Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Snippets from my Journals

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places” – Ernest Hemingway (This is a quote that I just added to my journal this morning.)

My granddaughter Keri, and my great-grandson, Kaiden, a few years ago. — Photo by Pat Bean

And a Horse Story

I read a lot of nature books, and I often write down some of the more interesting trivia that I learn, often with a personal comment. For example: “If a female beaver slaps the water with her tail, the entire colony will instantly dive. If an adult male issues the warning, only some will dive.” To which I commented … well males do tend to exaggerate a lot.

But then I also noted in this same journal, when camping beside Lake Claiborne at Isaac Creek Campground in Alabama: “Female pine cones are fatter than their male counterparts.” To which I commented … well that accounts for our big hips.

My granddaughter Heidi, a few years back when I was still a full-time RVer. Note Gypsy Lee in the background. — Photo by Pat Bean

Another nature tidbit that fascinated me was learning that some snakes give birth to live babies, while others lay eggs. This had me doing a bit of research, in which I discovered that 70 percent of the planet’s snakes lay eggs, and 30 percent birth their babies. The vipers fall mostly into the latter category.

In one of my journals, when I was working on my book, Travels with Maggie, I noted that Bob Newhart, at 77, had published a book, I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This. When asked why, he responded: “I feel we need to empty our brains and pass along things that we’ve learned along the way,” … To which my personal comment was … Good enough for me. 

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Bean Pat: I’ll give this one, once again, to Horse Trail Adventures http://tinyurl.com/lzeada9 written by my daughter, who is recovering from some serious health problems that left her quite depressed. Getting out on her horse once again is helping her spirit recover. But this Bean Pat comes with a story I recorded in one of my journals. My daughter raised three girls (each of whom has given me a great-grandson) and now, my daughter is raising three boys, currently all teenagers. I hope the gods have pity on her. Anyway …

As a mom, my daughter taught her girls that if they got lost while out riding, they should just give their horses their heads, and they would automatically return home. The two oldest, Heidi and Keri, tried this — and three times found themselves back at the far point in their ride. Eventually they had to find their own way home.

I would never have remembered this story if I hadn’t written it down in my journal.

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The cover for Travels with Maggie, which I had designed back in 2014.

“It is always better when you give a damn.” – John D. MacDonald

Coming to the End of a Long Road

In May of 2006, I left my youngest daughter’s home in Camden, Arkansas. Six months later, in time for Thanksgiving dinner, I arrived at my oldest daughter’s home on the outskirts of Dallas.

In-between, my canine companion, Maggie, and I traveled 7,000 miles in a small RV, through 23 states and Canada, to Maine, where we stood on top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park one morning to get this country’s first ray of sunlight.

The Mark Twain Lighthouse in Hannibal, Missouri, which I climbed up to explore during my Travels with Maggie. — Photo by Pat Bean

The in-between miles are the topics of my book, Travels with Maggie, which soon will be available at Amazon. It’s part travelogue, part memoir, part bird book, part nature book, and part about one woman’s conversations with her dog. I think it would fit nicely on a book shelf between John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley and Charles Kuralt’s On the Road, with Peter Cashwell’s The Verb to Bird nearby.

But this book is written with a feminine voice, that of an old-broad, wandering-wonderer.

This week I put the mechanics of putting Travels with Maggie up on Amazon into the hands of an angel who, unlike me, knows what she is doing. I spent three frustrated weeks trying before I finally gave up.

A view from Acadia National Park in Maine, which was the destination of my journey. — Photo by Pat Bean

Late yesterday evening, when I was having a Jack and Coke on my back balcony with my friend, Jean, who needed it after her high school teaching day, to celebrate the new stage of my book, I suddenly found myself crying.

I’m not exactly sure why.

My book, whose first draft was named one of the top 10 when it was entered in a Mayborn Non-Fiction Writing Workshop contest, has now been through five rewrites, edits and proofings.

The second rewrite was a major one to add voice, which I had omitted because I was trying to hide the fact I was an old-broad. The Mayborn critiques, all of them, said this was the book’s one major fault – and I knew immediately they were right.

The third rewrite was mostly a polishing of my writing, as was the fourth. The fifth was

Mostly a typo-catching read-through. And there will be a sixth proofing yet to come. This is a 75,000-word manuscript so each of these steps took some time.

