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.

Sounds of Music but No Story

We were excited to view the live remake of the Broadway version of The Sound of Music as Ed and I only know the 1965 movie, however, we know it really well. The videos of our first tour through Salzburg in 1992 includes visiting the gardens and gazebo from the movie with me in Maria (Julie Andrews) poses. Ed even spliced in clips from the movie so our young daughters would recognize where their parents were in those same movie scene locations.

Ed and I were in Salzburg again in 2008 and took the “Sound of Music” tour and loved it, especially singing all the songs on the bus. The Austrian locals are amused by tourists, who are so in love with the movie and songs, as they feel the true story is more interesting. But the Hollywood version has helped fund a lot of estate repairs and garden maintenance in the past four decades, so it’s an extra layer of story for locals and movie fans to discuss.

This Thursday was a live TV event so we made movie-night-plans and that’s why we watched all the way to the end. If we were alone and at home Ed and I would have given up after the first, or second, commercial break. But our niece Kathy, and her children (ages 8 & 10) had planned for this special evening with pillows and popcorn, all week. Kathy has theatrical training and is a professional singer, Ed is a Carrie Underwood fan, and I was hoping for some story flavor relating to the Maria Von Trapp memoir I’d read years ago.

We were all disappointed.

It’s sad if this epic fail is hung on the talent of the actors. That’s wrong because they were doing their best to live up to legendary heroes. It’s the directors, and writers, and objectives of the producers (maybe ad dollars to cover the $9 million cost?) that need to be questioned as to how a story this strong, and an amazing cast, would present three hours of lame and confused entertainment.

It’s good that I have no memories of the original Broadway musical but I’ll now have nightmares about bobbing heads under the bed singing about the goat-herd romance. There was no relationship building, no romance, and no story value to the historical events.  Even worse, the passion and purpose for living that was threatened with The Third Reich regime was lost in bad acting and awkward scene staging.

Kathy’s children were wide awake and totally confused by the end of the show. Fortunately, the Hollywood movie version will answer most of their questions.

As I have edelweiss both preserved in glass and in paintings on my walls, I was not pleased with the fake daisy-like flowers Carrie clutched at one point.

The irony of all this is today I was communicating with Kristina McMorris – bestselling author of Letters from Home, Bridge of Scarlet Leaves, and most recently The Pieces We Keep to create  a workshop about weaving historical and factual character details into your story in fresh, succinct ways to maintain pacing – and her novels are framed by WWII.

Our history includes greater horrors than wars and it can be silly when those stories are portrayed through a romance with song and dance. Maybe Carrie Underwood fans will be curious enough now to learn some history and why the Von Trapp Family story was worthy of being “remade.” Maybe they’ll be engaged in news worthy events to suddenly hear the name Nelson Mandela.

There’s a reason for everything, and I always try to put a positive spin on the hypocrisy of spectacles I observe.

A Discovery of Witches – A Novel

I always love when a book with a tantalizing title also has “A Novel” in tiny text on the cover. This is important to note as it means there’s truth between the pages, and the potential for emotional journeys and entertainment for the reader.

A Discovery of WitchesMy sister recently read A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness and handed it to me as a “must read” with the qualification that Ms. Harkness is a historian with a variety of scholarly credentials and an award winning Wine Blog! That’s a triple score for me. I promised a friend she could read it after me so I started reading on Sunday morning, without even a glance at the blurb, and by the time I hit page 200 I had to pause and laugh because:

1. Nothing had really happened yet in the story

2. I was reading a vampire romance (I don’t!)

3. There’s all kinds of history and science references discussed – in a library (No Action!)

4. I was having the most enjoyable reading experience!

I finished this book on Tuesday afternoon, an hour before leaving for grandson activities. I’m a fast reader but I closed the book for a leisurely excursion with Ed on Sunday, and took care of all kinds of home/work tasks while in the flow of the story. This is a book that does not grab-you-by-the-throat-to-keep-turning-pages-in-nail-biting-need-to-find-out-what-happens-while-you-burn-dinner-can’t-sleep-  BUT it does tantalize in the opening paragraph and continues to do so, with every word.

