A Vision with a View

Viewing the waters of Green Bay, Wisconsin at Door County's The Cliffhouse.

An option while staying at The Clearing Folk School is to spend a night at a rustic writer's retreat called The Cliffhouse.

An option while staying at The Clearing Folk School is to spend a night at a rustic writer’s retreat called The Cliffhouse.

The Muse Will Find You Here

A Vision and a Viewby Amy Laundrie

Where else could you be escorted into a retreat center by a pileated woodpecker who takes you past birch, maple, and cedars toward a friendly lodge with a stunning view of the shimmery waters of Green Bay? Where else but Door County’s The Clearing.
    As soon as I entered The Clearing’s 128-acres, I breathed easier. Named The Clearing for the school’s purpose, to clear away the mind in order to find renewal and enlightenment, I witnessed the miraculous.  As the week progressed, guests gladly abandoned cell phones, the internet and T.V. shows to spend time in the natural world.
    The Clearing is the vision of Danish-born naturalist and landscape architect, Jens Jensen, who established it in 1935 when he was 75 years old. Chicagoans applaud Jens Jensen because of his design work at various parks including Lincoln, Douglas and Columbus.
    Made from native stone and wood, The Clearing’s buildings include the Jens Jensen visitor center, the main lodge, Schoolhouse, Workshop and housing. Visitors revel in hidden spaces such as a star gazing mound where viewers comfortably lay back for a spectacular view, a labyrinth, and even a dance ring.    
    Classes ranging in length from two days to week-long offer instruction in arts, fine crafts, humanities, and natural sciences. Imagine quilting, making fine furniture, journal or memoir writing, bird watching, glass fusing, photography, weaving, wood carving, hiking, rug hooking, yoga, or participating in a class called “Touch the Earth; Love the Earth.”
    I was one of the eleven students lucky enough to attend Marion Moran’s environmental class this past September. Night walks, star gazing, discussions, readings and field trips comprised the week. The highlight was an evening stroll on a remote beach where, under a full moon, Marion read inspirational quotes. We then sang, lit sparklers, and pranced about on the beach like joyous children.
    Guests can stay in cottages for single or double occupancy or the large dorm which accommodates five. When the cook rings the bell, people head to the lodge to enjoy the conversation of like-minded people and the cuisine worthy of any five star restaurant. Beautifully presented, served family style, guests feast on such dishes as huge french toast slices stuffed with cream cheese and cherries, buttery white fish, or the superb butternut squash enchiladas. Favorite treats included chewy chocolate – oat – chip cookies and perfectly ripe strawberries dipped in creamy chocolate.
    As an added adventure, I signed up to stay in The Cliffhouse, a rustic shelter tucked into the limestone rocks. Without running water or a toilet, and with a tiny unseen roommate who squeaked, it took some courage on my part. The bat or mouse stopped its squeaking once it knew it wasn’t going to scare me off, and together we welcomed the night.
    Thunder and wind serenaded us. Lightning lit up the rocky shore of the waters of Green Bay far below. I lit candles, made a fire in the fireplace, and threw sprigs of cedar on the flames to enjoy their crackle and aroma.
    Inspired, I wrote until sleep overtook me, then arose before 4:00 a.m. to write until breakfast. It was during a conversation with director Michael Schneider later that day that I learned Jens Jensen had built The Cliffhouse for himself so he could have a private place to write.
    My stay over, I slowly drove away. I paused before pulling onto the paved road, Jens Jensen’s words echoing in the woods. “A mighty oak, a motherly elm, a poetic birch, a friendly maple all speak to man’s finer senses and helps awaken him to his noble heritage.”
    Thank you, Jens Jensen, for creating a place that heightened my sense of responsibility to the natural world and a connection to all living things.

 

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Great Things Come in Small Packages

Great Things Come in Small Packages

Greetings fellow story lovers!
Shortly after my young daughters and I began taking riding lessons, I dreamed of buying a horse of our own. In order to save money, I considered bidding for a wild horse at a Bureau of Land Management auction. I read many books and articles, and attended an auction where I wistfully stared at a pregnant mare. For only $125 I’d be able to get a mother and her foal. But I’d done enough research to know the many regulations about owning a wild horse. Furthermore, a horse newly captured from the Nevada range would take extensive training.
I never did buy a wild horse. It’s just as well since Candy, the quarter horse I ultimately purchased, turned out to be wild enough for me. But my research on wild horses gave me something else. The background which inspired my first novel, WHINNY OF THE WILD HORSES.


Paperback copies and free teacher guides and/or book discussion questions are available by contacting laundrie@live.com.
And now for the story inspired by Candy, the wildest horse I ever want to own.

