Unlock the Muse – December 31, 2019

The next year, the next decade, begins tomorrow. It’s a time of reflection and transition. While we look forward to what the future has in store, we also take a moment to look back at where we’ve been. Take a few moments this week to reflect on what you’ve accomplished this past year. Then, turn your attention to what you plan to accomplish in the next year.

Inspire
Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Write about what love has meant in your life.

The end of the year is a great time for reflection. Take a moment and examine what role love has played in your life this year. How does this relate to your writing in particular?

Encourage
This is week five, and therefore a bonus week. So, let’s talk about goals. A new year begins tomorrow. It’s a good time for setting new goals.

If you haven’t already, take a few moments this week to really think about what you hope to accomplish in 2020. Write down your goals in detail. You have an entire year, don’t be afraid to go big. For myself, my goal is to have a working draft of my current novel series finished. This is a huge goal, but if I break it down into monthly and even weekly goals, I have reason to believe I can accomplish it.

Happy writing!

Around the World in Eighty Days and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne: A Review

I’ve had several of Jules Verne’s books on my shelf waiting to be read for quite some time, and I managed to fit two of them into the 2019 ATY Reading Challenge. First, Around the World in Eighty Days for #50, a book that includes a journey, and second, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea for #15, a book by an author from a Mediterranean country.

Around the World in Eighty Days begins as a wager. Phileas Fogg and his companions are discussing the advancements in transportation. Fogg proposes it is possible to circumnavigate the globe in eighty days. When his friends scoff, Fogg proposes a wager.

A true Englishman doesn’t joke when he is talking about so serious a thing as a wager,” replied Phileas Fogg solemnly. “I will bet twenty thousand pounds against anyone who wishes, that I will make the tour of the world in eighty days or less. Do you accept?”

The story that follows is a series of wild adventures as Phileas Fogg travels by ship, train, sled and even elephant across nineteenth century India, China and America. He is pursued as a suspected bank robber, kidnapped by native Americans and sidetracked by a damsel in distress.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is the story of Captain Nemo and his famous submarine, the Nautilus. Though really, this is the story of Professor Arronax, a scholar of natural history. A strange creature has been spotted in the oceans around the globe and has been the cause of multiple disasters.

Professor Arronax is among one of several experts in various maritime occupations invited to help hunt down this mysterious menace. In the process of this pursuit, Arronax, along with his body servant and a Canadian whaler, is abducted by the master of the ship he had just previously been hunting – Captain Nemo, of the Nautilaus

Forbidden to ever leave and thus reveal Nemo’s secret, Arronax and his companions are nevertheless treated as honored guests. They embark on an extensive underwater tour of the world. Arronax is at first delighted as he is privileged to see things those in his profession can only dream of seeing from the surface world. Soon, however, it becomes increasingly clear Nemo never intends to release them, and Arronax and the Canadian begin plotting their escape.

Considered to be one of the “fathers of science fiction,” Jules Verne is one of those authors you often encounter on “must read” lists. Both of these novels are among his Extraordinary Voyages series which were apparently very popular at the time of their original publication in the late 1800s. I read these two along with a third – The Mysterious Island – via audiobook. While I enjoyed the first book very much, the second was not as much fun. And the third I found just plain boring. Verne was clearly writing at a different time, and for a different audience. What may have passed for normal then, is a little harder to swallow today. Especially his portrayal of women characters – those that even exist in these stories.

Overall, I still recommend Jules Verne. Though his novels are not all created equal. Of the three I read, there was a huge variation in how much I enjoyed them. Still, it is clear he meticulously researched his subjects that he wrote about.

The Secret of the Old Clock, by Carolyn Keene: A Review

I have been wanting to revisit some of my favorites reads from my childhood, and book one of the classic Nancy Drew series, The Secret of the Old Clock, fit so nicely into the 2019 ATY Reading Challenge, prompt #23, a book inspired by the wedding rhyme #1: something old. It has been a really long time since I read any of the Nancy Drew books, and I’m fairly certain I never actually read all of them. I’m not sure if this was one I ever read.

