WOW! Women on Writing Flash Fiction Contest

Still a few days to enter (deadline is midnight May 31) the WOW! Quarterly Flash Fiction Contest Entry fee is $10, but it's being judged by literary agent Jenny Bent.

Jenny Bent has a great post on Rookie Mistakes that made me cringe; I've been guilty of a few of these--and close to doing some others before I came to my senses.

BTW, the Summer contest will be opening in June, so there are new chances to enter each quarter.

Nearly Haiku

Short post today, since I inflicted two long ones in a row on my readers. I'm always inspired to write poetry at the turning of the seasons, and despite today's weather feeling more like February than late May I thought I'd post a few of my short poems. I call this form "nearly Haiku":

After a rainstorm,
The grass comes alive
With earthworms and robins.

Lonesome mockingbird
Fills warm nights with his longing---
I would give him rest.

That last line should be read with a certain wry tone, which I'm sure you know if you've ever had a mockingbird singing outside your window ALL NIGHT LONG. My husband says it's only the bachelors that sing at night, so here's hoping our lonesome guy gets lucky.

Teaser Tuesday (also Towel Day)

This is the very beginning of my book, Those Lost at Sea and Drowned, or technically its prologue. I thought it would be a good continuation of the spookiness I posted yesterday. And do you have your towel today?

"Where are you taking me?" I tried to plant my feet, but Miss Bonney roughly pulled me into motion again.

"I'm taking you to the east wing, to put an end to this superstitious nonsense once and for all," she answered, holding my arm in an iron grip. "I will solve two problems with one fell swoop—get some use out of that room, and cure you of lying."

"But I don't lie," I said, my breath coming in puffs as I trotted to keep up.

Miss Bonney snorted. "I suppose you deny telling the other girls that the ghost of the groundskeeper and his dog walk the gardens? Or that Tabitha's late grandmother wanted to speak with her? Some of those girls haven't slept in a week. You're nearly ten years old, Isabelle, you're getting too old for such stories."

"They are not stories. And I told the others that they didn't need to fear these spirits, they don't mean us any harm."

Miss Bonney turned left into a long gallery, raising her candle to get her bearings. This wing of the school was cold and disused, smelling of decay and mildew. I was more curious than frightened—until we approached the door at the far end.

"What is this place?" I whispered, trembling now.

Miss Bonney fumbled with a ring of keys. "This apartment has been locked up for years; something unfortunate happened here and the staff are convinced it's haunted. But once you've spent the night in it, and you emerge unscathed, I'll prove to them there's no reason to neglect this space."

"And if it is haunted?"

"Impossible. There are no such thing as ghosts, and once you admit that I will let you out."

With a triumphant grunt, she turned the key in the lock and pulled the door open. I turned to run away, but she grabbed me and shoved me inside the room. The edge of a rug caught at my foot, tripping me, and before I could recover the door was closed and locked. She had not even given me the candle, but moonlight filtered through the cobwebbed windows. Every one of my senses was on edge, alone in this room.

It was quiet at this end of the building; all the students would be getting ready for bed in their dormitories by now. The furnishings in the room were years out of date and covered in a thick layer of dust. Chairs and small tables were knocked over and broken, from some long-ago disturbance. My steps lifted the dust on the carpet, and I sneezed. At the sound, the silence in the room took on a new quality.

I froze in place, holding my breath and straining to pick up the slightest noise. Suddenly, there was a flurry of whispers around me, dry and fluttery as the cries of moths. The voices of three girls, overlapping and swirling together, so agitated that I could only pick out a few words.

"You shouldn't be here—"

"Get out—"

"There is still time—"

"We'll show you—" they said together.

California Castle

Warning: long post today, and there's some ghostly creepiness if you don't like that. Click on the photo above to be taken to my Preston Castle gallery.

In my next novel-length project (there are some poems and a novella that need to happen in there somewhere too), I am planning on featuring a local landmark, Preston Castle. Built as the Preston School of Industry for juvenile offenders in the 1890s, it was closed in 1960 and pretty much left to the elements. Most of the fixtures were stripped, but the Preston Castle Foundation is trying to make repairs and recreate some of the castle's former glory.

