Preparations for Fall and Halloween

Just because Halloween isn’t here yet, that doesn’t mean we aren’t getting ready. And by that I mean not only humans. I was visited this past week by a group of skeletons fleeing the rising waters in other parts of the country. Also, they wanted a warm, dry spot where they could gather and catch up on their studies. Apparently now there is an invisible sign over my home that reads, “Ellen’s Skeleton Hostel and Tea House”. Of course, that sign may change if other creatures need to find respite to prepare for the upcoming holidays.

I am getting no end of inspiration from them for the haunted reading that I am preparing. On November 5th there will be a Haunted Holidays reading that is being sponsored by the Brazos Bookstore, the Houston Writers Guild and the Women in the Visual and Literary Arts. This year the reading event will take place inside the store. We are making plans for decorations and costumes. Having this event in November covers all holidays from Halloween, El Dia De Los Muertos, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Years Eve and everything else in between. Several folks have joked that they wanted to include the election. This should be very interesting. I’ll provide more details as I have them.

Now, back to my skeleton visitors. As you can see they all gathered together for a long study session the other evening. They brushed up on spells, potions, magic brews and sorcery. There is a Book of Fright and a Book of Charms. All in all it’s a lot to cover, but they’ll have it all down by All Hallows Eve. Right now everyone is practicing and studying here in my home. Around the middle of September it will be time for them to move outside and practice their magic skills on the balcony and around the neighborhood.

Sometimes one of the older skeletons will work on a special project and have one of the younger crew assist him. That is what is going on here with the typewriter and extra books that are being closely studied. You may not have realized that in addition to magical skills, there are some skeletons that have impressive intellectual skills. They write the books for other creatures like themselves to learn from. Just like any science, there is always more to know. They have visited several black holes and are very impressed with the amount of knowledge humans are gathering on that topic. The skeletons can’t wait until you learn some more.

Of course after a long day of studying, writing, and practicing, all good skeletons deserve a little time to rest and refresh. Sometimes it’s nice just to sit back and chat with friends. They listen to music, but really don’t have much use for television. In their invisible state they can go to the movies and theater. Just the other day they went to the Symphony and heard their favorite piece, Danse Macabre.

At other times, the older skeletons will “belly up to the bar”, pardon me, I know they don’t actually have any bellies, but you get my drift. They can enjoy a refreshing beverage. How do they do that you might ask? They don’t drink as you and I do, but they love aromas. Chamomile relaxes them and coffee wakes them up. Any kind of alcohol makes them tipsy so they tend to avoid it.

Until next time.……

Pandemic Road: Trying To Hurry Up Fall

Every so often it’s nice to know that the world is trying to catch up with me. I have never seen Halloween decorations out in the stores as early as July. But yet, this year I have already made purchases at HomeGoods and Michael’s. How can I possibly find room for more decorations? It’s magic. That’s how I do it. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. At this point all decorations are inside my home. Sometime in September they will forge their way out into the neighborhood, but not yet. I am sure the neighbors already think I am strange enough as it is. But maybe in another decade, the outside decorations may stay up year-round. By then, my hair will be completely white and long. And as the poem states, “I will wear purple, With a red hat that doesn’t match.….” Yes, I have already started practicing for those days.

I am also trying very hard to imagine that fall weather is right around the corner. We are beginning to get some rain which drives the temperatures down from a gazillion to only 500 degrees. But unfortunately the rain increases the humidity. Actually this does make my hair frizz and helps me to look like that crazy old lady I am slowly turning into. Another sign of fall has just cropped up at Central Market. It’s Hatch Chile time. I personally have never eaten a Hatch Chile myself, but many of my friends and acquaintances have. You can buy them fresh roasted, in chocolate bars, in twice baked potatoes, cookies, chips, among other things. And for those of you who are too young to get the reference, Central Market is also giving a nod to Woodstock and the Magic Bus. (It was the “1960s”. Either Google or ask your parents and in some cases grandparents.….sigh).