In this series opener, we meet Nancy Drew, an 18 year old girl with an insatiable curiosity. The only child of a well-to-do, widowed attorney, Nancy is clearly among the privileged class. The story opens with her driving in her brand new convertible – a gift from her father. She is also generous to a fault, with a heart full of compassion for others. She willingly jumps into any situation to help out someone in need, whether that’s saving a child from drowning or finding a missing will, bringing financial freedom to countless downtrodden neighbors.

In this story, that is precisely what Nancy does. She stumbles onto this mystery after witnessing a child falling from a bridge. Nancy meets a family down on their luck trying to do the best they can to care for this child. She learns they had been expecting to inherit from a distant relative, but the will in question has mysteriously disappeared. Nancy’s interest is piqued and she sets about to solve this mystery.

Who doesn’t love Nancy Drew? Okay, I suppose not everyone. Still, these books remain popular among young people, dated though they may be. What’s not to love about a girl who can change a flat tire, fix the outboard motor on a boat and escape a locked closet? Nancy is still a good example of an empowered female character. She is strong-willed, curious and daring, and she has the support of her father through all her wild adventures.

The Nancy Drew stories were definitely written at a different time. They are dated, but still have something to offer. I enjoyed this story despite its age. It brought me back to my childhood, reminding me of where many of my own stories originated.

Space and Beyond, by R. A. Montgomery: A Review

Popsugar’s 2019 Reading Challenge list number 42 is to read a “choose your own adventure” book. I remember reading these as a kid and finding them great fun. I wasn’t too keen on revisiting this “adventure” as an adult, however. My son has a handful of these books on his bookshelf, and they are very short, so I decided I would just borrow one from him. I choose Space and Beyond, by R. M. Montgomery.

I probably should have chosen a more age-appropriate version of this classic children’s book style, but to be honest, I didn’t know such a thing existed until too late. Still, this book was very short, and I read it in a single sitting, even taking the time to visit all of the possible endings.

The main premise around Space and Beyond is that the reader (addressed as “you”) is supposed to choose a “home planet.” Your mother is from one, and your father from another. And so you choose. What follows after is a series of adventures and misadventures across the galaxy. Some adventures end in disaster, or even death. Others leave you stranded, or blissfully content to remain with whatever alien culture has accepted you in.

In none of the endings, however, does the reader end up on either of the planets from the original choice. I honestly don’t remember these books feeling quite so empty. Each story track is so short, there just isn’t a whole lot of substance to any of it.

Unlock the Muse – December 24, 2019

There is an unwritten rule in life that if things are not going so well, never ask the universe ‘what’s next’. It’s a dangerous proposition to tempt fate in this way.

While this may be dangerous or unpleasant in real life, in your fiction, this is exactly what you need to do. Ask yourself, what happens next? Put your characters into a place where they wail “what could possibly go wrong now?” And then make that thing happen.

Inspire
Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

What is love? Pretend you were asked to speak at a wedding on this topic. Write a speech detailing what you think this word really means.

Put this wedding into your novel and make your main character the best man. It’s his speech to write. How does he feel about love?

Encourage
It’s play week, so here’s the next roll of the Batman version of Rory’s Story Cubes. Looks like Batman could have his hands full this week. 

StoryCubes19

Happy writing!

Unlock the Muse – December 17, 2019

This month has been a whirlwind of chaos for me. I’ve gone from Christmas production to jury duty to sick kids and husband, and now I’m sick myself. Now, here it is the middle of December already and I haven’t accomplished half of what I’d hoped to do. I can’t help but wonder, what’s next?

Inspire
Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Raise the stakes in your story. Whatever troubles your character is facing, they could be worse. If you’re losing interest in writing a story about halfway through, it’s probably because there’s not enough at risk. If your character is facing a life-and-death situation, put his relationship in danger or put other people’s lives at risk if he fails.

If you’re not sure where to go with your story, take it to the next level. Burn down your MC’s home. Start the fire with the MC still inside. Whatever is happening, make it worse.

