Category Archives: writing

Monday Moments: Madness in the Air

It’s that time of year again – madness is in the air – in multiple ways!

March Madness, of course, kicks off today with a feverish scribbling and erasing and rescribbling of brackets. In the years since we got married, I have converted my husband into a college basketball fan, particularly when March Madness rolls around. In part, that’s because the first year he had the job here, we (and by “we” I mean he entered and I did the brackets!) entered his office bracket pool and took first place out of more than 100 people! Of course, I’ve never been able to do that again in the years since then, but not for lack of trying! Dang those bubble-bursting teams….

Also, Dayton is home to the “First Four” play-in games on Tuesday night, so beginning yesterday, Madness is indeed in the air. The level of madness escalated tremendously with the announcement last week that President Obama and the British Prime Minister will be in attendance at those games on Tuesday. Wow! Very cool! The Dayton Daily News even did a piece on other presidential visits to Dayton, something one of my colleagues here did all the photographic research in the DDN archives here for them!

Finally, madness of a different sort is also on the horizon! As you may have noticed from the dancing zebra in today’s lead photo, the April A-to-Z Blogging Challenge is just weeks away (actually less than 3, now)! If you haven’t heard about it, it’s a marvelous way to work on blogging skills by completing a 6 day per week, alphabet-driven blogging challenge throughout the month of April. Introduced in 2010 by Arlee Bird, at Tossing it Out, the Challenge continues to grow. Last year, more than 1300 bloggers took part, and when I added my blog to the list yesterday, I was number 985 for 2012. And seriously, one of the best parts of the Challenge is the community it builds, as part of the fun is hopping from blog to blog to see what everyone else is doing. I met some great bloggers last year, and I’m sure I will this year as well! Hopefully this year I’ll get to finish, since last year I was closing in on the end of the Challenge when I injured my hand on April 24 (soooo close!) — now, I can’t believe it’s a year later, but that means I have extra motivation to dig in and complete the Challenge this year! Let us know if you’re going to join the challenge ~ we’d love to follow along on your journey, too!

So, what kind of Madness is hovering around your world??

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Romance Between Two Worlds

Spirit photography by William Hope

Two souls with hearts that beat as one,
ever to travel the starry nights
in search of greater knowledge.
~ Edward Shippen

One reason the idea of multiple universes has been on my mind of late is that I’ve been doing some work with materials in our archives about Spiritualism. More specifically, looking at pages and pages of transcriptions of séances and spirit writing. For those not familiar with the term, spirit writing, or automatic writing, is writing that a medium or psychic does while in a trance. The theory is that the writing is actually that of whoever took over the body of that medium, therefore the writing is directly from the spirit.

The Spiritualism papers belong to Edward Shippen and are part of a larger collection, the Martha McClellan Brown Papers, in Special Collections and Archives at the Wright State Libraries. Mrs. Brown was a prominent political figure around the turn of the twentieth century, directly involved in national reform issues, especially that of temperance and women’s suffrage, and she is credited with helping form the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. One of Shippen’s three sons married Mrs. Brown’s second daughter, Charme Brown. The séance writings ended up in the Brown collection because of Shippen’s continued efforts to convince Mrs. Brown of the power of contact with the spiritual world.

Séance transcript - Stonewall Jackson, Box 15, MS-147, Martha McClellan Brown Papers, WSU Special Collections and Archives

Shippen’s experiences with séances during the final decade of the nineteenth century brought him into spiritual contact with many great names from history. His journals and séance transcripts contain records of spiritual conversations with a wide variety of personages: ancient figures, including Socrates, Plato, Pythagoras, Pontius Pilate, and Cleopatra; Blackhawk Indians; and European nobility, including Mary, Queen of Scots, Lady Jane Grey, Elizabeth I, and Mazarin of France. Most of these conversations are rather mundane quips, passages of general information or advice, with little to ground them to the historical personage behind the spirit voice.

