Dixie Darr

Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

The Reading Life

In Books, Learning, writing on September 22, 2017 at 6:29 am

Two of the things I like most about Kindle are the ability to publish things quickly and to publish things that are less than standard book length, for instance, short stories as Kindle Singles.

Traditionally published authors use these capabilities to extend their brands, attract new readers and nourish old readers during the year or more long drought between published books. They write and publish short stories about much-loved characters and introduce new characters to their readers.

I read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan not long after it came out in 2012, and it charmed me with its offbeat characters and storyline. It featured a bookstore, technology, the key to eternal life, a secret society, and a mystery all rolled into one slim volume. I loved it.

When Sloan’s new novel, Sourdough, came out this month, I immediately ordered it from the library, and I also noticed a Kindle Single prequel to the first book titled, Ajax Penumbra, 1969. Only 61 pages long, it was the perfect quick read while I waited to receive Sourdough. After reading the prequel, I wanted to reread Mr. Penumbra and found the audio version on Hoopla.

I still have a while to wait for Sourdough to come in, and that gives me time to read Lisa Scottoline’s latest Rosato and Associates book, Exposed and who knows what other lovely stories?

Book nineteen in my favorite Bellingwood series by Diane Greenwood Muir comes out Monday, and I have three books to pick up at the library on Saturday.

Life is good.

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Tag, You’re It

In Church, writing on September 15, 2017 at 7:21 am

People tell me they like these posts and wonder why I’m writing them. Do I plan to collect them into a book? Nope.

I started writing them for Advent last year. I’ve pared my Christmas down to about as simple as it can get. I don’t participate in gift giving or parties. My decorations consist of two 4-foot trees and a collection of teddy bears. I do write a Christmas letter and mail a dozen or so cards. I don’t attend a family dinner, but I look forward to the Christmas Eve candlelight service at church.

So I wanted to do some kind of Advent devotional to force myself to think about the meaning of Christmas every day leading up to the holiday. Those books that direct you to read this or that Bible verse and read a short piece illustrating the point just don’t do it for me. Truth be told, I’m not much for reading the Bible.

I decided to write my own daily devotional using secular Christmas stories. It was a challenge that had me scrambling to find short stories, poems, essays, songs and cartoons to write about. It required discipline and it was fun.

Then came Lent, a longer season but only six days a week, and I did the same thing. My theme was Season of Change. Again, I enjoyed the daily demand of finding something to write about, and friends asked me to please not stop when Lent ended.

Now I write around 300 words five days a week. No theme unifies the posts although several topics pop up regularly. I’m surprised at how often, for example, I write about church since I’m not especially religious (see above). Still, my church is an important part of my life, and I write about whatever refuses to let loose of my mind. Frequently subjects come to me in the middle of the night.

I make notes, look up quotations or news stories, and try to organize them into a coherent whole. More often than not, the endings surprise me. Like many writers, I don’t know what I think about something until I work it out on the page.

My only goal is to get things off my mind and onto yours.

Y is for Yesterday

In Books, creativity, writing on August 31, 2017 at 6:46 am

Sue Grafton’s beloved alphabet mystery series started with A is for Alibi in 1982 when protagonist Kinsey Millhone was 32. Thirty-five years and most of the alphabet later, she has only aged seven years. More importantly, the world has only aged seven years.

In Kinsey’s world, people must rely on public telephones or other landlines. They listen to music on a Sony Walkman and still use video tape. The detective can’t use computer databases or the internet. She types her reports on an old manual typewriter. Social media consists of actually talking to one another.

Sometimes as a reader, I get impatient with this. We’ve all moved on; why can’t Kinsey? On the other hand, I think it was a good choice because otherwise she would now be 67 and the books would have a much different flavor. I know a few people who are still badass at that age, but they don’t get into physical confrontations, or if they do, they don’t come out of them as unscathed as would someone in her thirties. On the other hand, if I can be permitted three hands, it would be fun to see what she would be like at 67.

