Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

Join me in September for Virtual Workshops

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Aug• 17•20

How are you doing out there in Writing Land? Can you believe it’s August?

We’re in the midst of another heat wave in Oregon today (insert profuse sweat and gnashing of teeth) which is beyond unwelcome since we need rain and forest fire season is upon us. I rose early to water, so ended up napping with the punishing sun blazing down and when I woke the sky was smudged, like a dirty blackboard and the temperature had dropped a few degrees.

I’ve been  creating a routine that holds me up despite heat waves and rising death tolls from COVID, and assaults on the US Postal Service. I mean, who doesn’t love the Post Office?

But back to routines–my days start with gardening and end with reading. In between is work and healthy meals, stretching and walking and staying in touch with people.  Because the best routines are strengthening in every way. How are you managing your time these days? How are you staying grounded?

Some exciting news: I’m teaching virtual workshops for the Write Now! Conference hosted by Phoenix-based Sisters in Crime Desert Sleuths and Chanticleer Writing Conference in beautiful Bellingham, Washington.  I’m especially excited that I’m teaching Between the  Lines (9/17 & 18) about writing the subtler aspects of fiction because it’s based on my book and Secrets of the Dark Arts (9/12) which helps fiction writers tackle not-for-the-faint-hearted  editing and revision.

I’ll also be teaching workshops on Captivating Costars: Why Secondary Characters Need More Love (9/8) and Subplots: Stories within Stories. (9/11) I’ve learned a lot as developmental editor and love passing along insights and practical methods. The dates are September 8-18.

Check out the Conferences and Workshops pages here and later this fall expect news about other places to enroll in my virtual classes. You and me on your computer or tablet.  I promise to make it elucidating and lively. With some laughs thrown in, because if we can’t laugh we’re doomed.

There are still many parts of the Before Times that I miss, especially dinner parties and outdoor concerts, gatherings of all sorts,  including teaching at writing conferences. And of course travel. But staying in touch with friends, keeping my garden alive, planning and planting new varieties, and renovating this long-neglected yard keep me going. I’m cooking away, as usual. Walking in quiet, tree-filled places.  And I’m returning to my hippie ways, stocking up on dried beans and drying herbs, canning pickles and making jam, filling my house with plants so that I’ll be tending green things year round. Nourishing routines to take me into autumn.

Here are a few things I’m up to that spark my creativity and feed my curiosity. As soon and I hit ‘publish’ I’ll remember more, but that’s okay. What is feeding your creativity these days?

What I’m reading:

A short story, Baikal by Lindsay Starck  at The New England Review. It’s about a marathon, set on a frozen lake in Siberia. It’s also about a marriage and looking back and regret and aging.  This one keeps slipping back into my memory–the small,  important details sprinkled in just so, the innovative structure, perfect words in perfect places. Let’s just say it wouldn’t be the first time that a fatal combination of sun and ice has confused and beguiled a fragile human in the cold. And here’s a link to the actual frozen lake and marathon in Siberia.

The Orphan of Salt Winds  Ive just started reading it, so have no review yet, but I’m intrigued.

Longing to travel again? Here are 7 Literary Journeys courtesy of The  Lily by Nneka McGuire.

What I’m watching:

Alone, because well, you know why–and it’s not about longing for winter.The latest episodes I watched were The Wolves and Pins and Needles if that gives you an idea of what’s going on. It’s a fascinating reality show on the History Channel where participants are dropped in remote places like Patagonia and the Arctic and north Vancouver Island. I’m generally indifferent to reality programs and was skeptical of the Vancouver Island location in the first seasons until I watched the marauding bears and relentless miserable weather. The participants must build shelters with basic tools, find food, and generally avoid starving and getting mauled by wild animals. (while the beasts try to steal their hard-won food) No guns and such are allowed though some do bring bows and arrows. All bring knives.

It makes you ponder how humankind survived all these centuries and the incredible skills and stamina it required.  It makes you ponder what it’s like to feel like prey. And just a note,  this series is not for the squeamish. A few too many close-up shots of skinning and butchering creatures for dinner, but I turn my head away for those parts…

Stockton on My Mind–an inspiring documentary about Michael Tubbs, the young mayor of Stockton, California and his innovative programs to rescue this ailing city and its young people.

The Chicks March March. It’s a call to action, an anthem to the power of protest. It’s haunting and potent.

HBO’s period drama, Perry Mason. I’m a sucker for a period drama, but just getting started with this series. Set in 1932 Los Angeles, the atmospherics are palpable, the casting brilliant and I suspect that this is much more akin to Erle Stanley Gardner’s vision of his noir stories than the Raymond Burr series from earlier decades. Matthew Rhys adds a brooding, soulful presence that suggests layers of angst and regret.

What I’m listening to:

Listen in to Home Cooking with Samin Nosrat  of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat fame and her friend composer-musician Hrishikesh Hirway– they’re hilarious and Samin knows sooo much about cooking. If you’re in a food rut, this is your go-to.

Storytelling, humanity, foibles, heartbreaks, break throughs, the folks at The Moth tell all and do it with panache. I never miss an episode.

How to Fail is unfailingly reassuring. As in successful, attractive, educated, and talented people screw things up badly, but then learn lessons and rebound. Recommended for days when your writing isn’t going great.

Another podcast I recommend is The Daily from The New York Times–it’s a quick way to catch up on the latest news stories. Hosted by Michael Barbaro it’s a 20-minute or so segment, with really smart people discussing the important events of our lives.

Music-wise I’ve heard so much buzz about Taylor Swift’s new CD Folklore, and now I understand the hype. I’m on my third listen and really paying attention to the lyrics. My music guru Mark Phialias sent it to me (you all need a music insider like Phialias in your life.) He wrote: “I have assumed Taylor Swift was lightweight, sweet-tea-esque-cultural-void. To be honest, I don’t recall any music she has done. But, and this is a big BUT, members of one of my favorite bands, The National, worked with Swift on Folklore. The National excels with hypnotic, mesmerizing melodies and lyrics that fit like snug jeans. So, Leaped with less faith and mostly hope, and to my ear, vastly rewarded.” (can you see why I’m also a Phialias fan?)

Please vote and make sure your friends, neighbors, and family votes.

Please donate to food banks–the need is enormous.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, keep wearing a mask. And hope to see you soon…on my computer that is.

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