind us. Life can return to normal now.
All-in-all, I really enjoyed our trip back to Wisconsin. While I am glad we could move closer to our son and his family, I also very much appreciate return visits to our home state. And with each trip, I learn something which makes the next trip a little easier. What are your favorite travel tips?
A few weeks ago, I re-watched one of my favorite movie series. I knew the DVD for the last Signed, Sealed, Delivered movie would be arriving soon, so I decided to go back to the beginning and watch the entire set of DVDs again. (For me, owning DVDs of select movies is like owning paper copies of my favorite books. I have a Kindle for reading, but I still prefer to own a hard copy.)
Romance writers often use movies as examples when discussing core writing concepts. A well-written movie script can be immensely educational for a writer of books. While it usually is not my original intent when watching a movie, I sometimes find myself assessing the pacing or the character arcs.
The same held true as I watched this series. The Signed, Sealed, Delivered movies were created by Martha Williamson (from Touched by an Angel fame) and were released by Hallmark. I am thankful for that, because they are well-done without an excess of violence or other stuff which might prevent a viewer from enjoying the stories. Or in my case, from also analyzing the stories.
In particular, I was struck by how well the script writers allowed the story arcs to develop over time. There are twelve movies, plus one season’s worth of hour-long TV episodes from early in the timeline. Each of the four main characters has their own growth arc, and there are also romance arcs. As a writer myself, I enjoy watching how these arcs unfold. I especially appreciate that the arcs are allowed to develop slowly, organically. The writers don’t rush the characters toward a dramatic or emotional milestone just to generate some contrived “feel goods” with the audience. The arcs develop naturally, but they are there.
Another takeaway for me is that all writers share some commonalities. Whether creating movies or books, we use similar techniques to produce very different outputs. As a novel writer, it is instructive to watch movie examples, especially a series, to hopefully strengthen my own writing. Particularly since my historical romances also tend to become a series. One which started as a stand-alone story about a widow in Colorado in the late 1890s has turned into a series of six books based on various characters.
So I guess spending time on the couch watching a movie is actually time well spent. In fact, writing this has inspired me to go find another favorite movie to watch. Who knows what I might learn from the next one? Do you have a favorite movie to recommend?
This week, I have found myself watching a surprising amount of wildlife here in the city - even more than I typically noticed in our prior country home. Dog-sitting for my son has added a fun fillip of excitement to the activity.
Since I do much of my writing while ensconced in one of the comfortable chairs in our den, I often lift my head whenever I see a flash of motion outside our patio doors. Sometimes, it’s a cardinal flying by or a robin hopping around on our yard. (Note to self: ask daughter-in-law for suggestions on types and locations of bird feeders when they return from vacation.)
Yesterday, I noticed my son’s dog was staring intently out those same doors, and caught a glimpse of a young buck dodging evergreen branches to rest under our neighbor’s tree. (The dog, Atlas, really wanted to go out and make friends. I’m sure that wouldn’t have gone over well.) I also spotted our neighborhood doe with two cavorting fawns in that same yard. (It’s probably just as well Atlas was sleeping then.) Later, I saw a bigger buck lounging under a different evergreen by the front corner of our house. It was a little disconcerting to see a deer with a large 8-point rack staring calmly back at me from about twenty feet away.
I know there is other wildlife on our block, too. Something has been digging small holes in our yard. Since my mother suggested that it might be skunks looking for grubs, I plan to stay away from them. Far, far away. Fortunately, skunks are not something I see on my walks in the neighborhood. But I did have a close encounter last week with a red-tailed hawk who swooped by at waist level directly in front of me. I was surprised to see that, like the deer, he apparently has lost most of his fear of humans.
And of course, there are the bunnies and chipmunks. It’s a good thing my son’s dog looks but doesn’t race after them if he sees one on our walks. Atlas is a mastiff mix, and could probably drag me off my feet if he wasn’t such a sweet dog.
