The Real Setting for my Story World

Taken from the corner of the fuel doc on 12-1-2014

The west corner of St. Helens Marina taken from the corner of the fuel dock on 12-1-2014

One of the main settings in my novel Checkmate First Mate is St. Helens Marina, Oregon. It’s a very real and dynamic location even though the characters, homes, and businesses in my novel are all creations of my imagination. It’s been at least ten years since I visited St. Helens Marina, until today. This picture shows one of the river homes amid the moorage slips. It also shows the steep hillside with homes facing the river, but the one I created in the novel doesn’t really exist.

path up the hill

The path that leads up the hill from the marina still winds through overgrown bushes with uneven rock steps.

The family ownership aspect of the marina was spawned by a conversation with a lively old local seaman, many years ago. I do not remember anything else of his story, it may have been a historical fact or rumor. It’s really more a memory of a story and was probably from one of our first visits to the marina.

It was one of our favorite excursions, navigating Multnomah Channel from the Willamette River to where it joins the mighty Columbia at St. Helens.

There are two scenes in the novel which feature the path up the hill and I was happy to see it is still there, and as raw and overgrown as I remember.

cropped town

Cropped town hallThe old town section of St. Helens looks as charming as I remember with the historic buildings and classic movie theater. For a Monday afternoon in December there were a lot more people and cars in the historic district than I expected. It also felt very spruced up and cared for with pride.

Two enticing shops were stocked with local crafts and antiques. There was a catering/bakery with enough aromas sneaking through the cracks, of tightly sealed doors, that my mouth watered in the brisk winter air.

The smell of buttered popcorn surrounded the entrance of the movie theater even though it was closed. The windows were sparkling clean and the interior featured red velvet and gold braided ropes reminiscent of the luxury and magic of attending the cinema. It has not been turned into a high tech multiplex.

Now you know St. Helens and the marina are a real place you can visit even though the people and places featured in my novel are fiction.

The one factual piece in the novel relates to the cabin cruiser “Clown-N-Around” which was the boat we owned from 1998-2005. I was driving when the drive shaft broke and we were actually caught in the channel with nothing but a tiny oar. We did need a rescue but the current had taken us almost back to where we launched so it was more like a 20 minute tow, and there were lots of recreational boaters out that day, and no big barge was barreling down on us. Nor did we try sculling or harnessing the wind.

As of this week I am finally able to work on companion stories for some of the cast of characters introduced in Checkmate First Mate. I needed the inspiration of a road trip to local settings and some sections of St. Helens will probably appear in this new story.

Here’s some other scenes and views of the area that readers of my novel may recognize and enjoy!

Melanie and her mom Angela have a fun scene at a pavilion in the park and it looks bigger and better now.

Melanie and her mom Angela have a fun scene at a pavilion in the park. This one is bigger and more square than the one I featured.

Looking west, with a large cargo ship in the channel on the Columbia - probably half a mile from where I took the picture.

Looking west, with a large cargo ship navigating the channel on the Columbia, I think it is probably a quarter of a mile from where I was standing.

Looking north-east from the park in town. That's probably Washington and some of Sauvie Island.

Looking north-east from the park in town. That’s the Washington shoreline and a point of Sauvie Island.

Power in Poetry

My grammy nanny days are now a more reasonable two days per week. I’m getting my energy back, and working on my next novel. I’m also returning to – having the time and energy to make public what I find as super cool stuff online. Here’s another webbit I want to share. A teacher who has four core principles for his students and they are posted on the classroom wall.

Read Critically

Write Consciously

Speak Clearly

Tell Your Truth

Pause for Gratitude

When current events are troubling I make sure and pause for joyful noise. A Facebook link led me to a YouTube video of a really good children’s choir, which made me smile. But then I noticed in the list of referred links was one to the Eric Whitacre TED talk in 2011, where he shares his story about what led to his virtual choirs. The second choir includes 2051 videos from 58 different countries. It’s awesome. Listen and savor the harmonies that transcend race, age, or technology.

I’m very grateful for visionaries like Eric.

Passion to create peace

I’ve been rather quiet with posts to this blog because my online activity has been primarily with my tablet while babies are in the room. It’s a marvel to me that I can peruse so much on a sleek device wherever I have WiFi, and it even entertains a one-year-old.