Last Saturday, I went to the castle for their photographer's day. This is the third time I've been there in as many years, and it was cool to see some new areas that weren't previously open to the public. Although this was billed as a photographer's day (and there were plenty of shutterbugs there) I was puzzled by some groups of people that were touring the castle. They traveled in tight clusters and were kind of edgy and chatty, not the most ideal companions if you're trying to concentrate on getting the shot you want.

Then I overheard one of the group squeal, "Something's pulling my hair!" and I got it. They weren't there for the photo opportunities, they were there for the ghosts. Apparently since I was first there in 2007, there have been numerous paranormal investigations of the site, and when Ghost Hunters featured an episode on the castle it increased traffic tremendously.

I just watched part of an episode on You Tube (I embedded it below) and I'm glad I hadn't seen it before I went in, I'm kind of wimp for scary movies and such. All I can speak for is my own experiences at the castle, some of which are more disturbing than others.

When I'm taking photographs, I'm extremely focused (no pun intended) but I have to always keep some awareness of my surroundings so that I'm not caught by surprise when someone's about to walk into the frame. There have been a few times at the castle that I've felt someone on my radar, so I wait to hit the shutter but then I don't see anyone.

The most dramatic encounter was on my first time inside, with a smaller camera club so that we were pretty well spread out. I was alone on one end of the first floor, where there is a woman's bathroom with a storeroom off of it. I was trying to get a shot of the old sink filled with leaves that had come in through the broken window. The storeroom was between me and the sink, and it was pitch black in there.

I was involved with balancing the bright light coming in, but I gradually became aware of a wave of what could only be described as hostility coming from the dark storeroom. I said something like, "Just let me take these last few shots and I'll leave you alone."

Without missing a beat, a voice grated, "Who do you think you are?" I took my shot and moved on to another part of the castle, thank you very much.

The only odd thing that happened this last Saturday was in the alcove off the kitchen. I don't remember being able to go into there before, but I was waiting for another photographer to finish up in the pantry so I thought I'd see if there were any photo opps in the alcove. I had my lens set to auto focus while I was setting the exposure, and it kept zooming in and out. It usually only does that when it's trying to "decide" whether to focus on a near or far object, or if there is rapid movement within the frame. Neither of those situations applied, I was just pointed towards a doorway and a locker.

The kitchen is where the school's cook was killed, and I just learned from the Ghost Hunters episode that her body was found stuffed in the alcove. The kitchen is also the place where a lot of people say they feel a touch or smell cookies baking. The general belief is that the cook returns to the site of her murder because it was a violent death (bludgeoning) but that wasn't the sense that I got on another trip.

My second time at the castle was a private tour so I could get shots for an article that appeared in the April 2008 issue of Sierra Heritage. I was in the kitchen by myself and spent a good chunk of time in there while I waited for the slow shutter speeds. And my sense was that it was a very peaceful place; I think she comes back because it was a place she was happy. She loved the bustle and the hectic pace, and especially the lulls in the evening where she could sit down and appreciate all the things they'd accomplished that day.

All the good blog titles are taken!

If you tuned in to this blog on day one, you may recall that it was unimaginatively christened "Angelica R. Jackson's Writing News." Heckler that I am, it was too obvious of a leap to "Angelica R. Jackson's Writing Snooze." So I spent the last few days trying to think of a new title. Here are some I rejected:

Variations on word play with "Write" instead of "Right" (Write Now, Write Away, etc.)
Most of these had several existing blogs under that title

Get Thee to a Cattery
Because I volunteer at a wonderful cat sanctuary (but I don't plan on writing about cats much on my blog)

Real Pirates say ARJ
Okay, it was getting late, and I have a thing for pirates (after Jack Sparrow, who doesn't?)

And my husband's suggestion: ARJ a'bloggin
My reaction was Huh? and thought others might feel the same

So I've settled on Angelic Muse , although most people who know me might vote for Sarcastic Muse.

Care to make other suggestions in the comments? Weigh in on Angelic Muse? Oh, and I also customized my template a bit.