My dream of writing just such a book is over a half-century old, during which time the whole world of publishing changed. I was reluctant to let go of the traditional world, but finally decided I didn’t have the time to wait around any longer. In the traditional world, the publisher would have done the marketing for the book. In today’s world, most writers are now having to accomplish this step themselves.

It’s what I am going to have to do – and telling my blog readers about my book is a first step toward that goal. Whew! I feel a weight lifted off my shoulders for writing this. I’ll now let you follow each step of getting Travels with Maggie out there with me. Maybe you’ll even buy my book when it’s finally out to the public.

Bean Pat: Citizen Sketcher http://tinyurl.com/k9xrpq4 I love the watercolors on this blog, and the artist’s celebration of them. Reminds me of my current celebration.

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“There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti

The Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheion in Athens. Wikimedia photo

A New Word for my Vocabulary

I love analogies, especially ones that are as fresh as the smell of baby powder, as bright as the shine on a new car in a showroom, and as unused as a heavy wool court on a summer day in the desert.

Austrian Parliament Building. … Encyclopedia Britannica.

A writer can say a lot with a few words and a good analogy. But I recently came across one that left me puzzled because it contained a word that wasn’t yet in my vocabulary. The phrase that threw me was: “as straight-backed as a caryatid,” which was part of a sentence in Rosemary Mahoney’s Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff.

What in the heck is a caryatid, I wondered, then copied the word down in the notebook that is always beside me when I read.

Usually I can guess what a word means because of how it is used by the

Intricate hairstyle of Caryatid, displayed at the Acropolis Museum in Athens. — Wikimedia photo

writer, and I usually discover I’ve pretty much hit the mark when I finally look the word up in a dictionary, but caryatid had me fully stumped. I used to actually have a dictionary by my reading chair, but these days, having kept up with the computer age, I use an online version.

When I finally got on my computer, I learned, according to Wikipedia, that a caryatid is a sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support that takes the place of a column or a pillar, and that the karyatides is a Greek term that means “maidens of Karyai.”

Who are the maidens of Karvai, and who are what is Karvai? This wondering mind of mine never seems to stop.

Karvai was an ancient Peloponnese village with a temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis, where maidens held dances in which they carried baskets of live reeds on their heads, as if they were dancing plants.

But, as a good journalist always does, I went to a second source. And the answers here were a bit different. According to the online version of the Encyclopedia Britannica:

A Caryatid, in classical architecture, is a draped female figure used instead of a column. They first as appeared in pairs in three small buildings at Delphi  (550–530 bc), and their origin can be traced back to mirror handles of nude figures carved from ivory in Phoenicia, and draped figures cast from bronze in archaic  Greece. According to a story related by the 1st-century-bc Roman architectural writer Vitruvius, caryatids represented the women of Caryae, who were doomed to hard labor because the town sided with the Persians in 480 bc during their second invasion of Greece.

And so went my morning of research instead of writing. But I did add a new word to my vocabulary.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Bean Pat: Something to Think About http://tinyurl.com/lmab4qh And do — in a world gone mightily mad.

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“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”  — Stephen King

A good writer will let you see beyond the picture and hear the water gurgling. — Photo by Pat Bean in Smoky Mountain National Park.

Five Books at a Time

My reading table always contains five books. In addition, there are books scattered all around my house – many waiting to become one of the five that are currently being read. I usually read the selected five one chapter at a time, rotating between them in order.

Well that’s what I do until one of the five demands I continue reading until I finish it without stopping, which I have to admit, is not a rare occurrence. And if that happens, nothing else gets done until the book is finished – and I love it when this happens.

I started my unusual reading habit for two reasons. The first is that there are books that I knew I wanted to read, but couldn’t seem to get into them. If I recall correctly, the first time that happened was with a James Michener novel, The Source. So I began reading just a few pages in it every night, and then I would pick up a book that held my attention better, At some point in Michener’s book, my interest took hold and I finished it quickly.

A good writer can place you in this forest and let you see the colors. — Photo by Pat Bean

I’m not a speed reader, but I can read fast when my attention is harnessed. On average, I read two complete books in a week. Reading too fast, however, was my second reason for reading several books at a time. Once a book takes hold of me, especially if I want to know what is going to happen next, I find myself reading so fast I don’t digest what I’m reading,

By reading several books at a time, I find myself better able to remember what I’ve read, maybe because I have to recall what went before when I return to the book. It works for me is all I can say.

