The Detective’s Daughter Goes on Retreat

Edith here. Our Accomplice, Kim Gray,who usually writes the Detective’s Daughter posts, can’t be here today, so I’m jumping in to share her virtual report of going on a writers’ retreat.

Kim, Annette Dashofy, Martha Reed, and I were invited by Ramona DeFelice Long to go on a week-long retreat at Clare House, a convent retreat house in Pennsylavania. None of us had any problem with jumping at the opportunity. I’d gone with Ramona and Kim last year and loved it. After we returned last week, Kim put up a few pictures and commentary on her Facebook page, so I’m drawing it together in a blog post for her!

The gathering spot for the animals’ breakfast.

AnimalBreakfast

Time for reflection.

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Our doorbell.

OurDoorbell

The front entrance of my home away from home.

Front

A good spot to sit and think.

SitandThink

My companion on my walks these past seven days.

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A great place to relax and write.

clarehouse

(Edith: The “Hermitages” referenced in the sign are five tiny cottages also on the grounds that one can rent. I haven’t been inside, but the web site says they are 17′ x 17′ and have all the essentials, including a mini-kitchen. Wow.)

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Our last dinner table set.

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Edith: And a couple of mine, this one just before Ramona, Kim, and Martha set out to explore the Amish farmers’ market. It wasn’t all work!

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And my “office” in the room designated as the chapel.

Edith's desk

We all had a highly productive week interspersed by laughter, wine, meals, and of course, storytelling. And we Wickeds look forward to having Kim back next month with another tale of the Detective’s Daughter.

Readers: Where do you go to recharge, to think, to reflect, to get away from your usual setting?

 

 

 

 

The Detective’s Daughter — Oh Christmas Tree

kimspolicehatKim in Baltimore still decorating and shopping for Christmas.

kimI was twenty-seven years old before I found out Christmas trees came from a tree farm and didn’t magically appear in a roped-off lot in front of the hardware store on the corner. I’m a city girl, what do I know? Our tree, the one that sat on a table in my Nana’s living room, was silver and had come out of a box she kept in the back of the basement on what we called “the bank.” Each year Pop-pop would haul it upstairs and curse as he tried to match the branches with the tiny slot they fit into. Nana would bring out a boxes of glass ornaments. There were a box of red, a box of green and one of blue. Each year only one color was chosen for the tree. On the floor sat a rotating light that made a whizzing noise as it spun round changing the color of the silver tree from blue to gold, then red to green and back again.

Upstairs in our apartment my mom had bought our tree from Montgomery Wards. It also had branches that needed to be pushed into the base of the tree. We had a beautiful star that glowed on top and dozens of feathered angels hanging from the branches. Not one person in my family had a Christmas tree that needed to be watered.

When I met my husband, he told me the most amazing thing. He said he worked on a Christmas tree farm. Now, I knew every year that there was a huge tree in New York City and that it came from some far off land like Maine or Vermont, but I had no idea you could get such a thing here in Maryland!

kimtreeoutsideThe first year we were married we set off one freezing cold morning in search of the perfect tree. I was in charge of carrying the saw. We drove for nearly an hour and then walked for another, at least it felt that way. Soon my nose was frozen and I would have agreed to a branch in a vase of water for a Christmas tree. My husband cut down the tree and we dragged it to the road to wait to be picked up. “This is fun, right?” my husband asked. Sure, I nodded, and tried to stomp feeling back into my feet. Yet, for the next twenty-three years with dogs and kids alongside us, we trekked across fields in search of our tree.

Then a few years ago I had a lung infection and was told by my doctor that I could no longer have a live tree in my house. I mourned the end of our family tradition. I missed the stinging cold on my face as we walked and the way my children’s voices echoed in the fields, the soothing warmth of the little shed that sold hot kimtreechocolate and cider. It would all be just photos and memories now.

This year we pull the branches out of the box and debate as to which goes where on the base. I make the hot chocolate and we unwind the lights and another Christmas tree is adorned.

