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 “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” – Groucho Marx

An Experiment in Self-Publication

Snowbasin is where I learned to ski at 40. It was also the venue for the 2002 Winter Olympics downhill events. Shown above is the finish line for the Super G. — Photo by Ken Lund

Back when I was all thumbs and big toes about blogging, I hooked up with Dani Greer and her group at the BBT Cafe and learned a lot. Now I’m learning a lot more as I follow her group as they write, e-publish and promote a short-story anthology called “The Corner Cafe.” It’s an experiment to see if the book, now selling for 99 cents on Amazon, will drive traffic to the writers other books.

Not to be totally left outside whining to get in, since I’m not one of the anthology authors, I volunteered to help them promote the book. And since my blog is primarily about travel, I thought it would be fun if I focused on story settings.

I mentioned this to Dani, and in reply she asked if I skied. I, in turn, went into my spiel about learning to ski at 40, then related my adventure walking the men’s 2002 Winter Olympics downhill course, when it was being put in, with current presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

At the time I was city editor at the Ogden Standard-Examiner and responsible for the paper’s Olympic coverage. Mitt back then was CEO of the Salt Lake City Organizing Committee. Ogden’s Snowbasin ski resort, where I had learned to ski, had been chosen as the venue for all that year’s downhill events.

“Great,” Dani chortled. “That’s a great lead in for Helen Ginger’s story in the anthology. It takes place on a ski hill.

A poster from Helen Ginger’s days as a mermaid. She’s the tall girl on the bottom left. She said she didn’t have a picture of her in her tail. — Aquarena Springs poster

So I asked Helen about the setting in her latest book, “Angel Sometimes.” She told me that a big part of the book takes place in a bar/restaurant called The Aquarium, where Angel swims as a mermaid.

“Since I spent three years swimming as a mermaid at a resort park, I know how to swim in a mermaid tail, how to eat and drink underwater, how to do back flips and spinning dervishes,” Helen said.

I don’t know about you, but I found that fascinating.

Helen has two stories in “The Corner Cafe,” Gila Monster, which takes place in a high school, and “One Last Run,” which takes place on a ski slope. She said she left the high school and its town generic and that readers could imagine it as the one they attended.

But for the ski slope, she said she pictured it being somewhere in the Colorado mountains.

“I envisioned the tall trees that seem to whisper in the wind, the snow piled high along the trails, and the brilliant blue skies that can turn dark and cold so quickly,” said Helen.

“One Last Run” is one of the shorter stories in “The Corner Cafe,” and Helen wanted to share it with readers to entice them to buy the book. All proceeds from the sales, by the way, is being donated to a charity. 

One Last Run

By Helen Ginger 

Coming down a steep hill at Snowbasin. I wonder if this is the kind of setting Helen imagined for her story. — Photo by Scott Appleby

When soft flakes turned into a blinding storm, Roger veered off the ski path. A .black diamond skier, he led the way through dense trees.

He was gone now. I was alone, lying on my back staring up at a sky of stars blinking through wispy clouds. As soon as his gray jacket disappeared from sight, I’d packed snow over the gaping hole in my stomach to slow the blood flow.

How naïve I’d been to believe Roger when he said we had time for one more trip down. Now I was slowly bleeding out and freezing to death while Roger most likely sat by the fire pit at the Corner Café, drinking his favorite wine, watching his gloves burn – the ones he’d worn when he shot me. I wished I had a glass of Cabernet now. So many times I’d turned it down, worried it would send my blood sugar skyrocketing.

He’d get away with it. The snow would hide his ski tracks. After he shot me, he smiled. When he leaned over to kiss my lips, I scratched his face. He used a tree limb to break my leg then scraped my fingernails.

Kneeling close to my ear, he whispered, “Thanks. The scratches and any DNA on my clothes will add credibility to my grieving boyfriend act.”

He didn’t notice his own blood dripping on my forearm.

