Hampton Roads Writers 5th Annual Conference, 2013

Pink Spotted Hawkmoth Sept 22

As evening approached on Thursday, September 19, the writers gathered. Drawn by the promise of shared wisdom and new perspectives on writing, we made our way to the second floor of the Westin Virginia Beach Town Center.

Pink Spotted Hawkmoth Sept 22

This year I challenged myself with sessions about short story writing and first person point of view. (I rarely attempt short fiction, and I never write in first person.) Between challenges, I attended sessions about copyright, novel writing, and poetry.

  • Creating the World in a Short Story — Clifford Garstang
  • Copyrights and Wrongs: Fair use of quotes & other things to avoid a lawsuit — Jeff Ourvan
  • Where Does My Story Start: How to Write a Winning First Chapter — Lisa McMann
  • First Person Problems: The specific challenges and opportunities of writing first person — Lydia Netzer
  • Different Voices, Different Times — Lydia Netzer
  • Do Put Words in my Mouth: Creating realistic and effective dialogue — Ethan Vaughan
  • Exquisite Sounds — Jeanne Larsen

Pink Spotted Hawkmoth Sept 22

Each morning of the conference started with a keynote address followed by First Ten Lines Critique sessions. The critique panel consisted of authors Lisa McMann (Friday morning only) and Kevin Maurer, along with literary agents Ethan Vaughan, Jeff Ourvan, and Dawn Dowdle.

Recurrent themes emerged as the panelists discussed samples of writing submitted by conference attendees. Overwriting hampered many openings. Weak dialogue and too much description slowed the pace. Shifts in tense and point of view distracted from the stories.

Pink Spotted Hawkmoth Sept 22

Each of these problems exist in my writing, but they are easier to see in someone else’s lines. I came away from these sessions with renewed gratitude for my writing partners, who see my mistakes more readily than I do.

Pink Spotted Hawkmoth Sept 22

I could spend weeks cataloguing what I learned and fail to cover it all. I could read for months and not read all the books I discovered.* Instead of attempting either, I’m writing.

Pink Spotted Hawkmoth Sept 22

I’m following paths of scent and light, spreading grains of pollen gathered at the conference. Perhaps a few of my poems and stories will germinate, will take root and grow.

Pink Spotted Hawkmoth Sept 22

The conference ended with a delightful surprise. My short story (my only “finished” short story) won Honorable Mention in The Frank Lawlor Memorial Fiction Prize!

HRW 2013

* I came home with a new title from Unbound Content, and I’m waiting impatiently for delivery of books by Jeanne Larsen and Lisa McMann. Next year, I’ll order Lydia Netzer’s new book as soon as it is released. In the meantime, I’ll read Shine Shine Shine again.

The Ginger Lilies (arachnophobia alert!)

I don’t remember when the ginger lilies arrived. Years and years ago, long enough that I can’t remember what the yard looked like without them.

We started with eighteen bulbs, which I naively planted in pots because I didn’t know what a ginger lily was. I only knew that Mother had fallen in love with a vase of cut blooms given to her by a friend. She said the flowers smelled like warm cookies and looked a little like large, exotic orchids.

Mother’s friend gave us a box of beautiful pink-tinged bulbs, which I divided into three pots. Then I waited for spring to deliver a crop of cookie-scented flowers.

Instead of flowers, I got something that resembled corn. Each lovely bulb produced a green spike that quickly shot up into a leaf-wrapped stalk, taller and taller as summer wore on. In May they were knee high. In June they reached my hip. By August, they were head high with stalks as thick as chair legs. I had to brace their pots against the fence and support their weight with stakes.

Finally, September brought flowers, which were every bit as fragrant as promised. Less than half of the plants were able to bloom, constricted as they were in the pots, but it was enough to make me a life-long fan.

In November, my husband and I broke the pots with a hammer, because the bulbs had grown so tightly packed that we couldn’t get them out any other way. We cleared three beds in the yard, divided the tangled bulbs, and covered them with deep layers of mulch. After an anxious winter, we raked away the mulch and found dozens of spikes sprouting in all three beds. And so began years of delight…

Frost in the Forecast

For me, winter starts when I cut the ginger lilies.

So today, even though it was warm enough to open the windows, winter arrived in the yard. Our forecast calls for temperatures near freezing Saturday night, and I didn’t want to risk losing any of the bulbs to frost.

As I worked my way through the tangle of stalks, I recovered three chimes that had broken off of a wind chime and two birdhouses that had fallen during one of the recent storms. Somehow, repairing the wind chime made me feel a little less guilty about the lingering scent of unfinished blooms.

The cats followed my progress, moving from window to window as I moved from bed to bed.

(Please excuse Vanna’s sour expression. She was trying to ignore the fact that there is room for two cats on that perch. Fortunately, a flock of robins arrived shortly after this picture was taken, providing a distraction from the uncomfortable standoff.)

The robins were soon joined by several warblers and a pair of hungry squirrels.

Today’s strangest sighting was this very disheveled red admiral butterfly. It seemed to be heading south, perhaps following the opposite path of spring’s massive red admiral migration.

Wherever it was going, I hope it gets there safely. And I hope it was able to pause, for a moment, and enjoy tonight’s beautiful sunset.

November Flowers

Somehow, in all of the recent rain and wind and clouds, I overlooked the fact that parts of the yard are still blooming.

All of the pollinators are gone, so it feels as if the flowers want only to be admired.

Green Tree Frog

I found a frog in the ginger lilies today. (I believe it was a green tree frog.) Frogs are unusual in the yard, so I was thrilled to find my second one of the summer. My delight faded to itchy frustration when I began trying for pictures.

The frog retreated into the ginger lilies, stem by stem. I crept in after it as far as I could, but the ginger lilies are hostile this time of year. They are head-high, densely packed, and teem with bugs that bite and sting.

Even so, I managed to follow the frog with my lens until it tired of the chase and settled on a leaf. Then I looked away for a second, to adjust the camera’s settings, and lost sight of my subject. I never found it again.

Sometimes the yard is an extension of Wonderland, complete with animals that disappear at will.