Last but not least the little hobbit town has returned to the neighborhood. Not only has it returned, it looks new and improved! I am hoping that these little critters will come over and introduce themselves to my Halloween decorations once I start placing items outside my home. There are hobbits, gnomes, fairies and various small forest creatures. Since it is supposed to rain tonight, I hope everyone stays safe. I wonder if they climb inside the tree trunk when inclement weather sets in? That makes the most sense.

Until next time.….

Summer Writing Camps

During the summer time, I have the privilege of working with Writers in the Schools for their week-long writing camps. This year, I did one in June for 5th and 6th graders, plus one in July for 6th and 7th graders. My goal with these classes is to take the children through the full writing process to publish a book on the last day.

Naturally, “publish a book” really means create a DIY book out of a short story we write during the week, but it is a great project. The hope is that the writing process from pre-writing to publication will become clearer, and they can experience how an author feels having their book in their hands.

You may be asking, “How on earth do you get kids to do something like that in one week, Fern?” Good question. So here’s how the week goes:

Monday starts off with pre-writing. The fastest way to create a story is to generate a world. So Monday, we create a brand new world and draw a map for it. As they draft the visual aid, students begin to brainstorm who lives here, what kinds of problems might they have, and other such ideas. They jot them down and then keep drafting the map.

Tuesday, the class works on building characters. We make profile dossiers of the main characters and create a supporting cast. We also take time to look at monsters and other creatures that inhabit the world. We add to the map locations where these live and the realms of our characters.

Wednesday, we begin by exploring magical objects that could be hidden on our world. Then we discuss conflicts and story arcs. The last part of the day is devoted to drafting a first go at this story. They draft by hand as we generally don’t have access to computers. I have the students write only on the front side of the page. This is important for downstream when we revise and publish.

Thursday, I model giving and receiving feedback by sharing a section of first draft material of my own story and letting the class provide feedback for me. Then I show the class how to ‘revise’ without having to rewrite by hand the full story.

Sadly, during the summer camps we don’t usually have access to computers so it is important to use a methodology for revision that won’t have the kids groaning and mutinying. The way I show them is to look at the feedback and decide what text they want to add to the story. They write this on a separate page and then they put a letter next to the spot where the text would be inserted. They label the new text with the same letter.

The remainder of the time is the kids workshopping their story. Some have to finish the first draft. Some are ready for critique and revision. As they move through the afternoon, students get their story ready for publication the next day.

Friday opens with us cutting the pages and pasting them together on a fresh page so that we join the draft and revision sections in a fluid piece. Once the story is ready, we produce a cover, interior front and back matter, and gather it all up to publish. We staple the pieces and use some color masking tape to create a binding for the book.

At the end of the day, students exchange their final books. They read their fellow students work and deliver a sticky note review that highlights what they loved most of their colleagues work.

And this is how we do a DIY book in a week at summer writing camps with Ms. Fern. It’s not an easy road, but rewarding for these kids who sign up because they truly love to write.

Pandemic Road: On Planet Earth and Beyond

I don’t know about you, but I have been watching the news lately. There are a couple of stories I am following, but still too much of the serious stuff is not good for my mental health. So, this week I have taken the time to enjoy all of the great pictures that are coming from the Webb Telescope. More and more of them keep getting shared on the internet. I hope you have enjoyed them as well. Folks are having lots of fun with them on Facebook. This is one of my favorites. It really helps me put all of my earthly worries into perspective.

I also like this other picture. I have suggested to Fern Brady that there is a dragon in there. Think about how much fun science fiction writers can have with a dragon that flies around from one universe to another. Maybe this is the reincarnation of Puff the Magic Dragon of the song that was released by Peter, Paul and Mary in 1963. I’ll just bet Puff lives on a planet called Honah Lee. Excuse me if you are not old enough to get the reference. Check out the song on Google or YouTube. I promise you will be enchanted.