No one else would either. I eased my hand into my pocket and pulled out the blood sugar meter. His blood had started to congeal, so I pushed the stick into the tiny pool and let it soak in. Then I emptied my lip balm and driver’s license out of the zip bag and put the stick in. Clutching the sealed evidence in my palm, I stared up at the trees and sky.

Stars winked before sliding behind clouds as a cold quiet seeped into my bones. 

Helen Ginger is a partner/owner of Legends In Our Own Minds®, coordinator of Story Circle Network’s Editorial Services, writer, editor, teacher, and maker of a mean margarita. She cannot, however, ski worth a flip. If she ever dies on the slopes, it’ll be her own doing. Before that happens, stop by and say hi to her on her blog, Straight From Hel: http://straightfromhel.blogspot.com/ .

You can purchase this book for 99 cents on Amazon

Other links: The Corner Cafe on Amazon http://amzn.to/KyQ2wv 

 https://www.amazon.com/author/helenginger

http://www.storycircleeditorialservice.org/

http://helenginger.com

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It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by.  How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment?  For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone.  That is where the writer scores over his fellows:  he catches the changes of his mind on the hop.  ~Vita Sackville-West

Among My Writing Soul Mates 

So many things I want to tell my writer friends out there about the tremendous amount of energy and good advice going on at the Story Circle Network’s Stories from the Heart Conference being held in Austin this weekend.

Austin skyline from Lady Bird Lake -- Wikipedia photo

Much of what I’ve learned, however, still needs to be digested, and practiced, before I feel I can write about it.

But Gail Straub’s keynote Friday night  presentation “My Mythic Memoir Journey,”  had a secondary significance for me. She spoke about her memoir, “Returning to My Mother’s House,” which is about her relationship with her mother.

 Sitting next to me was my own daughter, Deborah. Gail hit a few familiar notes with her talk and it seemed as if I weren’t  nudging my daughter, she was nudging me. 

University of Texas fountain, a familiar sight to Austin residents. -- Wikipedia photo

Gail’s talk was full of interesting insights, and came at a time when my daughter and I could both recognize them — and most importantly laugh about them.

The best thing about the conference for me is being in the midst of a circle of supportive female writers. It’s not that any of us, well among the many circle members I know, have anything against men. It’s just that our voices are different and it’s nice to be among people who understand female quirks, and the difficulty women often have in finding their voices.

I can say with 100 percent accuracy that this writing circle is the most supportive group I’ve ever encountered in my years on this planet. I can’t think of any place I would rather be this weekend than right where I am — deep in the heart of Texas with writing soul mates.

Bean’s Pat: Darla Writes  http://tomurl.com/77xu6pf  13 Tips From Writers. It seems only fair that today I should give a thumbs up to a blogger who writes about writing,

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 “It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone. That is where the writer scores over his fellows: He catches the changes of his mind on the hop.” – Vita Sackville-West

The Write Word

Watching a sunrise is my idea of a good ritual to start any day. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Completing the rewrite of my book, “Travels With Maggie.” was high on my list of New Year’s Resolutions, yet I procrastinated doing it for the entire month of January.

February has been better because I finally turned on the light bulb in my brain and then took some advice from a famous dancer.

It dawned on me that the way I got through NANO (writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days) was by making it the No. 1 activity of my days, which have always been filled with many eggs to crack and enjoy. So, I decided “Travels With Maggie” would be my No. 1 priority.

Any sunset is the perfect time for the ritual of counting the day's blessings. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Then I started reading Twyla Tharp’s book “The Creative Habit,” in which she talks about the importance of ritual as a way to make sure she went to the gym daily so as to keep her body in shape for dancing. It’s the same, I thought, for writers. We must exercise our writing fingers and minds daily for the most benefits.

Twyla’s ritual was the taxi cab ride she took to the gym. She knew that once she got to the gym, she would both exercise and enjoy it.