Is all of this wildlife normal in the city? I suppose it is. Having lived in the country my entire life before this, it’s a novel question for me to consider. For many other people, the animals are likely common, part of the background we tend to ignore. At any rate, I am almost looking forward to winter, when I’ll be able to see all of their tracks criss-crossing a smooth, snow-covered lawn. Who knew I’d see more wildlife in the city than I did in the country?
It has been very hot and sticky here the last few weeks, which has increased my consumption of ice cream. As I was eating a bowl of butter pecan last night, I started wondering about the history of ice cream. What were its origins?
This morning, I did a little quick research to find out. The results were fascinating. Did you know it dates back to at least 200 B.C.? Alexander the Great reportedly enjoyed snow and ice flavored with honey and nectar in ancient Greece. According to Biblical references, King Solomon liked to consume iced drinks during the harvest. And the Roman emperor Nero is thought to have sent slaves into the mountains to fetch back snow which was then mixed with nectar, fruit pulp and honey.
The first dish which more closely resembled today’s ice cream was made by the Chinese during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) using heated milk, flour and camphor. Ice cream gradually made its way to Europe (with help from Marco Polo) and from there to the New World.
The first recorded account of it in North America was in 1744. The governor of Maryland served a dessert which, according to a guest’s account, was “a Dessert…Among the Rarities of which is Compos’d, was some fine Ice Cream which, with the Strawberries and Milk, eat most deliciously.” Ice cream quickly became very popular in America, numbering George Washington and Thomas Jefferson among its ardent admirers. In fact, George Washington is said to have spent $200 (a lot of money back then) for ice cream during the summer of 1790 and Thomas Jefferson’s personal recipe for ice cream is shown in the picture on the right.
Fast forward through the years, and ice cream continued to be very popular. The first ice cream soda (and soda fountain) were created in 1874. Interestingly, the ice cream sundae was invented in the 1880s because of religious strictures against consuming “sinfully rich” ice cream sodas on Sundays. So someone took out the carbonated water, poured some chocolate syrup on top, and voila, the ice cream “Sunday” was invented. Several towns have said they are the sundae’s birthplace. However, the two locations with the strongest claim are Two Rivers, Wisconsin and Ithaca, New York. These two cities are still politely arguing the point. (I have to vote for Two Rivers, being a Wisconsin gal myself.)
Ice cream even served as a morale booster during WWII. Though dairy products were rationed back home, each branch of the military served as much of it as they could to the troops overseas. It was such a uniquely American symbol at that point, Mussolini even banned it in Italy during the war. After the war, when the dairy rations were lifted, Americans eagerly risked brain freeze to dive into bowls of ice cream again – averaging over 20 quarts per person in 1946.
Today, in addition to the many forms of ice cream available in grocery stores, there are many specialty ice cream shops and restaurants to satisfy true aficionados. Which is a good thing. Because when it is hot and muggy outside, a big bowl of ice cream goes down really, really well. The only downside is choosing a flavor.
Happy Independence Day, everyone. While I hope you are enjoying the day with family and friends, I also hope you will take a few minutes to remember why we are able to enjoy this day in peace and freedom. We tend to think of the founding fathers on this day, and of the men who fought in the battles. And so we should. The men who signed the Declaration of Independence knew they were risking their lives and everything they owned as soon as they set pen to paper. The men who joined the militias left their farms and their businesses behind and endured extreme privations to fight for liberty.
But let us not forget all of the other unsung heroes of that time. When the men left to fight, they left their wives and children to carry on. Betsy Ross was one of the most well-known women of the Revolution. In addition to being a heroine for creating the first American flag, looking at her biography provides interesting insights into life for women of the time.
Betsy was born in Philadelphia as Elizabeth Griscom, the eighth of 17 children in her Quaker family. After she completed her schooling, she was apprenticed to an upholsterer. (At that time, upholsterers did not just make furniture cushions, but did many different forms of sewing.) She fell in love with another apprentice, John Ross. Since he was not a Quaker, her family and church cut her off completely after she and John crossed the Delaware River one night late in 1773 to elope.
