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September 17, 2021

This is the sunset I woke up to today on the last morning of my retreat. I felt that the desert was celebrating my accomplishment. My goals were to revise the seven remaining stories, run them all through Grammarly, compile all fourteen stories into one document and work on overlap and continuity. I did everything on my list!

Plus, I walked the labyrinth, swam in the pool, stood in awe at the bottom of a wall of petroglyphs, and ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner alone, listening to Nomadland, Jessica Bruder’s book that was the basis of the movie of the same name. Except for a tableful of priests that I nodded to in the dining hall, I was the only guest at the Center. My retreat into silence and focus solely on my writing was just what I needed.

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September 14, 2021

Reasons to Keep a Writer in Your Home

• They know weird facts
• They’re low maintenance because all they do is eat and write
• Great for midnight chats because they don’t sleep
• If they have to edit, they’ll procrastinate by cleaning your whole house

I stole this from the internet and put it on the refrigerator because it’s true. The last one especially.

I’m deep into revisions and even deeper into procrastination, so I finally had to admit defeat and retreat.

Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines retreat like this:

1. an act or process of withdrawing, especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable
2. a period of group withdrawal for prayer, meditation, study, or instruction under a director

In my case, both feel true. The rewrites are challenging but necessary. I felt overwhelmed facing an entire manuscript that was good but needed to get much better. And as I progress, the stories get deeper and realer, and the more I do, the more momentum builds, so it’s easier to go forward. How to keep that focus?

I decided to take a solo writer’s retreat, something I’ve done before and greatly benefited from. This time, instead of hiding out in my trailer in a state park, I’m going to relax into spartan luxury at the Redemptorist Renewal Center for a few days. I get a room with a view, three healthy meals a day, and no obligations or interruptions for a reasonable fee. I will unplug from the world (except I’ll use Wi-Fi for Grammarly.) I’m leaving in a few hours, so I need to go pack . . .

P.S. If you are interested in a solo writing retreat, you might want to check out this book by Kermie Wohlenhaus: Creating a Solo Writer’s Retreat: Actualizing Undisturbed Time & Space to Write Within Our Busy Lives 

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May 13, 2021

Just when I was getting discouraged with the book that I’m writing, just when I was beginning to think that this writing stuff had outsmarted me, and I could never figure out how to balance plot, character, style, and creativity; just when I was at the very edge of feeling that no one cared about the words typed by these clumsy fingers — just then I got an email from The Arizona Commission on the Arts.

I’ve gotten these emails before in response to my grant applications. They say, thank you for going through the time-consuming and difficult submission process but the committee has met and decided that there are a slew of worthy artists and they are not you. We gave all the money to them. Or at least that what I thought they said. They were probably much kinder and gentler.

But this time it was different. This time the email said:

“The Arizona Commission on the Arts is pleased to inform you that your Fiscal Year 2021 Artist Research and Development Grant application has been awarded funding.”  

Wowee! I read it five times to make sure that I wasn’t hallucinating. The grant will enable me to polish up Desert Haven to its best sparkly version and research publishers for the best fit. Meanwhile, I’ll work on my platform so when it’s published, I can hit the ground running.

Here’s a link to their website so you can see the other artists that are celebrating with me this year: 24 Artists Awarded R&D Grants 

One of the requirements (or strong suggestions) was to include a process map. Never having heard of such a thing, I Googled it and found terrific resources. It seems businesses and nonprofits use these tools all the time to envision goals and procedures. The website Lucidchart offers tools to create visual diagrams, and the free version was all I needed. With some feedback from knowledgeable business-type friends, I created my masterpiece. Not only was it a lot of fun to produce, but it was also an extremely helpful visual, showing me the steps I must take to launch Desert Haven into the world. And I think it’s pretty.

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April 19, 2021

A few years ago, when we could still travel internationally, my sister, Susy Plummer, visited me in Tucson from her home in Umina Beach, Australia. She had just taken an intense training as a SoulCollage®  facilitator. Wanting to share her knowledge and enthusiasm, she taught me how to make cards and a little about the philosophy behind it. I thought it was grand and wanted to know more.

I ordered some materials and pored over founder Seena Frost’s book, SoulCollage® Evolving, trying to absorb the intricacies of this fascinating process. For five years, I made cards, alone and with friends,  until I decided I wanted to know more, so I signed up for facilitator training. Then came Covid-19 and shut it down along with most of life. Six months into the pandemic, I got word that the course would be offered online, and I jumped at the opportunity.

The SoulCollage community is a worldwide phenomenon with over 4000 facilitators in 50 countries. During my month-long training, I remember asking one participant where she was zooming from. She replied that she was in Tokyo, Japan, and it was 3 a.m. That’s dedication.