Encourage
The word next is a versatile word. It can be a noun, a descriptor, or even a preposition.

next
adjective:
1. (Of a time or season) coming immediately after the time of writing or speaking.
2. Coming immediately after the present one in order, rank, or space.

adverb:
1. On the first or soonest occasion after the present, immediately afterwards.
2. Following the specified order.

noun:
1. The next person or thing.

preposition:
1. Next to.

The word next, “nearest in place, position, rank, or turn,” comes to us from the Middle English word nexte, through the Old English word niehsta meaning “nearest in position or distance, closest in kinship.” It is also related to the Proto-Germanic word nekh (meaning “near”) + the superlative suffix –istaz, as well as the Old High German word nahisto, meaning “neighbor.”

Happy writing!

The Reckoners Series, by Brandon Sanderson: A Review

I have been working my way through Brandon Sanderson’s books since I discovered him while reading The Wheel of Time books by Robert Jordan. A couple of years ago I learned that he writes more than just long, epic fantasy series. I found Steelheart, book one of The Reckoners series while browsing through the teen section at my library. I absolutely loved it. But it wasn’t until this year that I finally managed to finish the series.

Books two and three both fit into the 2019 Popsugar Reading Challenge. I read Firefight for prompt #4, a book I think should be turned into a movie, and Calamity for prompt #18, a book about someone with a superpower.

For David Charleston, the story began ten years ago when Calamity appeared in the sky. At the same time, ordinary people began manifesting extraordinary powers. David witnessed one of these gifted individuals – now called Epics – murder his father. And for ten years, David has been observing, collecting data and plotting revenge.

Then, the Reckoners arrive in his home town, and David contrives a way to contact them with the intention of joining their ranks. The Reckoners are a shadowy group of ordinary humans who study Epics and search out their weakness – every Epic has one – with the intention of assassinating them.

Book one, Steelheart, is all about David’s quest for revenge on the Epic who killed his father – Steelheart, a man who can transform anything inorganic into steel. Oh, and he’s invulnerable.

In book two, Firefight, David and the Reckoners continue their battle against the Epics, taking the fight to the city formerly known as Manhattan. But now David’s quest has shifted from vengeance to something else. As he has pursued his quest, David has learned a great deal about Epics he didn’t know before. And maybe – just maybe – there’s a cure.

The series concludes with book three, Calamity. The more David has learned about the Epics, the more convinced he has become that they can be redeemed. While everything and everyone seems to turn against him, he insists on going up against the most powerful Epic of all.

Whether he is writing epic fantasy sagas or superpowered adventures, Sanderson is a fantastic storyteller. In this series, he writes from David’s perspective, so the reader witnesses everything through his eyes. We learn what David learns, as he learns it, so the action is immediate and close.

I loved these books! There is a short novella, Mitosis, that goes between books one and two, but you can enjoy the series without reading it. I know this, because I did it. I didn’t learn of the novella’s existence until I was already well into book two. Book two does make reference to events that transpire in this in-between time, so I will definitely read it when I can.

Unlock the Muse – December 10, 2019

It’s December. And wherever you are, there’s a good chance that means lots of parties, concerts, gift buying, family gatherings, road trips and more. This year I participated in the Christmas production at my church. We had five performances over three days. It was a lot of fun, but I’m worn out.

Up next I get to exercise my civic duty as an American citizen and report for jury duty. I am not one of those people who despises jury duty just for the principal of it. No, I want to believe in the system. But it is an interruption to the normal routine. And, for me at least, it can cause a great deal of anxiety. I don’t look forward to going by myself to a strange place I’ve never been before, spending the day in a room full of strangers, and possibly being chosen to decide the fate of another human being.

Still, I will go and fulfill my responsibility. I’m hoping in the process to carve out some quality reading time, so there is that.

Inspire
Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Saturday. Elton John sang “Saturday night’s the night I like.” Write a song of your own either praising or despising Saturdays. Have the refrain echo the tune of that song.

Last month we played around with poetry for something new. Now, turn your poetry into song lyrics. And don’t limit yourself to Saturdays. Write a song for every day of the week!

Encourage
I’ll finish with this final thought…

Next Quote 1

What’s your next move?

Happy writing!

