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Happy Chances and Other Serendipitous Moments

News from Roebling Point Books and Coffee in Newport, Kentucky. I am dusting off some poetry and will be reading at my favorite bookstore. Mark your calendars for April 7 from 6:00 to 8:00, with an open mic after the formal part of the program. I hope to see you there and to hear your words.

There is nothing like hitting the open road, heading someplace new. As I write this, I’m in Philadelphia at the tail end of one of the largest writing conferences, Association of Writing Professionals

It’s been an exhilarating and exhausting three days.

The serendipitous moments are most rewarding. First evening at my hotel, a woman joined me on the elevator with a martini glass in hand. In the where-are-you-from way of life, we learned that Kentucky is home for both of us. The fish-out-of-water feeling dried up then.

On my way to my first present of the day, I ran into an editor who’d poured over my current project last summer over zoom. We'd been at least two degrees of separation away back then but now, staring into her eyes over my mask, I knew immediately who she was.

Another frantic race to another presentation and a tall blond takes up strides with me. Confusion over room numbers and direction, but heading the same way, she said she came from Utah. In the time it took to get from point A to point B, we found commonality in blended families and our beloved Wasatch Mountains.

Does fate have a role in all of this? Who knows. But here’s a little thing that touched my heart. I came ill-prepared for the cold weather and slipped into an Eddie Bauer store. A tall, African American man stood behind the counter. In our 5 to 10 minute exchange, he lifted my heart, made me laugh in our banter back and forth. When I checked out, he put a business card in front of me. Encouraged me to email E.B. about the service I received, wrote his name and a number on the back. As I walked away, I noticed his name was Jeffrey. A sign from my brother or a reminder to say his name? Both felt true in the moment.

A Report on the Current Project

Over the last month, I’ve carved out a portion of my historical fiction project to craft it into a short story. At the same time, in preparation for this week, I have been working on my elevator pitch for the larger project, as well as the synopsis. Each of these mini projects have brought to light a new focus. I now have a confidence to strengthen the voice of a character that I had feared misappropriating. No more. I now see how this voice interrelates with the other main voice and have strategies to enrich the story with these voices.

I attended a panel discussion on multiple points of view in a story. I find this to be one of the most difficult craft issues for people to wrap their heads around. But the panel was great. Five top notch authors: Angie Kim (Miracle Creek), Jean Kwok (Girl in Translation, Searching for Sylvie Lee), Rebecca Makkai (The Great Believers), Julia Phillips (Disappearing Earth) and Danielle Tussoni (Falling Through the Earth).

Let me sum up the takeaways from this session. You must keep momentum going while paying attention to continuity issues. Julia Phillips coined it as the chopping the vegetables moment. It’s that time at the end of a chapter and the end of a writing session when you want to give a tidy end to one point of view character’s story so you can fix dinner.

Emotional force has to carry through the many narratives, if they are important to the story. You have to ask yourself: is the point of view coming from the story or your ambitions. Understanding the power of the story and then the need for voices is another step in the crafting. Here are some tips:

1. Anchor point of views at the beginning and the end. This helps the reader understand how characters got into the story.

2. Ask yourself in the writing process: Whose story is it?

3. Read for consistency in each character. Sometimes a voice that is weak at the start of the writing process becomes a much stronger voice midway through. Be sure to strengthen that voice since their power has emerged in a way that they must be heard and understood in the beginning.

4. You are the god of your book. You must teach your reader about this world you are creating.

Thoughts on Independence

I took some time Saturday afternoon to remind myself why I write—for freedom, for understanding and to find and uphold our differences. I headed down Market Street toward Independence Square. On my way, I came upon a group of black men, large signs , proclaiming the lost tribe of Abraham and Haggis. I wonder how many people know the story of Haggis, who is portrayed as dark skinned and dismissed in the Anglo Saxon translations of the Bible? Not the young white men passing by with signs that read The Future is Anti-Abortion.

Independence Square filled with crowds of collegiate crazies, killing time between ball games. One young man bemoaned the crack in the Liberty Bell. I believe there is a larger crack in our democracy, or maybe the crack grows into society with oppressive plans to divide the very types of people that the founders sought to secure a home far away from tyranny.

A group of older white men stood in front of Independence Hall as they discussed the location of the meeting room where the Declaration of Independence was signed. Who are we in light of that declaration? Some would say a stronger lot. Ten years from that July day in 1776, my ancestors came through the Cumberland Gap to an unsettled land I would one day call home. Beyond that, some time in the mid-1800s, my mother’s family would float into the Ohio Valley, a place reminiscent of their home in the Black Forest of Germany. The two cultures would not intersect until 100 years later when my father and mother would meet on a dance floor. Until then, each became enculturated in separate regions of the U.S. under the same Constitution.

The Association of Writing Professionals conference reminded me once more that there are so many pots melting into one. Young, old, gender specific and non-specific, oppressed and oppressive. And while I continue to digest my experience here in Philly, I know in my heart that change is coming as evidenced by the two young women I met at the bar. They are first year M.F.A. Students with stars in their eyes. As we talked, I heard the dreams of strong voices for change.

I’ve forgotten more of the history of our country than I remember, but it continues to be as true a story of my individual family as the collective experience of our country. The bonds to be broken are doing so link by link, chain by chain. We are more diverse than the definitions some in our world are reluctant to admit. However, I will challenge anyone to come to a place like the birthplace of our nation, sit in Independence Square, study the faces of visitors. None of them are really the same, and all of them come here for one reason—the dream of freedom.

I’m not in my kitchen with Ina, but…

A dear friend said that I had to try to get into Parc, her favorite restaurant in Philadelphia. I kept checking for reservations but none were to be had. My friend made a phone call and I showed up at 10:15 this morning, hungry. The yoke of my Croque Madame glistened with creamy good. The swirl of cream in the coffee was just right. The tart, oh the mushroom tart, oozed with flakey goodness that can only be achieved with real butter. And the pastries, well, need I say more?

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Just another day (or two, or three) in Philly. Right?! Can’t wait to hear more.

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