A Window on the World

Leslie's viewThe view from my window influences everything I write. Heck, it influences everything I think and do. I’m a Montana girl, born and raised, and while I enjoyed my years in Seattle, no place has ever felt as solid–as grounded, as chez moi, as terra firma–as my home in Montana.  (And no, I will not now sing the state anthem. I could. But you’d rather I didn’t. Plus I’m not wearing a bandanna and I don’t have a pony.)

Today, the view is green, which makes me inordinately happy.Leslie's house

Some days, it’s black and white–or more precisely, shades of gray–little marks on my computer screen. Other days, it looks like a cat. Or a turkey.

Ruff on desk (Leslie) Would I be less conscious of setting if I hadn’t grown up in a place where the land is so stunning–and so demanding? How is a character’s view affected by where she lives, whether she’s a newcomer or an old-timer, how often she’s packed up everything she owns and moved thousands of miles, or whether she lives in the home her grandparents built, with the family china still in the old oak hutch? I think about these things and I write in part to find the answers.

Turkey on Leslie's deck

Happily, I can write about places that bear little resemblance to home. “What would  it be like to live there?” I wonder, and so I write to discover. One of my first published short stories, “The End of the Line,” takes place in the stone towers of the Mani Peninsula in Greece, which we visited years ago on our honeymoon. And I’m busy working on Spiced to Death, the first in my Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries. In my view, both insiders and outsiders see things the other doesn’t see–and our work is better if we occasionally step off home ground and take a look around.

— Leslie

Congratulations, Barb!

Congratulations to BJ (Barb) Daniels, whose novel “Judgment at Cardwell Ranch” won the 2013 Daphne du Maurier Award for Romantic Mystery/Suspense AND was the overall winner in the Published Novel category. The awards were given earlier this week at the RWA (Romance Writers of America) convention. Barb is a Friend of MT WW who lives in north central Montana and was a featured — and popular — speaker at the 2011 Flathead River Writers Conference. Congratulations, Barb!

Setting a Hummingbird Free

Yesterday a hummingbird flew into the house my husband and I are building in Whitefish, MT and couldn’t find his way to the patio doors it came through in the first place. Instead, he went to a fixed window high above, catapulting himself into the glass toward sunlight and green trees. My husband and I decided to leave all the doors open (the windows, still without their handles installed could not be opened). We hoped he would eventually fly down and find the gaping doors. After an hour though, he still hadn’t left the high window and was getting exhausted trying to go through the glass. The poor little thing would flutter his wings at high speed, buzz and bang into the glass, then fall to the sill in utter exhaustion, rest a bit, then hopelessly begin against the window again.

Hummingbird photo“We have to help him,” I said to my husband, Jamie. “We need to get a net.” I figured we could use the tall work ladder in the house to climb up and catch him. He agreed and we drove home and found a trout-fishing net, taped it to a long pole from a garage broom and went back to the construction site. I was determined to get this humming bird out because it pained me to think the little creature might die in our soon-to-be new home. I’m a bleeding heart for most animals anyway and talk about bad omens to have a beautiful creature die in the house you’ve just spend eight months working on.

But, when we arrived back at the building site, the hummingbird was no longer at the window. “He must have made it out,” Jamie said. We checked the kitchen, the bedrooms, the laundry room, and the bathrooms and saw no hummingbird.

I agreed, but was skeptical because he had such a one-track mind trying to get through the glass and looked so exhausted. We shrugged and locked up the back patio doors. “That’s really great,” I smiled, but still felt uneasy because it seemed too simple. And sure enough, as we went to leave through the front door and lock that as well, we heard the buzz of his flapping wings again. I looked at Jamie, “he’s not gone.” Then from the loft area above, he flew out. He zigzagged slowly as if drunk, weaving up and down in a wave. He tried to go toward the same window he’d originally gone, but in his fatigue, he couldn’t make it. He hit the wall and fell toward the floor. But just before he hit the ground, he managed to veer up and make it over to a lower window beside the patio doors. “Give me the net,” I said grabbing for it. I rushed over and gently placed the soft weave over him. “How do I scoop him without hurting him?”

“Just push the thread on top of him and scoop him out.”

With words I know I’d be reminded of later, I said, “You do it.” I didn’t want to hurt the little guy. Jamie came and grabbed the net and just as he did the hummingbird gathered enough strength to grab onto the weave with just one talon.  Jamie lifted the net with him attached by one very tiny spur. I rushed and re-opened the patio doors while Jamie hurried out and gave the net a gentle shake. In a mere instant, the hummingbird – renewed by the fresh air and the sunlight – flew straight as an arrow to a high branch on a Lodge Pole Pine to his freedom.  Jamie and I smiled at each other with real relief this time.