It’s a book to savor, and I will many times, because as a writer I reread and review. Stories that improve with each reread – remain. And this is one I will reread soon, when I get it back from my friend, and before I lend it to my daughter.

The final chapters revealed that this stage of the story is over, in only 579 pages and with no surprise tornado, and all the characters wandered away to rest and regroup for when the next stage of the story will begin. Fortunately book 2 is already available, but it’s a trilogy and according to the author’s website the final part is still in process.  I’m content with book one.

Here’s what the story is about that makes it timely/or timeless:  forbidden love. Two species may not mingle. Witches and Vampires cannot be friends – or marry. This basic plot has been part of the human social order during my life whether it was illegal for blacks and whites to marry, or Jew-gentile, same sex partners, or even those forbidden marriages between Catholics & Christians! What makes A Discovery of Witches unique is it includes the forbidden marriage between science and magic.

I love characters who know their stuff when they discuss technology, philosophy, science, history, magic, and moon phases. I’m a really picky reader with lots of go-to authors so I will pass by many books unless someone I trust says, “You’ve gotta read this.”

I’m glad I did.

This story includes libraries, a family homestead, herbal teas, cookies, and a variety of great wines – all my comforts. I’d add most of the characters to my Christmas Card mailing list even though their addresses exist in the 4th dimension. Sigh.

A Novel can take decades to create and be read in a few hours or days by a reader. Yet when a classic plot is transformed to explore a social truth in a new way, the reader benefits from that point of view.

The story begins with an old book and I have a collection of old books from my dad. Now I’m fighting a sudden urge to go inhale their dusty scent and feel the energy of the covers. Now I also have this truth repeating in my head:

A Novel is only created in a Write Mind when Time has no hold on the story.

Not the cover – it’s about the back

Kate on the riverIt’s fascinating to now be accomplishing preliminary tasks to publish a novel, like filling out a W-9 tax form. Then there’s the dedication, acknowledgements, back cover blurb, and the form to fill out for an artist to design the cover.

The cover is THE primary part of marketing a novel. It’s got to do a lot at first glance. This picture of our daughter, on the bow of our boat, was the one I chose years ago to use when mocking up a cover image of my story.

Yes, the most common reaction from those who hear I signed a contract to publish a novel is – it’s about time.

Creating a cover while still writing the novel is a visualization exercise, or law of attraction principle, to making dreams tangible. Having that fun cover image, with title and author name, was a good thing because this novel spent a lot of years as a forgotten file, or a pile of pages in a binder tucked into a cabinet.

But that cover image would pop up, like a bad penny, and I’d be reminded of the characters, the story, and I’d pause to give the pages some attention. This was always with an – I wonder how I can apply what I’ve learned, about writing, to this story? The characters wouldn’t die yet the story lacked conflict and drama, which was abundant in my life.

Tree of life tattoo

The above picture was taken in July of 2005, the boat was for sale so it was our last time on the river. It was between my mom’s funeral in May and my dad’s funeral in August. Ed was still in chronic pain, and taking toxic drugs, then.

Now, looking at that cover image I created with that picture all I can say is, “What was I thinking?” The story takes place in March, in Oregon, and the cold and windy Columbia River is a primary setting. There are no bathing suits on display in March, on the Columbia.

However, this is the perfect example of how things change in just a few years, because that daughter has an entirely different back. This daughter is now married, pregnant, and buying her first home. She “gets” that the tree of life is all about the seasons.

the business of story

I watched the premier of Once Upon A Time tonight and enjoyed it. I plan to study all the techniques of storytelling woven into this new show. It’s got fantasy, time  travel, the potential for some kick-assitude and more. It’s heartening there’s something new and creative on TV.

I’ve read all kinds of books and watched a variety of movies these past few months with the flavor of preparing for final exams. The intimate conference I attended in April was packed full of advice and processes for a career as an author. Agents and editors agreed an author today should embrace all venues of publishing available (print, electronic & self) and create marketing processes through social networking.

