Monday, September 2, 2013

More Scrivener Love: Scrivener for Windows

Today we've got a special guest post at All the World's Our Page, by the lovely Sarah Meral.

Sarah is a student, a CompuServe buddy, and an avid reader who's been of invaluable assistance to countless writers with her inquisitive mind and her insights for fiction. She's also a Windows user amongst a whole group of Mac people, and a Scrivener lover herself- which makes her the perfect person to write a post for us talking about Scrivener for Windows, from the perspective of someone who uses it for non-fiction writing.

So, without further ado, I give you Sarah!


I started using the first ever beta version of Scrivener for Windows after Claire's blog post here, and all her praise of the Scrivener for Mac software.

Literature and Latte had just started with the beta versions for Windows then, so it was the perfect time to discover Scrivener. I could try it out for more than the regular 30-days-trial, to see if I really liked it and if it was the right program for my non-fiction writing.

And of course did I like it, even if I learned fast that the beta versions weren’t quite as great as the Scrivener Claire described . There were many features that Scrivener for Mac had which they hadn’t even had time to think about for Windows, and some of these features are still missing.

And since the operating systems have differences as well, some things are done differently or are named differently in Windows as opposed to Mac.

I'd like to give you an overview of these differences here, along with a demonstration of how one can use it for non-fiction writing, because that's what I use Scrivener for.

You might notice in some of the screen shots that my Scrivener is pretty colourful. I like working with colours, and in addition to that, the colours help me to organise and keep track of all the files.

I use Scrivener mainly for writing notes on my law studies, and I need to have them all separated into folders for different parts of the law. I connect them through the Scrivener links, but in general they are separated.

And I'm sorry if some of the screen shots are a bit confusing with all the German text :-), but now on to the descriptions themselves.

Starting a project

The first beta versions of Scrivener for Windows didn't have templates yet, so I started with a blank project.

And through time, I learned that this is the best way for me anyway. I tried out the non-fiction templates and even the fiction-templates but none of them have quite the right settings for me.

So even now with all the different templates, I start every new project with the blank template and create my own settings or import them from previous projects.

How to import Word documents/ other documents into Scrivener

You can import existing documents or files into Scrivener, but where in Scrivener you can import it depends on what kind of file it is.

Every type of text document, including .rtf files or .doc/.docx files, can be imported directly into the Draft folder.

.pdf files or pictures can only be imported into the Research folder.

To import the files, go up to File, and from there to Import, or hit _ctrl+shift+j_. You can then choose the folder from where you want to import, and the file(s). Click Open to import the file(s).

If your focus is on the Draft folder when you import files, the window only shows the import supported files (see screen shot).

When your focus is on the Research folder, all documents are shown in the window.

The imported files will show up in the binder as new documents.

How to export out of Scrivener

You can export your complete draft from Scrivener or just individual documents.

There are two ways to export individual documents out of Scrivener to anywhere on your computer.

First way

Click on File, and choose Save As there, or press _ctrl+shift+s_. Scrivener opens a window where you can choose where you want to save that file and in which format.

Click Save when you have everything selected.

Second way

Click on File, and choose Export, then Files- or press _ctrl+shift+x_.

In my experience, sometimes it works better to choose the second way. With some documents the formatting got weird after I used the "Save As" way, so I would recommend using the second way.

Back up things to Dropbox

Nothing is more important than backing up your stuff. You can back up your writing in two different ways.

Here are the two ways for backing up to Dropbox:

- click File

- choose Back Up

- choose Back Up To

- click Browse to select your own Dropbox folder
and then click Okay.

- click Tools, and there choose Options (or press “f12”)

- click on Backup in the left column

- select the options you like and then choose your Dropbox folder

- click first Apply and then Okay.

 How to get Index cards with a picture

When you view your documents on the card board or in the inspector, you can have the cards show an image to reflect the document or a synopsis.

To change between these two views, open the Inspector (_ctrl+shift+I_ or click on the blue Inspector button in the right upper corner) and click on the two arrows over another, and choose the image icon or the text field icon.

If you select the image icon, you see the option "Drag an image here".

You can now drag an image from anywhere on your Computer to there and it will show as the image on the index card.

Editing comments and footnotes

At the moment there is a little glitch in the Scrivener for Windows system, and the editing of comments and footnotes is a bit more complicated than it should be.

Normally one expects that for editing, you should just have to click on the comment or footnote and you'll then be able edit it.

But it doesn't work exactly like that right now.

To edit a comment/ footnote, click once on the comment/ footnote in the text or in the Inspector. Now you have moved the focus there. After this you can double-click the comment/ footnote and get the cursor there to edit it.

