For as long I can remember, I’ve loved taking pictures. My parents gave me my first camera, a Pentax 35mm when I was in middle-school. It was winter in NJ. There wasn’t much in the way of colorful scenery to photograph at that cold, gray time of year. My parents took me on a special day trip to the shore, a 2 hour drive each way, just to take pictures. Up north we called the beach the shore. Don’t ask me why. It’s a Jersey thing.
It tuned out the shore was just as disappointing as home. The sky was low, and cloud covered. The water was a lifeless steel gray and the beach was barren of any ocean treasures worth focusing on. But that didn’t stop me from composing my own creative story in pictures.
There happened to be a random cement, three-step staircase dumped in the middle of the beach. There was no hint that a building had ever stood on that stretch of public beach. I wondered how the heavy steps had gotten there and why the unsightly debris hadn’t been hauled away. But then I studied it closer and saw beauty in the pattern of the pitted concrete sides. I admired the sharp, angular shape and how it contrasted to the soft sand banked around the base.
I wondered about the massive storm, and the incredible energy that delivered the heavy steps here. I speculated about the heartbreaking loss that likely accompanied such an unfortunate incident. With that backstory in mind, the lonely giant became fascinating and a worthy focal point for my beach photo shoot.
I’d gotten away from taking pictures for artistic purposes. Instead, I’d been putting all of my creative energy into making glass art and writing. We recently started canoeing rivers and mangrove mazes. The abundant wildlife and natural beauty of the water has inspired me to start taking pictures again. I see photography as another way to connect and share experiences.
Now that I’ve unleashed the monster, every moment and event is a photo opportunity. This awakening lead to the purchase of a new camera. My new Nikon D3500, far exceeds the quality of my previous equipment in clarity, sharpness and color. The increased depth and precision is like having a brand new, educated vocabulary to express myself and tell stories. With this expanded language, I’m motivated to compose pictures that impart emotion, pulse with positive energy and spark a sense of wonder.
It’s no surprise that my first choice for my first outing with my new camera was the beach. That’s what we call the shore here in sunny, Florida. This time it was my hubby, Joe who sat patiently while I took more than 600 pictures. I’ve come full circle. But I’m not done. Let’s go around again…
I hope you enjoy these recently written photo stories.
We all have to start somewhere. Knowledge, skills and success are hard earned by doing. When it comes to my creative writing I still feel like a beginner. I keep at it though, relentlessly trying and pursing the confidence and comfort I enjoy when I’m working with glass.
I’m not new to the writing scene. I’ve been publishing a glass related newsletter since 1986 and writing how-to articles for magazines since 1999. I love to share artsy news and describe new glass handling techniques. And so, writing about art comes easily to me.
There’s a very clear intent when I write non-fiction about art. I strive to educate, inspire and motivate artists to grow and develop their talent. Through my trial and error, I hope to give them confidence to try new things.
When it comes to fiction, my intent is entertainment. A great writer hooks you at the beginning of the story. Then they take you by the neck on a wild ride through an imaginary world that exists only in their head. It’s an amazing gift I hope to cultivate and eventually thrill readers with.
You have to risk it all and put yourself out there.
In my experience, the best way to become proficient at something new, is to study the craft and then practice what you’ve learned. Another way to grow artistically is to put yourself and your work out there for people to see and experience your unique spin on your invented reality.
It’s not easy to expose myself and share how I struggle to understand and fine tune my fiction writing process. But if I just keep spinning my wheels here in the sand pit, and sit on everything I write until it’s perfect, I’ll never get any traction.
I started a writing journal to free my cluttered mind of all the noise that slowed down my creativity. I write in my journal without a filter or editor. This is where I’m honest with myself. It’s not all rainbows, butterflies and lollypops, but I hope you find my journey of discovery interesting and maybe even enlightening. Perhaps you’ve had similar experiences honing your craft. Maybe you’ll recognize some of my triumphs mirror your own. Perhaps you can relate to the crippling effects I struggled to overcome by not surrendering to my fears. If nothing else, you’ll see that I have gained momentum and some small measure of confidence that I hope inspires you to keep going and face your challenges.
My Writing Journal
How to Write a Book in a Month
NaNoWriMo fans unite!
No, I’m not speaking some bizarre foreign language or writing in tongues. National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is a worldwide writing event that takes place every November. During the thirty days of the month, participants are challenged to write 50,000 words of fiction, an average of 1,667 words per day. This annual self-guided, self-inspired writing competition has no winners and no prizes. The reward is writing the first draft of a book in one month.