New Vision: Hallie Ford Museum of Art

A few weeks ago the weekly writing prompt I shared in my Unlock the Muse post encouraged trying out a new experience designed to excite one of the five senses. One of the suggestions was to go to an art museum. I had never before been to the art museum located here in my home town. Every time I would happen to drive by, I would remember how much I wanted to go. When this writing prompt showed up, I knew it was time to make it happen.

I had some time off work, so while my children were in school, I took an hour and explored the Hallie Ford Museum of Art. This art museum – the third largest in the state of Oregon – is connected to the Willamette University. Many of the displays in their permanent collection include artists who taught at the university at one time or another.

Since I was there by myself I made up my mind I would spend as much time as I wanted and thoroughly enjoy each piece. And I did take my time. I wandered through the rooms on the first level, stopping to read the placard beside each piece.

Some of the artwork really captured my imagination – pieces such as an oil on canvas, Untitled Memory #44, by Royal Nebeker and C-print photograph, The Glowing Drawer, by Holly Andres. I spent a good deal of time examining the first. It has so many various elements, something new would catch my eye every time I started to move away. The second piece looked like something begging to become a story.

Ocenscape.RobertHess
Oceanscape, by Robert Hess – Hallie Ford Museum of Art

My favorite piece was probably a welded bronze sculpture titled Oceanscape by Robert Hess. Swirling lines and interesting details give this sculpture a sort of whimsical look. According to the placard, “Oceanscape uses the forms of modern sculpture to speak in witty ways about Pacific mist, undertows, and whale watching.”

SpiritinOrangeSkirt.MaritaDingus
Spirit in Orange Skirt, by Marita Dingus – Hallie Ford Museum of Art

I also learned to appreciate the art better. One piece in particular was not visually appealing to me at first, but became more so after I read about the artist and her work. I found Spirit in Orange Skirt, by Marita Dingus at first interesting, but not especially attractive. Then I read the placard:

“Washington artist Marita Dingus learned to sew from her mother and paternal grandmother; she made her own clothes but also used sewing as play. Following a more formal education in traditional fine arts as an undergraduate, Dingus returned to sewn cloth as a medium in graduate school after taking a Black Studies course and thinking about African culture as a resource for making art. As she noted, ‘Not only was work constructed with a needle related to my own family heritage, but it sidestepped the inherent cultural baggage of the European painting tradition.’

Dingus uses scavenged materials in her art, first from necessity and then gradually working from a deep cultural affinity with Third World ethics of ‘waste not, want not.’ Her figures reflect childhood games with paper dolls (and the clothes she would make for them) as well as her familial and ancestral roots.”

I took a step back and examined the sculpture again, with a much greater understanding of its significance. It really is a beautiful piece of art.

I didn’t get to finish exploring the art museum the way I wanted to. I unfortunately ran out of time. But while I was there, I gained a deeper appreciation for the visual arts. I went there seeking a new experience and a new vision. I came away with all that and more.

Unlock the Muse – December 3, 2019

Welcome to December, the next month after November, and the last of 2019. Before we know it, it will be next year. We will start the next project, read the next book, finish the next task. There is always something next – next week, next word, next breath. But in all that comes next, don’t forget what is happening now. Live in the moment, and don’t let life pass by too quickly.

Inspire
Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Write about someone cutting in front of you in line.

You’re next in line when, wham! someone shoves their way in front of you. Are you angry? Do you want to shove back? Or do you meekly step aside and let them in?

Encourage
So, you finished NaNoWriMo and you now have this 50,000 word mess on your hands. What’s next? That might depend on what condition your mess is in. If you are fortunate enough to have a fully formed draft of your novel, next might entail jumping into editor mode – though it might be advisable to let the draft set for a bit before tackling edits. If your mess looks a bit more like mine, well then, we have some work to do.

For myself, the first thing I plan to do is, well, make a plan. I have been working on this novel in fits and starts for a little bit too long, and it’s sort of all over the place. I have a tendency after November is over to go a little off the rails when it comes to writing. I decide I “deserve a break” and I essentially quit writing. So, my first step is to schedule myself some daily writing time. For now, that will be evenings after the kiddos are abed.

What’s your next step?

Happy writing!