Metaphors, Similes, and Senses–Oh, my!

InspectorI’m envious. Green with envy. Searching for words that elude me, like a python slithering away in an African savanna. Metaphors, similes, and senses–oh, my! Figures of speech and imagery should be easy to craft. But they’re not. At least not if they’re used in a way that doesn’t seem contrived.

I’m currently reading a book that has magnificent similes and colorful descriptions that seem to come easily to the author. It’s why I’m envious.

Here’s one: “[The idea] came to him like an invisible breeze stirring the sand on
a deserted beach.” (Servant of Memory)

And another: “…was drawn to the paintings and their artistic elegance like a hummingbird to a succulent geranium in full bloom.” (Servant of Memory)

These quotes by Richard Gradner in Servant of Memory are only two of a myriad that have captured my heart. The story has touched me, as well. And so, this reading is a learning experience for me.

For those who know me, you’re aware that I’m trying to hone my skills as a storyteller. I’ve come a long way since “Charlie ate a piece of pie.” But I’m not there yet. Not until I can paint a masterpiece with my words. Not until my readers can feel every emotion, envision every sight, and listen to every sound that I hear within a scene. I’m a work in progress. A green work in progress.

 

 

 

 

Muddle Through the Middle

Apparently, way back, long ago, Aristotle identified that a story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. We’re talking ancient Greece here. Like 300 B.C.-ancient. It seems rather obvious, but then it’s not. Have you ever read a book with a cliff-hanger ending? I don’t like those at all. I’m sticking with Aristotle.

In his TED-talk about storytelling, Julian Friedmann reiterated the importance of a beginning, middle, and end to a story. So many authors have trouble with the middle, he said, that it becomes string-cliparta muddle. Like C.E. Lombardi stated, in 1909, a certain NY play had a “beginning, a muddle, and an end.”

I’ve been reflecting about this muddle concept while I’m writing my first mystery story. It’s a cozy mystery. Not too gory, a little intrigue and romance, lots of twists. I’m stepping out of my comfort zone, watching detective shows on TV, and designing a plot that I hope is not too predictable.

In defense of No Gifts to Bring, this new work in progress, the muddle isn’t a mishmash of random ingredients. It’s also not a disorganized mess. But I do have a few more tangles than I’m used to handling. The trick will be unraveling for a tidy ending.

Robbery vs Theft

Last week I visited the West Pikeland police station to do research for my next book. I had been searching the web for details about robbery interrogations, but never quite found what I was seeking. It was time to get it from the horse’s mouth, so to say.

policemanI was somewhat anxious as I pulled into the police department driveway, wondering if I’d be considered a crime suspect or a kook. Neither was the case. The patrolman who met me at the door was exceptionally hospitable, inviting me to a whitewashed room down the hall.

He pointed to a seat at the end of a rectangular table for me, and he sat catty-corner to my chair while I expounded on the plot of my story. When I got to the point about the police interview of my main character, the officer suggested that I take a good look at my surroundings. “Am I in the interrogation room? I asked. “Indeed, you are,” he said with a chuckle. “Look above.”

I stared at the camera bolted to the ceiling. “Am I being videotaped?” He nodded and laughed. “Yep.” “And is that a tape recorder on the table in front of you?” “Yep.”

How cool is that? I can reliably write my main character’s experience in the story. I asked more questions about the interrogation process, then the officer said, “You don’t have a robbery.”

“Oh, but I do,” I argued. “And I may even add a murder.”

The nice policeman laughed again, but emphasized that I had a theft, not a robbery. A robbery involves physical force. A theft is the act of stealing someone’s property. Everyone probably knows that, but I didn’t. At least, I never thought about it in those terms. There are some revisions to make in my manuscript.

Now I feel like an authentic author, interviewing trustworthy sources to craft a credible narrative. No one can take that away, even if force is used. I’ve got the cops on my side.