Shippen also encountered the voices he was most looking for in his spiritual journeys, those of his family and loved ones. The voice of his first love, Emma Swift, lost to him so early in her life when she passed away at sixteen, is found again, as she communicated through slate writing as well as through several of Shippen’s mediums. She returned, in one case, a drawing of the nosegays Shippen had given her fifty years before. Shippen also encounters the voice of his more-recently departed wife, Ellen, and the spirit of the newborn child they evidently lost during the early years of their marriage. Ellen frequently spoke to Shippen of the glories of the spirit world, how pretty and beautiful life there was. Occasionally, the spirits of Shippen’s mother and father and his sister, Sarah, appeared, lending support to Ellen’s comments that the afterlife was nothing to fear.

"Yermah and the Airships", Shippen's Journal B, 1895, Box 15, File 4, MS-147, Martha McClellan Brown Papers, WSU Special Collections and Archives

The most surprising and intriguing elements in his journals, however, were the commentaries on the world of Atlantis. The primary voice in these encounters was the spirit voice of Yermah, the Chief of the Atlanteans. Many of the conversations concerned the history of Atlantis and life within its world. Two areas were discussed in detail: women’s rights in Atlantis, which Yermah argued were far superior to those of nineteenth-century America, and technology in Atlantis, most notably airship technology. The two images here are examples of Yermah’s spirit conversation with Shippen concerning the great airships of Atlantis.

"Yermah and the Airships 2," Shippen's Journal B, 1895, Box 15, File 4, MS-147 Martha McClellan Brown Papers, WSU Special Collections and Archives

Originally a skeptic, Shippen’s first slate writing from his first youthful love Emma convinced him that “Death can not part hearts that love.” In the end, Shippen became an active participant in the Spiritualist movement, forever seeking another encounter with those on the other side. His romance across two worlds ended with his death in 1904, an event he had been looking forward to for several years.

Shippen’s journey into the Spiritualist movement of the late nineteenth-century is one of several projects I’ve been working on lately, and certainly one of the most intriguing ones!

Or perhaps I’m just getting ready for Halloween a little bit early this year…..

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The Face of Time

old clock face

Humans are creatures for whom now takes its meaning from then. The old clock shows that. It has a face and hands because it resembles us. ~ James Carroll

The quote above is from an article that appeared in the Boston Globe on Valentine’s Day 2011. It caught my attention because the author writes about how people view time — literally *view* time on the clock. Specifically, his focus is on the difference in marking time on an analog clock versus a digital clock.

What difference does that make? Is there really a difference? On the face of a clock?

The article is short, if you are interested in reading the whole thing. But here’s his basic argument:

Our two kinds of clocks give us two kinds of time. The old-fashioned clock defines time as a continuity. Thus, its numerically defined face and pointed hands sweep through an endless succession of circles, marking seconds, minutes, and hours. This is the so-called analog clock, and the analogy it offers is of measurable flow. The word for our smallest unit of time, second, suggests that dynamic, since it derives from the Latin for following. Each second follows another — sequentially. While such instruments can mark those discrete instants with the sound of a tick, the face of the clock knows no separation in the values of time, but instead displays a moving picture of the past forever drifting into the present and on into the future. The cycle of the hands of the clock mimics the perceived movement of the sun around the earth. Sunrise, sunset — there’s the analog clock’s prime analogy. Its hands, that is, replicate the moving shadow of the sundial, which replicates the planetary dance. Motion is the point, and context is inevitably manifest, with hours past always linked with hours yet to come. The whole of time is shown.

The digital clock is different. In the common form showing only hours and minutes, the numbers remain static until a shift occurs. A well-placed colon defines the distinction between hours and minutes, pictured as frozen. Periodically, the numbers jump. Time is not continuous, but episodic. The digital clock renders a perennial present, effectively denying the existence of the past and the future. As its numbers exist not in relationship but in themselves alone, so the present exists not in context of what precedes or follows, but in itself. Now and now alone. The digital instrument has no face, no hands, no hint of the sun and earth in synchrony — an impersonality and lack of implication appropriate to the triumph of quantification.