Great Things Come in Small Packages

Animals can be great teachers, and my horse Candy was one of the best. The first time we brought her and Shaton, our recently purchased Arabian, to our northern Wisconsin cabin, we enjoyed playing games such as jogging while trying to keep an egg on a spoon. The most fun, though, was exploring the woods. My daughter and I must have looked curious to the deer, because they stood mesmerized, trying to figure out these new six-legged species. One afternoon we rounded a bend to see a mother bear and her cub. Afraid the horses would spook, I tensed, ready for a buck, but the horses simply watched as the bears hurried into the brush.
Feeling pretty smug that we’d survived the week without major incidents, the time came to go home. Shaton walked right into the trailer, but Candy put two feet in, then backed out. She planted her hooves on the ground and wouldn’t move.
I tried sweet talking and tempting her with carrots. No luck. My husband tried using his strength, pulling her in, but there was no muscling a 1500-pound quarter horse. “Ride her until she’s so tired she’ll want to get in the trailer,” my husband said. (These were not his exact words, by the way, but this is a family blog.) I was skeptical but spent the next two hours galloping her down the trails. My butt and back were so sore I would have gladly ridden home in the trailer myself. Candy, however, was as spunky and stubborn as ever.
Desperate, I called a trainer in the area. Tina, who must have weighed 110 pounds, stepped out of her pickup along with her young daughter. My husband and I raised our eyebrows at one another. Tina pulled out a simple chain, attached it to a lead line, fastened it around Candy’s muzzle, rattled it so she’d know it was there, then walked her forward. Candy refused to move. Tina barked, “That’s enough!” She yanked down on the chain. Candy’s eyes widened. So did mine. “Back!” Candy backed and I think I caught sight of my husband taking a step back as well.

Wylio.com
Tina called to her daughter, “Wave the whip.” She tugged on the chain and walked Candy toward the trailer. Candy promptly stepped ahead, then just like a uniformed soldier, stepped smartly into the trailer. The entire operation had taken less than five minutes.
As I shelled over Tina’s modest fee, she said, “Get yourself a bit of chain and you’ll be fine. It doesn’t hurt her. She just wants to know who’s in charge.”
As Tina walked toward her pickup, I once again took stock of the petite woman who had ended our six-hour nightmare. Great things come in small packages.

Storysharer would love to hear horse tales from you. Bring them on!

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Colorful, Colloquial Characters (Rated PG for Earthiness)

As a child, and okay, as an adult, too, I happily read Robert Newton Peck’s Soup books. His ability to describe his characters such as Soup’s nemesis, Janice Riker, is peachy. “She was the biggest and strongest and meanest kid that the world ever knew. She had the body of a hunched-back, bowlegged ape and the brain power of a fully ripened bean.” I could visualize her so easily. Along with physical descriptions, speech patterns or a character’s colloquialisms can add to our understanding of characters.  My use of “peachy” above made you form judgements about me.

Bridget Birdsall, http://www.bridgetbirdsall.com, author of ORDINARY ANGELS, is a master at using colloquial dialogue, sensory language, and description to create memorable characters. The story is told through second-person, making it easy for the reader to picture herself as a character. You pull on your favorite frog-print pajamas as Helen barges through the door. ‘I”m not changing in front of him,” she says. She spots your church dress all bunched up in a ball on the radiator. “Better hang that up before you have to sleep in the pee-bed.” Words such as radiator and church dress ground us in the setting. Pee-bed not only characterizes but conjures up the sensory experiences of smell and sight, leaving lasting impressions. How can a writer achieve this?

Inspiration can be found through watching people  and eavesdropping. This overheard conversation between an older nurse trainee with a thick accent speaking to a patient whose daughter held her hand could become a memorable character in one of my stories.

“I know you can’t make caca,” Lily said. She had flaming red hair, as if she needed anything more to set her apart.  “I know you can’t make caca,” she told the patient.  “I have same problem.  I help you.”  She rubbed the woman’s abdomen.  “Oh,” the patient squealed after a few minutes.  “I think I should go to the bathroom.  I think something’s coming out.”

Lily winked at the woman. “You poop in bed. I clean up.  Don’t worry.  Poop, poop, poop. Mmmm, is that a fart I smell? Good, good.  You fart.  Later we take a walk.  That will make you caca.”

The elderly woman lifted herself up. “I think I could use the bathroom. Close the door please”.

“This is your daughter,” Lily said.  “Why close the door?  You’ve smelled her poop.   She poops. You poop.  That’s what we do.  We poop.”

Someday the spirit of Lily will end up in a story of mine. As storysharers, we read and write, striving to find just the right heartbeat of our characters. That’s what we do. Storysharer would love to hear about the ways you bring your characters to life.