Another habit I have is reading with both my journal and my daily to-do list nearby. In the journal, I write down quotes from the books, and my own thoughts about things I read. On my to-do list, I often jot down names of places that are mentioned, which I will later locate on a map or read more about. I also write down any words I do not know the meaning of, and will later look them up in a dictionary. This habit means nary a day goes by that I don’ learn something new.

Meanwhile, this slow-down ritual of reading that I’ve developed is also a tool for studying good writing, a habit that hundreds of authors have suggested makes for good writing. And good writing is definitely something I’ve come to love and appreciate. It was actually a piece of good writing that inspired this blog. After copying the paragraph down in my journal, I was inspired to share it.

I came across the paragraph in an essay by Eric Hansen that was included in his book, The Bird Man and the Lap Dancer: Close Encounters with Strangers.

It is the story of an elderly Russian woman who narrowly escaped with her life during World War II, and who now lives in a rent-controlled apartment in one of New York City’s worst sections of town. The woman, known as Madame Zova, warns Eric not to visit at night because it is too dangerous. He admits he is afraid to visit in the day, too, But he does. Later, when Eric has moved to California, he talks to Zoey, as he came to call her, on the phone, and asks if she is afraid to live alone. It is her reply, which Eric recalls in a marvelous piece of writing, that moves me intensely.

“No,” she said. “I am not afraid because I know what it means to love life and survive. People with no belief and no faith and no hope are like empty box. They have nothing. Miracles happen every day. You think red tulip growing from black soil is not a miracle?”

So what good books are you reading?

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Bean Pat: The Day After http://tinyurl.com/htebvmj As a person with wanderlust in my soul, these photos made me want to take a walk. Perhaps they will affect you the same way.

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I didn't capture the rainbow in Jasper National Park, but I did manage to get one on another road trip when I visited South Dakota. -- Photo by Pat Bean

I didn’t capture the rainbow in Jasper National Park, but I did manage to get one on another road trip when I visited South Dakota. — Photo by Pat Bean

2001 Memories of a Non-Wandering Wanderer

I left Jasper at sunrise, and with a magnificent rainbow welcoming in the day. The first part of the drive took me through Jasper National Park, the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies. Elk, longhorn sheep, deer and Stone Mountain sheep (which I hope stayed in the park because these cousins of Dall sheep are popular with trophy hunters made themselves visible on the road between Jasper, Grand Cache and Grand Prairie.

Alberta’s Grand Prairie, aptly named and then nicknamed the Swan City, adopted the trumpeter swan as its symbol because of its proximity to the bird’s migration route and its summer nesting grounds. The trumpeter is North America’s largest water bird. It can weigh up to 25 pounds, almost double the weight of the tundra swan that was a familiar sight in Northern Utah where I lived back then.

Of course I hoped to see a trumpeter this day. But I didn’t. Drat it!

Dawson Creek and the Mile 0 Post that represents the start of the Alaskan Highway. -- Wikimedia photo

Dawson Creek and the Mile 0 Post that represents the start of the Alaskan Highway. — Wikimedia photo

I made it to Dawson Creek in time for lunch, even though it was a 325-mile drive from Jasper. Three hundred miles was usually the goal I set for myself most of the days on the month-long adventure.

Dawson Creek, named after the creek that runs through it, which was named after George Mercer Dawson, a member of his land survey team that passed through the area in 1879. The small town’s primary claim to fame is that it is where the Alaskan Highway begins. The town’s population was larger when the highway was being constructed during World War II. The highway, at first unpaved and with almost too many bridges to count, was built to connect the United States with its Alaskan Territory through Canada. Alaska didn’t become a state until 1959.

When completed in 1942, the highway was 1,700 miles long. Today it’s about 300 miles less because of constant straightening and restoration work. When I drove the highway in 2001, it was said to be paved the entire distance – Not true, I discovered.

Bean Pat: This one is for writers who receive rejections: https://millieschmidt.wordpress.com/2016/11/16/ And isn’t that all of us?