Although he makes a leap into the “machines replacing people” argument, I find the underlying premise of his theory intriguing, especially when he links it into writing, what he calls the “narrative imagination.” In a digital mindset, things happen moment by moment, but not necessarily (and probably not) connected. But in analog thinking, there is causation, relation, effect: “The queen died. Then the king died. A digital clock can mark those episodes because they are unconnected. But (using an example from E.M. Forster) if the queen died, and then the king died of grief — we are in the analogic realm of time where the connection between events is what matters.”

In my readings on time and its perception, another article linking writing and the perception of time in a unique fashion caught my attention as well. Written by Rita Charron as a journal article in the Annals of Internal Medicine (Vol. 132, No. 1: 63-68), the author suggests that doctors should approach reading medical charts not clinically but as though reading a novel. “Both the chart and the novel follow individuals or generations over the stretches of time that transform the human beings on the landscape; both genres confront the primitive and ultimate problem faced by humans as their time runs out.” Charron suggests that in studying a person’s chart –“the traces of time’s passage”– can be best understood when using a novelist’s conception of “the plasticity of time,” where time’s passage, or at least the perception of its passage, is fluid and bendable. Close reading a chart as though it were a novel, then, offers “some guidance for the elusive goal of living in the face of time.”

So where is this headed? Good question. Maybe I’ve heard “Time” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers one too many times, and like them, I’m “fascinated by the face of time.”

Chicago performing at the Fraze Pavillion

Chicago concert, Aug. 26, 2011

Or it could be because my husband and I went to a Chicago concert Friday night, and I’ve had their song, “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” stuck in my head ever since.

But the more likely answer lies in some of my current reading. Although my first choice in books tends not to be paranormal romances, I’ve read several lately that were good enough to make me rethink my reluctance to pick one up. The authors of these books have created their own time and space, one which readers can eagerly hop into and experience. Additionally, I’ve been rereading a couple of novels which deal with different perceptions of time — time travel, but not really. And at work, I’ve been retooling a project that involves issues of time and history.

But there will be more on those things later in the week…. my analog watch says it’s time to move along for now.

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RWA 2011 Wrap-up

“Broaden your horizon
Open different doors
You may find a you there
That you never knew was yours….”
~ Mary Poppins

In addition to the fantastic and very helpful workshops available at RWA 2011, the thing I most enjoyed about my visit to New York City was the chance to attend my very first Broadway theater production. At home, we enjoy going to the Broadway shows that come through on tour, but there is nothing to compare to seeing a show in New York on Broadway. The show is housed in the magnificently restored New Amsterdam theater, a work of art itself. Wow, wow… and just wow.

I’ve always adored Mary Poppins. For that matter, I’ve always enjoyed Julie Andrews. But the magic of Mary Poppins enchanted me, drew me in as a child. The story as told in the Broadway production, however, is slightly different from the movie version that is now so familiar. The primary change is a subtle shift in focus on the character of Mrs. Banks. In the movie, she often got lost behind the slightly humorous renditions of “Sister Suffragette” and in the antics of the staff. She never really stood out as a character of strength. Not so in the stage version. One of the primary storylines becomes hers, a woman trying her very best to be wife and mother, household manager and socialite. And her feelings of failure at everything she tries. One of the most beautiful new songs is “Being Mrs. Banks” which highlights this internal struggle for self:

Being Mrs Banks
Should be an easy role
And yet it’s one
Which I don’t seem to good at
On the whole

I have a comfy home
I have a simple life
I have a name which tells the world
I’m someone else’s wife

Being Mrs Banks
What does that entail?
Facing tests of character
I always seem to fail

View from my seat, first row, balcony

Some familiar elements of the book from the movie, namely the penguin dance sequence and the ceiling tea-party, have been removed completely, but in their place are charming returns –Mrs. Corry’s shop and statues coming to life– familiar to those who have read P.L. Travers’ books. “Feed the Birds” still carried a strong emotional punch. If you’d like a taste of the “old meets new” in Mary Poppins, check out the YouTube video of “Supercalifragillisticexpialidocious” – it will leave you breathless! In short, Mary Poppins on Broadway was even better than the movie, and it carried the concept of everyday magic, of discovering the extraordinary world around us, even when things don’t look or feel that way at all, to new heights, literally and figuratively.

