Noticing Magic Everywhere

Kate Comings' journal


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The Long Wait is Over

Zen Flowers Kindle

Kindle Version

Late Tuesday night, I checked the Amazon site one more time. The Kindle version was there at last. I ordered it right away and uploaded it to the Kindle app on my iPad. I was afraid it would be a jumbled mess, but it looks fine. What a relief!

Both versions are now available, and Zen Flowers is officially launched.

What, and who, will I write about next?

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Driving South

Oregon is looking pretty brown and dry.

Oregon is looking pretty brown and dry.

Long, monotonous road trips are inspiring for me as a writer. Taking a journey clears my brain like nothing else and empties my head, leaving a wide-open, inviting space for new ideas.

Early this month, I took a quick trip down to California for my high school class reunion and to visit my sisters. I got there Thursday afternoon and left early Sunday morning. The reunion included a beach party and a banquet. We managed to squeeze in dinner at Jack London’s in Carmel (their fish and chips were the best I’ve had in years), a reunion beach party, my sister Carolyn’s writers’ group, and the reunion banquet. My class reunites every September, but this was my first reunion. My sisters, Rosemary and Carolyn, both joined me and we had a great, though brief, visit.

I left Portland Wednesday as the sun was coming up. It was a beautiful sunrise, all pink and golden over the hills. It made me remember that old song by Melanie that goes, “Watch a baby day be born.” I found it on my iPod and listened to Melanie as I drove past Salem. I hadn’t played her stuff for years, but I like to keep endless choices on that iPod, soundtracks for whatever I’m doing or writing. I decided to play stuff I hadn’t listened to in a long time instead of my usual sounds. After Melanie, my car sang with Eddie Vedder’s “Into the Wild” soundtrack; then Enter the Haggis, Scottish rock with highland bagpipes; Glen Hansard; and The Frames, also with Glen Hansard.

Oregon wasn’t very green anymore. I dug my pocket camera out of my bag and took a few photos through my car windshield along the way.

I thought about the plot elements I’m having trouble with. Ideas don’t come to me in any particular order. More and more threads need to be tied up before I’m ready to start Part Two–yes, I’m still winding up Part One. In Part Two, a couple of my characters seem to have gotten married. How did this happen? I can’t just have them suddenly married. He has to propose… This is what happens when you’re a “pantser.” It can get extremely messy, and this book, “Zen Flowers,” is the messiest one yet. I write the same way I do road trips. I never make hotel reservations. I decide on the spur of the moment which town I’ll stay in, and then I pull over and consult the AAA Tourbook and see which motel/hotel looks good and what amenities they have that I need right then. A coffeepot in the room and free wi-fi are absolutely essential.

The drive took longer than I thought it would–there was so much road work going on. Interstate 5 was squinched down to one lane in a lot of places, crawling along at 20 miles per hour in first or second gear. I still drive a stick shift. There was plenty of time for new ideas to creep into my head. I asked my characters questions. I had three issues I needed to know about in order finish Part One. I voiced my questions out loud, and then I let go and just enjoyed the drive. I stopped at the Valley of the Rogue park and rest stop south of Grant’s Pass and ate my lunch. A woman joined me at my picnic table and we chatted. She and her husband were staying in Ashland and going to plays. In between, her husband was trout fishing in the Rogue. That park is usually my last Oregon outpost unless I stop in Ashland.

Leaving Oregon. This sign always makes me cry.

Leaving Oregon. This sign always makes me cry.

I drove south into California. I was too busy looking at the effects of the ongoing drought to think about writing. Shasta Lake was nearly empty, and Mt. Shasta was without its usual mantle of snow. The forests and mountains were still beautiful, though.

Mt. Shasta.

Mt. Shasta.

I pushed on past Redding and on to Red Bluff. By now, I had been driving for 10 hours, much of it stop-and-go traffic, and I was tired. At the last rest stop before Red Bluff, I checked out the AAA book and chose the motel with pillow-top mattresses, a Best Western. I found the motel, checked in, and cranked up the air conditioner. It was 102 degrees outside.

The rest of the drive down I-5 was miles and hours on end of hot, dry, barrenness and 90-plus degree temps, briefly interrupted by Sacramento and Stockton, which looked like oases by comparison.

Grain elevators in California's heartland.

Grain elevators in California’s heartland.

Hours later, when I turned off onto the Pacheco Pass toward Hollister, more episodes had downloaded into my head, including the marriage proposal, which was not what I expected. When scenes pop into my head like little movies, I don’t know where they come from. They feel like they’re coming from somewhere outside me.


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Writing Fiction: “Pantsing” my way through

Not knowing what’s going to happen when I sit down to write is a lot more fun than outlining a plot beforehand. For me, already knowing the whole story turns the writing of it into “work.” The downside, though, is that not planning sometimes results in a chaotic mess, like Zen Flowers, the book I’m writing now. It’s the fourth in a series, and I’m winding up Part One. I’m worried about whether it will end up a story or just a bunch of episodes that go nowhere. Lots of things are happening; but do they make a story? I don’t know yet, but since my characters still have such a grip on me, I decided to go ahead and finish the first draft. I can decide later whether it needs massive editing and restructuring, or whether it’s something I wrote just for my own entertainment.

My characters, Niall and Celeste, have been through a lot. They’ve been together five years now, and Celeste misses the romance they once had. I want to convey how romantic they still feel toward each other underneath all the stuff that gets in the way: their work, children who demand all their attention, financial problems, and the disagreements that make each one afraid the other would be relieved if they separated. I want something different from drinking at the pub or gazing at each other across a restaurant table; they’ve done plenty of that. I decided to take them to the beach, which meant I had to go to the beach. It’s 90 miles, and it was my birthday. So, last Monday morning, I packed up my camera and drove west to Astoria, then south to Seaside, a “fisherman’s wharf” type of place with arcades and shops and saltwater taffy and a carrousel. The beach is wide and flat and has a quality of light that makes me feel like I’m dreaming, and that I knew Niall, a photographer, would appreciate. It was sunny when I left Portland; we’ve had a bout of temperatures in the 90s. It was heavily overcast and about 20 degrees cooler on the coast, with heavy, low clouds. A lot of people were on the beach in spite of the cold weather, or maybe because of it.

Beach at Seaside, Oregon

Beach at Seaside, Oregon

Seaside has lots of seafood restaurants, and I headed over to Norma’s for their delicious clam chowder, packed with so many clams that I was full before I got to the bottom of the bowl, but I ate the whole thing–yum!

I headed south to Cannon Beach. I knew Niall would want to photograph Haystack Rock, a giant, iconic boulder rising out of the surf and hosting several bird populations. The light, however, was terrible for photography. My camera has a viewfinder, so I could at least frame my shots, but the glare was so bad, I couldn’t see the light meter or any of my settings. A girl asked me to take a picture of her with her cell phone, and I could barely make her out on its screen. I was, I think, the wrong time of day. Early morning or evening would probably be better.

Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach

Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach

Haystack Rock

Haystack Rock

People were flying kites. A long time ago, a guy said he wanted to fly a kite with me. I thought that was soooo romantic. Nothing ever came of it, but… I had my idea!

Kites at Cannon Beach

Kites at Cannon Beach

There’s nothing better than a long car drive for getting the ideas bubbling. When I drove from Portland to my old university at Santa Barbara, Calif., I planned to go over the manuscript of “Playing in the Apocalypse” at the place where it happened, but so many ideas for a new book downloaded into my head on the way that I couldn’t wait to start writing “Hostages” (working title). I wandered around Isla Vista and took lots of photos, but half my attention was on my new book. Funny how that works.