Posted in IdahoAuthors, writing

Setting Sail: the Launch of a Serial Novel

I’ve been writing “creative nonfiction” for years–-my Master’s thesis in poetry, essays (for introspection), freelance articles (for pay), and  this blog (for joy)… But I haven’t touched fiction-writing since I was a schoolkid.

Until last summer, when I did.

Not sure exactly why, but this person called Gayla wanted to go whaling, so I let her. And she turned out pretty stubbornly not to fit in to the century in which I’d placed her, so I threw in a little time travel to explain her. She’s a whaler wearing a sports bra instead of a corset—an anomaly in more ways than one.

Time & Tide by Kana Smith
She’s still growing, and I’m still writing her journey. I’ve been releasing one chapter at a time to a small circle of friends and family who have been reading along (and keeping me writing!) and I got to thinking that it’s the READERS who really make this art form work. If I’m writing in a “black hole” by myself, I’m not going to last for long–and that would be a bummer, because I’d never find out what happens with Gayla.

So I took it into my head to publish as I go, rather than waiting (for what?) to finish this whole tale. Charles Dickens published many of his works as serial stories in the newspapers of his day… I’m no Charles Dickens, but I do have this great medium we call the internet. So here we are.

And I have an idea that blogging about the book as I write it (and as readers receive it) might provide some interesting introspection into my own writing process–so I’m hoping this becomes bigger than just the book.

All that said… I’m launching this book. Before it’s anywhere close to finished. As of this writing I’m at 67,636 words–and I’m not posting all of those today. But I’ll start with Book One and a teaser to Book Two, and I’ll invite you along for the ride. Along for the read.

And none of this is set in stone (I go back to edit as I get to know Gayla and her story) so I very much welcome critique and feedback. In fact, I’m more interested in what doesn’t work than what does–because that’s what’s useful to a writer. I’d love to see my online community function like a larger version of the “workshop” classes I took for my Creative Writing degree. I’d love to grow in my craft and become a better writer. I’d love to see where this story takes me. Will you sail with me? It’s a free book… if you have patience to wait for an ending!

Time & Tide

whale tail

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Posted in writing

Playing Sims (and Questions of Free Will)

It’s a little like writing fiction, or at least that’s what I tell myself is appealing about it.  If you haven’t played with Sims (I hadn’t before this week), it’s a simulation game where you get to create and dress up little people, build and furnish their houses, send them to jobs, prompt them to interact, and so on.

Sims
At first glance it seems like a pretty limitless array of options for play, given the many different objects you can place, and the many different ways your little people can interact with those objects… But the inherent limitations to its interest have already become eminently evident.

There’s no creativity, and no content, to the actions and interactions here. I can make a Sim “read fine literature,” but there’s nothing really to be gained from it. (Why am I not picking up my own book instead?) I can make a Sim “phone a friend,” but there’s no content to the conversation. (Why am I not picking up my own phone instead?) I’ve imagined different personalities and proclivities for my various characters, but that’s only in my head. (Why am I not picking up my own piece of unfinished fiction instead?)

In short, the shine has already worn off my little game. It made me think, though, that I understand God a little better. Sometimes people ask why God gave us Free Will when he could have made the world perfect by orchestrating everything himself. Well, I can give you one good reason: it’s tiresome telling your creations to go potty or eat a sandwich so they don’t make a pee-puddle or fall over from malnourishment. It’s not interesting or fulfilling to make them do everything they do.

Okay, that’s the flippant answer, but it’s a peek at the bigger one. Writing fiction is more interesting than playing Sims, because it doesn’t have the limitations—I can create everything about the world, the relationships, the conversations. Having children is more interesting than writing fiction, because (these days) the people I’ve created say and do things without any orchestration from me, and they’re always interesting and surprising.

KermitWhen my daughter squeezes me in one of her long-lasting hugs, it’s rewarding because she did that on her own. I didn’t click a “hug button” to make her do it. Similarly, God made us to love him. Voluntarily. Without being compelled, which would make the “love” meaningless. I know I do a shoddy job of it overall, but I like to think God delights in every moment that I do turn to him (like asking for help against my alcoholism)—the same way I delight in spontaneous affection or requests from my offspring.