In Y is for Yesterday, the story returns to 1979 when a group of wealthy high schoolers gets in trouble by filming a sexual assault and then turning to murder when the tape goes missing. Back in 1989 when the murderer goes free, the tape resurfaces and threatens to unravel the lives of the students, now young adults involved.

As Kinsey tries to untangle what happened, she also faces danger from the man who almost killed her in her last case and some family problems without her usual support system. Landlord Henry at 89 seems like a sap for letting two homeless people take advantage of him.

Grafton, of course, is at the height of her powers as a writer, but as a friend pointed out, nobody except Kinsey was the least bit likable in this book. Maybe that’s why I didn’t find it as compelling as most of her earlier works. I always try to stretch them out as long as possible, especially as we near the end of the series. Usually, that means a book may last three days. This one took me a whole week to read.

In a couple of years, we’ll get the final book in the series. Any guesses as to what Z is for? It will take all of Grafton’s skill to wrap up this series in a satisfying way, but I think she’s up for it.

Morning Has Broken

In creativity, Home, Learning, solitude, spirituality, writing on August 18, 2017 at 6:23 am

I love mornings.
I won’t apologize for being a morning person. My circadian rhythms were set at birth or maybe at conception. Who knows? You may hate me for what I’m going to say next, but I’m just trying to tell the truth.
I never have to use an alarm clock to wake up in the morning.
I’ve never had a cup of coffee.
Those particular morning rituals strike me as a really hideous way to start the day. Using an alarm to blast you out of sleep means you miss that wonderful floaty moment or two when you first rise to consciousness, when you don’t quite remember what day it is or what happened yesterday and what’s to come today. That momentary amnesia lets you ease into the day slowly, gradually, naturally.
Coffee brings the second mini explosion to wake up your brain. Having never experienced this myself, I rely on cultural stereotypes, and they seem singularly negative, as in “I can’t do anything until I’ve had my first cup of coffee.”
Things I love about mornings:
The soft pink and gold light that comes with sunrise. The windows of my apartment all face north, so I can’t see the sunrise without leaving the building. Instead, I enjoy the way it paints everything like a watercolor wash.
The quiet and time alone with my thoughts. Many writers get up early to write before being distracted by the ordinary busyness of the day. Even the dog walkers aren’t out yet.
Birdsong.
Maybe what I appreciate the most is the promise of a new day. Yes, I have things on my calendar that I need to get done, even though I’m no longer working in the accepted sense of the word. And, yes, these days bad things seem to happen every day that TV news channels, online newspapers, and my Facebook feed insist on pushing into my awareness.
But for right now, I can ignore those things and imagine a day when only pleasant events occur and enlightening thoughts fill my head. Someday, that will come true.
Maybe today.

Open the Doors

In Church, writing on August 3, 2017 at 6:13 am


I’ve never been a student of history. I hear the quotation “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” and I think, “yeah, yeah, yeah.” I tend to agree with Kurt Vonnegut that “we’re doomed to repeat the past no matter what.”
So maybe I wasn’t the best person to update our church’s history for our 125th anniversary later this year. On the other hand, I am the oldest member of the trustees, the one who’s been at Highlands the longest, and the only one who ever worked as a writer.
Lucky for me, the history of the first 100 years had already been written in 1992 by the late Ruth Wiberg, author of the still popular Rediscovering Northwest Denver and a lifelong member of our church.
It’s the only church I’ve attended as an adult, and I probably take it for granted because I have nothing to compare it with. Interviewing former pastors and longtime members is teaching me what a special place it is.
They speak fondly of their time here. They describe the congregation as “open,” “caring,” and “kind.” Members who move to another state tell us they hope to find another church just like ours.
My favorite Christian author, John Pavlovitz, once proposed starting the Church of Not Being Horrible, whose sacred calling is “to be decent, to be kind, to be compassionate, to be whatever it is that we believe the world is lacking.”
I think we are that church.
We trustees have charge over the building, making sure it lives on into the future. Sometimes I have to remind myself that the church isn’t the building, it’s the people. Nobody’s perfect here, but we’re all trying to do the best we can, be the best we can, and help one another as best we can.
It’s that kind of place.