To leave the comment/ footnote, just press Esc, and you are back in the text.

Missing things

The things that are still missing from the Scrivener for Windows but are included in Scrivener for Mac are:
- The reading of text out loud through Scrivener

- Automatic snapshots (taken when you close the Project file to back it up in the Mac version)

- To be able to open research in pop-ups
Another thing that sadly isn't possible yet is setting different languages/ dictionaries for different projects. If you write in different languages in different projects, you have to change the dictionary every time. After changing the dictionary, I suggest doing a restart, even if Scrivener doesn't prompt you to, because some times the change doesn't work or doesn't work completely. I had it happen that my personal word list wasn't working, if I just changed the dictionary without a restart afterwards.

Shortcuts and how to change them

 Here is a list of some shortcuts I use often and find very helpful.
- Move focus between the binder and editor: “shift+tab”

- Add a new document: “shift+n”

- Add a new folder: “ctrl+shift+n”

- Move a document to the trash: “shift+delete”

- Scrivener manual: “f1”

- Options: “f12”

- Copy: “ctrl+c”

- Paste: “ctrl+v”

- Paste and match style: “ctrl+shift+v”

- Learn Spelling: “ctrl+g, l“

- Undo “ctrl+z“

- Redo “ctrl+y"

- Save “ctrl+s”

- Lock/ unlock Editor: “ctrl+shift+L”
What I like especially is that you can create your own shortcuts. You can choose them in the options (“f12”) under “keyboard”. Select the shortcut you want to change and at the bottom you see the key sequence. Just click in the text field or the “X” behind it or on the “reset" button. Then press the key sequence you'd like to have, and it will show in the text field. If the text is red, this key sequence is already for another shortcut and you have to use something else. If the text is black, you can click “apply”. When you are finished with changing the shortcuts, just click “okay”.


Scrivener has made my student life much easier and much more organised. I don't know what I would do without it.

One thing I'd especially like to praise: the support you get from the Literature and Latte team in the forum and through the email support. They are so fast at finding solutions for your problems that you don't have to worry long; sometimes no time at all.

For example, I couldn’t open one of my projects the other day. It was the big one in which I have all my studies. I went to the forum and posted a message with the problem and everything I tried.
Within a few hours I got the solution with a step-by-step explanation how to do it.

In addition to the fast help, I also learned to pay more attention through this experience :-) The problem was that when I closed that specific project the last time, I must have had a bunch of files opened in Scrivenings (which is a way of opening several files at once, and having them all together with separators in the editor).  When I tried to open that project the next time, Scrivener was trying to load all these files at once, and that was too much and caused the freeze and shutdown.

I've used the email support for other things before as well and have always got an answer in 24-48 hours.

All the answers I got in the forum and through the email support were never pre-formulated standard answers, but individual answers to my questions.

I never experienced such great support anywhere else.

Thank you Claire, for your help with this post and to the rest of All the World's Our Page writers for letting me write the guest post :-)

Sarah Meral


And thank you very much, Sarah, for all your work on this- we really appreciate seeing the other side of the Scrivener world, and I'm sure your post will be a great help for many Windows users.

If you'd like to ask Sarah any questions about Scrivener for Windows, she's a gun with the answers. You can ask in the comments below, or contact her on Twitter, where her handle is @Sciley.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

11 Questions with Barbara Rogan

We're dusting off our cobwebs and coming out of hibernation to welcome a very special guest today- the lovely Barbara Rogan, author of the newly released A DANGEROUS FICTION.

Jo Donovan always manages to come out on top. From the backwoods of Appalachia, she forged a hard path to life among the literati in New York City. At thirty-five, she’s the widow of the renowned author Hugo Donovan and the owner of one of the best literary agencies in town. Jo is living the life she dreamed of but it’s all about to fall apart.

When a would-be client turns stalker, Jo is more angry than shaken until her clients come under attack. Meanwhile, a biography of Hugo Donovan is in the works and the author’s digging threatens to destroy the foundations of Jo’s carefully constructed life. As the web of suspicion grows wider and her stalker ups the ante, she’s persuaded by her client and friend—FBI profiler-turned-bestselling-thriller writer—to go to the police. There Jo finds herself face-to-face with an old flame: the handsome Tommy Cullen, now NYPD detective.

Early reviews have been absolutely glowing, describing A DANGEROUS FICTION as outstanding, smashing, and, from the New York Post, required reading.