Bringing Closure

Pete on sofaSeveral months ago after publishing A Specter of Truth, I decided to update Living with a Springer Spaniel: Pete and Me. This would be no easy task, as Pete had died six months prior and I was fearful of opening the emotions that were still close to the surface. Still, the book needed closure, as did I.

I pulled up the old document, and began revising the first few chapters. I created a new document for the kindle version, taking time to make a concurrent draft that could be used in paperback format. Different styles, different fonts. Different margins. Then I revised a few more chapters, backing both formats to the computer and cloud. Not much progress in writing had been made.

A few weeks later, I tried again, knowing I’d have to add that dreaded chapter about Pete’s death. Whenever I get stuck in writing, I return to the beginning and revise. That usually gets the juices going. But it didn’t this time. I just kept reading and revising.

I was sure it wasn’t writer’s block that I was facing. I knew what I needed to write. For the life of me, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t re-live Pete’s last days. I put my drafts aside and began writing my newest story, which doesn’t yet have a title.

I always thought of writer’s block as a glitch in the creative process. That an author can’t imagine a story or a scene. That the printed words don’t resonate. I thought of writer’s block as a blank page with crumplewriter's blockd paper scattered across a desk. I had never experienced such a break in momentum. Whenever I finished one novel, an idea for the next one always popped into my head.

So, I’ve learned something. There can be many reasons for writer’s block, in the physical and psychological realms. In my case, my emotions were getting in my way. And the only way around them was to face them.

I retrieved my draft this past week, and wrestled with every word. Each paragraph of the finale brought quiet tears until I reached the end. Then I cried, deep gut-wrenching, soul-cleansing sobs that I hadn’t done in these many months since making the horrible decision to put Pete down.

I took myself to the Y, and swam 21 laps in the Olympic-sized warm water pool. Non-stop. So there is closure now, for me and for Pete. I buried him “at sea,” with a 21-gun salute. Life goes on, yet I will never forget my best friend. Pete may have been spoiled, but I trained him that way. The revised Living with a Springer Spaniel: Pete and Me is now available as an e-book at https://www.amazon.com/Living-Springer-Spaniel-Pete-Me-ebook/dp/B01H9HCK2W

 

 

 

Flying by the Seat of my Pants

flying pigI’m a pantser. I admit it. Actually, I’m quite content as a pantser. I own my pantserism.

In the literary world, a pantser is a writer who writes  as the muse leads, rather than plotting and outlining. From what I’ve learned, there are plotter and pantser authors. One is not better than the other. Both need inspiration and creativity. It just comes down to a matter of style.

I have always written by the seat of my pants. Remember those dreaded term papers in high school? My teachers would have been appalled to know that I wrote my outline after writing the paper.

I’m not against plotting. In fact, I do it often. In my head. Why waste the time, I argue, to write everything down when it’s going to change. Kind of like the weather. Or maybe like life. That’s always changing.

My stories usually begin with a location, then I craft the narrative around it. During quiet moments, I visualize the main character and a problem. I choose the path for the beginning, and I know in some fashion how it will end. Then, I write. Sub-characters emerge. Action ensues. Dialogue brings the scenes to life.

Time to mull again. In fact, that’s what I like to do just before I fall asleep at night. Picture what comes next. The story needs conflict, or perhaps a back-story for interest. Add a few twists–which might surprise me, as well. The muses work their magic.

I’m glad there’s a name for my condition, and it’s not life-threatening. In fact, for me, being a pantser works. And I’m proud of it.

Visit me at https://kathleen-mckee.com/

 

Finding Balance

Finding balance in our daily lives can be somewhat illusory. We recognize that stress, and over-commitment, and not enough sleep, and poor eating habits, and limited exercise, and… Let’s just say that just about anything can interfere with our peace and tranquility. Without a proper balance, we can become frazzled and unproductive.

mobile

A mobile is a perfect example of balance. We know what happens when the weight of one hanging element is off-kilter. The entire structure loses its center of gravity. Rather than an object of beauty, it becomes distorted and dysfunctional. Are we not the same?