I’ve read the following article a few times because it’s the first time I’ve considered an alternative to being pro-peace. The whole article is great but here’s the primary message of:

The Opposite of War and the Secret of Creativity” by Meryl Ann Butler […Read the whole article here…]

The essence of war is destruction. Therefore, its opposite is not peace, but creativity, which offers thrilling and deeply soulful nourishment to our bodies, minds, and spirits.

Peace is simply the byproduct of a dynamically creative society. It’s not the goal. So if we’ve set our sights on peace, we’ve set them too low.

A truly peace-full civilization is characterized by a dynamic dance of both practical and artistic creativity that nourishes the soul and elevates the spirit, sending a ripple effect of wellbeing throughout humanity.

While creativity includes the obvious variety of artistic expressions, such as painting, writing, music and theater, it includes more humble activities, too.   [Read More…].

Meryl Ann Butler conf 80x100Meryl Ann Butler is an award-winning artist, author, editor, labyrinth builder, speaker, and Renaissance woman who has offered presentations at A.R.E. since 1986. Her artwork hangs in hundreds of collections around the world, including those of Caroline Myss, Dr. C. Norman Shealy, Dr. Patch Adams, and the late Nelson Mandela.

This whole article struck a chord with me because I have wondered what could significantly replace the war-machine for humans. We love drama and without conflict there is no story. War is the ultimate conflict whatever the reasons enemies have for engaging in such activities.

Many in my family consistently watch movies based within wars, from Saving Private Ryan to The Last of the Mohicans. Epics like The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars are full of battles between “good” and “evil” that generate stories about courage, loyalty and more, and portray humans as the best they can be.

One dramatic truth that I’ve heard in various ways is, “happy families are boring” which means being part of a happy family equals being bored.  Even our sporting events are designed to be full of passion and drama to make us care about the players.

Passion refers to “a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something” and aligns with being creative. Passion, and courage, and challenge are only a few of the dynamic words used for the stories we care about.

Which makes me wonder – if humanity can evolve into a creative and peaceful race, what will happen to (or fulfill) our desire for drama? As peace is the absence of conflict would it be a boring story? Can we add passion to peace so it becomes dynamic?

Sprints and Twists

This may sound like an exercise post and it is as writing sprints and character twists are creative exercises.

My current tablet and BlueTooth keyboard behind the PDA and foldable keyboard I drafted a novel on in 2003.

My current tablet and BlueTooth keyboard behind the PDA and folding keyboard I drafted a novel on in 2003.

On Saturday the workshop for the monthly RCRW chapter meeting was a write-in. Write-ins are becoming popular among my writer friends. It’s a casual gathering at a home, or café, or restaurant where two or more writers gather with mini laptops to share being in a creative zone. If it sounds like a spiritual exercise, it’s that too.

Writer workshops often include inspirational prompts followed by ten or more minutes of silence where everyone writes, often with pens on paper. That’s not how we did it. The leader gave us a sentence and we had to verbally build on that for three minutes, creating a silly story that included fuzzy handcuffs. Then we began a writing challenge of producing 1,000 words in 1 hour. This is known as the “1K1H” Sprint. For a lighter challenge there’s one called, “The Dirty Thirty” which is a half-hour writing sprint.

The rules were to write as many words as possible on a new project, for the prize of a bottle of wine. Many of us wrote over fifteen hundred words and one wrote over two thousand. It was so fun some stayed in the room for a “Dirty Thirty” sprint.

The twists exercise for me was on Sunday. I arrived at my sisters’ home at noon for her help creating astrological charts that will represent the characters of my current work-in-process. I provide what I consider basic birth data for a character and she puts this into one of her astrological programs. Then we talk about the baggage and challenges that character will need for the story. She starts twisting the birth days and hours, occasionally the year, until the chart represents the potential talents and twists needed for the story I am creating. It’s a lot of fun to play god and align the stars to our intent.

The irony and biggest twist for me this weekend was that I kept getting hung up on the name of one of my characters. A friend and I came up with the name and thought it was great, while plot-storming at a café months ago. This is a pivotal character for the story, and the romantic plot, and I kept dithering over how to make the name work, or develop a nickname, for a 14-yr-old drama queen. In my defense, I’ve been preoccupied with more than writing this one novel in recent weeks. But now I’m in the zone and it wasn’t until I was leaving my sisters’ that I realized I could change this name to whatever I wanted. Duh.