So much for my musings. I have finished my June Writing Workshop and am now busy catching up on all things literary. I just wrote a small piece for the virtual anthology that celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Archway Gallery. Additionally, Archway Readings, which have been held on zoom for so long, is finally returning to in-person live readings this month. I can’t wait. I am also working on The WiVLA (Women in the Visual and Literary Arts) Collaboration that will exhibit in December. I have paired up with two different visual artists for two different entries. I will share more about this collaboration when the time draws near.

Last, but not least, Haunted Holidays will happen on November 5th this year. It will be a joint effort between Brazos Bookstore, WiVLA and the Houston Writers Guild. Last year the event was conducted on zoom. We are hoping that we will all meet in-person at the Brazos Bookstore! Again, more details to come as the date draws nearer.

Yikes, I’m busy!

Until next time.….

Another Turn Around the Sun

Birthdays are interesting times of the year. On the one hand, they are joyous occasions celebrating ones survival through another long turn around the sun. On the other, they are times of deep introspection and assessment about where your life is presently and what it’s all leading up to. They can be difficult and emotional moments.

Some people love to celebrate their birthdays with a ton of hoopla and extravaganzas where all their friends and family participate. Other people prefer more subdued gatherings with just intimate friends. Yet others don’t celebrate at all, preferring to let the day pass as any other without any differentiation.

Recently, Sandy and I went up to Bryan TX to celebrate Aimee’s 30th birthday. We had a lovely luncheon afternoon and gabbed about nothing in particular. By the end of that day, we had solved all the world’s problems. Aimee had a fun cheesecake which involved setting liquor over it on fire to caramelize on top. Yummy!

Birthdays that end in zero, that complete a decade of living, tend to be more meaningful. Suddenly, we realize how quickly a decade can actually pass by. It is those times that lead us to deeper reflections. They are the milestones that mark our progress through life.

When we were children we were often asked to imagine what our lives as adults would be like. What did we want to accomplish in ten years, twenty even. Could we even really imagine that far into the future then? How could we have imagined the trajectories our lives would take?

I wanted to be an actress or a writer. Maybe a school teacher or a lawyer. I’ve been a school teacher and I’m a writer now. Two more to go? All kidding aside, of course, life takes us on many road ways.

July 9 is my birthday. This birthday is not one of those that end in zero, not even one away yet. Still, there’s much to reflect upon. These last few years with the pandemic and my divorce, there have been many shifts in my life. This year feels like the perfect time to consider where I am now and where do I want my life to go next.

One thing I like to do during my birthday’s is take time out to pray and meditate. I seek a special word from God for this coming year. Something to guide my way. And of course, there’s always cake. Also, balloons, because nothing cheers you up so much as a shiny helium balloon.

Share with me your own reflections on birthdays in the comments.

Pandemic Road: It’s Getting Crowded

Happy July 4th weekend. From reviewing social media and listening to the news, I’ve discovered that a lot of people are traveling right now. The destinations are many and varied. People are going to Europe — all over Europe, Canada, and a lot of northern states. I received an email from one friend in one of the Dakotas bragging that she went for an eight mile walk and never broke a sweat. I’ve seen pictures of cathedrals and one friend is even staying in an honest to god castle. Interestingly, I have not heard from any one who is traveling to the Southern United States. I guess it’s too hot and tropical weather is beginning to kick up.

Since I am not traveling, I don’t have any travel pictures to use in this blog post. But, don’t worry! Whenever I need a picture, there is always my cat, Hannah. While I am not traveling like so many others, I am getting laundry done. Hannah loves laundry day, especially when I wash and dry a load of towels. During the last couple of years doing things like laundry over a holiday weekend wouldn’t have been so noteworthy. During the pandemic, travel was much more complicated and restricted. Staying in hotels and all the variations of B&B’s had their own unique dangers. I’ve stayed in a hotel once during the past 2 to 3 years and I kept wiping everything down with Clorox wipes. I am pleased to report that I survived the ordeal quite healthy!

