Coffee spiced with fresh shavings of nutmeg warms my hands while I settle into the cool fabric of the porch reading chair. It’s not porch weather, but tolerable with a sweatshirt. After tossing tantrums of snow squalls for nearly a week, the cool lake air cracks open the cloud cover and presses in like icy tendrils.
Regardless, there’s something irresistible about a porch.
On sweltering days we clink ice cubes in a glass of lemonade. When it’s cold, we still seek the porch with a hot beverage. We aren’t here to resolve any particular issues. Typically meetings are held in windowless rooms, not on open-air porches. Some porches are screened and others paned in glass.
Despite the chill, the south-facing windows capture enough sunlight to set the seasonal room aglow. Bright and warped from old-time glass techniques, the windows overlook the lower neighborhood of six houses and a hockey-field visible through the leafless maples. All the houses have south-facing porches.
It reminds me of the ancient stonework my father discovered at a timber sale located near Lake Tahoe. He showed it to me before logging destroyed the structures that were old enough to contain towering pines nearly a thousand years in age. It was a high elevation job a mill in Sacramento got for top bid. Virgin lumber in the Sierras was rare on the market.
And ancient structures on a mountaintop were so unheard of that the Forest Service didn’t even bother to send out an archeologist. They thought my father mistaken. But my father showed me. He explained how the slope faced south, catching the lowered winter sun, melting the snow naturally.
How long have we humans known the wisdom of south-facing slopes? When did we desire to retire to south-facing porches? You know the longing — growing old together in our rocking chairs on the porch.
In my daughter’s home, the back porch is the reading nook. I find the windows alluring, they call to me to contemplate. We’ve discussed writers and windows before. But this time its more than writers and windows. I’m curious as to why older homes have porches for sitting, yet modern homes eschew the thoughtful space.
If a modern home has a porch, typically it’s an entry space, a catch-all for discarded shoes and jackets. A place for the mail delivery to set a package. In Paco Underhill’s merchandising book, Why We Buy, he talks about how an entry space allows customers to convert hurried thoughts into a slower shopping space.
Thus even as an entry to home or business, the idea of a porch slows down our minds.
My mind is a whirligig today. I’ve gone from a year of wandering to growing Carrot Ranch as a literary community to hosting a collaborative and wild Flash Fiction Rodeo to diving feet first into the mess I made of my WIP, Miracle of Ducks. I’m a NaNo Rebel in search of the clues I need to publish this muddy novel as a gleaming book worth reading. I’m in need of a porch.
Just 10 minutes of cold porch time serves me well. My breathing slows, my coffee cools and disappears sip by sip, and I clear my mind enough to see what needs doing. I’ve already taken my opening chapter to TUFF (which any writer can also enter as the final Rodeo contest by 11:59 pm EST November 6). TUFF acts like a porch, giving me windows to contemplate.
Let me show you what I’m doing:
First, I have revised my W-storyboard with a Dollar Store posterboard and placed it where I write. I can’t miss it. I’ve tweaked it from how I had it set up earlier. Originally, I had my five key scenes (the circles on the W) correlated to five points of the hero’s journey: The Call, The Test, The Cave, The Transformation, and The Return.
After trying to sell my manuscript, the weak point of my novel was its opening. It didn’t punch any agents or publishers in the gut. My editor had advised on an earlier draft that I didn’t give enough page time to Ike. Then I became homeless and decided to shred my manuscript to give my protagonist a western location and more hardship. I went to archeology field school in June and found my opening. All this processing taught me that we need to focus on the hero before we can focus on the call. This moves the test and the cave, which is more towards the end. The transformation is part of what happens between the cave and the return, which I like thinking of as the elixir — what gives the journey meaning.
For my NaNoWriMo Rebellion, I’ve also include a few more Dollar Store purchases: notebooks. What I’m doing in this notebook is applying the TUFF steps to work out revision issues I’m having. On the first day, I did a free write “about” my opening. I chose to brainstorm about it because the last thing I need is yet another opening: I have three!
I brainstormed the action I wanted to set up in the opening, drawing upon the three choices I have. Next, I wrote a 99-word flash fiction. It was flat, but revealed where I was getting hung up (it’s easier to see what is NOT working in 99 words than in 1,099 words). Next I wrote a 59 word flash and I actually liked what emerged. So when I wrote 9 words, I felt I nailed what the opening needed to be about. Of course the next part was to rip into those three scenes and make them the opening to MOD. That was my word count for today as a NaNo Rebel.
Not one to pass up on $1 notebooks, I bought several. This one is just for free writes. I’ve kept fiction journals the way others might keep diaries. Here’s what I learned about free writing many years ago: it’s your best tool against resistance. in his book The War of Art, Steve Pressfield writes about resistance as the enemy of creativity. He compares it to Freud’s Death Wish, our inclination to block our creativity or sabotage our own efforts. For years I wrote three pages very morning, “I hate mornings, I can’t think, I have nothing to write…” Not exactly Pulitzer winning stuff. But the discipline taught me to meet the page no matter what.
So here we are, back at the Ranch, sitting on the porch and sharing a cuppa. I’ve given you a window from my porch before and now I’m giving you a window into my process. I want you to write. You aren’t here because you want to take up parasailing or crochet. You’re here because you want to write a spy thriller about a crochet-loving, parasailing agent. Well, maybe not exactly that story, but one like it. You want to craft with words. Me, too.
November 2, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story a chair on a porch. Why is it there, and what might it mean? Think about using it as a prop or the main thrust of your story.
Respond by November 7, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published November 8). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Where Stories Begin by Charli Mills
Between Danni and the front door sagged a small front porch. Inside the cabin lived a former log-skidder. Rumor had it Old Man Moe was blind, but his stories of the Great Fires of 1910 remained vivid.
“Take a chair,” spoke a voice behind her.
Danni startled, not hearing the man with foggy eyes ride up on a mule. “Moe, I’m the Forest Service archeologist.”
Moe slid from the saddle as if sighted, and walked confidently up the decrepit stairs to one of two rickety wooden chairs. He patted the one next to him. “Stories begin here Doc Gordon.”