Category Archives: Cat Rock

I write because

first letter

Why do I write? I consider this question several times a year. Why do I write now when I’m not getting paid for my work? And writing is work, regardless of how enjoyable it might feel.

Today I write because it takes me away. Whether fiction, poetry, or nonfiction in those moments while I am writing I’m not here; I’m somewhere else. Something of a meditation, writing pulls and pushes, sorts, brings forth and reveals thoughts and feelings. It’s cleansing. Writing sets me right with myself, puts things in order in myself.

Today I write because my readers respond. Your feedback inspires me. Your appreciation of language encourages me to keep writing, keep exploring ways of using language. Everybody likes praise, right? It’s like applause for a performance, the interchange between musician and dancer, the interaction between writer and reader.

Today I write because I can construct worlds, places, characters, and events. I write to clear my heart and my heartache. Most of my writing doesn’t get read and usually that doesn’t matter. The act of creating is stronger than the need for showing. But, oh, to have audience and feedback, that matters, too.

Today I write because I love the art of language. I love the challenges of using nothing but language to express a scene with sensory images, to show a vignette or a feeling.

Today I write to explore genres, to bend and reshape genres, to break the rules. I write for the trial. I write to keep my mind in practice and focused.

Today I’m not writing to be published; I’m not writing for pay. I write because I can communicate with those people who will take the time to read, who have enough endurance to stay with words and ideas. I write because Uncle Clarence and my grandparents wrote letters to me since I was a child and they read my letters and responded, as if what I wrote was important, as if it mattered. Connecting with people, with family and strangers, that matters.

I write because it matters.

This post is my response to today’s writing prompt in the Writing 101 course, challenging me to write a post a day. The photos are my contribution to this week’s photo challenge: connected. The poetry magnets poem is “connected” to my fridge and more words connect my guests with me as they leave unique word arrangements for me to find after they’ve gone. The hand written letter is the first of many that my grandfather wrote to my grandmother, courting her during World War 1. I started a story stimulated by the series of letters, the Cat Rock Letters. I haven’t progressed very far with that project but I hope to get back to it this month. 

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a blogger, a writer. So tell me, please, I want to know why do you write?

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Write more of that

“You know that part of your writing that you question – that’s weird and doesn’t fit neatly into a genre or a mold? Write more of that. Please.” Richard Thomas

I needed to see this advice, or permission, today. I wouldn’t say I have writer’s block, more like writer’s ennui, boredom. Fear of starting or moving the story or poem further. Fear of critics?! Eeeee gads! My local writers group convenes monthly to share our writing and “give and get support, constructive feedback”. I’ve decided to take a break from the group precisely because I am exploring writing that is weird, that doesn’t fit the mold, and – they don’t get it. They coach me to stay in the mold, don’t stray outside the familiar. To me, when I am exploring, I don’t want “moldy” writing. I’m not submitting my exploratory drafts to a publisher, for Pete’s sake. I’m just “messing around” with ideas, words, voice, style, and yes – bending genres and molds. My local writing group doesn’t advise me or permit me to explore. Today I use Richard Thomas’ words to give myself permission to explore. Advice to explore, even.

I’m bored with most of the structured traditional forms and content in the writers group, maintaining tight formula beginning, middle, and end, explaining everything for the reader so he or she doesn’t have to, or doesn’t GET to, imagine any details. Teaching literature and structured writing forms perhaps has shown me too much formula in basal readers that students can analyze and use as models for their compostions. Creative writing classes have diminished dramatically in American schools in the last five years.

That local group of writers may be right when they remind me that most people don’t want to think very much about their reading, they don’t want to reread a paragraph or section, even a sentence, to get the meaning, or deepen the meaning. Readers, they say, don’t want to imagine what Harv looked like or how he dressed. They want the writer to tell, or show, them details, details, details. I believe it. ELABORATION is the key to getting higher scores in state standardized writing assessments. And layering ideas is a bonus, too. I am happy to see the Common Core state standards across the nation demanding that students read literature with more complexity and stretch themselves with their writing. Sure, we still use models to teach reading and writing, but now we encourage readers and writers again to try writing “that’s  weird, that doesn’t fit neatly into a genre or mold”, to find their voice. I taught verbally gifted or talented kids and I thought all kids should be taught to think about their reading and writing in more depth. To try out new ways of showing their ideas. All kids, all of them. All of us.

 The local writing group has no tolerance for my writing where I ask the reader, or listener in storytelling, to use his or her own imagination, where characters and settings, like in Harv, are not always elaborated with details. Another reader, not in the group, said everyone knows a Harv. Don’t describe him, let us imagine the one we know. That’s storytelling, the oral tradition genre, using stock characters liked Raven, Coyote, Hercules, and Harv. Everyone has their own image for stock characters, whatever their names. My local group is uncomfortable with my writing where forms are not fully formed like the spirits emerging through the portal, through the veil from their mystical world into our mortal material realm in the beginning of my LaWrynn Stories.

 Today is as good a time as any to write without questioning what’s weird and doesn’t fit a genre or mold. Edgar Allen Poe is known as the “Father of the Short Story” and Walt Whitman is known as the “Father of Free Verse or Blank Verse” poetry because they invented new literary forms, unfamiliar to their contemporary readers. Bram Stoker introduced the setting and  mood in “Dracula” by showing the reader unformed forms in his beginning pages. It takes courage to read unfamiliar literary forms and more courage to draft it.        tff

Catrock Letters, Thanksgiving Day 1918

Here’s an excerpt from one of the Cat Rock letters in which Frank writes to Edith, who he is courting, about his Thanksgiving day.

section of letter
A piece of the letter Dec. 14, 1918.

Dec. 14, 1918

“You asked me how I spent Thanksgiving. Well, I worked on the track all day but we had a nice supper at Edith’s [his cousin] after the day’s work was over. We didn’t have Turkey but we had chicken, 3 of them, and cranberries, cakes and pies. We expect Oscar home for Christmas and will celebrate it at Mrs. Vaughn’s or the section house. They haven’t decided that yet. I hope you all [have] a happy Christmas and merry new  year, and many of them.”

This is out of sequence in the series of courtship letters, but it applies to this week’s Thanksgiving holiday in the U. S. when turkey, cranberries, and apple or pumpkin pie are traditional dishes. I’m sharing an excerpt from one of Frank’s letters to Edith. He writes her from the railroad section house at Cat Rock where he lives and works. His cousin, also named Edith, and her family have been living at the section house with Lewis (you’ll meet him in another letter). Frank said they “have been here for some time.” By now the section house has become home to quite a few workers and families, including Frank’s brother Tom and their mother. Oscar, another brother, is in the army in World War 1. I need to research the section house floor plan. Maybe there was more than one building where people lived.

The next piece I plan to write for this series goes back to the first letter written in July 1918 and continues from there. I will post the series as I go along in the Cat Rock Letters page here. https://skybluedaze.wordpress.com/the-cat-rock-letters/

Read about how I found the series of courtship letters here. https://skybluedaze.wordpress.com/2014/09/30/i-found-a-book-it-hasnt-yet-been-written/

Read the first vignette based on the first letter here. https://skybluedaze.wordpress.com/2014/09/30/cat-rock-the-first-dance/

I found a book. It hasn’t yet been written.

old letter in cursive
The first letter, exuberant after the dance.

I found a book. It hasn’t yet been written. But it has begun. And I am the writer. After Mom died in 2006, I emptied her house and put it up for sale. She had tons, really tons, of clutter. Sorting took months. She kept everything! I found some treasures in the slow thorough process.

In her basement I uncovered her desk, the one she used for her church secretary work. It was heaped with papers and file folders and books, a knitting project, plants, and too much more to remember. Inside a deep drawer, in an unlabeled folder mixed with church papers, I found photocopies of letters.