This is one challenge of being a novelist. The characters can be so real on their initial appearance in my head that I name them. But as the character develops on the page my initial intent can change, and hence, the name may need to change. And as the author I can change anything that isn’t already published. This means, as a novelist I am also a work-in-process.

Ruffling Pages

I’m very tired and a bit euphoric. My author copies arrived from my publisher today. I am now holding a novel in my hand. My novel!

It was released in September of 2013 into the Amazon Prime program and by this February other ebook formats were available through Soul Mate Publishing and Barnes & Noble. And Now It’s In PRINT too.

The story to write this novel is a story of its own. Plus, one week after that initial release the Author Marketing 101 book I co-authored with C. Morgan Kennedy was also released, in all formats, with scheduled workshops and more for months. Grammy-nanny days were also claiming my energy, and there was a writer conference I co-coordinated this past March. (It’s all posted here on this blog.)

But now, The Book is here in my hand, and I am working on writing the stories that will be companion novels to this one. My universe has shifted. A dream I had is now a book I can hold.


Dark and Drippy Days

Oct 14 box 012I survived retRober by being very, very busy and rather quiet. The quiet related to both conversations and written exchanges because I felt primed and ready for a fight most of the month. As verbal debates are not my forte I’m sure I would have tripped over my tongue while putting a foot or two in my mouth. Daily prompts in my Facebook and Google+ social news feeds to practice gratitude and patience was good.

Being able to spend the majority of my time this month with two beautiful, healthy and happy grandchildren has been awesome. There’s a lot to learn and contemplate when observing how much joy and laughter happens with empty boxes and tossing dirty laundry.

With Robbie and his other grandma, Stormie, Kaedence and I have an hour long excursion on Thursday mornings to the library for Tiny Tots songs, story time, toys, and bubbles. Then Kaedence naps for more than two hours! One-year-old is a magical age in the life of a child, and it’s very short. She’s solidly into her toddler stage and Robbie is only a few months behind. He’s got his first teeth and can roll or army crawl across a room pretty fast if there’s some shiny electronic components, or wires, in sight. Every day I count it a blessing that I have this time with these little angels, and every evening I am totally thrilled to go home.

I feel I have nurtured my soul with my grammy-nanny duties though they were a lot longer and more intense than I expected. But that’s okay because one year is pretty short because I now measure my life by the decades.

I’ve been an active blogger for five years now, which is only a half decade, and this is the first time it’s been a whole month between posts. That will change soon because the other stuff I’ve been busy with is my transition from aspiring novelist to published novelist. One aspect of that is organizing storyboards and binders which is part of my writing process now, and really only interesting if you want to write novels. If you care you can read about it on the SMP author blog, then read all the other posts from other authors on topics that I find highly important, and they tell it better than I ever could.

Tomorrow is Halloween and I may go to a party, in costume. November is NaNoWriMo and I intend to meet a daily word count and whip a new novel into shape. So my days of being really busy and rather quiet may continue. There is too much drama going on around me right now and I’m taking notes for future novels. Dark and Drippy Days are great fodder for future romance novels.

October is here in Retro

October is here and I’ve seen it referred to as Rock-tober in more than one of my media feeds. I really don’t have the time or energy to research why October is rockin, so if you know, please share in the comments.

Here’s two links for really easy and simplified predictions for the month ahead. My advice for people who don’t know about rising and moon signs is to compare and contrast at least two or three of these type of short blurbs and have fun with it. These are general and mundane types of predictions so there’s nothing to fear.

Of course Mercury Retrograde is flavoring the entire month and Theresa Reed has a delightful essay explaining that at

handstands on the beach

A Day at the Beach – April 24th, 2012

This means it’s really Retro October this year and I’m probably going to think of it as RetROber. Which may be all the brainpower I have, or not. We’ll see.