The very first NaNoWriMo took place in July 1999, in the San Francisco Bay Area. That first year there were 21 writers. Over the years, the number of participants steadily increased. In 2017, 402,142 participants, including 95,912 students and educators participated in the event. Hundreds of NaNoWriMo novels have been traditionally published. They include Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Hugh Howey’s Wool, Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Jason Hough’s The Darwin Elevator, and Marissa Meyer’s Cinder.
This sounds crazy, right? I’ve been working on a few books for years. Years! Something always gets in my way. Mostly it’s me. I tried participating in NaNoWriMo last year and mildly thought about doing it the year before, but I failed. I never got off the ground.
What’s different this year? It’s my birthday month and I listened to Scorpio’s reading on YouTube. The medium said that Scorpio’s always take care of everyone else. And this month, we should be selfish and take care of ourselves. I took that to mean I should commit to writing my book. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for so long, but life got in the way.
This year I didn’t tell anyone I was going to try again. And this time I’m going to follow my own rules. Which are to work on my current, in progress novel and to write words on this book every day. I was afraid I’d screw up again, so I kept it a secret.
On day 1 I learned to use my time wisely. I didn’t have the luxury to wait for inspiration or ideas. But instead, went to where the ideas were and wrote those scenes no matter where that content might fall in the book. I wrote 500 plus words. It wasn’t 1,700 but it was forward progress and more words than I had the day before.
On day 2 I learned to ignore my inner critic and just lay down words without prejudice. I let the ideas flow and ran with wild abandonment. It was a real challenge to relax my rigid need for perfection and let the crappy sentences fly. I wrote another 500 plus words.
On day 3 I learned to keep all of my words even if the story would be tighter and possibly stronger with less words. I was, in affect padding my word count. For years, I’ve read advice from pros who frequently recommend making your work succinct. A well-known phrase is, kill all your darlings. But that advise doesn’t apply this month. I’m keeping all of my darlings.
This morning I stayed in bed till 3:00pm and wrote 1,250 words! Of course, I can’t do that all month.
After three successful days I told my family about my writing goal for November. They understand the importance of this to me and are supporting my efforts by respecting my writing time.
On day 4 I didn’t want to write. I’d cleaned the house, did laundry and other routine maintenance around the house. By 5:00pm I didn’t want to tax my brain. Watching a mindless TV show appealed to me, and I had no new ideas for the next chapter. But I forced my self to open the document and just write anything. Primarily because I didn’t want to face myself the next morning without an increased wordcount. I can be brutally hard on myself. Plus, if I missed one day, would it be easier to skip a second or a third day. So, I wrote.
I learned that I can pump out 500 plus words of slop without a formal plan. Amazing! And the slop wasn’t really all that bad. There were some terrific gems mixed in with the rubble.
More to come.
I hope you enjoyed this behind closed doors look into the writing life.
I’m a winner! And I’m super excited to finally share my exciting news with you. For the past 10 years the Florida Writers Association, (FWA) has hosted a writing competition open to its members. Every year there’s a new thoughtful prompt, to give the participating writers inspiration. This year’s prompt was, where does your muse live? This year, entries could be original, recent works of fiction, non-fiction or poetry.
Writing competitions always stir a feeling of excitement in me. I imagine being the winning entry and having people I don’t know reading my extremely clever prose and being moved to think about ordinary things in new ways. Or maybe my work simply entertains and it takes them on a brief journey to an enchanted place. That’s okay too.
At the beginning of this year I set a goal for myself to submit creative writing to competitions, magazines or online publications, at least once a month. Well, I didn’t meet my goal. But I did submit to two places. (I’m not including the tutorials I had published in glass related publications because they’re not new markets.)
I received a rejection for a short, psychological thriller I wrote. My usual topics of choice are educational and inspiring. This was the first time I tried to write something dark and twisted. Truth is, it was hard. But it was also fun to explore and unravel the shady side of morally shattered characters.
It’s disappointing to admit to not having submitted as many stories as I would have liked this year. But then I thought, it’s two more than I submitted the previous year. And although I didn’t send work out, I did produce a lot of creative writing this year. My many stories are in different states of completion. But through the constant exercise of writing, I’m gaining proficiency and confidence. And best of all, I truly like the energy in each one of my stories.
The more I thought about it, I compared my creative writing to my walking. About 15 years ago I decided to walk for exercise. It’s a great workout you can do at every age your entire life, and wherever you are. Plus, I love being outside enjoying nature, so it’s a win, win. I call myself a walker. I make an effort to walk five times or more a week. There are times when I don’t make that number. Sometimes, I have long stretches of inactivity. But in my mind, I’m committed and will get back to walking when I can. That’s how I feel about writing. I’m a writer. I write. Though I may not have achieved my set goal, I’m committed, and I’ll keep trying to do better.
