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 Lists, Reading Reviews

Sucked In

sucked in
Substitute a book for the vacuum, that’s me.

Oh my gosh, where have I been since my last post?

Sucked In, that’s where.

I got sucked into reading the “Game of Thrones” series… I haven’t been able to put this thing down for some reason.  I bought it a couple years ago as a boxed set (if you can call e-books “boxed”), and only got around to opening it last month… And it’s a good thing it’s on my iPad, because otherwise the 4,000-or-so pages would really be weighing down my arms. I’m coming up on about 3500 pages and looking forward to the wrap-up, if for no other reason than being freed from its thrall…

But if you know these books, you’ve already caught my error: there are way more pages than that if you see this to the end. I’d assumed my boxed set was the whole series.

Last time I made this mistake? It was 1991. I was a high school senior mulling over my choices in the Fantasy section of a WaldenBooks store when a strange man popped up from nowhere, shoved a book at me, and practically hollered, “You HAVE to read this!!”

He was weird, but I bought the book (Robert Jordan’s Eye of the World). Read it, loved it, bought the second of the trilogy… Continue reading “Sucked In”

Posted in Idaho, Reading Reviews

Flood in the Desert

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Got a LOT of use out of my new winter boots!

Supposedly, I live in a “high desert” climate. Well, I do live in a high desert climate–but you sure wouldn’t know it this year. I just pulled up an article from January, stating that Boise had (already) seen more snow-so-far than any year since 1892, when they started keeping records. And we kept getting more snow—a lot of it—after that.

Now the temperatures have started warming up, and we’re all eyeing that snowpack warily. The water-management powers-that-be are letting immense amounts of water out of the reservoir just upriver from Boise, in anticipation of some massive runoff in the upcoming weeks. (If they don’t let it out now and the reservoir overfills, they say, they’ll lose any control they might have had over the river level.)

Boise’s “Green Belt” path that runs through town along the river (and along the edge of our RV park) is largely underwater already, and they’ll be raising the river more this week. At least we’re on wheels, we joke, eyeing the river-level. If the river reaches us, we hitch up and go!

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our Green Belt path disappearing into water…

Ah, life in the desert.

We bought our three-year hunting-and-fishing licenses a few weeks ago (our anniversary present to each other), but the nearby fishing dock is entirely underwater, and the river is running too fast for fly-fishing. We’d need nMoses right now to walk the Green Belt. Continue reading “Flood in the Desert”

Posted in People, Reading Reviews, travel

Internal Geographies

My husband has described his customer Vern as a guy who “can’t find anything good to say about life.” When Vern called Jon’s cell tonight (in the middle of our Date Night) pleading for help with his broken-down truck, I got to experience his outlook first-hand. Jon being Jon, we went to help—which meant giving Vern a lift home and promising to look at the truck in the morning, when it’s light and hopefully up to double-digit temperatures, and when Jon can be dressed to climb underneath.

count your blessings not your problemsI scooted to the middle of our truck-seat and Vern hoisted himself up into the passenger seat (the first time Jon picked me up for a date in this truck, I asked him to throw down a rope-ladder!) and we steered our way through the icy neighborhoods toward Vern’s house with his querulous running commentary.

“Lord love a duck, Jon, if it’s not one thing it’s a hundred and fifty. I don’t know what I’ll do. My property tax just went up, and with all these other bills I have… If it’s not one thing it’s a dozen. I don’t know why that truck won’t start, and you just did the new points too. But the city plowed us in with snowbanks and I can’t get my car out, so I’ve got to drive the truck. I tried to dig out the car and I just tore up my left arm. And my power bill just went up, I guess I’m just not fit to live. Lord love a duck, Jon, if it’s not one thing it’s twenty….”

Well, you get the gist. As we drove away after dropping him off, I found myself contemplating the idea that there can be a difference between a person’s circumstances and a person’s experience.  And that difference might just be outlook.  Which brings me to… Continue reading “Internal Geographies”

Posted in Family, travel

“Crazyass Passions” & Pencilled Notes

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my adventurous mom—a woman of “crazyass passions”

My mother isn’t one for writing-in-books, so I’m tickled that the book she just mailed me has a sentence underlined with a smiley-face.

I believe in crazyass passion.”

That’s the line she highlighted in Rinker Buck’s Oregon Trail travelogue, and that says plenty about my mother!

She’s a world traveler, kayaker, fly-fisher, river rafter, scuba diver (Nitrox-certified for deep diving),  and always game for a new adventure. She made a great deckhand on a sailing trip in Washington’s San Juan Islands ten years ago, she took my son on a week-long sea-kayaking trip in Mexico last year, she meets for mischief with girlfriends all over the world… and she always has her plane ticket already bought for the “next trip” somewhere. (I believe Panama and Poland are in the current queue…)

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sailing with my mom & my daughter, 2007

If I didn’t know her birth-year, I’d never guess she’s pushing 70, and I continue to wish I had half her energy. (I especially wish that on days when I’m trying to keep up with her at the mall!) I got my travel-bug from both parents, but I got my sense of adventure from her.

I got my bibliophilia from her too, though my penchant for marginalia is something I developed on my own.

Because I DO write in books, I’m accustomed to coming across my prior-self (in the form of penned commentaries) when I re-read my books. I’m not accustomed to coming across other people in my margins, though… So imagine my thrill of surprise today when I picked up my copy of Bill Bryson’s “Notes from a Small Island” and discovered an unexpected treasure of notes in both my mother’s hand AND my late father’s. (Pencilled, because apparently writing in a book in pen is a little TOO crazyass!) Continue reading ““Crazyass Passions” & Pencilled Notes”