Not Always Pretty

In creativity, writing on June 23, 2017 at 6:58 am

Something remarkable happened this morning. I looked in the mirror and liked what I saw. I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I could say that. It didn’t last. The next time I glanced up, that person was gone. Mostly, I don’t know the woman in the mirror, and I don’t recognize myself in photographs, except old ones from a time when I did regularly look in the mirror.

I don’t give much thought to what I look like anymore, which should be obvious to anyone looking at me. (Stop that!) I haven’t worn makeup for twenty years. I forget to check and make sure that my hair isn’t sticking out at odd angles. When that inevitably happens, I hope you’ll think I’m being deliberately edgy and not just negligent.

Many years ago a colleague asked me what I thought was my best feature. I guess he wanted me to say something like my eyes or my smile because he seemed annoyed when I answered, “My mind.”

I was actually rephrasing an old song from Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention that hardly anybody would remember called What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body – “I think it’s your mind.”

People tell me I think too much, and I definitely live inside my head. It’s different in here and kind of a mess. I don’t always know what I think about things until I work it out here on the page.

Think of these daily posts as a peek inside my mind, unquestionably my best feature.

It isn’t always pretty and it doesn’t show up in mirrors, but it did let me use that silly picture to give you a giggle on Friday morning.

What does LGBTQIA spell?

In Learning, spirituality, writing on June 14, 2017 at 6:12 am

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, June 26, 1988, I was in San Francisco on business with the woman who owned the small consulting company I worked for. We went sightseeing with me driving the rental convertible. As we drove down Castro street, I focused on navigating through the unfamiliar city, and she suddenly started yelling obscene things at people on the sidewalk.
“What are you doing?” I asked, shocked and horrified, as I made our turn.
She told me, still laughing and shouting, that men in costumes wearing state banners as if from a beauty contest were walking down the street.
I hadn’t seen a thing. In my defense, I’m not a people watcher, and I was driving. I found out later that we had happened upon the Lesbian and Gay Pride parade, but at that moment on Castro Street, I learned that I worked for a bigot.
That was 29 years ago, 19 years after the Stonewall Rebellion that sparked the gay rights movement, almost ten years after the assassination of Harvey Milk, and at the height of the AIDS epidemic. I guess you could say we’ve come a long way, Baby, but we still have plenty of work to do. I’ve met more than my share of bigots in the past 30 years, and I bet you have, too.
As with many marginalized groups, the preferred term keeps changing. Someone once told me she’d grown up Mexican, become Chicana, then Hispanic, and was now Latina.
I’d just gotten used to LGBT (or GLBT) when someone added a Q. For the record, I’ve also seen it with up to three Ts (transsexual, transgender, and two-spirit), two Qs (questioning and queer), and two As (asexual and ally).
A friend heard that it’s now LGBTQIA and asked in exasperation what the IA stood for.
“The rest of us,” she was told.
I think maybe that’s the point.
“We all have a gender identity and a sexual orientation and these things all fall along a vast and complicated continuum,” according to progressive minister and blogger John Pavlovitz. (http://johnpavlovitz.com/) That works for me. We all fit somewhere along that continuum although probably not in the neat little boxes we recognize.
I detest that LGBTQ people continue to face derision and danger. It makes me want to weep and scream and throw things. Instead, I write, and I yearn for a time when that no longer happens.
Then we can label the continuum A-Z, and once we have the whole alphabet accounted for, we’ll discover that it spells unity, equality, and love.
It spells one.

Essentials

In Auntie Flat, Home, Learning Tools, writing on May 24, 2017 at 10:39 am

Some things are just so essential that you have to have them with you at all times. No, I don’t mean my phone.

Reading glasses are a necessity for me. I have them in every room of my house plus a pair in my car and in my purse. I keep three pairs in the common room – one at my computer, one at my work table and one where I read and use my iPad or Fire tablet. I need readers because I may break out a book at any time.