Well, the game—and the weird role of “playing god”—got me thinking about all that. But there’s still one more question of free will…

I’ve already determined that this game isn’t rewarding or fulfilling, and yet… I keep orchestrating my little people to meet each consecutive task and challenge presented to them. I can’t seem to put the damn thing down.

My addictive personality pops up in far more areas of life than just my alcoholism. I’m an all-or-nothing girl. This week I’m obsessively playing with my Sims. The couple weeks before that, it was “Words With Friends” (a glorified Scrabble set—though at least that has the virtue of requiring some mind-exercise). For a couple months this summer, I was obsessively working on the first 59,000 words of my nascent novel—which has since been sitting virtually untouched while my mind has skittered across other serial obsessions in the intervening months.

writer's blockThis morning my husband challenged me to find a way to get my mind back to the book—“or even a blog-post”—during this rare day-off-both-jobs. So I’m here with laptop open and coffee-cup to hand, with a DVD playing of the “writers’ commentary” on one of the Hobbit movies (I think I’ve mentioned that writer/director Peter Jackson is one of my story-telling heroes—I always feel inspired by the “how-it’s-made” extras on these movies). I Am Writing.

My phone with its insidious Sims-game is out of reach on the charger, and I am determinedly wielding my Free Will against its compulsive draw. (Let’s be honest–the reason it’s on the charger is because I was glued to it all morning.) I Am Writing.

And I’ve just opened up my computer file of “Whaler’s Wife” (working title) to see what I can make happen.

I can be stronger than my addictions (even the silly ones). I Am Writing.

Posted in Lists

Drawing up a gratitude list 

November is a popular month for gratitude, given the holiday that’s named for the emotion, but my motivation this year is a little different. I’m grateful that October is over! “Isn’t that the same thing as being-in-November?” you ask reasonably. Well, not precisely. 

The thing is, almost every major Drama, Trauma, and Tragedy in my life has happened in an October–leaving me with a superstitious fear of a “cursed” month. Add in the fact that those events (ranging from loss of a job to loss of a spouse, from severe complications of childbirth to last year’s vacation in a psych ward) have left me with a lot of unpleasant “anniversaries” in October–and it’s just a rough month. 

I literally spent the month praying that I could get to November 1 without anything awful happening–aware that if I did, it would be the first time in about a decade.

It happened! I broke the streak and got all the way through October without an Awful Event of any kind. I’m very nearly giddy over it. And helping with that reaction is the fact that I got my mental-health meds adjusted a couple weeks ago, after realizing I was on a downward slide toward Depression. I’m emerging from the haze of lethargy and indifference and feeling increasingly like ME again. (Witness the fact that I’m back here writing again–a silent blog is a danger sign with me.)

All that said… I’ve been on a sketching-kick, specifically a gratitude list. So although I’m usually one to express myself with words, today I’m offering my “gratitude album.”


I’m grateful for the man who married me. His voice puts a smile on my face, and his laugh lights my world. He has loved me (and prayed me) through some of my worst. It’s a joy and an honor to be “Mrs. Smith.”


I’m grateful for a job that keeps me challenged and interested, and where there’s room for growth.


I love RV-living, and our cozy little home. I’m grateful to live so comfortably!


I’m grateful for Vertical Church, and my church-family.


I’m grateful that I grew a pair of bright, vibrant, good-hearted people. (Readers, too.)


I’m grateful for modern medicine, and my mental-health meds!


I’m grateful for COFFEE!


I’m grateful to live in Idaho.


I’m grateful for my Ma, who has continued to love me no matter what.


I’m grateful for my teddy bear, Toots, who has been a comfort for more than four decades. (Here with Jon, who sewed Toots an Army outfit.)


I’m grateful for Open Adoption, and that the boy-I-grew has such a fabulous family.


I’m grateful for BOOKS!


I’m grateful to have my driver’s license back, and for the car Jon bought me when I got it back. I so appreciate being able to drive myself to appointments and work rather than hiking everywhere.


I’m grateful for open roads and motorcycles.


I’m grateful to be Sober! This is my owl-sticky-note marking my favorite page of the Big Book. “If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through.”