The process is simple. Guided by intuition and intention, images are cut from magazines and glued to a 5×8” card. The resultant card is often a surprise to the maker. This creative process sidesteps one’s inner critic, highlighting unexpected connections and striking metaphors.

This is primal material for the writer in me. While developing a daily routine of visiting the cards with an open mind, I began to see how useful this process could be as a tool to address a multitude of writing questions: what is the most important thing in this story, what does the main character want, where should the action take place. If I let my imagination run free, the cards will let me know.

It’s not magic, it’s not esoteric knowledge. It’s tapping into and unblocking one’s own inner knowing and intuition. Our logical mind does a good job of keeping us alive and it even might sit us down in front of the computer every day, but it doesn’t always cooperate when we are digging into instinctual or spontaneous places.

I’m thrilled to have discovered this amazing device to assist me in my writing and I plan on offering workshops specifically designed for writers and other creatives in the near future.

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June 26, 2020

It’s great to set goals. Knowing I wanted to finish my book by July provided the energy I needed to finish a revised draft. I thought it was okay and, trying to keep to my self-imposed deadline to have the book done, I sent it off to beta readers. I hoped they would agree that it was good to go. Part of me had reservations, there is always that, but I overrode those dismaying feelings in order to move ahead. 

What I heard back from those honest, caring and smart folks was that it needs more tweaking, more depth, more clarity. Damnit they are right, of course. 

I have a lot of work to do. I won’t meet the deadline of sending it to a publisher by my 75th birthday but this way when I do have something, it will be worthy. There’s no rush, I just need to work steadily and make it better. Anyway, the pandemic is keeping me home with lots of time to write.  I will do the best I can – and then do more. 

My friend Sheila told me she admires my persistence. I don’t feel like I have a choice. I want to finish the book, I want it to be good, I want it to be out there. Quitting, failing, all that stuff, just isn’t a possibility. Am I determined, yes. Am I unrealistic, I don’t think so. Each time I rewrite it gets better, I learn a little bit more and keep going forward. Some things take a while to sink in. Even though I came up short, I did the best I could and I am willing to trust my process.

I’m diving back in, digging deeper. It’s challenging, frustrating, and amazingly enough, it’s fun.

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November 10, 2019

At some point you just have to stop writing and say you have completed your first draft. At the end of August I realized that I had basically covered the territory I thought I wanted in my book and that I had a very drafty first draft. A sobering thought. Am I done?

Not by a long shot. The eighty thousand or so words that I had strung together were the kernel, the raw beginnings. My new challenge was to shape those words into a story worth reading. 

Eyes’ by Louise Bourgeois 1911-2010

In sculpture there are two ways of approaching a 3-D work of art: additive and subtractive. Authors who write mountains of pages have the daunting task of paring away the unnecessary like clay workers, taking away material to find the form. Writers must “kill their darlings” in a subtractive process to uncover the essence of their concept. 

I, on the other hand, sketch out my ideas, like a painter, laying the undercoat that determines the substance of the finished work. I add a few tentative layers of color and build it up with scene and exposition. Delete and rewrite. When I get to the end, I begin the process all over again, altering it slightly or recreating whole passages until I’m done.

How will I know when I’m is done? I have a goal. I want to have a finished manuscript by my seventy-fifth birthday in July 2020. I’ll just make it happen, layer by layer until I finally push my chair back, put up my hands and slowly back away from the computer. 

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March 31, 2019

I see that a whole year has past since I wrote here and I want to catch up my writing saga. (aside: just looked up the definition of “saga” at Dictionary.com and came up with: Any very long story with dramatic events or parts.) (I love instantly shifting from the narrative in order to Google a word or fact or concept and then jumping right back to the flow of words a smarter person than I was a moment ago.)

Tucson Writer’s Table

I also learned that a “saga novel” is a form of the novel in which the members or generations of a family or social group are chronicled in a long and leisurely narrative. I’d say that fits my novel, Desert Haven. Not only is the narrative leisurely, but so is the process. I generally write just a few (maybe six or seven) hours a week. Two hours on Mondays at the Tucson Writer’s Table (Rincon Market 6:15 to 8:30) and a few hours two or three times a week when I have the time or when I can’t resist the urge to write. With so many interruptions, I constantly have to remember where I was. I do that by rereading what I wrote and referring to any notes I’ve jotted down between times. Even though I’m not writing, I’m always working on the book. Day dreaming, sleep dreaming, getting insights through reading or talking with friends. Even hearing a story on the radio can spark the creative flow. 

I’m even pokier than usual because the end of last year caught me by surprise with a consuming health issue. The healing process slowed me down for a few months but I’ve regained my energy and enthusiasm. To stir the pot, my friend Miriam Ruth Black and I are taking a wonderful Advanced Fiction Writing class with Frankie Rollins at Pima Community College. Miriam is also working on a novel and we both find the feedback and interactions with other students encouraging. Frankie gives us plenty to chew on.

How many words has Desert Haven accumulated so far? I’m not counting. I’m just writing at this point. When I am closer to what looks and feels like the end I’ll count them. And then edit and get rid of the unnecessary ones.
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March 26, 2018

What an honor to read from my book-in-progress at the amazing 15th Annual Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA)  along side an amazing collection of diverse voices.

It was a nonstop literary feast of craft workshops (“Creating Extraordinary Literary Characters” and “Historical Fiction: Once Upon a Time”) mixed with philosophical discussions, (“We’ve been Through This Before: Baby Boomer Lesbians Talk about Writing, Resistance and Relevance” and “Transgressive, Sacred and Universal: Is Poetry Inherently Queer?”)

Not only did I get to mingle with queer writers from all over the country but I got to meet some of my longtime sheros, including activist and author of Beyond The Pale, one of my all time favorite books, Elena Dykewomon. I learned about plot, character and a lot of history from her 1997 book.

And then there was the practical. All of the attendees in Elizabeth Schwartz’s workshop, “Marriage Minefield” came with questions about this complicated subject and Liz, author of the brilliant “Before I Do: a Legal Guide to Marriage, Gay and Otherwise,” proved to be an expert in the field. 

My only complaint is that there were so many great choices that I had to miss out on some fascinating offerings. . . . There is always the 16th Annual S&S. 

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December 30, 2017 

Reading at the FST! book launch,
Antigone Books

Two of my stories were published in the last few months.

A story I read at the “Never Say Never” Female Storytellers show in 2013, Crazy Love, was published in the Best of FST!, Female StoryTellers Anthology Volume 1 (2017). You can get it here

My essay Kitchen Confidential, is included in the new anthology, Inside and Out: Women’s Truths, Women’s Stories, (2017). See more about it here.

It’s rewarding and fun to see my stories in print. I’m going to submit to more publications this coming year. I found a lovely spreadsheet online that I modified so I can keep track of the where, what, when, and the outcome. It’s humbling to see the rejections pile up but I hear it’s a numbers game so I’ll just keep sending work out.

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November 15, 2017

I started the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge very enthusiastically (see below) but then I changed my mind. This is the breakup letter I wrote:

NaNoWriMo, we gotta talk. I know this relationship is still relatively new but I think it’s best if we just end it now and part as friends. It’s just not working for me. It’s nothing you did. You were completely honest about how much work and focus I would need to get to the finish line. It’s not you; it’s me.

I didn’t mean to lead you on. I really thought we would make a good team. But then I saw how truly demanding you were, expecting me to drop everything for you. You were honest about it but I guess I was in denial.
You told me not to edit as I wrote, that it would slow me down. I really tried to do it your way, but just couldn’t help it. I had to go back and trim sentences and correct syntax. And I felt guilty when I did. I felt like I was letting you down.
I think it’s best if we go our own ways. I respect your world, it’s just not for me. No hard feelings.
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October 15 2017

When you register to write a novel in a month, the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) website asks for a synopsis of your book and a picture of the cover. Since they have been doing this for a while and know how to inspire writers, and because I want to be successful in writing 50,000 words in 30 days, I thought seriously about these requests.

I’ve been writing this novel for around two years. I wrote the first two short stories in a fiction class at Pima Community College and have been adding to it, slowly and steadily with fabulous feedback and support from my writing group. I’m excited about the book and enjoy the process of writing and revising.

I already have 35,000 words and NaNoWriMo is a tool to further me on the path. Writing the synopsis and creating a cover made it more real. I am focusing on the distinct goal of adding another 50,000 words and I feel confident that I will be successful in completing this challenge. 

Of course, it’s only 50,000 words of an unedited word dump that will be finished in a month. There will still be lots of adjusting and improving to go. Not to mention getting it published. This is only the beginning stage of a long and fun undertaking.

If you are taking the NaNoWriMo challenge you can find me by my author name, starrstories. The title of the novel is Desert Haven and the genre is literary.

Synopsis: Desert Haven is a novel that chronicles the past and present women’s land movement in linked short stories that take place over a forty year time span. Each story relates to the theme and moves the novel forward, following a cast of characters through their challenges, choices and transformations.

This is the mock-up of the cover I made using InDesign: