Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dreams of Stories, Dreams of Life

I dreamed about the murder of the King of Norway's daughter right before her wedding. It's still very vivid - I saw the butler carrying her slashed body out in silence through back rooms so the king and queen wouldn't find out. The butler made eye contact with me and I knew I could not tell the parents, not yet. We sat having tea with the Queen and someone remarked how good her English was. "Well, she's American!" I said. It was one of those dreams that felt like reality when I woke up and never faded into the mists like so many dreams do.

I think I just came up with a new story. How can I
not write this? I looked up the King of Norway on the internet, and then wish I hadn't. He looks like a very nice man and apparently has a daughter and grandchildren. Well, as usual with writing, we take bits of reality and interweave them with much more straight from the imagination.

I mentioned this dream on Facebook. Two other writers independently posted of dreaming part of a story. Dreams seem to be in the air.

We saw the movie "Inception." It's all about dreams, dreams nested in dreams, shared dreams. It has way
more action scenes than mine ever do, but is realistically confusing at times. How did we get from floating in the elevator to falling off the bridge to skiing toward the fortress? It was exhausting in its dream-truth.

One of my favorite songs is Joni Michell's song about Amelia Earhart. "Dreams, Amelia, dreams and false alarms," is the last line. It's a good thing seeing a princess slashed right before her wedding is a false alarm. It's a good thing I'm a crime writer so it doesn't seem totally odd that I'm excited about such a gruesome dream. What would Fritz Perls say about it? All parts of the dream are parts of yourself, and you own the power of each part.

Have you ever dreamed a story and then written it? Or read one and wished it was a dream? Look for a short story next year featuring the dead Norwegian bride.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Flash Fiction

I've been working on a super-flash fiction story for a Crime Bake 2010 contest. The assignment? Use 10 of the following 20 words in a 150-word crime story:

Bedroom, Bone, Club, Corpse, Counselor, Dark, Dead, Family, Fool, Grave, Heels, Ice, Landlord, Living, Pick, Scene, Secret, Surprise, Trollop, Worse

These are words used in titles by this year's keynote speaker, Charlaine Harris. It's fun, and a challenge, to create a story that works using 10 of these words. Many cite the king of flash fiction, by Ernest Hemingway: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." Every word has to count. So I used all 20! I can't publish it here until after the conference mid-November, and promise to do so then. Writing flash is such a good lesson for writing longer works. Every word should always have to count.

In the meantime, pop over to the Publications tab and scroll down to the last item. I put up a flash story (600 words) I wrote that won a holiday contest a decade and a half ago. Have you written any extremely small stories? Won contests with them? Do you like the form or hate it (either reading it or writing it)?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Garden in Decline

It's fall in New England. Everybody likes that, right? Gorgeous red and yellow leaves splashed against clear blue skies. Dry mild sunshine. A chance to wear boots and vests and scarves again.

But no! Some of us wail, some of us quietly grieve. What it means to me, most of all, is a virtual end to locally grown produce. The Ipswich Farmer's Market had its farewell appearance a week ago, and when I stopped by the Rowley market the next morning, hoping for a few more local pears and a head of Romaine, they weren't there, either. The couple of large farm "stands" around here will shut down after the pumpkin and corn-maze craziness of Halloween; only one stays open all year round, but the produce they stock won't be their own until the first spinach of spring.

Until the ground freezes, I'll have a few bits of lettuce and mizuna to harvest. Snips of oregano and rosemary. The farm potatoes and carrots I've been stockpiling. Tomato sauce and blueberries in the freezer. Locally grown chicken and meat from Tendercrop, the one farm that stays open for business. That's about it.

So what's a writer to do in the dark days of late fall and early winter in the north with nothing local to eat? Get writing, obviously! Of course, make stews, roast chickens, bake bread, create pies. Tend the wood stove. Dust off last winter's knitting project. Mostly, though, finish the revisions on Speaking of Murder and keep writing on Death on the Neck (or whatever the next book is called) until the first draft of that one is done.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Idealism Lives

When we were in college a century ago, we felt like we were the vanguard of a new social order. It wasn't anything wild. We lived quiet lives in small group houses down the street from other houses full of like-minded friends. But to us, it seemed that we invented food coops, discovered recycling, created vegetarian menus for the first time. It was exciting, and very different from the quiet suburban California lives most of us had grown up in.

We studied amino-acid protein combinations from Diet for a Small Planet. We knew about the horrors of trans-fats in margarine 35 years ago. We made our own whole-grain bread in 4-loaf batches and held a potluck Thanksgiving dinner for 20. I created a small vegetable garden in the small yard behind the beach house we called home during the school year. We drove down the coast to Laguna Beach and the first food coop I had ever heard of, did our work shifts, and loaded up the one car among the 4 of us with soybeans, leeks, and peppermint soap with a crazy rant on its label. We rode our bikes wherever we could and, in the absence of public transportation in the area, hitched rides when we couldn't.

We had a lot of fun doing it. Made some spectacular mistakes, too. Did you know homemade soybean patties just don't hold together very well on a grill? And that 100% rye bread doesn't rise? And that a single girl hitchhiking to class might need to keep her hand on the door handle just in case a male driver gets creepy? (Can I believe I even did that??)

Some of us from that group are still vegetarians, and at a recent reunion, it was interesting to see how our shared life style had stuck with all of us in one way or another. But was that a blip in history? Is there any hope for younger generations glued to their cell phones and their video games? What's with the popularity of pointed high-heeled shoes with young women? Do students care about recycling?

If my son, John David is any example, it sure looks like it. He's living in a 3-story coop house with 13 housemates. They do chores in rotation and take turns cooking "family" dinner for the entire group 5 nights a week. Recyling and compost bins looked full and well-used when I visited. Most residents seem to arrive home on their bicycles. JD himself is an avid supporter of small-scale urban gardening and works for environmental change. And I work with a young man who also lives in a cooperative house and wants to get together with similar houses in the area.

This is very cool. Very gratifying for the older generation to see at least a few young people carrying on the effort. Very pleasing for a mom who never stopped growing organic vegetables. Go Verndale House!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Local Speaking Gig

So excited. Just got asked to speak on a panel of fellow authors with short stories in this year's Level Best Books anthology, Thin Ice.

Why so excited? It's a short walk away in downtown Ipswich, Massachusetts, my fair city (okay, town) on December 2, just a few weeks after the anthology is published. We'll be speaking at the Book Nook at River's Edge on Market Street. Right down the hill from here.

Oh, wait - that means I'd better get business cards done up. Lots of them. And what else? Polish the pitch about the book. Be ready to talk about Ipswich as character. Find an outfit? No, got that covered. And I already set up an Author page as Edith M. Maxwell on Facebook, on the recommendation of our local social networking guru, JA Hennrikus, writer (look for her on facebook). Stop on by.

Exciting it is, though. Details to follow for those of you who want to make a visit to the North Shore on a dark December evening. I just might throw a little party at my house afterwards. Any takers?