Readers: What kind of tree do you have at your house? Or if you don’t have a Christmas tree what other decorations do you pull out every year?

The Detective’s Daughter – Hollywood Glamour

Good morning – we interrupt our regularly scheduled programming with a special announcement!

The winners of the Jess Lourey and Shannon Baker contests are:

Gail Arnold (Shannon’s winner)
Ann Mason (Jess’s winner)

Gail and Ann, message us your emails on the WCA Facebook page and we’ll put you in touch.

Now, over to Kim!

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Kim in Baltimore melting from the intense heat.

A few months ago I read a book called Design for Dying by Renee Patrick which I highly recommend. I love reading about old Hollywood and show business, in fact I’m a bit obsessed with it. I blame my grandmother. She had subscriptions to Photoplay magazine and Rona Barrett’s Hollywood. We spent hours – and I do mean hours – flipping through the glossy pages covered with updates on everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to Paul Newman. While other girls on my block were dreaming of Robby Benson and Parker Stevenson, I was setting my alarm to get up at 3am to see a Robert Mitchum movie. The best nights were the ones where a Barbara Stanwyck film followed.
As much as I enjoyed the movies and magazines, what I really loved were imageNana’s stories of her older brother Al. Al was a bandleader who had his own club in the D. C. area in the 1940’s. I was fascinated with the photos of his orchestra and the many acts that had performed in his club. I could picture William Powell and Myrna Loy sipping martinis and watching as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers glided around the dance floor.image
Just like all good Hollywood pictures, Al Norton’s life had a dramatic end. Nana told me many times how her brother, dejected by the woman he loved, died of a broken heart in his kitchen. Many years later I found a newspaper clipping about his death that revealed the truth; it wasn’t so much his broken heart that killed him as it was the gas on his stove he had purposefully turned on. Nana would never admit to that, but would tell me two notes were left. She burned hers after reading it.image
Though I never met this man, he has been a great influence on my life; from the books I read to the cocktails I drink. When I find a delightful book like Design for Dying or watch I Love Lucy reruns, I can’t help wishing to be sent back to that glamorous era.

Readers,
If you could be transported back in time, where would you want to go? Would you want to meet one of your ancestors or a famous historical figure?

The Detective’s Daughter – The Summer Reading List

 

kimspolicehat

Kim in Baltimore surviving the heat.

What do Jaws, The Eye of the Needle, Where Are the Children, and Valley of the Dolls have in common? They are a few of the books I remember my mom reading when I was a child. Every day, whether she was sitting on the front steps or in the car waiting for Dad to come out of work, Mom was always reading a book.

Last summer, as I was moseying about in the East Village, I picked up a well-worn copy of Rosemary’s Baby in The Strand. By the next day I’d read it cover to cover. Rosemary’s Baby is one of my favorite movies and I remembered Mom reading the book years ago.image
Each week we took a trip to the Enoch Pratt library where Mom would walk out with an armful of novels she’d have read long before our next visit. By the time I was fourteen we were both reading Mary Higgens Clark, Phyllis Whitney and Barbara Michaels.

Throughout the years I’ve read Gone With the Wind more times than I can count. I have Mom’s battered copy locked on the shelves of my desk. I take it out just to hold sometimes, remembering Mom sitting in her folding chair, with her cigarettes and iced tea at her side, flipping the pages of the latest book she’d borrowed.

Dad was not much of a reader other than the morning and Sunday editions of The Baltimore Sun. However, one week Mom checked out The Godfather from the library and before she had her iced tea poured and her cigarette lit, Dad was absorbed in the novel. It’s the only book Mom and I ever recall seeing Dad read.

I’ve thought often about the books Mom has read and decided this summer to make them my reading list. I could cross off Rosemary’s Baby and Gone With the Wind; they are books I will read time and again. It wasn’t hard to come up with titles, but I needed to keep it compact. There’s only so many weeks in summer! Here’s what I came up with:image

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
Jaws by Peter Benchley
The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
The Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett
Neither Five Nor Three by Helen MacInnes
Window on the Square by Phyllis A. Whitney
The Godfather by Mario Puzo
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carre

I’ve finished reading Valley of the Dolls and am well into the Phyllis Whitney book. I unfortunately began watching Mad Men the same time I was reading Dolls. It was depressing reading and seeing how little freedom and respect women were given. I don’t think I can bring myself to watch another episode of Mad Men!

As I’ve compiled these books and read through them I’ve thought about what these titles say about my mom. Why do we select the titles that we do? Why are some inclined to read only mystery while others enjoy the classics? Is the genre you prefer inherited or learned?
I spoke to Mom this morning and asked her why she chose certain books. “They seemed interesting,” she said. She wasn’t particularly aware if they were best sellers or if a movie deal was in the works, she just enjoyed reading. I think that’s the part I inherited.
Hope you’re enjoying your summer reading.

Readers: Please share with us the titles of books you have read more than once and why.

The Five Definitions of Scene

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Hi. Kim Gray here. Today we welcome Stuart Horwitz the founder and principal of Book Architecture. He is the author of three books, the latest being Finish Your Book in Three Drafts: How to Write a Book, Revise a Book, and Complete a Book While You Still Love It. He joins us today to discuss The Five Definitions of Scene.

imageTake it away, Stuart!

What’s the big deal about scene? Well, as a group of self-contained passages within your narrative, they are nothing less than the building blocks of your work. Finding the places where your scenes break and separating them into discrete units can help you move scenes around, divide and combine them, and eliminate them when necessary.

The most commonly heard expression in writing circles is probably “Show, don’t tell,” which means you must put us in the scene. Don’t tell us about it, don’t tell us that it happened, don’t tell us that your characters—or you as the narrator—had a certain set of feelings about it; make it happen for us as readers, as viewers.

From this we get the first definition of scene:

#1. A scene is where something happens.image

If you are working in non-fiction, consider a scene to be the material that is grouped under a subhead where you have demonstrated your point, which is the same thing as making things happen. Now that you have introduced new material into the discourse, the discourse has shifted. Which is what our second definition of scene is getting at:

#2. A scene is where because something happens, something changes.

As I said above, a scene is the basic measuring unit by which you will construct your manuscript. Once you have identified these units, you can determine if each scene is weak or strong, a hopeless aside, or the climactic scene, in large part by whether or not any given scene belongs to a recognizable series.

#3. A scene has to be capable of series.

You would be surprised by the number of scenes that are written which contain nothing that is repeated—not the characters, not the place, not the ideas. Readers have a limited ability to track information, so unless you are intentionally presenting a red herring, what are these one-iteration series doing, just hanging out? The vibrant cafe owner with caustic wit but a heart of gold: Where did he go? That cabin that seemed so mysterious: How come we never went back there?

Series is a complicated concept that I explore at length in my books, but the heart of it is: If you get a great character, object, setting, or concept—it has to repeat. When you repeat and vary your narrative elements, they each become a strand; brand enough strands together and you can fashion a strong rope which is your theme. Because your theme is strengthened by each and every one of your series threads, which in turn spool out of your scenes, it makes sense that,

#4. A scene has to be in the service of the one central theme.

If all of your scenes serve the one central theme, you almost can’t miss at that point. But if you do have a scene that is not related to the one thing your book is about (because your book can only be about one thing, that is the very definition of theme), it either has to be expandable, or it is expendable.
Finally, the fifth definition of scene is this:

#5. A scene has to have “it.”

That’s it; just “it.” I, for one, don’t think we should be above talking about things in this way. Each scene must carry with it a sense of excitement, for both the writer and the reader. A bad or forgotten scene that you decide to keep while putting together your provisional scenic order might have “it.” That might be why you haven’t dropped it yet. You may not know what “it” is, but you can still detect it; it resonates, you can’t quite shake it. This scene has “it”—not that it’s perfect.