Speaking for myself, when I focus on one thing in my life that seems to be getting out of hand, the others don’t naturally fall into place. I may shorten the string for one, but then must adjust the remaining connections. If I have too many objects to balance, the whole darn thing is out of whack. I skip from one activity to another, barely accomplishing what needs to be done.

I do believe our personality types enter into the algorithm of balance. I’m definitely an introvert. In other words, I re-energize in a quiet, organized environment. An extrovert, on the other hand, claims his or her center of gravity by interaction with others. That’s a big difference.

I’m tremendously energized by writing. My space is organized, I have no noise to distract me, my imagination takes over, and the story evolves. If that were the structure of my life, all would be calm. But wait! Daily activities of life interfere. Shop for groceries, clean the house, open the mail, pay the bills, meet up with friends, grade assignments, get some exercise… It goes on and on, doesn’t it?

Now that I’ve published my books, I’m told, I can’t let them wither on the vine. Create a website, start a blog, have a social media presence, and advertise, advertise, advertise. Update the website and blog, develop a following, create a mailing list, write a newsletter, schedule speaking engagements and book signings. What’s an introvert to do? And what priorities do I claim?

For me, balance is illusory. But I’m working on it.

 

Overcoming Fears

Last week I boarded a flight to Austin, TX. I was looking forward to attending my nephew’s wedding, yet dreaded the anticipated trip to the airport and journey through the skies. How had I become such a wimp? I’ve flown many times in the past, without any angst. But not this time.

I honestly didn’t think I could do it. Spinal surgery two years ago left me with weak legs and a back prone to spasms. I’ve learned to handle day to day activities, even the long walk from the parking lot to the hot water pool at the Y. There was no legitimate reason for my fears. Just that I was out of practice.

I planned every step of the way, including early arrival at the airport and wheelchair assist. The latter was a blessing, for sure. As I waited at the gate, I worried that my nervousness would trigger being carted away as a potential terrorist. When I listened to the safety instructions by the flight attendants, I worried that I’d never be able to jump onto the emergency slide if we had a crash landing.

IMG_0294All of my anxieties were for naught. The wedding was beautiful, and I had a delightful time in Texas. Best of all, I’m home safely, with the knowledge that I overcame my greatest fear. At least for now.

The beautiful sunset as we landed in Philadelphia will be a memory I won’t soon forget. And the cloud formation above the plane’s wing makes me think that the angels were watching over me.

As a writer, I have other fears that must be tackled. They’re totally different, perhaps because they’re not life-threatening. The anxiety is related more to my pride, my inner being. I stand in the shadows of great authors who have honed the skill of story telling, with followers who yearn for their next book. Who am I to think I can join their ranks, let alone find readers for my stories?

We all have our inner fears. And the only way to conquer them is by taming them–doing what we think is impossible, over and over, until that very thing becomes routine. Or, at least, becomes manageable. For my writing, all I have to lose is my pride. And that might not be such a bad thing. Humility is good for the soul, so they say.

 

Phoenix Rising

The Phoenix

When I was doing research for A Specter of Truth set in 1818, I learned that the neighboring town of Phoenixville was named Manavon back then. In 1790, a small nail producing mill was located along the French Creek, near the Schuylkill River. In 1813, a new investor in the business called it the Phoenix Nail Works because the red hot iron in the furnace reminded him of the mythical phoenix rising from the ashes. The small nail factory grew into the Phoenix Iron Works in the mid-19th century, and then became the Phoenix Steel Corporation in the 20th century. When the borough was incorporated in 1849, the town was named Phoenixville.

Phoenixville had seen great prosperity during the heyday of the iron industry, and even when the railroads switched from iron to steel. After WW2, however, Phoenixville’s industry was severely impacted by steel and aluminum competitors. The economy went bust. Phoenixville died.

In the last 10 years, there has been a great growth in Phoenixville. To honor tradition and to portray the phoenix’s rebirth, Phoenixville now has a symbolic Phoenix Rising from the Ashes each December. Pictured above is the gigantic bird, with its sapphire-like eyes, that was built to serve as an effigy for the 2017 festival.