Setting a manuscript free. Why my book is like that hummingbird.

Later, I couldn’t get the little bird out of my head. That night, I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned thinking of him, his red and velvety green tail, his long, pointed beak, his small, powerful wings propelling him toward sunlight. Then I thought about my latest manuscript, a mystery set in Glacier National Park that is currently with an agent in New York, hopefully on the brink of finding an editor. For six months, I have gone around and around in my head about whether to go eBooks on my own or go the traditional publishing route because I have to admit, I’m still one of those writers who wants to see my book edited and printed the traditional way. But I know that industry is getting increasingly more difficult to publish in.

The comparison between my book and that trapped hummingbird occurred to me. There are times I feel like I am unsuccessfully trying to get my manuscript to the light of day – to the hands of readers – only to bash up against glass as I wait on the NY world of publishing. My manuscript has been revised and revised and endlessly doted upon. I feel so close to getting it to the hands of readers, yet so far. I’ve been patient, but I am ready to find the sweet and sometimes not-so-sweet nectar of readers for it one way or another.

Just like the hummingbird, whether my manuscript’s saving net is an agent, an editor in a publishing house or KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), I am more determined than ever to have it fly to the highest branch it can find. I will keep you posted when it does!

~~Christine Schimpff-Carbo

The View inside Marie Martin’s Office

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The view inside my office today is contained within these two old cardboard boxes.  The small one holds some diaries, weather journals, and a recipe box of my mother’s.   The larger one proves I exist.  I have spread the proof across my favorite writing desk which I found at a garage sale for fifty bucks.  Great find.  Going from left to right the first proof is my baby book.  It says on the first page that Marie Frances was born to my parents.

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The second is a Christmas card I received from my future husband and the next month I became a Martin.  The third two items are my pep squad and band letters.  Proof positive that Marie Frances went to high school.  The recipe box is my mother’s and it proves she taught me to cook, so I could feed my husband, and then my four children, and then my 10 grandchildren, and then my five almost six great grandkids.  The journal on the right tells me the weather every day of 1993.  Good to know Mom.  And what does all this have to do with my view in my office?  Absolutely everything as I struggle to form characters and motives on paper.  Writer’s block cannot compete with my boxes of memories.  Just open one of them and silly little stories run around in my head and end up controlling the most stubborn of characters.  Read some of my childhood stories on my blog called Shady Nook.  You may access it through my website www.mariefmartin.com.

I will give a free autographed copy of Maternal Harbor to one lucky person who leaves a comment to my post, beginning on July 16 and ending on August 1, 2013.  I will put the names in my garden hat on August first and draw the winner and the mail it off.  Good luck.

The Author as Bushwhacker

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Bushwhack: 1. To make one’s way through woods by cutting at undergrowth, branches, etc.

2. to fight as a bushwhacker; ambush.

(Random House College Dictionary, 1988)

 

In my adult life I’ve been a bushwhacker in two ways, first as a hiker and mountaineer, second as a writer, most recently of Remarkable Silence. In the former I pushed myself physically at the cost of one broken ankle, two frequently blistered feet, and too many tired muscles to count. Always enthusiastic at the start, by the time I covered the last false summit, the last blind turn in bear country, I’d force myself to analyze the situation through exhaustion that tempted me to give up, but led to the conclusion that I absolutely had to keep putting one foot in front of the other or let down my companions and miss the big finish.

Was it worth it? Every single time. Views of distant waterfalls, white as bridal veils, blue mountain lakes, or a hundred miles of spring prairie with Montana’s Sweet Grass Hills edging the horizon lifted me up, restoring me to a happy creature of the world of nature.

I’ve also been the writer as bushwhacker, starting with an idea of my destination, gearing up, finding a starting point that looks promising, and progressing with my critique group to forge a path through words, characters, and plot until I’m nearly at the summit. At this point the author becomes guerrilla-bushwhacker, working hard to ambush the reader with image and metaphor. Then come the rewrites and edits, the part I liken to putting one tired foot in front of the other until – the view opens up. The professional appearance of my published book releases the view I envisioned to my readers, the view that lifts me up, making me a happy creature of the world of literature. How I hope those who share it with me feel the same.

Karen Wills