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Living Other Lives

The beauty of the world of literature is that it allows you to live other lives. I’ve been an attractive 17-year-old red-head whose many adventures include solving the mystery of who’s trying to harm Fortune, the racehorse on my aunt’s ranch. In the same story, I had the chance to brood (as only a teenager can brood) then choose between one of the two young men who drew my eye. Now that’s living.

I’ve also been nine years old again, trying to earn enough money to go to Adventureland, and discovering, after a thief breaks in and steals Mom’s electronics, that there’s plenty of adventure right at home.

Just last week I became a photographer for National Geographic. It’s been so exciting. I’ve taken pictures of such fascinating creatures as the Goliath Tarantula, which can propel hairs from its body to scare off predators. Not a big hairy deal, you say? I’d like to see you try it.

tarantula

And in the case of my WIP, I’ve transformed into a CELEST, a Creature of Essence Living under Sky and Trees. I’m only 3 5/8 inches tall and my adventures include needing to escape from a nine-year-old by the name of Cliff. In order to help me enter this world, I looked to Tatiana Katara’s (tatiana@ faeriefactory.com) fairy house creations for inspiration.

Titiana Katara
Writing enables us to live other lives, and so does reading. While reading Robin McKinley’s HERO AND THE CROWN, I took a break to ride my horse in the woods. I caught myself peering through foliage, readying myself to slay the dragon threatening my village.

I estimate that in a given year, keeping in mind all the manuscripts I create or revise, and including minor characters, I’ve been able to live over 100 lives. Ah, the power of stories.

If you’re looking for a story starter, a way to enter a different world, try going through your old photos. Here are a few from my albums.

Storysharer would love to join you as you live another life, so share your stories.

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Interview with Author Kathleen Ernst


Kathleen Ernst, a Madison native, is a social historian, educator, environmentalist, and the award winning novelist of 24 books. Her historical fiction for children and young adults include American girl mysteries. Her long anticipated American girl six-book Caroline Abbott series will debut September 4th. The third book in her adult Chloe Ellefson mystery series, THE LIGHT KEEPER’S LEGACY, will become available October 8th.

What an exciting fall you’re about to have. Two new projects! The third book in your adult Chloe Ellefson mystery series, THE LIGHT KEEPER’S LEGACY, as well as the long anticipated Caroline books for younger readers. Will you be on tour? Any school visits or book signings?
I’ve got three launch events for THE LIGHT KEEPER’S LEGACY scheduled:  October 16th on Washington Island, October 21 at Old World Wisconsin in Eagle, and October 23 at Booked For Murder in Madison.  I’ll also be touring extensively to introduce Caroline Abbott, with stops in West Virginia, Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia, Massachusetts, Illinois, Kansas, Texas, and Washington state.  All the details can be found on the calendar page of my website:  http://www.kathleenernst.com/calendar.php

I’ve been counting down the days until September 4th when CAROLINE, the new American Girl six-book series, comes out. Is it true it includes a mini-doll and game? Can you tell us a bit about Caroline?

Caroline Abbott, an independent and adventurous nine-year-old girl whose story is set near Lake Ontario during the War of 1812, learns to face her most challenging moments using her heart as her compass.  Going above and beyond to help those around her, Caroline gives of herself without expecting anything in return–becoming the kind of real everyday hero that any girl can be.  I hope that Caroline will help modern readers realize that they too can navigate challenges by taking positive action.

Caroline’s stories are told in six books.  Although each stands alone, readers will enjoy following the action best if they start at the beginning of the series.  Books can be purchased individually, but they are also available in a six-book set that includes a game.  The Caroline doll, mini-doll, and some amazing accessories are available from American Girl.

You’re such a talented writer, especially because of your ability to evoke settings. While touring Cade’s Cove in the Smokey Mountains this past August, I thought of you and your writing. Do you have any plans to set any stories in the Appalachian Mountains?

The Southern Appalachians will always be very dear to my heart.  One of my favorite novels, yet unpublished, is set within the Smokey Mountain National Park.  I’d also love to set a Chloe Ellefson Mystery in the Smokies.  This series focuses on historic places, and Chloe loves the mountains as much as I do.

Describe your perfect day.
The perfect work day includes a hot cafe mocha, hours spent at the keyboard with words flowing effortlessly, and the occasional flash of inspiration for some unexpected plot connection or twist.

The perfect personal day includes time spent far away from anything crowded or commercial, perhaps exploring an historic site, perhaps exploring the natural environment.

I enjoyed exploring your blog, and especially loved looking at pictures of yourself as a child. On one of your blog posts you talk about how you’re able to make readers care about your characters. “I think the secret lies in creating a character with authentic emotions. In the six-book series, Caroline sometimes feels happy and sometimes feels sad. She has moments of anger and fear, and of joy and celebration. She has cherished dreams tucked away in her heart, and she does everything she can to make them come true.” It must be thrilling to be able to bring your characters to life and to see how much your readers come to love them and care about them.
You’re right–there is nothing better than hearing from a reader who identifies with a character!  I’ve gotten some wonderful notes from readers who appreciate some aspect of Chloe Ellefson’s life.  And I’ve already heard from some girls who are excited about Caroline Abbott.  What a joy!