In my network of writers we all consider November as the month to begin a new project because of the NaNoWriMo focus. Last year Larry Brooks was vocal about how this is a waste of time for writers as it only produces text, not story. This year he’s taken a different route and has blogged daily at through October to present ways to prepare for National Writing Month so all that words-on-the-page effort will be beneficial. It’s because of his posts that I’ve been creating a story template for my use in the upcoming weeks.

On the 23rd the new moon will be in Scorpio. It will also be my lunar return in my 4th house, so I could be in a bit of a daze that day. I’m ready for new routines and projects and have been considering a variety of options while saturating myself with books and movies. Since my sis is an astrologer I was forewarned of this stellar aspect and have been conscientious to choose carefully where I focus my energy on the story of my life.

On the 28th,  Jupiter (expansion) and Pluto(permanent transformation) get together in a beneficial way and suddenly, you get it.  Sydney Omarr’s Astro Insights

This is an awesome prediction for the 28th as that day begins the Emerald City Writer’s Conference. A lot of my writer friends and favorite authors will be there and it will have the flavor of an annual reunion. As Rachelle Gardner posted today, there’s a steep learning curve between aspiring novelist and published author but the conferences are one the perks.

My mermaid tail for the masquerade on Saturday is almost done…

setting the stage

I’m creating a novel template for myself. I’m combing through my craft binders and books to get an organized structure for my future stories since I’ve always gone forth on a new project with barely a clue. It was tons of fun finding the story along the way. The only rule was to begin –

in medias res,( Latin: “in the midst of things”) in narrative technique, the recommended practice of beginning an epic or other fictional form by plunging into a crucial situation that is part of a related chain of events; the situation is an extension of previous events and will be developed in later action. The narrative then goes directly forward, and exposition of earlier events is supplied by flashbacks. The principle is based on the practice of Homer in the Iliad and the Odyssey. The Iliad,for example, begins dramatically with the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon during theTrojan War.

The Trojan War ended a few years ago but its lesson of a gift horse being a prelude to disaster is still current. A romance reader knows from the first pages that the hero and heroine are going to get their happily ever after, after a few disasters. What separates a good story from a mediocre one is how those disasters are staged.

In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind the story is staged as beginning when it really has ended and the movie is halfway over before the audience has a clue that this whole story is “in medius res”. The movie also didn’t get funny or fascinating until it was half over when the real story was suddenly revealed as a twisting mire through time and memories.

What I learned from this movie (and all the library books and movies I’ve been randomly selecting) is – there’s really no reason for me to write anything. Every theme and story is already written. I certainly have opinions on them all but that whole angst and months of aggravation to write a new story? Not needed.

So I can approach my whole process of writing romantic fiction as a joy, a passion, and not as a paycheck or because I’m so desperately tortured by the brilliance of my muse. Instead, I can sit for hours writing stories because I love it and have the skills to do so well enough to entertain readers. I’m pretty sure the text only book will be around for a few more decades even if it is on an electronic reader. The whole ebook thing is a a Trojan Horse to some…

So while I can’t promote  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as delightful entertainment, if you’re a writer and want to get a clue about the concept of “in medius res” this is a movie to watch, and learn.

the most memorable

Dancing with the Stars tonight was about the story the stars wanted to tell as being the most memorable in their life. The stories were all good though some were more powerful than others. Then they all danced.

The movie Footloose became a cult hit in 1984 but the theme of dancing in celebration is timeless. I hope a remake of this movie will have the same impact in 2011 because I applaud anything that inspires us to get up and dance.

What makes a story memorable is the transformation it inspires and the journey taken afterwards. No matter how tragic or joyful an event may be to become the most memorable, it is the the journey then taken after the turning point that makes a story powerful. Then, it is time to learn to dance.

While watching DWTS tonight, I found myself weighing all the turning points in my life to decide which was the most memorable. There are so many! They are all interconnected to my personal life story! One would not have mattered without others. But eventually I did settle on one specific event that put me on a path I would never have chosen to travel.