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  “A woman’s mind is cleaner than a man’s. She changes it more often.” – Oliver Herford

            “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” – Marcus Aurelius

The story of how the magpie became my animal totem would make a good first chapter  for my bird book. -- Photo by Pat Bean

The story of how the magpie became my animal totem would make a good first chapter for my bird book. — Photo by Pat Bean

It’s OK to Change One’s Mind

I’m not sure where I got it in my head that once I made a decision I had to follow through on it, but it got me in trouble in my earlier years. Young minds don’t always make the right choices.

Old minds don’t either.

But more often than not, the choices and decisions we make in life, especially those we make on a daily basis, have nothing to do with right or wrong. They are simply choices, like the one I made recently to do NANO in November, which is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.


And I can write about my experience of seeing California condors flying free  over Zion National Park, and all the times I wrote about them when I was a reporter. -- Wikimedia phoot by Phil Armitage.

And I can write about my experience of seeing California condors flying free over Zion National Park, and all the times I wrote about them when I was a reporter. — Wikimedia photo by Phil Armitage.

Along with making that choice, I also made a decision to make my proposed book a mystery, and dedicated yesterday to working on an outline for it. Instead, I kept putting the task off and spent most of the day reading. The truth was I couldn’t come up with a good plot.

Then this morning I got to thinking. I have three completed (not sure how many uncompleted) first drafts of mysteries in my writing files, which I have no inclination to take to polished completion. I don’t think I need another.

Meanwhile, for the past year I have been outlining a book about my bird-watching experiences. I have numerous anecdotes about this late-blooming passion of mine. Why not, I thought, write my bird book for my NANO project?

The decision felt right. And suddenly I was more enthusiastic about my November writing marathon. Of course, I could change my mind again.

Learning to be comfortable with not having one’s decisions written in cement, even for life-changing choices, has made life a lot easier and more pleasant for me. Perhaps that’s because I make a lot of hummingbird-wing-quick decisions without thinking everything out fully first.

Patience simply isn’t a virtue in my mind. And while I believe, unlike Oliver Herford whose quote began this blog, that men change their minds as often as woman, I do believe I have a very clean mind.

Bean Pat: Hanging out: in Puerto Iguazu http://tinyurl.com/h6rg4vm A nice and easy day of armchair travel

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A Novel Idea

“There are times when a feeling of expectancy comes to me, as if something is there, beneath the surface of my understanding, waiting for me to grasp it.” – Sylvia Plath

Laughing gulls on Mustang Island on the Texas Gulf Coast, not too far from where Ridley sea turtles have nested. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Laughing gulls on Mustang Island on the Texas Gulf Coast, not too far from where Ridley sea turtles have nested. — Photo by Pat Bean

A November Challenge

This makes the seventh year I’ve signed up to do NANO, which is short for National Novel Writing Month that takes place November. The goal is to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.

A Ridley sea turtle laying her eyes on a Texas Gulf Coast beach. -- National Park Service photo.

A Ridley sea turtle laying her eyes on a Texas Gulf Coast beach. — National Park Service photo.

I actually completed the goal, and got my certificate, once. It was a great writing exercise but I ended up with a wobbly first draft whose protagonist I had fallen out of love with, and so that’s as far as I took the project. I’m hoping to do a little better this time around, which is why I’m now working on an outline of the mystery novel I’m planning on writing in November.

The last time I flew by the seat of my pants only. I wrote a mystery the first time around as well, and am repeating the genre because I love reading mysteries – the ones that focus on who-dun-it instead of blood and gore.

A just hatched sea turtle ready to battle its way to the ocean. -- U.S. Fish and Wildlife photo

A just hatched sea turtle ready to battle its way to the ocean. — U.S. Fish and Wildlife photo

I’m going to use the things I liked from my first NANO completion, mainly the setting along the Texas Gulf Coast and the story of the endangered Ridley sea turtles, but with new characters and a new plot.

Anyone interested in joining the challenge with me can sign up at: http://nanowrimo.org/   It’s free, and not a contest. The only person you have to please is yourself.

My goal for doing the challenge, besides completing a first draft of a novel, is to get myself back into the habit of writing more consistently on a daily basis.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Wish me luck!

Bean Pat: Glassine Visions http://tinyurl.com/h7gfdxn For Dale Chihuly fans.

P.S. Re NANO: Since 2006, hundreds of novels first drafted during NANO have been published. You can check out the list at: http://nanowrimo.org/published-wrimos

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