I found the FWA contest prompt intriguing. As an artist and writer, I wondered, where does my muse live? For a few months I played around with different ways to approach the topic. I don’t know anything about poetry, but for some unknown reason it seemed a logical way to write about my muse. I wrote a poem. It took several awkward forms before being completed. Several supportive people read my work in progress. Their well appreciated and valuable input helped make it better, and more colorful. Eventually, I had a page full of words that spoke honestly of my creative essence. I submitted my poem and am happy to announce that it was selected for this year’s FWA anthology. It’s the second time I’ve had this thrill as another one of my short stories is in the fourth FWA collection titled, My Wheels. The new book, Where Does Your Muse Live, will be released at the end of this month.
I submitted to two new creative writing venues so far this year. Both entries were written in genres I had no experience in, and I had no reason to expect them to be accepted. One was rejected but with editing, it has potential for publication elsewhere. My second entry was accepted and will be published alongside the work of other talented writers. It’s a small step toward my big dream. It’s an honor to be included in the FWA collection. But the biggest thrill is being validated. My efforts are producing work that other writers and readers appreciate. In the end, I’m batting 50%. That’s not too bad for a rookie.
Small steps forward are better than standing still. Chase your dreams. Get moving!
Arugula. Cupola. Garbanzo. I love the sound of those three words. I’ve gone so far as to threaten my family that if we had a third child, I’d consider naming him, or her Arugula Cupola Garbanzo. Imagine how fun it would be to be the kindergarten teacher who called attendance for that lucky little kid every day.
I love the sound of lots of words. I just love words in general. It’s a small personal challenge of mine to use new, exotic words as often as possible. Expanding my vocabulary and learning the meaning of new words is amusing. It’s particularly entertaining to look up a relatively common word and find that it is frequently misused. Take fantastic for example. People will sometimes say they’re fantastic. My first impression was they’re feeling great, doing wonderfully and having a terrific day. I’ve even seen a digital sign in front of a courthouse that flashed, Have A Fantastic Day! So, I’m not the only one who thought it was a term solely for excellence. I looked it up and found the more common meanings for fantastic are: bizarre, incredible and unbelievable. Think of the out-of-this-world Fantastic Four super hero characters and you get the picture. Now I use fantastic sparingly when I’m feeling absurd, whimsical or extravagant.
I play a word game with a young lady who works at my local liquor store. Her name is Tiffany. I know this only because she wears a tag on her shirt. She may know my name because I pay with a card. But beyond my visits and weekly purchases, we’re strangers.
I walk into the store and say, “Hi, how are you?” She responds in surprising ways almost every time. Sometimes she’ll say, “I’m well enough.” And then she’ll attend to my purchase without another word. Other times she responds, “I’m well. How are you?” Then I have the option to say, “I’m fine,” or “I’m doing great.” But I prefer to answer with something clever like, “I’m awesome,” or “I’m inspired.” Depending on the day, and my answer we may banter about the extended and not-so-common meaning of the words I used. Or she’ll counter and challenge me with an equally exciting come back and say something like, “That’s brilliant.” Then it’s my turn to try to top her.
Like flash fiction, it’s energetic and spontaneous. It all happens in a 60 second encounter with confused customers standing in line behind me holding a bottle of whisky or carrying a six pack of beer. But I don’t rush my time in the spotlight with Tiffany. I look forward to the days when she’s up for an entertaining volley. On those visits, when she’s in a good mood, her parting words for me are, “Safe travels.”
It’s always a treat to see Tiffany even though her moods swing wide from cheerful to head hanging glum. No matter what her mood though, she’s never rude or unresponsive to the customer’s needs. She may be short, to the point, and seem anxious to be left alone. But she always manages to do her job with focused efficiency whether she’s stocking shelves or checking someone out at the sales counter.
One memorable day I walked into the store and said, “Hi, how are you?” Tiffany replied, “Cantankerous!” Now that struck me as a serious and deliberate word choice. It was an unusually strong and emotionally driven selection for Tiffany who usually hovered in the realm of placid. I pressed for more information and asked, “What’s wrong?” She hinted she was having a problem with work but didn’t go into detail. We dropped the subject and she completed my sale in silence. After leaving the store I looked cantankerous up on my phone to check its meaning. The first three definitions are: irritable, crabby and argumentative. I wished I could have done more for Tiffany that day, but maybe listening to her sudden and uncharacteristic burst of anger was enough.
I don’t know if Tiffany was aware of our word play or if I’m just another customer. At one point she mentioned she was moving away, up north, to fulfill a dream she didn’t elaborate on. I whished her well. And truly hoped she’d find happiness in her new endeavors. I missed her and our inspiring exchanges. The other sales people were friendly, but let’s face it, they were boring. They couldn’t compete with Tiffany and her colorful words.