The event was in September of 2002 and I was suddenly making choices I never would have made, and embarking on a journey I would never have chosen. I swam in dark and turbulent waters but also found myself perched on the occasional tropical beach to bask in the sun. It’s always good to determine when and why we took the path less traveled. It is often tempting to stagnate at the edge of the pond.

As I listened to the stories that were most memorable for this seasons dancers I felt a connection to all of them. Each story had a before, during, and after message. We become nostalgic for the before story, the during story is full of conflict and choices. The after story is where the transition becomes the new journey. It’s scary.

And then, we learn to dance.

New Resolutions

We are not New Years resolution people in my family but it’s not because we don’t honor the tradition.  Instead we have always considered February as being a much better time of the year to assess when whole life improvements need to be made.

There’s really nothing else going on in February and it has the bonus of being the last gasp of winter while the days are getting longer.  Resolutions will benefit from being mulled over and tested prior to the first day of spring.  It feels right to begin a new cycle with the spring equinox.

Of course there’s a lot of astrology and historical traditions that support this spring time frame for initiating a new story for your life.  So our New Years resolutions in my family, if made at all, can be as powerful as  “I will wear socks tomorrow.”

Even so, I did intend to rise this morn and put my energy into story projects that matter to me and need my attention.  Instead we had an early morning chimney fire that was high drama for over an hour but only impacted our life with a really clean chimney and a prayer of thanks we have a metal roof.   There was no need to call in the fire fighters, or even turn on the hose, but the potential was there.

When the chimney fire story was over, and we were in the resting stage of that drama, the phone rang.  I’ve become sensitive to phone calls in this age of email, sound-bites, and tweets.   Phone calls can seem nice and chatty but also herald huge transitions in the story of our lives.  I’ve had a few where the phone call didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but …  and I’ve had many others where the phone call was huge.

Today’s phone call was one of those- maybe this news will matter in the future- maybe not.  But I was distracted enough so I couldn’t quite get focused on my fictional stories and projects and instead chose to help someone else with their story project.  This is always good work for a writer because it engages the reader perspective brain cells.

I’m also fighting the current crud condition of stuffy, dry, dripping, coughing – and had the high drama bathroom experience of no fresh TP rolls in the cabinet.  At times like these it’s good when there’s someone else in the house to hear you yell.

In many ways I could look at today as being a total bust before lunch.  I had more dramas in a few hours than you’ll get in a week on a soap opera.  Yet this is common for me as some days are rather wild, other days are productive.

In February our oldest daughter will be in her own home. She’ll wake on March 1st, her 30th birthday, living a dream she’s dreamed for a decade.  Her life story will begin a new phase and I’ll smile that day knowing she’s going to learn one of the greatest lessons of life.

She’s going to learn the beauty of contentment.

In story-world, this essence of contentment is what’s labeled as the HEA – happily every after.  Many consider it a fantasy.  I know its attainable.

Contentment is something that needs to be recognized and embraced with both hands.  See it.  Feel it.  Know it.

Life is a whole different story.

bring in the new

Well, my NaNoWriMo goals got sidetracked with a new job for me and finding a new home for our daughter’s family.  These events happening in the same two week span disrupted my creative flow with details, discussions, and time-clock requirements.  The potential for future sassy, domestic dramas on the page is awesome.

Not only did I survive my Black Friday weekend experience in retail, I thrived and had fun.  The energy was super high and the noise deafening but I knew the secret was good shoes.  Years ago, I bought a pair of great clog shoes just like the ones my girls wore during their jobs as servers in restaurants.   My clogs looked worn, dirty and brown, but I pulled them out of the bottom of the bin, dusted them off and polished them black.  Voila!

In my experience items of quality that are forgotten in storage but for some reason not discarded, will return to a new purpose.  These old shoes were the foundation of my new adventure in the world of retail.  This is mirrored in the new home search for our daughters family, the foundation of their home matters as much as a good roof and appliances.

So while my word count this month has fizzled mid-stream, the potentials and layers of future stories is a delight.  I also know my process well enough to foresee events on the calendar where my job will be routine, and my grandsons content in their new home.   I may have failed at the NaNoWriMo challenge this year but what is on the page has the potential of being a good book during the long winter nights ahead.

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