Shortly after their marriage, John and Betsy started their own upholstery business. However, fabric became scarce and times were hard. John joined the local militia, and died shortly after a gunpowder cache he was guarding exploded in January 1776. Betsy was more fortunate than most widows in that she had a business to support her. She kept busy making flags for the Pennsylvania Navy and tents and blankets for the Continental Army.
In May or June of 1776, a delegation from the Continental Congress – George Washington (who attended her church), Robert Morris, and George Ross (her deceased husband’s uncle) – reportedly paid her a visit. They asked her to use her flag-sewing skills to create a flag for all of the American colonies. Interestingly, the six-sided stars in their original design were changed to the familiar five-sided stars after Betsy demonstrated it was possible to cut out such a star with one snip of a scissors in properly-folded fabric.
Betsy remarried in June 1777 to Joseph Ashburn, a sea captain. His ship was captured by the British in 1781 and he died in a British prison the following year. Betsy married a third time in 1783 to John Claypoole, who had been in prison with Captain Ashburn and visited Betsy to share the captain’s final message. John lived much longer than her first two husbands and died in 1817.
Betsy continued with her upholstery business through all of this, and did not retire until ten years after John died. After more than 50 years as an upholsterer, she moved in with one of her married daughters and died in 1836 at the age of 84.
Even though modern historians are not certain if Betsy Ross actually sewed the first American flag, her life was still amazing. She is a great example of a strong woman from that time who buried husbands, raised children as a single mother, ran a business, bought and managed property, and lived through a war being fought all around her. She is truly one of our founding mothers, and deserves our respect and admiration.
So while you are celebrating our Independence Day today, don’t forget how it all came about. And maybe whisper a quick word of thanks to people like Betsy Ross who made it all possible.
Research can take a writer in odd directions. This morning, I decided to spend a “few minutes” researching slang from the 1920s for the post-WWI romance I am writing. A good hour later, I had a lengthy list of words and phrases. Some were words I had heard before, but never knew when they originated. Some were a bit strange, and some were just plain fun. I also quickly noticed that because liquor and criminal activity were on everyone’s minds during Prohibition, much of the slang is tied to one of these. Regardless, they were all interesting.
I decided to share the bounty with you in my blog today. So here is a partial list of some of the slang I found. Some may sound familiar to you, some may make you scratch your head, and some may make you chuckle.
What did I tell you? If you’re like me, you knew some of these, but others were totally new. I think it would be fun to reintroduce some of these into general use. Which ones would you want to bring back?
After seeing a few photos of bird nests today, and because it’s been some time since I did a blog on “If These Walls Could Talk,” I decided to combine both for this week’s blog topic. In honor of the first official day of summer tomorrow (and because I think those nest pictures were telling me something) our house this time around will be – bird houses.
Take a look at some fun examples I found online. (The first photo is actually the final bird nest photo which pushed me into doing this topic.)
I’m not even going to try to guess what the walls of these birdhouses would say, if they could talk. I’m sure at least one of my siblings probably called me a birdbrain when I was young, but I couldn’t begin to imagine what – if anything – birds think about.
I suppose this could also be a topic on crafts and creativity. Because the sample bird houses above show that people can be very ingenious when it comes to designing them. A bird house can be as simple as a few scrap boards nailed together, or an elaborate bird condo complex. It can be a great starter project for someone learning basic carpentry skills, or it can be an elaborate, hours-long endeavor.
Whether the designs are simple or complicated, it is fortunate so many people take the time to build them for the many birds who would otherwise have difficulty finding a home. So come to think of it, maybe I do know what these walls would say if they could talk. I think it would be a simple yet heartfelt “Thank You” to the builders. That’s it. Simple and sweet, like summer itself.
I hope you enjoy these pictorial reminders of summer. See you next week.
I write historical romances, and I invite you to share the journey to published author with me.