Category Archives: Inspiration

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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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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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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Inspiration

Inspiration

Greetings fellow story lovers,
What gets your creative juices flowing? Where are you when inspiration strikes? Among my favorite times in life are those moments when I’m driving along on a long quiet stretch of highway and my mind starts whirling with ideas. It also happens in the bathtub, upon wakening, at my computer early in the morning, and while walking my dog in the woods or horseback riding. I keep paper and pen or my mini-recorder handy because even though I think it’s such a brilliant thought I couldn’t possibly forget it, I will.

Do you ever get writing ideas from the newspaper? The seed that sprouted EYE OF TRUTH, my first of five books in the Kayla Montgomery series, was seeing this article in the newspaper. In it, a daughter and son are searching for a will after the death of their mother. Instead, they open the steamer trunk they’d been warned to stay away from as children, and find a baby skeleton.

In my story, Kayla’s Aunt Maggie owns the horse ranch where Kayla spends a lot of her time. Aunt Maggie delivers a daughter but baby Ashley is kidnapped from the hospital.

Kayla suspects Cora Hatcher, whose description was inspired by this newspaper picture. I’ve written “eyes that pop out” as a note to myself. That later became so important it’s used in the title.
Kayla sneaks over to Cora’s trailer to search. She sees a trunk with a heavy rope knotted around it. She unties the knot and opens the trunk. Inside is a baby skeleton and a fresh pink rose.
Developing the real kidnapper, and that person is even crazier than Cora, was inspired by a real life event. Details would spoil the story but they’re available, along with paperback copies and free teacher guides and/or book discussion questions by contacting laundrie@live.com.

Storysharer would love to hear what inspires you!
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What If . . .

Greetings fellow story lovers,

What if . . . are magic words to writers and story tellers. What if an animal attraction with over 100 live reptiles including crocodiles, unusual albino iguanos, and the world’s largest snake caught on fire?

snake

This question led to my interviewing the owner and began the fourth Kayla Montgomery book, LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION.

From that question others emerged including a compelling one about love and attraction. What if my main character had to choose between a relationship based on intrique and seduction or one built on mutual interests and companionship?
Free LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION teacher guides and/or book discussion questions are available by contacting laundrie@live.com.
Storysharer would love to hear how compelling “What if…” questions have inspired you.
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