Now that July is here, I have completed the June Writing Intensive that I attended literally all month long. Many thanks to Max Regan for holding this retreat every year. I was pleased with the writing I accomplished and my story arc seems solid (at least at this moment in time). Now the trick is to keep up the momentum of my writing until next June. In addition to attending many zoom sessions and spending lots of time writing my current story, I listened to the news. My head is still reeling from everything I heard. I don’t care what your political affiliation is, this has been a wild time to be alive and alert. In the current stories I am writing, the main character is a Grim Reaper. One morning before a zoom class I walked into my office to find my friend sitting on my desk. She was expressing her displeasure with what she had heard recently. Why yes, my characters keep up with current events and express themselves as appropriate. One of the great parts about being a writer is that I can always conjure up a cast of characters to demonstrate my ideas and opinions of society. In case you’ve never seen the Grim Reaper, this is her picture.

Okay, to end on a happier note for a holiday weekend, I did get to go to see the Houston Ballet. My date and I wore masks, because we were inside at a crowded event. I am always delighted that the Houston Ballet gets the crowd it so well deserves, but I am very disappointed at the number of audience members who go without face masks. I understand that this pandemic is slowly getting better, but I still prefer to take safety precautions. Don’t take it personally if I try to avoid you if you walk around with a naked face. But the Ballet was wonderful. I have come to expect nothing less from a company with so many talented people.

Until next time.….

Pandemic Road: Halfway Through June Intensives

Writing Desk with computers and lots of paperJune. The beginning of summer. Also as you can tell from both Fern Brady’s blog as well as my blog, we have been attending Max Regan’s June Writing Intensives. There are two of them that we can attend via zoom. In the good old days before the pandemic and rising gas prices, we could travel to Boulder, Colorado. Oh well. Now I have my writing desk. Doesn’t it look neat and tidy? I had to clean it up to take this picture. The papers are usually much more scattered and the computer is used for both writing and research. The other day I needed a name for a character who is 85 years old. I came up with some of my own ideas, but then I literally Googled something like names for old guys. I had quite the list to choose from before I settled on the name Vincent.

Hannah the cat sitting on a pile of blanketsIs your summer as exciting as mine? It’s too hot to go outside. So, I stay inside and try to exercise with video and virtual classes. One time I decided to take a break and watch some television. This is the look I got from my cat, Hannah. She considers herself to be both my supervisor and co-author. . Considering this side eye I am getting, I decided to get up off the couch turn off the television and get back to work. Of course Hannah does take long naps in the afternoon. She is 17 years old and needs her rest. That’s when I sneak out to go to the store for more provisions and a little bit of sunshine. But only a little bit of sunshine because like so much of the nation, temperatures are just way too HOT!

Plastic Halloween Pumpkin in StairwellHowever during one of my brief journeys outside my home, I ran across this pumpkin in a stairwell of all places. I was delighted to see it. Halloween is coming! So, is the spirit of Halloween following me? I hope so and would not be in the least surprised. Just in case I feel like I am having a heat stroke or something, I can remember that my favorite holiday is only a few months away. I did not take this pumpkin, but left him right where I found him. I already have quite a lot of decorations just waiting for the chance to jump into place around my home. Also, I hope Mr. Pumpkin inspires others to remember that there will be an end to summer and fall will be here before we know it!

Now I must get back to writing. The second intensive begins this evening and I have much to do.

Until next time.….….

My Yearly Literary Pilgrimage

As a working writer, the journey to bringing into fruition the creative works that percolate in my mind includes taking critical times of the year for my writing to become the main focus. Most of my life revolves around the need to create revenue, bring in income, to sustain my existence on this planet. Additionally, as I am building my publishing company, it requires a significant amount of time and attention.

Thus, the portions of the year in which I take time out from these needs to put my writing life front and center are precious to me. The January weekend intensive is the first springboard for my writing year, and it builds the foundation to what will be the focal point for the big push month — June.