“Some people might say,” Twyla wrote, “that simply stumbling out of bed and getting into a taxicab hardly rates the honorific ritual that anyone can perform. I disagree. First steps are hard; it’s no one’s idea of fun to wake up in the dark every day and haul one’s tired body to the gym … but the quasi–religious power I attach to this ritual keeps me from rolling over and going back to sleep.”

After reading that, I decided I needed my own ritual. I made it the simple one of  setting my alarm clock to signal the end of the writing time I had promised myself.

Believe it or not it worked yesterday when I woke up in the mood to do anything but write.  Just set the alarm clock, I told myself. And I did. And I wrote.

Bean’s Pat: Writing Though Life http://tinyurl.com/7r4wmez This is a great blog for anyone writing a memoir, keeping a journal or even just blogging regularly.

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  “Than indecision brings its own delays, and days are lost lamenting o’er lost days. Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute; What you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

 

My travel book would include details about my search for Mother Nature in places like the New Hampshire woods where I came across this peaceful creek. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Too Many Unfinished Projects

Writing a first draft of a 50,000 word novel in 30 days has given me confidence for the old-broad writing days that still remain to me. There’s no question that I will write, for doing so is for me the same as breathing. I was fortunate that I found a way as a journalist to do it almost daily and get paid for it for 37 years.

When I retired from the job, however, I never saw myself retiring as a writer. I thought I would continue as a free-lance writer of travel and birding articles.

The Internet changed all that, however. The sources I had, including writing for my own former newspaper, dried up after a couple of years.

Suddenly it was a whole new world out there, and I faced either changing or being satisfied with writing only for myself. But it’s never worked that way for me. I both want to be read and to be paid for my writing as a way of personal validation

 

The photo of this hippo I took while on my African safari appears in Fodor's recently released "African Safari Guidebook." -- Photo by Pat Bean

The other change in the world of writing has been that self-publication is no longer considered a vanity, as it was during earlier days. In fact, many writing guides and teachers are encouraging wanna-be authors to go this route.

I’m seriously considering the possibility.

My immediate problem, however, is which project should I tackle first. Until NaNo, I failed to complete any major projects that didn’t have a pay-off deadline. The reasons are many, beginning with my own self doubts about a project’s worth. As former NaNo winners predicted, this inner questioning hit during my second week of the novel challenge. Working past it felt great.

 

The bear at Lake Walcott State Park in Idaho -- Photo by Pat Bean

So, with this said, let me explain my options – at least as I see them. Actually, I think I’m writing this blog as a way to get my own head straight.

First, there is the NaNo novel, which my ego says has good possibilities. Ever since I was a teenager reading Nancy Drew, I’ve wanted to write a mystery. The NaNo one is my second. The first is one of those uncompleted projects that never went beyond the first draft.

Then there’s the travel book I’ve already written, which needs a bit of rewriting. It has been read by critics who gave it mostly thumbs up, although all said it needed my voice. I now think I’ve developed my voice.

It would be the quickest project to finish. It’s called “Travels With Maggie.” I said in an earlier hunt for an agent that I thought it would fit nicely on the book shelf between Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley” and Kuralt’s “On the Road” with a little bit of Tim Cahill thrown in and written with a feminine voice. .

Then there is the African safari travel/picture book that I started and which now begs to be finished.

Then there is a commitment to put together a nature book about Lake Walcott State Park in Idaho, where I spent last summer as a campground host and where I will return again this coming summer.

And finally there is a the memoir that is beginning to demand I write. It would be a story of a high school honor roll student who dropped out of school at 16 to get married and who had four children by the time she was 21, and who went on to become a reporter, city editor and finally associate editor of a 66,000 circulation newspaper. There’s a lot of skeletons, heartache, joys and growing up in between.

I’m giving myself a break until Monday to come up with an answer, after which I’m counting on the discipline of NaNo to help keep me to whatever deadline I set for myself.

I’m leaning toward the travel book as my next project.. What do you think? I really want to know.