I’m grateful for my health. Crohn’s Disease has been in remission for 16 years, and I’m healthier than I deserve to be, given my alcoholism. God is good.


I’m grateful for my great Sis, who shares many of my memories (and quite a few of my quirks). And a grand welcome this week to her new daughter!


I admit it–I’m grateful for my iPhone. 


I’m grateful for challenges–like learning to ride.


I’m grateful for seaside vacations!


I’m grateful for a guy who fixes things… and builds things, and COOKS things!


I’m grateful for FUN!


The back of Jon’s helmet is a reminder for the road-of-life… I’m grateful that God has ALWAYS had my back.

Posted in travel

Eels on the Highway and Other Adventures

Sunrise fishing… no hagfish please
Yesterday we took the motorcycle in the opposite direction up the Coastal Highway, heading north through Depoe Bay and Lincoln City, enjoying long stretches of beach views and cliffside oceanfront. And we’re glad we did it yesterday instead of today, because a friend just sent us a video posted by the Depoe Bay Fire Department—the aftermath this afternoon of an overturned truck full of eels! (Hagfish, actually—alternatively and accurately known as “slime eels.”) I’m pretty sure slime eels would be a traction-hazard on a motorcycle… Fortunately it’s all cleaned up now, because we’re planning one last jaunt to Depoe Bay tomorrow for another bowl of the world’s best clam chowder at Gracie’s Sea Hag… No hagfish-interference, we hope.

Crab pots at the stern
Today’s adventure didn’t involve any eels… And though it also didn’t end up involving the elusive salmon for which we had licenses, this sailboat-skipper was SO happy to be out on the water! I didn’t care at all that the boat had no sails, or that we had no salmon—I was just purely joyful with the motion of the water under us, the waves and the wake and the wind…

We gathered with a half-dozen other fishermen at the dock of Reel Deep Charters at 5:30 this morning, and motored out through barely-lit mist under the bay’s iconic bridge and past the jetties. 

And though the salmon didn’t cooperate, the crabs did. We dropped crab pots on the way out, and Jon hauled in our pair on the way back—hundred-pound pots with about 20 dungeness crabs each! We limited at twelve apiece, which is a LOT of fresh crab. 

We got our catch cooked and cleaned at the dock (our cast iron Dutch oven doesn’t begin to have the capacity for 24 crabs!) and we spent a couple hours this afternoon at our campsite picnic table, cracking crab claws (and taking “tastes”)… Crab dipped in garlic-butter for lunch, and crab-salad sandwiches for dinner!

We rounded out the day with a shell-collecting walk on the beach, and here I am, blogging again at the campfire. Feeling utterly Blessed to be enjoying the week we’re having.

Posted in People

Reasons

We ended up holding an impromptu Scuba-demo last night at our campsite… The same gaggle of youngsters who had gathered around our motorcycle a couple days earlier returned, drawn this time by our clothesline full of wetsuits and dive gear.

They were brimming with questions—what things we’ve seen diving, how we breathe underwater… So Jon pulled one of the air tanks back out of the truck, scooped up his regulator set, and hooked it all up to show the kids how it works. As they took wide-eyed turns breathing from the tank, I chatted with their mom, who had just as many questions as her kids.

img_4401In the course of conversation, I shared with her the comment from her son that made me grin the other day—that the reason he has to grow up is so he can get a motorcycle. Her answer gave me great pause. With an uplifted smile, she told me that he’s terminally ill, so she’s grateful for every reason he finds to fight.

What I had taken for a humorous kid-ism was in this case a literal truth. This little guy, all of five, is collecting reasons to grow up, because “growing up” isn’t a given. It’s a poignant reminder that really nothing is a given, even though we make assumptions about our futures… It’s a reminder to pay attention to all the reasons to enjoy today.

Posted in Motorcycle, travel

Enthusiasms

I love little kids’ enthusiasm for motorcycles, maybe because it so closely mirrors my own. Yesterday we were walking along Newport’s waterfront district, each of us with a helmet in one hand and a mocha from the Surf Shop in the other, when a little guy grabbed his mother’s hand and piped loudly, “Look, Mommy! Motorcycle-guys!” Back at camp a gaggle of youngsters approached our site to ask if they could look at the bike, and the youngest informed us gravely that the reason he has to grow up is so he can get a motorcycle.

