Monday, May 2, 2016

A Research Hike to Phantom Ranch - by Jane Ruby

Many hikers describe Grand Canyon as majestic and spectacular. I’ve seen several stunning views from the rim, but never more than a thousand feet below it. Would’ve helped in 2010, when I’d written “The Azurite Encounter,” about a high school field trip into the Grand Canyon. In my novel, students descended the steep seven-mile South Kaibab Trail to the Bright Angel Camp-grounds. I had used books, photos and blogs to describe their trip. But I always wondered if my descriptions were accurate.

My chance to find out came this past February, when I joined an eight-women hike to the Phantom Ranch—just a pebble toss from the Bright Angel Campground. While packing for my rookie trek, curiosity overwhelmed me. Had I accurately described creek gurgles and cricket chirps in my novel? I had written about a character sitting on a tree log, sketching the river rock-constructed Phantom Ranch Cantina. I hoped these sounds and sights were accurate, and that my upcoming hike would be, as quoted by the late great Yogi Berra, “Déjà vu all over again.”

The day before the descent, our hike group spent the morning checking equipment and stuffing dufflebags for this mule-assisted hike. I chose this hike because I could pack toiletries, clothes, batteries, chargers, and extra food on the mule instead of my back. The forecast called for six to twelve inches of snow, and I wanted extra supplies in case of emergency. In my novel I describe a late winter storm flooding the canyon, and a main character getting cut off from her campsite. This is one déjà vu I don’t want for my hike!

The morning of our descent the sun had already risen, but storm clouds allowed only streaks of orange-red light to hit some canyon walls. What a spectacular visual send-off for our hike! I caught photos worthy of an Arizona Highways magazine cover!

My zipper-pull thermometer read 20°F, agreeing with the frosty feeling on my face. My windbreaker and underlying layers of clothing protected me from the cold. View of the snow-crusted switchback trail below convinced me to pull on my ice crampons. Our group descended, canyon walls echoing the crunch of snow pack. We fought against gravity and slippage. Thankfully the cliffs blocked the subfreezing breezes. I focused on the trail for fear of sliding off it!

At Cedar Ridge, a thousand feet down, red-tan ice replaced the snow-covered trail. Warm from exertion, I shed my windbreaker. Parts of Cedar Ridge jut out, exposing the trail to a harsh, but warm wind. During heavy gusts, the flapping of wind pants joined the crackling of ice. One gust blew our tour guide’s crampon bag over a cliff. She found a calm and flat area to stop for water, food and picture taking. I turned back to view the majestic cliffs dotted by junipers and snowfields, making our arduous descent worth the trouble!

My thermometer read a balmy 40°F. Dry earth replaced mud, so I removed my crampons. Feelings of awe replaced my fear of death, and I couldn’t help rubbernecking at the bright green bristle bush, agave, and yucca popping out of the deep red rock. The view reminded me of desert mountain slopes after a morning rain.

Arriving at the Bright Angel Shale level, multitudes of lush green-gray bristle bush seemed to erupt from pale green rock—like a fairy-tale desert oasis. A sun ray ran across yellow-and red-lined peaks above us like a moving picture show—better than any Weather Channel video! We passed groups of volunteers filling in mule-made divots. My footsteps felt softer and gentler than before, and I thanked every single volunteer I passed.

After five hours of descent we reached the basement rock level—about a thousand feet above the river. Dark green rock marbled with ribbons of orange-pink dominated our view. We could hear the Colorado River rushing over rocks as indicated by white caps. Two motion picture shows entertained us! Yucca plants and prickly pear cactus began to line our trail, some growing out of cracks of granite. Made me appreciate the heartiness of this desert shrubbery!

When we reached the river level, prickly pear, fishhook, and pincushion cacti carpeted the area. My thermometer read over 50°F, so I found a prickle-free area to shed my wind pants. I couldn’t believe the multitudes of blooming shrubs! Only thing I saw dormant were cottonwood trees, their bare tan bark contrasting with the dark basement rock.

After six hours we traveled through a tunnel and over the river to the North Kaibab Trail, arriving at a narrow trail where some hedgehog cactus seemed to welcome us with spouting fuchsia blossoms. Spring arrived early here!

We paralleled a gurgling Bright Angel creek, passing the mule ranch and the ranger station. At Bright Angel Campgrounds we found a few tents, probably pitched by the trail workers. Amidst several small green-roofed cabins rose a tall building, its green-vaulted roof crowning the river rock walls. That had to be the Phantom Ranch Cantina!
With a burst of energy, I circled the building, looking for logs—like one my character sat on the morning after her descent. Luckily I found several logs suitable for sitting to sketch the historical cantina.

I never heard chirping crickets, so my novel was not entirely accurate. But the high school field trip happened later in Spring—perhaps warm enough for crickets to chirp. I was also wrong about the canyon flooding. Though a snowstorm raged on the rim, we only got a few snowflakes at the bottom.
Jane Ruby at the Grand Canyon
I’m glad my first hike into the Grand Canyon wasn’t completely “déjà vu all over again.” My only regret was not taking this hike before publishing my novel—I’d have added more majestic and spectacular descriptions of the descent.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Inevitable Author -- Spring Cleaning - by Kathleen Cook

Spring is here! I’ve spent the past week painting the bathroom and pantry, cleaning the spots that never get cleaned, fixing broken appliances, sprucing up, and tackling that miserable garage. Every night this week after I finished, I looked at my new novel, untouched for the past seven days, and said in my best Scarlett O’Hara voice, “After all, tomorrow is another day.”

My Aunt Mary used to tell me that spring cleaning was the most important job of the year. “As long as you have everything ship shape once a year, you can take comfort in that and slack off the rest of the time.” I still hear those words echo in my head, even though she’s long gone. I hope they have spring cleaning in Heaven. If they didn’t before she arrived, I’m sure they do now.

As I pondered my unfinished manuscript, however, a curious thought hit me. Should authors also embrace a literary form of spring cleaning? Should we set aside at least one time each year where we clean out the cobwebs of our minds, come up with new ideas, new ways of writing, new areas of research? I’ve seen many writers remain in the same niche, writing the same types of stories over and over again. Often, when I hear a particular author’s name, I automatically associate it with historical fiction, romance, or any other specific and limited genre. Is this because they possess a particular expertise in that area?

Probably, and that’s not a bad thing. Mark Twain once offered a sage bit of wisdom: “Write what you know.” It’s very good advice, for the most part. However, are the stories you currently write the only things you know? Do you exhaust your own expertise and utilize it to full advantage in your writing efforts?

Perhaps not. People often feel more comfortable with their cobwebs. They may be dusty, but it’s their dust. They’re used to it, and it takes effort to sweep them away. When it comes to writing, I often find myself penning the same types of stories. Anything new would force me to do more research, expend more energy and, frankly, THINK. I have oodles of research, filed away on neat little 3x5 cards. If you’re younger than I am, you may have a folder on your computer with inspirational nuggets gleaned from the internet. In either case, it’s there, easily accessible. But should we, as writers, limit ourselves to that folder, that set of 3x5 cards?

Most of us have talents that we never consider putting down on paper. For example, I love baking bread, pizza shells, tortillas and rolls, and have developed a talent for the unique challenges of baking in a desert. I’ve learned that preparing these foods in the Valley of the Sun is very different from the same task back East. If you’ve ever tried to follow a prestigious cookbook’s bread recipe, you’ve probably failed to produce a satisfying result. You wonder why, and attribute it to lack of skill when it may simply be the wrong book, no matter how widely circulated. Most cookbook authors don’t realize, for example, that the bag of flour sitting on a Phoenix store shelf contains up to 50% less moisture than flour bought in Seattle. Cooks must adjust the amount of liquid, in order to turn out a successful loaf of bread.