So, that’s it: five criteria for a scene to meet for you to feel good about what it does and get information about where it goes. And then get on to writing the next one.image

Stuart Horwitz is also a ghostwriter, independent developmental editor. He developed the Book Architecture Method (www.BookArchitecture.com) over fifteen years of helping writers get from first draft to final draft. His first book, Blueprint Your Best Seller: Organize and Revise Any Manuscript with the Book Architecture Method (Penguin/Perigee) was named one of the best books about writing by The Writer magazine.

Readers: Do you recognize these building blocks while you read? Do you feel “it” and notice scenes moving the story forward? Writers: Do you employ these criteria?

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The Detective’s Daughter – Who Are You?

kimspolicehat

Kim, in Baltimore, enjoying the first day of summer.
I have over one thousand photos stacked in several boxes around my office. I’ve begun to sort them into piles for other members of my family, the majority of them are of my Uncle Roy and his family. My grandmother had seven siblings (Madeleine, Leona, Thomas, Albert, Mildred and Leroy) and two step-siblings (Charles and Annie), so there are quite a few photos to go over.

For the most part, I have enjoyed sifting through them; remembering good times or seeing events from a long ago past. Because my grandmother spoke often of her family, and because I knew most of them, I was able to recognize nearly everyone in the photos.image
It was all going quickly until I came across a photo of a woman I didn’t recognize. Then there was another. Soon I had a box just for the unidentified.
I posted them on Facebook hoping someone would know them, but they remain nameless. My work table is now covered with their faces. Every night I sit staring at them, searching for any clue of who they might have been. It troubles me not knowing. Are we all so easily forgotten?
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I reexamine group photos hoping to find them in one, but I have yet to discover where they fit in with my family. There are a few I’ve made up my own stories about, others I just shuffle back into their spot. As much as I want to organize and condense the amount of things I have, I am hesitant to part with these photos. The photographs should be cherished. These people were loved and an important part of someone’s life. They must have meant a great deal to my grandmother or else she would not have kept them.image

In the evenings over the past week, I’ve gone over the photos I have personally taken and have carefully written the names, places and dates on each one. No one will be forgotten.

Readers, how do you keep your photos? Are they framed or in albums, or is everything digital now?

 

The Detective’s Daughter: The Lost Art of Letters

Kim'spolicehatNot long before Dad’s house burned down, he gave me the family photos. There were boxes upon damaged boxes of photographs, letters, postcards and telegrams dating back to the early 1860’s. They had sat in the dampness of the basement pushed behind trunks of dishes and forgotten housewares on the bank under the house.

I will admit that I was snooping. For the last year or so I had been keeping an extra eye on him since his illness. I’d show up every few days to clean or make him a meal and to toss out the tower of pizza boxes that accumulated no matter how often I’d visit. He never let me take anything home and always insisted he was just about to use whatever I wanted to throw out or donate. When he gave me the mangled boxes to take home, I was surprised.

“You like all that stuff,” he said and helped me drag them to my car. I can spend hours, days sometimes, sorting through the photos and trying to figure out who is who. My favorite things, though, are the letters. I still write letters, but I must admit, they are usually sent as an email. When did letters go out of style? Occasionally I receive one in a Christmas card, and even those are usually printed from a computer.

My grandmother was a great letter writer. She had family across the country and overseas that she kept in touch with through the years. I love reading their responses to her and try to imagine her reading them at our kitchen table in her housecoat drinking a cup of coffee.

Letter from Uncle Al to Nana.

Letter from Uncle Al to Nana.

The letter I cherish the most is one written by my Uncle Al. He was my grandmother’s older brother and also one of her closest friends. By the time Dad was two, my grandmother was a widow. On her first Mother’s Day without her husband, Uncle Al sent her a letter, a poem really, that he sent to her from Dad. It is sweet and I keep it alongside a note my own son wrote to me on a Mother’s Day not so long ago.

Email is wonderful to send a quick note, but it will never replace the excitement a letter brings when received in the mail, nor will it ever hold the faint scent of lavender or be tucked between the pages of a favorite book. I think it’s time the handwritten letter made a comeback.

Dear Readers,
Please tell me the last letter you wrote or received and how that made you feel.
Best regards,
The Detective’s Daughter