My grammy-nanny days will continue as 12 hour days, 5 days a week, through October as my daughter completes her new job training period. I only have both babies three days a week, and the long days are with the one-year-old who is now walking, and takes nice long NAPS! And those days when I have both, they wear each other out now more than wear me out. My eldest daughters are only 13 months apart in age so I’m savvy with playing these babies together so I can stand back and be the clown. I’ve also got the right touch for babies to fall asleep in my arms. And they are adorable. Even so, I’m rather impressed that I’m holding strong through this level of daily non-stop exercise. I’m sure it’s research for something I’ll write about someday. It’s like I’m training for a marathon even though I have no intention to ever do anything like that. Marathons are not on my bucket list, the training is too grueling.

Writing for baby or parenting mags is not on my bucket list either. But I’m becoming utterly fascinated by these 20-to-30 something parents who entered their adult stage with college, careers, and choices, in their personal histories. They also have more technology than Star Trek, and can Google, Skype, and GPS their work commute to avoid traffic delays. They also have terrorists; climate change, global unrest on many layers, in addition to unknown assault weapons and meth labs in their neighborhoods. [This could explain the vampires, zombies, superheroes, and wizarding schools that they call entertainment.]

I’ve always loved October and the fall season. [I’m going to avoid ranting about Santa ads!] This is the season for celebration over the abundance we’ve sown through the year – that will sustain us until spring. [Unless you live in the southern hemisphere and are beginning your summer fun!]

This October is going to be a good time to rewind and reflect on a personal basis.

For at least one month of your life, this October, make the effort to ignore anything and everything that generates fear, stress, or worry.

Review, refresh, redo, relax. Re-purpose, re-train, re-new…

“Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” Hellen Keller

Rainy Days are Writing Days

92414 005It smells like fall here in Oregon, and the cloudy skies and intermittent drizzles is great for reading and writing. I’m fascinated to review the past year, or twelve, with my sister as we discuss astrology aspects. Having grammy-nanny duties (currently full-time) has made me do a lot of reassessing of my time and energy.

I can tell I am now in better shape physically than I have been for years because babies don’t allow an “I’m tired and I just want to sit” excuse. Both of them are capable of entertaining themselves with my attention to occasional games and songs. Robbie is sitting up and rolling everywhere, Kaedence is walking and now has her first pair of sneakers! The play really well together and wear each other out so take long naps at the same time. That’s when I’m resting too.

I am amazed at the difference technology has brought to my lifestyle since I was raising my own babies. I’ve also been fascinated to be active in a variety social media venues but mostly as an observer this past  year. By the holiday season I will be a full-time writer again (while returning to part time grammy-nanny duties) and know that social media will be part of my career activities. I intend to have fun with it.

But for now, I am still enthralled with truly living in the moment day-by-day. It is such a rare opportunity when a baby discovers their toes for the first time, or a toddler squeezes a wilting rose and is splashed with rain water. Everything is worthy of laughter, clapping, and singing.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened

I recently read the final chapters of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess.

Jenny’s blog has an international readership and I am a fan. This made reading her book like a fan-girl experience for me, which is very rare.

Like most of Jenny’s posts, the stories and phrasing in this book triggered  some awe; there were many loud  guffaws, snorts, and more than a few cringes. Like some posts The Bloggess has shared through the years, there were stories where I shed an empathetic tear or two.

It’s a 5 star ribald and wandering open window into an alien world.  I personally can’t relate to anything Jenny presents in this memoir. I personally related to everything Jenny presents in this memoir. How is that possible? I’ve never been to Texas and only once stepped into a taxidermist shop.

That’s the beauty of good writing and great storytelling. The words on the page traveled through my psyche as a reader, a reader the author probably never imagined would read her book. It’s not that Jenny and I couldn’t be friends if we were neighbors or met at a PTA function but logistically that would never happen. She’s in Texas, I’m in Oregon and my PTA days were in New Jersey.

I now plan to have this book forever perched on my desk so any time I see one of those prompts to pick up the closest book and turn to page #, sentence #, I’ll have a random sentence and paragraphs to enhance the content. I usually avoid those prompts but now feel I’ll enjoy using this book.

This memoir allowed me to be a reader, and that’s a wonderful opportunity for a writer.  I am glad This Mostly True Memoir happened even if it did take eleven years, and I am totally glad I happened upon it in a local bookshop.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: