Saturday, September 21, 2013


My family went camping in Pennsylvania over the beginning of the week.  We had a wonderful -and memorable- time.  Our campsite was right beside a stream.  There were enough boulders for the water to froth and flow around to make all sorts of interesting rills.  It would have been the perfect place for white-water rafting if you were a mouse!  One of the boulders was (to my best estimate, which admittedly isn't very good) about four feet above the water and I could just picture mouse adventurers standing up on the `cliff' and gazing down at the foam, bracing themselves for the trip down stream.

Our fire ring was iron but didn't have a grill, so my brother Justin fished some wide, flat rocks from the stream and a few smaller rocks for the flat rocks to set on, poured the coals around them, and cooked our burgers on top.  They were quite tasty, and of course the grease dripped off the rocks and made the fire burn hotter -which was fortunate.  We'd forgotten how much of a temperature difference there is, traveling a few hours north!  It got quite cold, especially the first night.  I usually like a bit of nip in the air, but there is a huge difference between the kind of cold you go out in before returning to a nice warm house and the oppressive sort of cold that remains heavy in the air when you sleep in a tent.

We visited the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, which nobody around here has heard of.  Mom knows about it because she and dad stumbled across it on their wedding trip.  It's a beautiful, tree covered gorge.  It actually probably would have been more impressive in a few weeks when more of the leaves changed color, but we didn't mind billows of green.  We walked the Turkey Trail, which travels down the gorge in a series of switchbacks.  There were about two places where streams were flowing down the mountain (or maybe we passed the same stream twice) and divided into a dozen or so tiny trickles falling down among the rocks.  It made me feel like I was in a (rather chilly) rain forest.  Farther down we reached the actual waterfall. 

We had taken the scenic rout to the gorge (meaning we got lost) and so arrived right around lunch.  We ate before we actually started down the trail, which was nice since it meant we didn't have to carry our food for the entire hike.

The whole vacation was exactly what our family needed: a chance to just get away and enjoy God's creation for a few days.   

Friday, September 13, 2013


Earlier this week I was fortunate enough to spend a little time on the Patuxent River, one of the tributaries leading into the Maryland bay.  The awesome thing about being there this time of year is that the water is full of tiny  bioluminescent creatures that light up if they bump against anything.  

After dusk I went out, swished the water, and watched the sparks flare wherever my hands passed.  The creatures are so tiny you don't really feel them except every once in awhile, when a slightly bigger one bumps against you.  Those feel like blobs.  Watching them in the water is like watching stars swirling under you -or like watching fireflies, when it feels as if the stars decided to come down and play closer to earth, to dance in the woods and the flowerbeds and get caught just for an instant, glowing between your cupped hands. 

It can be like touching a miracle.  

The thing about these creatures is that you can't see them until after dusk.  It's the darkness that reveals the things that carry their own light.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Research and that sort of thing

Wow, my last real post was at the beginning of August, and now it's September.  I knew I was letting things slide, but this is ridiculous! 

I recently read Writing the Novel from Plot to Print by Lawrence Block.  One of the things he said made a lot of sense to me is that if you realize your subject is too far away from your experience to write convincingly there's nothing wrong with figuring out some way to bring the story closer to home.  

I tend to get frustrated because I'll come up with an idea and just know that no amount of research is going to make me able to write it convincingly.  I once mentioned a trunk novel where part of the story took place on a ship.  I've been on rowboats and motorboats, but I know nothing about actual sailing.  My plan was to take sailing lessons, only that didn't work out.  

Now, I could have look at diagrams and read old captain's logs and really get a sense of sailing that way.  But another thing I could have done was change the setting.  My story took place on a small island so my heroine would be trapped (the idea was to be Gothic) but surrounding a castle by an ocean isn't the only way to make it remote.  I could have set the castle on a crag, or in the depths of a dangerous forest or swamp.  

I think you have to have a certain amount of confidence in yourself to research a setting or plot point.  If in my heart of hearts I was convinced that I couldn't write my story without actually spending time on the water -if I didn't feel that I knew what I was talking about- how could I convince my readers?  

I had an idea for a story once that had me looking for information on crafting bronze swords.  I didn't feel like I had to take up sword-making in order to understand what I read.  I'd previously taken a couple pottery classes, which gave me a feel for what goes into hands-on work.  

When I first started pottery I was given a textbook.  There was a lot about glazes and chemical reactions, but all it did was show me that I knew even less about pottery than I thought.  It wasn't until I was halfway through the first semester that I had a clue what the writer was jabbering about.  If I'd tried to write about a potter based on text-books I would've gotten halfway through that book, then decided to give up and hide under my bed forever.  

Research is a tough subject because it varies from project to project.  How much you need is however much it take to feel confident in your work.