I know these things; I’ve mastered them. So why haven’t I written a Desert 101 cookbook? I don’t know why; I just never thought about it. Instead, I keep writing the same westerns and fantasies that I’ve always written, churning out the same types of dramatic stories and novels that, quite frankly, few people read. I write them because I like to write them. But how do I know that I wouldn’t like writing cookbooks? Maybe it’s time to sweep away the cobwebs of my mind, think about all the other things that I know well enough to write about, and then go for it.

What about you? Do you write romance or children’s novels? What would an author’s version of spring cleaning reveal to you? Are there different genres, different great works hidden in the dark recesses of your mind? Do you have a talent for sewing, gardening, or decorating? Do you often travel to the same destinations over and over, simply because you enjoy them and know exactly what to expect? Could you write a handy guide about an out of the way spot you discovered on one of these excursions?

Perhaps you know the best places to dine in your city and can add a unique twist, to distinguish your work from other guides. Have you figured out how to do a specific job in a way that makes people ask, “How did you do that?” Such talents might form the heart of a great eHow article or blog theme. There’s no need to write a book. Articles are a lucrative way for writers to expand their literary portfolios and gain a wider audience. It’s possible that new readers will find you through these articles, and in the process, discover your current books that have languished on Amazon. By expanding into other genres, you garner new audiences for all of your works, not just the ones new readers enjoyed this time.

With April comes new growth and new ideas. Whether or not you relish spring cleaning (and like me, push off tasks for the rest of the year), I encourage you to clear out that dusty niche in your creative process. By doing so, you may blaze a whole new literary trail, or you may simply learn new ways of writing in the same genres, with new twists and turns to surprise and gratify your readers. Happy spring cleaning!

Kathleen Cook wrote and edited self-help and educational articles for a major publisher before launching Brighter Stars Editing Services. The author of several books, Katy studied journalism at Rio Salado in the 1970s and now offers her talents to both new and experienced authors. She enjoys seeing new writers succeed and provides extensive comments and advice on all phases of the writing and publishing process.

The mother of four grown children, Katy enjoys parenting, reading, gardening, organic cooking, and perpetual education in subjects from Stonehenge to Python. Her areas of expertise include memoirs, historical fiction and nonfiction, spirituality (Christian, Buddhist and Pagan), mystery, and sci-fi/fantasy.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Dancing With the Void: Five Ways to Outfox The Blocks - by Mary Sojourner

You’ve been writing every day. The work seems to insist on being done. There are a half-dozen stories waiting at the edges of your mind for you to bring them through. Then – on a day like any other day – there is Nothing.

You Google writing tips. You have a glass of wine – or you don't. You sit for hours staring into Nothing. Nothing works – at least in your favor. Here are five simple ways to be with the Nothing – and the stories, poems and creative essays that lie beneath it.

1. Fight the Power - Not: You don’t fight a creative block by attacking it directly. The block is part of your psyche, so if you go after it, you are committing aggression on yourself. Use Aikido, the martial art in which you enter your opponent’s attack and redirect it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aikido Give in. Walk away from what you have been creating. Literally. Leave your workspace. Wander without plan. When you come back, do whatever you do to relax yourself.

2. Put the Block in a Suspect Line-up: Take a notebook and crayons (or colored pencils) away from your workspace. As quickly as you can, sketch a line-up of at least four suspects. (Stick figures are great.) They can be human, animal, a memory of a teacher, a parent, or anybody who invaded your creativity.

3. Mess with the Block: Put your drawing away. Don’t look at until at least four days later. Same instructions re: notebook and crayons. Open the notebook to the suspect line. It’s almost 100% certain that one of the suspects will stand out more than the others. Copy that figure to a blank page and dress it up in a ridiculous outfit. Put a hipster soul patch on it; a clown face (unless you’re scared of clowns); a feather boa and a garter belt.