Phoenix rising from the ashesOn Saturday night, December 9, the huge wooden phoenix was set aflame. Even the day’s snowfall didn’t curtail the celebration. It was an awesome sight, at times looking like a roaring dragon portending change, until it collapsed in a heap of ashes.

I daresay there’s not one of us who has escaped some type of trauma in our lifetime. We’ve fallen to our knees, decimated, wondering how we can ever rebuild our hopes and dreams.

The rising phoenix can be our inspiration. We will rise from the ashes, as did the mythological bird. We will be born again. And we will have learned a powerful lesson from the experience.

(By the way, speaking about fires, if you’re looking for an independent insurance agent who will work with you to find affordable, quality insurance for your home, business, or vehicles, check out the Thomas McKee Insurance Agency. Tell him his sister sent you.)

 

Aerie

Aerie

Aerie can be defined as an eagle’s nest or a dwelling high on a hill. For me, it meant home. When dad retired from the Air Force, he and mom built their dream home at the top of a steep incline, overlooking beautiful rural farmland. It was the inspiration for the Mitchell farm in A Specter of Truth. Here you see the entrance sign from the long drive. It reads “Aerie.”

In my younger years, Aerie was my place of solitude in winter where I would sojourn when my folks were basking in the Florida sun. Being “stuck on the hill,” during a snowstorm made it all the more enticing. I’d hunker down with a roaring fire in the hearth and a glass of wine, watching movies on the older model TV and VCR.

In the summer, I have memories of barbecues and family reunions, sitting in the swing on the porch to enjoy the sunset, watching a rousing game of football led by my siblings in the field. The grandkids could run and play in the woods, watch the deer, or pick apples.

Once mom and dad were no longer with us, I couldn’t bear to leave the Aerie sign. It was weathered and beaten, barely legible any longer. It needed a home, not a dingy corner in my garage.

I was ecstatic when my sister decided to name her new covered horse arena “Aerie,” and dedicate it in my dad’s memory. Patty and her husband founded Healing with Horses ranch in Manor, Texas–a therapeutic riding center for people with disabilities. It’s an amazing place of healing, with a trained equine therapy staff and a wonderful group of volunteers.

Aerie at HHR 2x3

Patty cleaned up the Aerie sign, and gave it a place of honor. It is now displayed proudly at the ranch to remind us that we can soar on eagles’ wings when we reach beyond what we ever thought was possible. Envision the dream. Rise above the ordinary.

 

Kimber Hall

Emmor Kimber house

The inspiration for A Specter of Truth came from my parking spot at the Kimberton post office. Right in front of me was this very old building, now called Kimber Hall. I learned that Emmor Kimber, bought 200 acres of land in 1817, which included this stone house and three other buildings on the crossroads of Hares Hill Road and Kimberton Road. This became the Kimbers’ home and the French Creek Boarding School for Girls. I pictured young girls playing on the hill and in the woods, having lessons in a makeshift classroom, and sleeping dormitory style on the second floor.

Formal education was not typical for girls in 1818, when Emmor and his wife began the school. The Quakers were ahead of their time, and believed in equality for all. I imagined an adolescent farm girl, Lizzie Mitchell, who had a dream of attending the school and becoming a teacher. And I arduously researched what it would take for her to achieve her aspiration.

Kmbrhall

I found this old lithograph of Kimber Hall on the internet without any credits. It seems strange not to see any parking lot or cars rounding the bend. No restaurant on the side in the addition that Kimber built to expand his school. No condos where the dorms were once located.

Two hundred years have passed. Imagine the generations of people who have lived here, been educated here, laughed and cried here. In fact, Kimber Hall served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Picture the secret comings and goings in the dark of night. The fear of being caught. The agony of leaving loved ones in order to have freedom.

Oh, yes. This old stone building has lots of stories to tell. I’ll bet we could even imagine some of them.