All in all, the trip to New York and the RWA 2011 conference were a very worthwhile venture. Seeing Manhattan was incredible. I learned to much from the workshops. Catching up with dear friends and meeting new ones makes any trip more enjoyable, and I was fortunate to do both.

Thanks for joining me on the RWA 2011 recap this week!

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RWA Workshops

RWA Workshop panel

Each day learn something new, and just as important, relearn something old. ~Robert Brault

One of the greatest benefits of conferences is the ability to attend workshops to learn new things and rethink things you already know. RWA provides an astounding amount of workshops to pick from, and, like most conferences, oftentimes there are several engaging ones all at the same time. Luckily, RWA records many of the sessions and makes them available for purchase, so attendees can have access to nearly all the content after the conference. RWA also tags sessions into various tracks, such as Craft, Publishing, Writer’s Life/Muse, Research, and Career, to help attendees focus on a particular area during the conference if so desired. Some of the most informative sessions are done by the publishing houses, offering spotlights on their lines presented by editors of the house, highlighting upcoming releases and talking about what they’d most like to see in submissions. And the signings, where authors of specific publishers sign free books. If desired, attendees can end up with extremely large amounts of books to haul home!

On the first afternoon, workshops I attended focused on making the most of your pitch appointment and a fun and engaging session on “Can You Do that in an Inspirational?” which covered what you can and can’t do when writing inspirational romance. The last session of the day was an editor discussing the importance of romance fiction, and she was full of practical advice for writers at all levels. And keep in mind, each of these sessions were just one of nine or ten options being offered each hour!

Thursday brought workshops all day, from 8:30 in the morning until 5:30 that evening. Sessions I went to included information on world-building, e-books, contracts, and romance review websites. This day was also the Harlequin book signing and the spotlight on Harlequin single title books. One of the sessions I most enjoyed was the one by Beth Adams, Senior Editor at Guidepost Books, who presented on “Using True Facts from History to Spin a High-Concept Story.” Not only was the topic intriguing, but I was totally unfamiliar with Guidepost Books prior to this session. I was also able to contribute a comment about the benefits of using and partnering with archives when writing historical fiction, a topic I previously discussed here on the blog. Without question, however, the highlight of the day was the Awards Luncheon and the very emotional keynote given by Sherrilynn Kenyon, which left many in tears. In contrast to the emotional highs of the day, Thursday also brought the moment where I left a session going, “Did she really just say what I think she said?” In one of the sessions, the presenter unfortunately chose to introduce her comments –not just once, but twice– with the phrase: “Well, let me put this in dumb people’s terms…..” I was certainly not the only one offended by that one. But overall, an amazing day!

Friday was the last workshop day, again filled from morning to early evening with more sessions than I thought possible to absorb. If you aren’t familiar with Deb Dixon’s book, Goal, Motivation, and Conflict (GMC), it is worth every penny. Dixon presented a condensed workshop focusing on the “Big Black Moment” that offered suggestions on building and creating the BBM in your writing. Other great sessions focused on one-page plotting, revisions, submission packages, critique partnerships, punching up the emotion of your story, and historical clothing. Finally, Tara Taylor Quinn packed the house for the last session of the conference with her highly informative workshop on creating a successful blog tour. After her Chapman Files tour and the recent tour for It Happened on Maple Street, she was full of excellent advice, and attendees peppered questions to take advantage of learning the best practices of creating a successful promotional blog tour for their own books.

Friday night brought an end to the conference with the annual RITA and Golden Heart Awards Ceremony where the best of both unpublished and published works are honored. For romance writers, this is our Emmy, Oscar, and Tony awards all wrapped up into one big evening. Emceed by Meg Cabot, the evening always brings emotional speeches and memorable moments.

Each year always brings, as the above quote suggests, the chance to learn new elements of romance writing as well as the opportunity to relearn (or better learn) things writers already do. I come away inspired to do more and to do better. And looking forward to next year’s conference.

Tomorrow I’ll share some of my favorite moments and a RWA 2011 wrap-up, including my visit to Broadway!

What kinds of things do you take away from conferences? Do you think they’re worth the money and time to go?

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