Yesterday afternoon we took the bike for a long run down Coastal Highway 101—a wonderfully winding road weaving along the ocean’s edge with spectacular views of waves, cliffs, beaches, bridges… it’s the kind of road for which motorcycles are made

We stopped at the Sea Lion caves to stretch our legs and use the facilities, but declined to pay the exorbitant price tag to go gape at the animals. We’ve been doing pretty well with wildlife sightings on our own. Not long after we pulled out of that stop, a shadow caught my eye and I looked straight up (another advantage of bikes—the unimpeded view) at the underside of an eagle winging right over us with an auk in its talons!

Earlier in the morning we clambered out on the rocks below the lighthouse cliffs, poking around in the tide pools and admiring the low-tide look at marine life. It’s not the high season for whale migration past this coastline, so imagine our delighted surprise when a pair of gray whales surfaced just off our rocks, spouted, flicked their tails at us, and sank again… and three more times. (And I’m laughing to think that our excitement at spotting whales sounded an awful lot like that waterfront tyke’s excitement at spotting us… I guess “motorcycle guys” are a wildlife category in our own way.)

There’s something so much more satisfying about finding the critters in their actual habitat—I do enjoy the Oregon Coast Aquarium, but the real ocean is exponentially more amazing. And along those lines… Today was DIVE day!

Jon and I each have a lot of diving under our belts, but (thanks in part to my horrendous head-cold during last year’s visit to the coast) we hadn’t yet been diving together. “We’ll see how tough you really are,” he grinned at me this morning, over my pile of thick neoprene wetsuit, gloves, booties, and hood stacked on the dive-shop counter. As everyone seems to feel obliged to point out to us when we mention our dive plans, the water here on the Oregon Coast is cold

But oh so worth it. Our camp clothesline is festioned tonight with wetsuits and dive gear, and I’ve added a new memory of gliding hand-in-hand with Jon under the green water, fish darting away from us as we swam.

The South Beach fish market beckoned just before the turnout to our campground, luring us in for  fresh-caught fish and chips… and now we’re decompressing (literally, if you know diving) by the campfire. That’s a lot of enthusiasms indulged in the space of a couple days. My body is exhausted from surf and current—we’ll sleep well tonight!

Posted in PostaDay

Beacons

We climbed my favorite lighthouse today, the one that’s tattooed on my arm with my daughter’s name (which means “shining light”)…

The headland was shrouded with fog, the lighthouse a barely-visible landmark as we pulled up on the motorcycle, and the wind whipping so hard we were grateful for the wind-proof construction of bike jackets! 

Halfway down the cliffside steps to the tide pools and “cobble” beach below, a gentleman invited us to look through the two telescopes he had set up—one trained on nesting cormorants with chicks, the other on harbor seals lounging on the rocks. Gazing at the indigo-edged wings of a cormorant, I was wishing I could take a photo… And then started to wonder at my own apparent need to “capture” everything that happens. 

Jon already teases me for snapping photos of everything, and for blogging about everything—and here I am sitting by our campfire and doing it some more, reflecting on the page (well, on my phone-screen, if we’re going to get literal about it). I think it’s my way of making the most of the moments I’m having—getting the most out of them, finding their meaning, making them last.

The front of my journal says “Collect moments, not things.” I’m not at all a souvenir person—I’m the shutterbug instead, and the blogger. Photos and words are the best ways I know to make moments last as memories. 

So I have pictures today. The bacon cooking next to our coffee-pot on the camp stove in golden morning light. The geometrical black iron steps and whitewashed walls of the staircase spiraling up the lighthouse tower. The silhouettes of two friends we met for dinner against a sunset view of the harbor.

And words for the moments and things that don’t fit pictures. Like the telescope views, the harbor’s fog horn, the movement of anemones in a tide pool, the saltwater-spray on my motorcycle visor….

Today I’m picturing the “collected” moments as beacons that can shine forward as memories… maybe focused by words-and-photos like that lighthouse beam through its Fresnell lens. 

I guess I’m just a recorder by nature. I like to take notice of my own life.