In between, I give myself the space to focus on writing once a month with my Write Now intensive weekends, the February 10-Day Bootcamp, and the April Nanowrimo camp, but all through these months, the other needs hold priority.

June is the month when everything else is moved to a back burner, and writing is pulled forward into center stage. The Boulder Colorado Writing Retreat hosted by Max Regan is the month long portion of my year where I become fully a writer. While some of the writing work goes on throughout, it is in this month that my space reshapes to give me the tools for taking my writing to the next stage.

Discovery and Design work intermingle, my wall space is covered in the pieces that help me move my project forward, and the work of digging in and writing takes priority. The retreat is broken up into two sessions. When I first started attending, I could only do one session — a ten day push. The retreat was in person and travel and stay in Boulder made the expense impossible to sustain for a whole month.

COVID brought the option to marathon across both sessions by making the retreat virtual. For the expense of a single session with physical stay, I could do both sessions. This unexpected blessing of a devastating pandemic situation has brought my year as a literary pilgrim to an amazing point. A month of being and living as a writer has been made possible, and I have embraced it fully.

As the year passes on, the writing continues with the July 10-day bootcamp and Nanowrimo camp, the ongoing monthly Write Now intensives weekends and the October bootcamp. Then we come to November.

Nanowrimo in November allows me to make that month another great push for writing, yet, because we are mid-fall semester, it is impossible to take the whole month off as I do in June. Teaching must go on and I’m usually deep into the release schedule of our fall lineup with Inklings Publishing.

So it is in June, during the Boulder writing retreat, that I get to be a writer full time. For one beautiful month, everything else goes on hold. I get to live and breathe writing in June.

Happy Birthday! RoadBroads Is Four Years Old!

Has it really been 4 whole years? My how time flies. The RoadBroads Blog is actually 4 years old. Wow! No wonder I am feeling older all the time.

This project started out as a writing diversion for a couple of writers who were headed for Boulder, Colorado. That’s where Max Reagan lives and that’s where he used to always hold his June Writing Intensives in person. In 2018 a group of Houston writers made the trip out west. This was my first time to stay in an Air B&B. We would enjoy group meetings in the Boulder Bookstore. Post COVID I understand that this establishment is still going strong. Just like I have attempted to support local bookstores here in Houston during times of lockdown, the people of Colorado have supported their bookstore as well. I can’t wait until the day when I can see it in person again.

In 2018 when it came time to have one-on-one meetings with Max, we always met at the Dushanbe Tea House. Whether we sat inside or outside, this was the most relaxing place full of wonderful teas and good food. Of course in Boulder, unlike Houston, it was very comfortable to sit outside and have a meeting during the middle of the day. Good times. Last I heard, this restaurant is also still open like the bookstore.

It seemed like that wherever I was in Boulder, I could always look up and see the flatirons. I saw other mountains as well, but I had no idea what their names were.

Strolling on the Pearl Street Mall was always an interesting excursion. On the weekends there would be street performers that always drew a crowd. Back in 2018 there was no need for social distancing or masks. I understand that Pearl Street is coming back. I hope it continues. Again in Boulder, unlike Houston, one can walk around during the day without risking heat exhaustion.

We enjoyed writing for this blog so much that we continued with it after returning back to Houston. In 2020 writing a blog about road trips became quite tricky during lockdown. That’s when I started writing about the Pandemic Road.

Four years ago, I was so proud of myself for learning how to write and produce a blog. Now I have also added zooming to my technical repertoire. That is how I am attending this year’s June Writing Intensives. The first one begins this Friday. I’ll catch up with you in two weeks to let you know how it is going.

Happy Birthday to RoadBroads!
Also many thanks to everyone who has worked with this endeavor and helped to make it a success!

Until next time.…..

In Memory of The Lives Lost

In memory of the lives lost to senseless violence and in commiseration with those who have been deprived of loved ones, we take this space to grieve with you and our nation.