Barbara herself is the author of eight novels, and has also worked extensively in publishing. She started as an editor for a large New York publisher. After moving to Israel, she was the founder and, for 12 years, director of the Barbara Rogan Literary Agency. During that period, she served on the Board of Directors of the Jerusalem Book Fair.

After returning to the U.S., Barbara taught fiction writing at Hofstra University and currently teaches for Writers Digest University and in her own online school, Next Level Workshops, where she also offers editing services to fiction writers. She's a frequent lecturer on both the business and craft of writing and teaches seminars and master classes at writers' conferences.

Barbara, like all of us here at ATWOP, is also a member at the CompuServe Books and Writers Community, and a staff member, giving freely and generously of her time to help other writers practice their craft. Barbara kindly agreed to answer our burning questions about her writing life, her career experience, and her novels, particularly A DANGEROUS FICTION, and, no surprise, she gave us some wonderful answers.

So, Barbara- welcome to All the World's Our Page, and thanks for playing along!

A little from your life experience

1.  We like to start at the start around here. How did your love of words begin, and when did you know you were going to be a writer?

I actually remember when I first thought that I wanted to be a writer. I was about nine, home from school, sick, when I first read A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L’Engle. I was always a great reader, but that book blew me away; and it came to me then that that’s what I wanted to do when I grew up.

2. You've had many roles in the publishing industry- agent, editor, author and teacher- which has been the most rewarding so far? Which has been the most challenging?

Agenting was the most fun. I got to travel the world, meeting amazing people, and working with books—what could be better? But writing is the most rewarding; it’s what I chose at crunch time. It’s harder, but I enjoy it more than anything.

3. As a teacher of writing, you must encounter a considerable amount of writing that's waiting to be polished to perfection with a bit of extra guidance. What's one of the most common mistakes you see in fledgling novels?

They are many and varied. But learning to write is not unlike children learning to walk, in that everyone goes through the same stages. Problems mastering POV and the many permutations of “Show, don’t tell” are almost universal at the early stages of the writer’s path.

4. Each of those roles must bring you into contact with aspiring writers from all walks of life. If you could give one solid piece of advice to those just starting out, what would it be?

Take the time to learn the craft. Take classes if possible, join critique groups, study writers you admire to see how they do what they do. Write, then revise as many times as it takes. Don’t rush into print just because self-publishing is readily available.

A bit about your writing process

5. We'd love to know about your writing routine. For example, do you write every day? At a particular time, or anytime the mood grabs you? Are there snacks involved? Do you crave quiet, or are you inspired by music?

When I’m actively writing, I try to work every day, 5 days a week. I’m slow to get started; I read the NY Times and do the crossword puzzle, catch up on email, blog comments and Twitter. Once I start working, mid-morning, I don’t like interruptions except an occasional walk, which the dog insists on. But I’ll work for 8 hours or so, then put it away. Don’t listen to music—it distracts me from the voices in my head, unless I tune it out, which sort of defeats the purpose of playing it.

6. Do you fly by the seat of your pants when it comes to plot, either hopping around within the story or writing along in a linear fashion, or do you like to write by an outline?

I plot out the story in as much detail as I can, trusting that I’ll find ways to fill in the holes along the way. Stories often change in the writing, which is when the creative juices really flow, but I still rely on that road map to get me through the foggy stretches.

7. How much of the story comes together for you as you write the first draft, and how much of it really shapes up during edits? Which part of the process do you enjoy the most?

Writing the first draft is pure creation; it’s where you take chances and try things out.  Some things work, some don’t, and with time you get better at predicting. But it’s still important to have fun with that first draft, secure in the knowledge that no one else is ever going to see it. When I’m writing I wake up every morning eager to get to work.

Revising is what gives shape to that mass of material, brings out theme (which for many writers doesn’t even present itself until the book is written), sharpens the dialogue, and much more. Revising’s where the art comes in, and the conscious mind has its say--because a lot of what goes on during first drafts comes from a deeper place.

For me they’re both pleasurable processes, but the first is harder, because you’re creating something out of nothing.

All about your books

8. You've published a number of acclaimed novels over the years- do you have a personal favourite?

Several. I loved writing the new book, A DANGEROUS FICTION—it was really fun to play with a first-person narrator. Among the earlier books my favorites are CAFÉ NEVO, ROWING IN EDEN, A HEARTBEAT AWAY and SUSPICION, most of which, I’m happy to say, have recently been reissued in ebook and paperback formats.

9. Have you ever imagined any of your stories making it to the big screen? Which do you think would make the best film?

I have imagined it, because several of them have been optioned. Of all of them, I think SUSPICION would be the one I’d most like to see on screen, because I like the combination of mystery and ghost story.