 

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 My Favorite Places: Tonto Basin

I love Arizona's Tonto Basin any time of the year, but it's especially colorful in spring. -- Photo by Pat Bean

“I try to leave out the parts that people skip.” Elmore Leonard

NaNoWriMo Update: 19,476 words

I was up and at my computer at 5 a.m. this morning. It’s much easier for me to write before the sun comes up than after it goes down. I’ve also started using a timer set for 30 minutes. When it goes off I get up and move around for at least a couple of minutes, or a bit longer if my neck feels stiff.

I actually love it when the bell jangles while I’m in the middle of a sentence. Such an untimely interruption makes it easier to get back immediately into the writing.

In this way, I’m surviving what past NaNoWriMo survivors say is the second week slump, a time when you’ve gotten to know your characters a bit and maybe don’t like them. I know my first-person character is coming off too bland, while those with supporting roles seem to have personality up their ying-yangs.

One piece of advice I got today from one of the NaNo blogs was that if you didn’t like what was happening “get kooky.” Gotta think about how to do that. I mean not every one of us can write like Janet Evanovich – and we shouldn’t.

I pick my daughter and her husband up at the airport in a little while. I’m worried about how the writing will go when I have people around me again. It’s been great having a big old house to myself, although I miss writing in my RV where I can I look out at the world. When I’m visiting my daughter in Dallas, I have no place to hookup. It’s been the only place I haven’t slept in my own bed in seven years.

But sleeping in my own bed will happen again when I change home sites next week. I’ll headed to my son’s place in Harker Heights, and he has a great set up for my RV.

The downside there, however, is that I’m going to have to steel myself away from early morning games of Settlers of Catan with a daughter-in-law. She and I are both addicted to this board game, and when I visit we play it a lot. I’ve already warned her I have to do NaNo first.

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 My Favorite Places: Lake Claiborne

Lake Claiborne, Alabama, in the fall. -- Photo by Pat Bean

“Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.: –E.L. Doctorow

NaNoWriMo Update – 17,309 words

Only about 1,500 words today, but they felt like good, words and I feel I’m back on track with places to go in my book. A couple of new plot lines finally hit my brain cells. .

I also don’t feel too bad about the fewer words because I had several errands to run and two hours of physical therapy for my neck. I also did an extra blog to promote Rana DiOrino’s “What Does It Mean to Be Safe,” a children’s picture book, but one that has good advice for adults as well.

The other reality I’m facing is the fact that I can’t sit and sit in front of the computer as I want. It’s most likely what got my neck so horribly stiff in the first place. I need to get up and move about every 30 minutes.

So what I’m now doing is writing my book in short scenes, and then taking a short break. I walk the dog, put a load of clothes in the washer, do my neck and shoulder exercises or whatever. The key is to get right back to the computer and go into the next scene. It helps if I get up in the middle of a sentence so I can get right back into it. A timer’s helping me do that.

I’m also trying to convince myself that I really can write after the sun goes down. I don’t like it, but I can see it’s going to have to happen if I’m to meet the 50,000 word goal without screwing up my neck any more than I already have. Can I say my favorite “S” word right now?

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 My Favorite Places: White Oak Lake

You can travel far to see beautiful landscapes, or you can stay close to home. White Oak Lake, shown above, was only 20 miles from my daughter's home in Camden, Arkansas. What's in your backyard? -- Photo by Pat Bean

“We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little.” – Anne LaMott

NaNoWriMo Update … 14,307 words

Still have 700 more words to write today to meet my goal. But I’m currently stuck, mostly because my mind just doesn’t seem to be in to it today. I have to go to physical therapy for my neck in a short while, and so I thought I would go ahead and post my blog and hope I can come up with some ideas while the therapist is twisting my body around.

My book has taken a few odd turns I wasn’t planning on. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t work from an outline. Is this good or bad. Who knows?