They were written in 1918 and 1919 by my grandfather, courting my grandmother. I found the beginning of their relationship right up to the day he married her. I found the story of families living in the Pacific Northwest during World War 1, haying with horses, building the railroad, and joining the army. I found a book to write, based on the courting letters.

The letters document the influenza epidemic, boats stuck in the river by deep ice break ups, barn dances, a locomotive derailed by a mud flood and much more. Most importantly, they reveal human hopes and struggles, concessions, forgiveness, and celebrations.

The storyline moves along the tracks of the traditional plot diagram. It has complexity in its conflicts. The action rises to the turning point and ends with resolution. It’s so ready to write.

My problem is how to develop the details, how to bring the characters and setting to life for modern readers. How do I write the story so readers will care and get a deeper understanding of their own lives from the book? Each letter gives enough information to inspire creative writing. What is really the story behind the story? How can I tell it?

I am a storyteller, a performing storyteller. I know a lot about folklore weaving magic into tales. I teach writing, literature, and history. Now, I have a book to write, one letter at a time. I’m scared. Can I practice the crafts I teach? It’s a challenge I give myself, to write creative non-fiction. How do I even categorize the genre? Could it be a novel of poetry telling the story like Out of the Dust? Will I write chapters? How about short vignettes? How will I link the ideas together? How long will the book be? Will anybody be interested in reading the story, the little stories within the stories?

I have a lot of research to do. How did men work hay fields with horses when tractors were just emerging into the industry? What was the sphere of devastation by the influenza pandemic in the Pacific Northwest? What was transportation like then? The letters stand in place of telephones and texting.

How can I show, don’t tell, the depth of humanity revealed within the letters? I’m going to need a lot of feedback as I progress, a lot of help. I am asking you to follow my postings as I write this story. Please tell me what you think of my writing, what changes I should make, what’s written just as it should be. How is the story affecting you?

I posted a first draft of the first page yesterday in Cat Rock, the First Dance. One blogger, gave me powerful feedback in her comment. Thanks Wendy! http://wendybarronwrites.wordpress.com/

That’s what I’m looking for. Will you help me?

What do you think right now about this story idea? Please tell me.

Cat Rock, the First Dance

This is the first piece for a book. When my mother died, I found a series of courting letters from my grandfather to my grandmother. The letters began after their meeting at a dance. They end with their marriage. I am using each letter to inspire vignettes of what Grandpa wrote about. I use their real names for the book. Cat Rock is a rock formation that resembles a cat overlooking a river. Grandpa worked and lived at the railroad section house at Cat Rock when he wrote the letters.

July 5, 1918

The First Dance

Edith reached for her paring knife from a group of them behind the sink. This one fit her left hand the best.  She began skinning a large lumpy potato but her mind was not on her work.  She was reliving last night’s dance, twirling and reeling cross the hard packed barn floor. Her chore was familiar and the brown peels flew into the wash basin while her heels and toes tapped the kitchen floor boards. Bouncing, jigging, hopping, she danced to the lively rhythm  that pulsed in her mind. Dancing made life spin by with abandonment. When she felt the music and let her body move with it, she knew she was in tune with all that gave freedom to that moment. She tossed the slippery peeled potato in the air, caught it and flipped it into the bowl with a thud. She picked up the next potato and took the knife in her other hand.

She hummed and swayed in time with her peeling. What was the song? The fiddler had played it as if the instrument was dancing with her, guiding her moves. She heard it for the first time at the dance but it seemed like she had always known it, had danced to it often. And the fiddler. The fiddler. She knew he watched her swinging to the music he played, the jigs, waltzes, fox trots, and reels.  Something in the way she caught him looking at her, when she had tried to steal glances at him, made her smile as she worked at preparing dinner. His name was Frank.

He had brought her home after the dance with his brother, Tom, on a big hay wagon drawn by two sturdy black horses. The wagon was packed full with her two chatty sisters and their husbands and a party of people who were staying on for the long ride home to Middle Valley. It was late when she got off the wagon with her family at her father’s farm. Tonight she would make his favorite fried chicken dinner to thank Papa for staying home with her baby.