10. Tell us all about your latest novel, A DANGEROUS FICTION. We're looking forward to it a great deal.
It’s the story of a literary agent named Jo Donovan, the young widow of the great writer Hugo Donovan, almost as famous for his affairs as for his novels. Jo’s charmed but hardwon life starts to fall apart when she’s targeted by an obsessed writer whose book she rejected. Friends and clients rally around; but as the attacks continue and escalate to murder, she begins to suspect that the person responsible is someone close to her, possibly among that very circle of protectors. At the same time, she’s being assailed on another front. An insistent biographer named Teddy Pendragon is determined to write her late husband’s biography, and his prying undermines the edifice on which she’s built her life, her marriage to Hugo.

11. What are you working on next?

When I finished A DANGEROUS FICTION, I found to my surprise that I wasn’t finished with Jo Donovan, nor she with me. I’d created a character who fascinated me and whose story was not yet fully told. My editor at Viking agreed; so I’m working now on the next Jo Donovan mystery, and planning at least one more after that. I’m also teaching writing workshops on

Thanks so much for having me on the blog, Claire.


And thanks again for joining us, Barbara! We loved your answers and learned even more than we already knew about you and your work, which was a great treat.

You can read the first chapter of A DANGEROUS FICTION here for free (bargain!), and then buy your own copy through any of the sellers linked there.

Find Barbara at: Her website

Friday, March 8, 2013

A Mini-Milestone


As we say in Australia, it’s been a long time between drinks, hasn’t it? My apologies for my extended radio silence, but since I last blogged I’ve been hard at work on my manuscript, Blood of the Heart, revising and editing until, at the end of February, I reached a milestone in my writing journey and finally, FINALLY, sent BOTH out to beta readers.

Exciting stuff! 

Oh, it’s very far from perfect; and far, far from done … but that’s the point. It’s time to let it go, to let others read it and tell me what’s working and what’s not, for I’m so page-blind I truly cannot see the forest for the trees.

But I’m here, at a point I sometimes doubted I’d see, and with a bit of time on my hands I’ve been mulling over what I’ve learned since finishing my first draft in December 2009 (yes, that long ago.)

Writing a first novel is like studying a whole university degree. Well, it was for me. I’ve been on one heck of a learning curve since I typed my first tentative words back in 2007. In fact, I’ve written and deleted enough words to fill close to two whole books. Seriously! But I don’t regret a minute of the time it’s taken me to write BOTH. Really, it couldn’t have happened any other way. Learning a new craft or profession requires a period of intense learning; and the way I always looked at it (to stop myself from feeling like a slow-poke failure) was that if my law degree took me roughly six years to complete, learning to write fiction would be no different. And so it was …

Hello. My name is Rachel Walsh and I am an Outliner. That I ever attempted to act upon my urge to write fiction is thanks to Diana Gabaldon and the story she shared of how she began writing. For those who don’t know the tale, in a nutshell, she came up with a character, she started writing as scenes came to her - out of chronological order, in chunks - and she didn’t stop. Boiled down to these elements, I thought I might be able to give this writing caper a shot. So I started …

Suffice to say I’ve learned enough about myself through writing BOTH to know my brain is not wired like Diana’s.  :-) To keep from veering off into no-man’s land (and thus having to delete thousands of precious words) this little black duck needs – NEEDS - an outline to follow. But hey, some things in life you can only learn by trial and error. And it was fun to work this out ... in a masochistic kind of way. Cough.

Thank God for square brackets. Another tip from Diana Gabaldon - use square brackets as place-holders when you get to a point in the writing where you need to go chase down a fact or two. That way, you keep writing, keep it flowing, without stopping to spend five hours pin-pointing a half-demolished street in 1864 Paris in which a character might have believably lived … yes, such are the rabbit holes I’ve ventured down this week as I plug the gaps in my research. Sigh. I’m mighty glad I left all this until now, otherwise I’d still be at work on chapter one.

Immerse yourself in your genre. I can’t recommend this highly enough. At one point I stopped writing for a good six months while I did nothing but read and deconstruct book after book of the type and style I was trying to emulate. I’m no master of mystery and suspense after doing that, for sure, but I have a far better handle on these genres than I did before.

Wallow in resources on the craft of writing. Whether it be Donald Maass’ THE FIRE IN FICTION or Robert McKee’s STORY, or the brilliant blogs of Anne R. Allen or Roz Morris, I’ve learned something new, or at the very least have come away inspired, every time I’ve dipped into these resources. Do it. It’s good for you and your brain.

