One Endless Summer Day: A Story from Life

Just under the wire, June’s short story is here! Well, not here on the blog, but HERE in the Kindle store.

I wrote a prehistoric version of this story way back in my second year of college for a creative writing class. At the time I was sure it was the best thing I’d ever written. When I reread it earlier this month I thought it was pretty atrocious. So I took out all the pretension, changed the POV and the tense, added, subtracted, and molded. A few lines made it through unscathed and unedited. But just a few. It is the exact same story as it was fourteen years ago–just much, much, MUCH better.

Unlike all of my other stories written thus far this year, this one is based on a real event and real people, though most are dead and the living have new names. It’s an artistic, fictional rendering of a very small event that made a very big impression on me, an event that I have never forgotten, but told from the perspective of someone else who was there.

Here is a short excerpt to tempt you…

When did she get so old? It seems to have happened when I wasn’t looking, perhaps one night as I was sleeping. It vexes me that time is quickly stealing away abandon, that most precious of childhood qualities. To be unconcerned, flitting about on the very edge of reality in the silvery world of forests and fairies, wearing a dress made of yellow rose petals and riding upon the backs of ladybugs. To lightly touch down upon the ground on soft bare feet. To wear necklaces of raindrops. To talk to fireflies.

“Paula, what are you looking at out there?”

“Karen. Just watching Karen play in the yard. I’m listening. You were talking about the prices at the meat market.”

“It’s really just ridiculous, you know. I’ve never paid so much for ground chuck in my life, and that’s including…”

And on and on and on. The motorcycles from the front room. The drone of negativity from across the table. I squeeze my eyes shut and push my fingers into my temples.

“Mom, do you have any aspirin?”

“It’s in the bathroom.”

I go into the bathroom, shut the door, and stand for a moment in the lovely still dark, my hands upon the counter. Then I flick on the light and open the medicine cabinet. I scan the jars and bottles lined up in rows, a neat little train of powdered normalcy that daily delivers some relief, some steadiness, one more miserable day upon this earth to the two old people who live in this sad little house.

I tell myself that I need to be more patient with her. That life has not always been kind to her. That I’ll be old someday. That she just wants someone to talk to.

In case you’re curious, the POV character is based on my mother, who loved the original story from my creative writing class. I think she will enjoy this one much more. And I hope you enjoy it as well.

Driving North on 131 to Interlochen and Points Beyond

On Tuesday my husband, Zachary, and I dropped the boy off at his grandparents’ house and headed north for Interlochen. At the outset, it did not look to be a terribly great day for driving or for the concert.

Image

Soon we were quite pounded with rain and white-knuckling it at only about 45 mph.

Image

But it started letting up pretty quickly and the rest of the trip went off without a hitch.

Image

In fact, the further north we got, the nicer the weather got.

Image

Which is generally to be expected in the summer months.

Image

Also expected on trips Up North are places like this.

Image

Things sometimes get a little strange is all I’m saying. A lot of oddballs live up north (no offense to my sister).

At any rate, the concert was incredible. Quite possibly one of the best I’ve been to. The weather cooled off and the sun setting over the lake behind the stage set a great atmosphere for Brandi Carlile’s fresh sound and amazing voice.

Image

The next day we lazed around the Traverse City and Old Mission Point area with brunch at The Omelette Shoppe on Cass St. and a short walk around the stony beach.

Image

We found a couple interesting rock arrangements.

Image

See the heart? And this…

Image

And enjoyed the lovely cherry orchards and vineyards along M-37.

Image

Too soon we headed back south. But it will only be a few weeks until we get to drive north once more, this time for nearly two weeks.

Soon it will be July (can you believe it?). So I must say goodbye for a couple days so I can finish up June’s short story for you all. Here’s the updated cover, which I’m liking very much:

Image

Every Ebook–FREE TODAY (Yeah, you read that right.)

One year ago I started this blog with the intention of focusing most of my posts on writing and Michigan. If you want to know why I chose those two subjects, just click on “Home” up above the blog header. A year later, I’m happy that my passion for both writing and Michigan has not waned. In fact, I get the distinct feeling that I’m truly just getting started.

For those of you who have been along for the ride from the beginning, I thank you for reading. For those who have just found A Beautiful Fiction, I thank you for joining us on this journey toward better writing, more appreciation for the natural world, and more intentional noticing.

We’re now nearly six months into my one-short-story-per-month experiment (I’m thinking June’s story will just make it on time). I’m in talks with a couple agents about my first novel, I’ve begun another that I’ve put on pause, and I’ve begun a third for which I’m in gung-ho mode. I’ve also sketched out another project—a three book series.

I have many lovely travel plans, the first being Interlochen next week, where my husband is taking me to see Brandi Carlile in concert—part of his Mother’s Day present to me. I. Can’t. Wait. Then camp, Mackinac Island, and hiking.

So I imagine this summer you will find this space filled with photos of some lovely places and people. And I’ll keep those short stories and posts about the craft of writing coming as well.

If you haven’t already, consider following me on Twitter (@ErinLBartels) to get links to lots of interesting articles about Michigan, writing, publishing, and more.

First Five

And as a special thank you to all of my readers, I’m making all five of my short stories FREE TODAY ONLY for Kindle and Kindle apps. So snap them all up today and tell your reading friends to do the same. You can find them all on my Amazon author page or on the My Books page on this website.

Happy summer, and thanks for making me part of your longest day of the year.

Portrait by an Artist of a Young Man

This is my son, done in acrylics by a wonderful artist, friend, and consummate storyteller named Tiffany McGillie.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

You can view and purchase her work at her Etsy store. I commissioned Tiffany to paint this as a Father’s Day gift for my dear husband, Zachary. This is the first painting I’ve commissioned and the first I’ve purchased directly from an artist. It will not be the last.

Your Novel as a Garden: 14 Ways Writing Fiction is Like Growing Your Own Veggies

I’ve once more been in the throes of novel revision during the past couple weeks, adding subplot and subtext, honing here, shaping there, putting everything just so before sending it all off to hands waiting in the cybersphere. At the same time I have been forced to pay closer attention to my vegetable garden as the heat and rain combine forces, spurring on quick growth and a crop of weeds that must be eradicated.

It occurs to me, as I consider these two activities, that writing a novel is much like plotting out and planting a garden. If you start with nothing, just a bit of land and some muscle power and some seeds and plant starts, you can, through hard work and sweat make bare dirt into food. You can make this happen…

Growth

And if you start with nothing, just a blank Word doc and some brain power and the barest germ of an idea, you can, through hard work, make bare creative impulse into engaging fiction.

In fact, here are 14 ways writing a novel is like growing your own vegetables:

1. You till the soil. You prepare your mind to be receptive to writing ideas (these are your seeds) so that when the seeds are planted it is into a mind that is already at work helping them to grow. In gardening this means removing rocks, adding nutrients, and loosening the soil. In writing it means removing obstacles to creativity (like, say, forgetting to worry about the state of your house or waistline for awhile), adding muse-bait (taking more walks in the woods, traveling to some interesting places, or playing hours of Mario Cart–whatever helps you think creatively), and loosening up your writing muscles (by blogging, writing short stories, writing poetry–heck, even a Twitter tirade could get you loose).

2. You plan the layout. You can’t just dump a bunch of different seeds together and expect your garden to grow. You have to plan. For some people that may look like lots of drawing and erasing and drawing again on paper, scouring reference books for light requirements and companion plantings, and whipping out a protractor and one of those chalk line thingies. For others it’s just getting everything in line in your head before diving in head first with a shovel. Whatever your method, whether you’re a compulsive outliner or a free associating free spirit, you need to have some idea of your goals and how all the different parts of your garden will interact with each other. Otherwise you end up with a big mess on your hands come August and a lot of extra work as you try to fix your errors.

3. You plant the first seeds. These are the cold-hardy seeds that just need some thawed ground and the strengthening spring sunlight to get started. They’re your strongest ideas, the ones you can’t get out of your head, the ones that persist despite bad weather and not writing them down. Don’t worry about a late frost. Just get those suckers in the ground so they can get growing. Seeds don’t grow unless they’re planted. Your garden, your novel, will never happen if you don’t take a leap of faith and trust that the strongest ideas will survive.

4. You water. Here’s where you give those seeds a little push. When you write, what is it that helps you develop your ideas into something approaching a story? Whatever that is–giving yourself a word count or time goal, doing character sketches, etc.–do that.

5. You wait. Put your work away for a bit and let things start to happen. In the garden, beneath the soil where you can’t see, roots and shoots begin to grow. In your mind, the same thing happens when you put your writing aside for a while, get some distance, and let things develop beneath the surface.

6. You plant the next wave of seeds. While you were waiting, I bet you got some new seeds, didn’t you? Plant those when the time is right. Some seeds can’t be planted until the soil is warm. Some ideas don’t occur to us until we’ve already gotten started and the story gets going.

7. You water. Again. Keep an eye on those little ideas you’ve planted and don’t let them struggle for life on their own.

8. You wait. Again. No matter how much we may want to sometimes, we can’t force a garden to grow and we can’t force a good story to develop faster than it should. Time is a writer’s best friend and we should try to work with it.

9. You plant some baby plants. Remember that scene you cut from your last writing project? That subplot you’ve been dying to find a place for? Those are your baby plants. They’re already pretty far along and sometimes you can find just the right place to plant them in your current writing project. Don’t force them in if there’s not enough room for them. But sometimes they’re just what you need to make your garden whole and productive.

10. You water. Again.

11. You wait. Again.

12. You weed. Ah. And here is where it can get tricky, time consuming, and hurt your back. Sometimes you won’t know what’s wanted and what’s a weed. Very early on, it’s really hard to tell sometimes because seedlings can look very much the same. But if you let all these ideas develop a bit (through watering and waiting) eventually the weeds will show their true colors. Those things that stick out, don’t belong, and aren’t productive? Pull them out! And when you look over your work again and find that a new crop of weeds has popped up, pull those out too! Don’t let weeds take over your garden or your crops will suffer (and it will just look like one big mess).

13. Repeat steps 10 through 12 as many times as necessary. I’ve lost count on my first novel MS. But the number of times isn’t important. What’s important is that you  repeat these steps as often as is necessary in your particular story garden.

14. Finally, you harvest. At some point, if you have been diligent and attentive, you will have a harvest. A lovely, verdant, productive garden that you are eager to share with others (because you can’t keep all that great food to yourself!). What you do with your harvest is up to you. Self-publish? Find an agent? Give it away for free?

But one thing is sure: you’ll never have anything to share if you don’t plan, plant, have patience, pull up the weeds, and put your back into it! So get out there and get dirty.

Summer in Michigan Means One Thing to Me: Up North

Over the past week my husband, Zach, and I have been engaged in the blessed process of planning summer travel around the state: picking dates, securing care for our pets, coordinating travel with family, reserving a room here…

Bay View Inn

We’re thrilled to be heading back up to Mackinac Island after a few years’ absence and excited to introduce our son to its magical qualities for the first time. Zach and I will spend two nights there alone, writing while overlooking the Straits of Mackinaw and riding bikes around the island. Then my in-laws will come up with our son and we all get to pal around, ride bikes, bring the boy to Fort Mackinac, ride in horse-drawn carriages, and eat ice cream. I can already feel the wind off the water.

Mackinac Island Ride

But before we get to Mackinac Island, we’ll be spending another week at a very special place to our family, Camp Lake Louise

Lake Louise

And in late summer will be the Second Annual Sisters’ Hiking Trip. Last year we hiked Pictured Rocks…

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

You can read about our amazing trip here, here, here, and here. Not totally sure just where we’re going this year. But I’m scheming.

This is the time of year my heart aches for woods and water and sky, when thinking about driving north–far north–elicits a physical reaction of butterflies in my stomach and even tears welling in my eyes. The silence of the night sky filled with stars. The sound of wind through trees. The cold splash of clear water. The clip-clip-clip of horses’ hooves. The heat of the sun upon bare skin. The scratchy sound of sand upon worn pine floors. Just the thought of these stirs deep longing in my soul.

I’m hopelessly in love with Michigan.

You Have Been Chosen

On Sunday we had my son’s fifth birthday party with his crazy little friends at Impression 5 Children’s Museum. Calvin wanted a Toy Story theme, and so I made these little cupcakes for dessert.

Oooooooooooo!

For the uninitiated, these are my best effort at making a bunch of Pizza Planet aliens from the claw machine. Observe…

As the writer seeking publication or even representation, it’s easy to feel like one of those little alien squeaky toys, waiting in a sea of other aliens–er, writers–for some mystical outside force to pluck us from obscurity. We long to be “chosen.” Some, like Woody, will search out another, more indie avenue. Others, like Buzz, will be chosen without even having waited at all (those lucky-ducky writers who are at just the right place at the right time and know the right people).

But most of us are aliens. Waiting and hoping.

But while you’re busy waiting, be busy writing more, revising again, making everything you create as creative and as strong as possible. So that when The Claw closes around you and draws you up above the crowded masses, you will be ready to take full advantage of that “better place” to which you are going.

And here’s hoping your agent or publisher is nothing like Sid.