The fun part of today’s writing, at least what I’ve done so far, is writing about endangered Ridley sea turtles which nest on the Texas Gulf Coast. It just so happens that one laid a nest of eggs in my mythical town of Sandy Shoes.

OK. I’m going to post this little bit of NaNoWriMo nonsense – it truly feels like that because my fingers are tongue-tied – so I can go back and try to write 700 more words before the day is over. Is there anyone else out there struggling like me today.

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 My Favorite Places: Lake Mayfield

Mayfield Lake in Mossyrock, Washington -- Photo by Pat Bean

“I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.” – Ernest Hemingway.

 

NaNoWriMo Update, 12,512 words.

Very difficult writing today. I kept thinking of all the changes I wanted to do to what I had already written. My first half hour of writing yielded only 10 new words, because I went back and did a bit of editing. Since I always overwrite, a lot of words got chopped. I had to slap my hands to stop it.

Part of the problem getting started today was that I ended writing yesterday with a finished scene and wasn’t quite sure where to go next. I finally asked my main character what she was going to do. She then fixed herself a bowl of soup and took it and the local paper out on her ocean-front deck to read and think. I had already established that she talks her ideas over with the dog “of uncertain lineage” that she inherited when her grandmother died.

I now find in addition to establishing a character chart, I also need a timeline chart. I couldn’t remember this morning whether the murder had occurred three or four days earlier.

But when I finally started writing, it went well. I started writing at 6:15 a.m. and had a little over 2,000 words written before noon. And today I left a place to start for tomorrow.

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Balanced Rock in Arches National Park in Southern Utah was shown in the opening scene of "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." -- Photo by Pat Bean

 

My Favorite Places

The Three Gossips at Arches National Park

 

“What I like in a good author is not what he says, but what he whispers.” – Logan Pearsall Smith

NaNoWriMo Update – 10,313 words

It feels odd to be writing by the seat of my pants, so to speak. While I have a vague, and I do mean vague, plot line in my head, there is no outline. I’m just writing from one scene to the next, filling in all the blanks about the characters’ lives as I go.

I find I’m taking a piece here and a piece there of myself and people I know to bring the imaginary people I’m writing about to life. One of my minor characters, the wife of a more major character, is a university professor at Rice. I was pondering on what to have her teach and came up with English literature, and then thought of the professor at Weber State University who taught a class on Sherlock Holmes, and suddenly that was what she was teaching.

Another example is that I belonged to an informal group of friends in Utah, all uppity old broads like myself. One of the member’s son’s called us the Murder of Crows, and we were so pleased with the name that we adopted it. So suddenly I find that three old broads in the book called themselves The Murder of Crows. A murder, by the way, is what a flock of crows are called.

Perhaps all of this will change when I get past the month and 50,000 words and start rewriting, but pulling these bits from memory is certainly helping the work flow. Just about 2,000 more words today. Whew….

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Hogsback Ridge between Escalante and Boulder on Utah's Highway 12, often called America's most scenic road. -- Photo by Pat Bean

 

My Favorite Places

 

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument landscape -- Photo by Pat Bean

“I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all.” – Richard Wright

NaNoWriMo Update .. 8,326 words

Sitting down in front of the computer for five straight hours today wasn’t going to happen. I was stiff from two hours of physical therapy yesterday to make my old broad body unstiff, particularly my neck and shoulders.

So I did my writing in bits and spurts. I got up to 2,000 new words by 4 p.m., after starting at 6 a.m. Did I mention I was still in my pajamas?

My main character is going to have a dog, and if there’s anything I know it’s a relationship one can have with a beloved pet. So today I wrote a lot about that, along with planting a first clue for my mystery. I’ve always hated it when you read a mystery and there are either no clues – or no red herrings.

Thankfully today, I had nowhere to go and my daughter’s big house al to myself, well except for three dogs, one cat that needs insulin shots twice and day and three aquariums full of fish.

. It also showed me, however, that I tend to get more done on the days I have to do more. I’m finding this challenge very interesting.

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