Of course books live everywhere, too. The Kindle containing 600 books goes in my purse when I leave the house so I never have to face the predicament of being somewhere without reading material. Every flat surface in the house and some not-so-flat places hold stacks of books. As that wag Cicero said, “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” My car is home to several audio books as well as library books on their way to or from the library, plus I have the Kindle in my purse.

Writing materials also proliferate. I never know when I’m going to have a brilliant thought that I have to record. I keep several journals in different places including a small notebook at my bedside for things that pop into my head as I drift off to sleep.

My phone (you thought I’d forgotten about the phone, didn’t you?) goes with me when I drive, walk, or go to the gym. I use it to listen to audio books from the library. I could also use it to take or record notes, but I don’t. Instead, I keep an index card and a pencil in the case. I’m not a Luddite; nor am I addicted to my phone. Typically, on the rare occasion that it rings, I can’t locate it before the ringing stops. Oh, well.

As far as food goes, on heavy snow days when everyone runs to the store for milk, bread, and eggs, I stock up on popcorn, butter, and diet Coke.

With these necessities, I can make it through just about anything.

One Thing Leads to Another

In Books, creativity, Learning, Learning Tools, writing on May 18, 2017 at 11:59 am

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve taken a circuitous route through life, with eccentric interests, oddball jobs, and curious relationships. The organizing principle is lifelong learning, so I suppose it wasn’t surprising that I chose to earn a master’s degree in Adult Education.

Two books by Ron Gross, The Lifelong Learner and The Independent Scholar’s Handbook, had captivated my imagination because I wanted to learn everything, and I preferred to do it on my own. While working on my thesis, I found another book that encapsulated everything I wanted in life. The Adult’s Learning Projects by Allen Tough describes the deliberate efforts to learn undertaken by adults of all ages.

He found that an astounding 98% of adults participate in an average of eight learning projects per year. Those he called High Learners spent 2,000 hours per year in 15-20 learning projects.

I have found that one interest inevitably leads me to a number of related mini projects. In fact, the independent scholars’ motto is “One thing leads to another.”

Here’s a personal example.

A couple of years ago, I decided to write a cozy mystery. Although I had never before been interested in writing fiction, I certainly read enough of it.

I started making notes and decided I needed to learn about writing fiction, which led to reading dozens of books (my preferred learning method) on the topic.

I learned to use Scrivener software for writers.

My story was set in the imaginary town of Mayhem Gulch, located in Clear Creek County, near Empire and Idaho Springs. Yes, I know Mayhem Gulch is a trail head in Jefferson County. Work with me, people; this is fiction. Anyway, that meant I had to learn about that part of the world. More books and a few trips to the mountains. Now I have a Facebook friend who lives there and has agreed to answer some of my questions.

My plan is for a series of Tiny House Mysteries leading to an online study of tiny houses and the people who live in them.

Since I want to draw the book cover, I need to learn how to draw and how to design book covers. I also want to draw a map of my fictional town.

Finally, I will have to acquire knowledge of indie publishing.

Unfortunately, all these side paths have distracted me from the original goal of writing the book. And I haven’t even mentioned the things I want to learn that don’t have anything to do with the book. You probably won’t be surprised that I’m now reading about how to juggle many projects.

It’s always something.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

In creativity, Lent - Season of Change, writing on March 20, 2017 at 10:04 am

Lent – Season of Change, Day 17

Doing the same thing over and over again every day may not seem like a recipe to change your life, but Srinivas Rao says it is. The host of a popular podcast on creative entrepreneurship, The Unmistakable Creative, and author of several books on similar topics, he believes the regular focus on developing his craft yielded some incredible outcomes. He began receiving speaking requests, produced a conference, published his first book and kept writing, much of it admittedly garbage.

It started, however, with his commitment to reaching his daily goal. He wrote when it wasn’t convenient and when he really didn’t want to. He wrote when he didn’t have anything to say.

This is, of course, how to get good at anything. Practice. The well-known if highly misunderstood 10,000 hour rule requires deliberate practice to progress in any skill, even for those with exceptional talent. The nice thing is, it works for everybody, talented or not.