When the Emotional Well Runs Dry

I found something helpful the other day via GotYA . It's The Bookshelf Muse's Emotion Thesaurus

It's meant as a helpful writer's tool, so that you have a whole list of ways for your characters to show emotion. Without being repetitive or cliched, hopefully.

"I can totally use this!" I say, with a feeling of breathlessness (indicating happiness/joy). I think that might come across as sarcastic, but I don't mean it that way, I guess I have some more work to do.

First Ever Teaser Tuesday

My first ever Teaser Tuesday posting; this is from my YA historical/paranormal novel, Those Lost at Sea and Drowned. There is also a synopsis of my book under the Novels link above. This is a section I've added fairly recently, so comments are welcome and appreciated.

Isabelle (MC) and Doña Catherine have been invited to dine in the captain's cabin.

Captain Lee did his best to be charming, but he was not of the same class as the beautiful Doña Catherine, or even myself. He would start to tell a funny story and realize it was inappropriate for ladies, trailing off into a mumbled punch

Eventually, he changed his tack and attempted some flattery. "Doña
Catherine, there is a certain kind of seaweed that grows on the Atlantic shore—it's a vivid green, and I do believe the color of your eyes comes close."

"Indeed?" Doña Catherine trod on my foot, a clear warning that I was not allowed to laugh at the captain.

"What's more," he continued, "you're mightily well-preserved for a woman old enough to be Miss Brandt's mother. Skin like a seagull's breast, you have."

Doña Catherine and I avoided each other's gaze; this clumsy effort would send us both into gales of laughter if we weren't careful.

"Skin like a seagull's breast?" She finally choked out. "Is that a good thing to have?"

"It truly is. Most people have no idea how white the feathers are on a seagull, or how soft they feel against the hand." He stared at Doña Catherine as he said this last part, an oddly intent look on his face.

As the silence grew uncomfortable, I asked, "How do you come by your intimate knowledge of gulls, Captain Lee?"

I regretted my choice of the word "intimate" almost immediately, as I felt a giggle well up. I hastily coughed into my napkin, but my question had its intended effect.

Captain Lee took his gaze off Doña Catherine to answer me. "I had a pet gull once, when I was a boy. I found her injured on the dock and took her home to fix her up. Snowflake was her name, and I used to sit and stroke her by the fire." His eyes went back to Doña Catherine again.

"What happened to Snowflake?" she asked.

"Once she started feeling better, she'd try to bite me. She siezed the tip of my finger one time, nearly took off the nail. I couldn't have that, of course."

"So you set her free?"

"No—my temper got the best of me and I wrung her neck. Kept her skin for a long time, just to stroke the feathers once in a while."

I no longer felt the urge to laugh, and the food lost what little appeal it held. I turned to our other dining companions, but Captain Lee's story had unsettled me and I found myself looking askance at his partners, Mr. Stevens and Mr. Vogel. I noticed that no matter how warm an anecdote they shared, their eyes stayed cold. The way Mr. Vogel ate turned my stomach, as well. He used the knife as a surgical instrument, separating bits of meat from the bone like a vivisectionist.

Resources for Writers

Poets & Writers Magazine is celebrating forty years, and their website has grown into a valuable resource. Along with making some of their articles available online, they have a database for job listings, literary markets, and grants and awards.

This last one, the grants and awards (including contests), is what I find so helpful. You can filter by entry fee, genre, and deadline.

The Absolute Write forum is a phenomenal resource; I lurked for years and finally signed on last year. I've made some wonderful contacts, gotten helpful critiques (and hopefully reciprocated in a useful way), and heard about books that I otherwise might have entirely missed.

In the Young Adult forum, they've started a blogroll, and they do a Teaser Tuesday, with members posting a link to a short excerpt from their work. I will be participating for the first time tomorrow.

Our vegetable garden and orchard are finally taking shape at this house; the red buckets in the distance are the far end of the garden area. We planted the raspberries and blackberries in muck buckets to try and foil the volunteers that come up. Not entirely successful, but did make it more manageable.

You'll notice the raised beds, I'm a big fan of them.

Fellowship Opportunity for Historical Writers

Do you write historical fiction, plays or poetry and have a stack of research questions you've been waiting to answer? The American Antiquarian Society offers a fellowship, including a stipend and housing, while you use their resources.