You have an impressive website www.kathleenernst.com, a colorful and interactive blog, http://sitesandstories.wordpress.com, several YouTube videos, and an active Facebook page. How fun is it to interact with your readers?
I love it.  Everything I do is done for readers, and connecting with them is awesome.  I can’t always respond as quickly as I’d like, but I treasure every connection made.

Thank you, Kathleen. And thank you for sharing your stories with the world.

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The Artist’s Spirit

Greetings fellow story lovers,

A friend who wrote and illustrated children’s books, Marsha Dunlap, died after a long battle with cancer. One of the first times I met Marsha was during a blinding snowstorm. A small group of us had rented a bed and breakfast and hired an award winning author, Marion Dane Bauer, to critique our work and share writing techniques. Despite the weather, we were not going to miss this opportunity.
My friend Eileen and I drove together, peering through the whiteout at the unfamiliar roads. We shook our heads. We’re crazy, we both agreed. Schools had closed early, the radio reported the state patrol had shut down the interstate, and the author’s plane was delayed. Our writing was important, but was it worth risking our lives? I squinted to help Eileen figure out what was a road and what was a ditch. We kept going, bucking through mounting drifts.
We pulled into the bed and breakfast’s driveway, white-knuckled and shaken. We found out Marsha had called and was also struggling to plow through the drifts.
Throughout history, many people have felt a powerful drive to pursue their art, whether it’s dance, music, painting, or writing. Native Americans sometimes worked eighteen-hour days just to survive, yet managed to grab a moment to create beautiful beadwork or baskets. Pioneer women, with work-worn hands, squinted in the candlelight stealing moments to cut leftover fabric and design a kaleidoscope of colors for their quilts. Why?
Is it that we long to set ourselves apart by our individual gifts? Or do we hope to bring joy to others? Maybe it’s our desire to pass something of ours onto the next generation. Or is it our longing to find beauty in an imperfect world?
Back at the bed and breakfast, the phone rang. Marsha was lost and the owner ventured out to help. After a tense fifteen minutes, we heard the cars pull in.  Marsha flung the door open, snow dusting her colorful cap and scarf. “I made it!” Like a tiger’s eye gem, her eyes sparked with warmth and fire. I would notice that same vibrancy in all the years I was privileged to know her.

Marsha Dunlap

The last time I saw Marsha she looked shrunken, but the spark and passion were still there. She told the writing group who met at her home that she’d spent a few minutes painting. I know my mouth dropped. Here she was, having to deal with all the pain and grief of preparing to leave this world, and she had spent time in her studio.
Why do people go to such extraordinary lengths to create?  Marsha’s work was an essential part of who she was, as necessary as water, breath, and sunshine.  Her memory lives on as a testament of a person’s drive to create lasting beauty.
Storysharer would love to hear testaments about other people who have gone to great lengths for their art.
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Silent Rock

Greetings fellow story lovers,

I felt it again yesterday while hiking–the heartbeat of the woods. Does the pulse I feel come from all the creatures watching as I walk down their sun-dappled trails, or from all the past creatures that have lived here? Did they, too, enjoy watching the woods change with the seasons?
In the winter, icicles hang frozen as if time stopped the instant they formed. I imagine Ho-Chunk villagers gathered in a crude cave near the fire telling stories. Two sisters huddle together to stay warm and laugh as a boisterous man animately tells about nearly stepping on a hibernating bear. On the longest night of the year, they would have hours for storytelling.
In the spring, the Dogtooth violets come out. I pick them and envision a girl stooping to do the same. She weaves them into a crown, then laughs at something her raven-haired friend says. The violet-laden girl places the crown on her friend’s head and they dance in the sunshine.

In the summer, I look up toward the ridge. There, in the trunk of that pine tree, I visualize the face of a Ho-Chunk hunter. I imagine him preparing arrowheads while his wife weaves a basket. Two children chase one another around the trees and up and down the slopes, laughing.
In autumn, I listen to the geese migrating overhead and wonder if the hunter’s arrow could bring one of them down. A fast-moving stream evokes the picture of a young boy tying a hook made from a goose’s wishbone onto a string of sinew. He baits the hook, then throws it out where it’s swept downstream. He doesn’t have to wait long before there’s a tug and he pulls in a shiny trout.
Silent Rock is misnamed. The aura surrounding the place speaks volumes to me. Storysharer would love to hear about places that speaks to you.
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