Years passed, but I remembered Tiffany fondly. Then one day she was back. I wondered why, but I never asked her. It seemed rude to pry into her personal business. And I worried the reason for her return might’ve been painful for her. I guessed her dreams or ambition changed as they tend to do for most of us over time.
Recently, while Tiffany was completing my purchase I mentioned a paranormal book I was reading. She instantly perked up with a spark of excitement I’d never seen before. I asked what she liked to read. She happily told me about a series of fantasy books she liked. The stories took place in enchanted places inhabited by magical creatures like elves, ogres and fairies. A flood gate opened. She wouldn’t stop talking. We exchanged more words than ever before. I was amazed to see her so animated and happy, unlike her usual meek self. After all this time, we’d found another common interest. We had more than single words. We both loved to read. We shared the joys of living wild adventures through the characters in our books. It was thrilling to meet the lively side of the timid sales girl I thought I knew.
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to sit down over cups of coffee and really get to know Tiffany. But I fear it would break the spell. Then the delicious spontaneity we share as strangers would be strained by expectations.
Whatever the reason for Tiffany’s return, I was glad she was back and happy she still had a fiery passion for expressive words. In addition to our word play exercising my vocabulary, Tiffany taught me not to underestimate anyone. Shy people, though quiet on the outside run deep. They have plenty to contribute and say. You just have to start a conversation about a subject their interested in to hear all about it.
Where ever you enjoy challenging yourself to grow, intellectually and artistically, don’t overlook the social aspects of the experience. If you’re fortunate, they’ll bring just as many fascinating surprises.
Where ever the journey takes you, I wish you safe travels.
Turkeys aren’t known for their intelligence, so we have to cut them some slack.
The other day I saw a bunch of wild turkeys. Five birds were in an open field busily and happily pecking the ground eating seeds and bugs, or whatever wild turkeys find appetizing. The group gradually moved further away, across the field.
At the same time, two other members of the flock stood several feet away from the five birds. The two stray birds were behaving erratically and in obvious distress. They paced back and forth. With wide eyes, they stretched their heads up and tossed them left then right in a frantic manner. They weren’t eating and building strength like the other birds. Instead, they wasted a lot of energy without making any progress. They weren’t moving forward or going anywhere. It was mid-day, sunny and Florida hot. And yet they desperately stomped back and forth at the expense of their own wellbeing.
Then I saw the problem. A wire fence separated the two stray birds from the flock. All they had to do was fly over the fence to be reunited with the flock and resume foraging for food. It was totally within their power to be happy and move on. But they didn’t. They struggled in vain. They stayed in an uncomfortable and unproductive situation. Why?
Change is scary. Even if you’re in an unpleasant situation you know what to expect there. It’s safe even though it’s painful. Complaining is easy. Action takes balls!
Winners aren’t immune to fear. They channel it. Us it. And above all, refuse to let it cripple them or stop them from trying. Winners don’t live for the glory of the finish line. They live for the challenge to become better than they currently are.
There have been many times in my artistic career that it would have been easier to give up on a dream than drive forward. When I wanted to publish my first book, I was met with a lot of resistance. The big names in publishing had never heard of me. Bear in mind, art glass is a small cottage industry. There were only a few publishers. I was just another tiny, independent studio owner with no real credentials. My proposals for a design book were rejected due to my, “artistic immaturity.” But I didn’t give up. I joined art glass community groups to better understand the industry’s expectations, needs and desires. I researched how things were done so I could learn to present valuable and relevant material.
I learned the secret to getting work into magazines was to do exceptional glasswork. And the trick to getting on the coveted cover was to have the installation photos taken by a professional photographer. When it came to the cover art, a quality, well-lit high resolution image was more valuable to the managing editor than a strong article.
Obstacles equally as daunting and insurmountable as the wire fence blocked my path. At times, I struggled as pathetically as the turkeys to make progress even though clear solutions were obvious. But you have to trust your own process and believe you’ll find your way. I went on to publish 14 design books and I continue to write for trade magazines as well as other mainstream venues.
Today, in addition to maintaining my glass interests, I’m pursuing creative writing opportunities. I continue to struggle with self-doubt, time management and finding the right place for my stories. I still get rejections and they still sting. But if you’re not getting rejections in the publishing industry, you’re not trying. You’re not putting yourself out there and nothing will change. Rejection is just another obstacle to overcome.
Whatever your new interest or direction may be, go boldly. Expect challenges, obstacles and rejection. Instead of letting your difficulties slow you down, think of them as evidence of your resilience and proof you’re still trying to be better than you currently are. That’s powerful incentive to overcome anything that gets in your way.
Exhausted and barely able to get off the ground, the turkeys eventually flew over the fence and were reunited with the flock. Even dumb birds figured out it was better to fight for their freedom than wither and die from static indifference.