The AAS is "calling for applications for visiting fellowships for historical research by creative and performing artists, writers, film makers, journalists, and other persons whose goals are to produce imaginative, non-formulaic works dealing with pre-twentieth-century American history. Successful applicants are those whose work is for the general public rather than for academic or educational audiences."

The deadline to apply is October 5, and best of all there is NO ENTRY FEE.

Fiction Frenzy

Whenever I'm deep in rewrites, I'm unable to read fiction and actually enjoy it. It's hard to turn off that picking-it-apart section of my mind.

Lately I'm catching up on some novels I've been wanting to read, like The Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King, City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jaqueline Kelly, and Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld.

Coincidentally, Netflix sent us the disc of the 2009 movie version of City of Ember over the weekend. Jeanne DuPrau was also at the SCBWI Regional conference a few weeks ago and spoke about her development of the Ember books, particularly what she had decided to cut and what she kept from earlier drafts.

So it was interesting to see what the film did with the books, but some of the changes the studio/scriptwriters made puzzled me (spoilers ahead). DuPrau does mention insects since one of the characters is fascinated by them, but for the movie all the creatures were super-sized. There's even a voracious, giant mole---cool special effects, but it seemed a cheap way to add tension. And the characters' onscreen passage through watery tunnels looked like a ride at Universal Studios, which it could be for all I know.

Looking back at the pages of the story, the tension building is quieter than a giant mole chasing you, but the stakes for the characters are consistently raised throughout. It kept me interested, and as a writer I could recognize the craft behind it. So in my view, it was successful the way it was.

I guess maybe I need to learn to turn off the picking-it-apart section of my brain for movies, too!

Inspirational Silliness Explained

Thought this would be a good time to explain the Inspirational Silliness on the sidebar. First, it should be said that some of the content on both the sites is for mature audiences.

The reason why I read them on a near-daily basis is that they are so stimulating to the writing part of my brain. How could you fail to be inspired by such gems as these from Sleeptalkin' Man (I picked some cleaner ones):

Stop the cows! They're licking everything!

Ninjas in stilettos. Fashion assassins! Not so stealthy, but oh so stylish.

Oh, I could be rummaging around in here for ages, I'm never going to find some zebra ears!

And then with Cake Wrecks, some of the cakes are done well but not well thought out. I love to imagine the thought processes of the person that ordered the cakes (0r made them, for that matter). And what kind of conversations would you overhear at a wedding where the bride demands a day-glo Beanie Baby cake like this one ?

Try a writing exercise with the Beanie Baby cake--what does the groom really think of that cake? And what words did the bride use when she was trying to describe her vision to the baker? Was the result exactly what she wanted?

Loving the Limbo

I'm in that comfy place of Limbo right now, between projects and waiting to hear back on submissions. Right now I have out:

A YA short story, Hornworms (Historical)

A picture book, Hatching (Poetry/Natural History)

But really, I don't stay adrift in Limbo for long. I have a meeting tomorrow with my YA critique group; I've been sharing my novel and we're almost all the way through it. In the meantime, I've done a bunch of revisions so I'll cycle through particular sections again.

Some recipes in development, also, and then I'm tackling another picture book. This one's about a dog.

What made me laugh today:
An ad for "figure-flattering caftans" When was the last time you saw a woman in a caftan or mumuu and said, "Those loose folds of cloth make the pounds disappear!"
See it here

First Post

I attended a regional conference for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators a few weeks ago and got some helpful ideas for revisions on my novel, as well as meeting some interesting people.

One of the highlights was a workshop on synopses by Brian Farrey, editor at Flux books. As an exercise, he had us do a 4-line synopsis of our book. He had a few people read theirs aloud, and he liked mine!

But this is not just meant as idle bragging; I had a woman come up to me at the end of the day and tell me how much she liked my synopsis, and I realized I had no web presence to send her to for my current writing projects. My website for my photos has been up for several years now, but it doesn't lend itself to a blog-style interactive site.

So I'm starting this blog with the idea that it can hold updates on my current writing projects, as well as furnishing some useful links and information for other writers.

Be welcome, and I hope you find something interesting in the coming posts.