4. Honor the Block: Frame your drawing and hang it over your workspace. If you don’t have a central workspace, use it as a screen saver. Set a timer and write a thirty minute conversation with The Block. Write as fast as you can. When the timer goes off, sit doing nothing for ten minutes. Then set up two chairs. Read the dialogue out loud. Sit in one chair as The Block, the other chair as yourself. Read slowly.

5. Thank the Block: This step is crucial. The Block exists in you. You weren’t born blocked. You didn’t emerge from the womb and think “I better not do that.”, “I’m not good enough.” "I don’t have anything to say.” The Block has often kept you safe – or at least free from anxiety. Thank it in writing, mail the note to yourself. When it comes in the mail (real mail, real paper, real writing), read the thank you and burn it.

The only sure antidote to oblivion is the creation. So I loop my sentences around the trunks of maples, hook them into the parched soil, anchor them to rock, to moon and stars, wrap them tenderly around the ankles of those I love. From down in the pit, I give a tug, to make sure my rope of words is hooked onto the world, and then up I climb -  Scott Russell Sanders, Staying Put

Mary Sojourner is the author of three novels: Sisters of the Dream; Going Through Ghosts and 29; the short story collection, Delicate; essay collection, Bonelight: ruin and grace in the New Southwest; memoir, Solace: rituals of loss and desire and memoir/self-help guide, She Bets Her Life. Her short story collection, The Talker, will be published in 2017 by Torrey House Press. She has written and continues to write magazine columns, commentaries and narratives, as well as having been a national NPR commentator for ten years. She teaches writing - in private circles, at writing conferences and book festivals, and for Matador U, an international travel writing program. Writing is the most powerful tool she has found for doing what is necessary to mend - oneself and the greater world.

Visit her mentoring website: http://www.breakthroughwriting.net
She publishes free weekly writing tips, challenges and exercises. Subscribe to received breakthrough tips automatically.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Tempe Book Festival - Arizona



Celebration of Books

Saturday April 16, 2016
Time: 10:00am - 3:00pm

Tempe Book Festival: A Celebration of Books

Come out with the whole family to celebrate books and the joy of reading! Co-hosted by the Tempe Public Library and Arizona State University, the festival will feature great books by bringing together local authors, booksellers and others for a day of panel discussions, book signings and fun activities for all ages.

Arizona Authors’ Members Scheduled to Exhibit:


DREW AQUILINA - SHERYL & JOE BROOKS - JAN CLEERE - MARCIA FINE - JEAN GROEN - KELLY LYDICK - TONY TAYLOR

Come and support our local literary community.

More information and directions at:

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

2016 ARIZONA LITERARY CONTEST LOOKING FOR ENTRIES

Hello, literary friends!

The 38th Annual Arizona Literary Contest opened January 1, 2016 to accept entries for its renowned writing competition. The Arizona Literary Contest is open to writers worldwide submitting works written in English. Submissions must be postmarked no later than July 1, 2016.

Besides cash prizes, all winners and finalists are featured in the Arizona Literary Magazine, and honored at an official Awards Banquet. The winners are also entered in the Pushcart Awards.

This is a great opportunity to share your published or unpublished work, and Arizona Authors’ encourages all writers to compete in one or more categories this year. Whatever style of writing you enjoy, whether multi-published or not yet published, the Arizona Literary Contest has a category for you.

Writing is often a solitary experience. Participating in a writing competition enables the writer to explore and hone his/her creative talents and writing skills, open up to new ideas, share his/her passions with a wider audience and allow others to reap the benefits of reading the work.

For full details, visit http://www.azauthors.com/contest_index.html Deadline: July 1, 2016

Saturday, March 26, 2016

GREAT PRIZES - NATIONWIDE RECOGNITION! ENTER TODAY!

Open to everyone anywhere, published or unpublished, as long as the entry is in English. Deadline July 1, 2016.
Enter form available HERE