Beta readers are GOLD. Don’t ever be afraid to ask others to read your work, when you’re ready for it. Having someone else cast their eyes over your work and give you carefully considered feedback, positive and negative, is absolutely priceless. And something for which you should be extremely grateful. I know I am.

So, what now? Well, while I’m waiting on crits to come in, I’ve dipped my toe in the next book I want to write. Mainly researching at the moment, but I’ve dashed out a few very rough scenes … and in fact, I think I might even have the first sentence of Chapter One:

“The moment she was ushered into the plush drawing room of the Countess of Marle, Lucinda Stone knew precisely which of the assembled aristocratic guests was the thief.”

Well, it’ll do, for now. :-)

Friday, February 22, 2013


I have a longer post coming about all the excellent sessions I attended at the 2013 Perth Writers Festival yesterday, but while it's fresh in my mind, I wanted to share a bit of advice on a commonly asked question that was put to literary giants Margaret Atwood and China Mieville at their excellent session on Wordsmithing. They were so much fun together, and they had so many excellent insights.

A member of the audience asked the simple question- what do they do when they get stuck?

Margaret Atwood's advice was first, try something different with what you're writing. Change point of view- first person, third person, even second person. Or change tense- present, past. Try to write the current scene from a different angle and see if that will jog you back into your work.

If that fails, she has three go-to options:

1. Go for a walk
2. Have a sleep
3. Do something repetitive and mindless, like ironing

These are oft-repeated pieces of advice, because they work- stop worrying, stop overthinking, and rest your mind a little. When it's time to get back to writing, you'll benefit from greater clarity.

China Mieville reckons that his 200 word theory has carried him through periods of being stuck- tell yourself you only have to write 200 words, or around two paragraphs, and they don't have to be good. In fact you can expect them to suck. Describe anything- even the wall you're looking at- for 200 words.

Once you've done that, go away, and when you come back later- write another 200 words. Keep that up, and you'll either get yourself back on track, or at least keep your practice up for when the inspiration comes back.

He also commented that more books don't get written because people don't put words on the page, than don't get out there because the writing isn't perfect. Get it on the page, and you can always revise it later. Margaret Atwood commented that only you will see what you write to start with, so what does it matter whether it's perfect or not?

Keep on writing, and that's the only way to get where you're going.

Friday, February 1, 2013


Long time, no see!

The crew here at ATWOP are still slightly on hiatus, by which I mean, concentrating hard on all kinds of important work, like writing, revising and publishing novels, or raising future storytellers, or that sort of thing- and still a little short on time to do the blogging we'd like to do as well.

We all hope to be more connected this year, and one of my aims is to spend a little more time both here and at my new blog for WWI research and all things Between the Lines.

So in that spirit, I'm moved to talk today about the theory of abundance. A good friend of mine was talking about this recently, and put it in my mind- she's a professional cake-and-sweet-treat maker, and she has the most enthusiastic and giving personality- just being around her makes you want to get up and work harder at being useful and positive.

And that's where the theory of abundance comes into things, because she believes that connecting with like-minded people, and moreover, always giving freely of your enthusiasm and your creativity, does not take away your time or your energy. It has the opposite effect- it brings energy and creativity back to you, because for all you give, you receive these things in return.

Since the start of 2013, I've already revised 30,000 words of Between the Lines. This is huge, for someone who hadn't touched her writing seriously in well over a year. I have a lot of demands on my time, but I am absolutely determined to finish this book this year and move on to the next stage, and my determination is carrying me through.

With the need to focus hard on my writing, you'd think that reconnecting with the Compuserve Books and Writers Forum, plus Facebook, plus blogging again, might not be a really advisable thing to do. After all, surely all that is going to take time and energy away from my main focus?

But as ever, I've immediately discovered that abundance applies here, too. Not to Facebook, that's still the devil. But to everything else- connecting with other writers. Sharing your work. Taking the time to read and comment on other peoples' work. Emailing writing buddies to talk shop. Telling the world what you're up to. All these things don't end up detracting, if you get the balance right- they end up adding fuel to the fire, revitalising creative energy and supporting your drive to get somewhere significant.

I've been a Compuserve Forum member for seven years now, and in that time, the periods where I haven't written a thing- have coincided exactly with the periods during which I have *not* been an active member there. The times when I've been most productive are the times where I've been in the community, giving and receiving.

It's tricky, though. There is a major balance you need to strike, and it's not all helpful. As much as Facebook and Twitter can connect you to the rest of the world, they can also distract you and suck your energy if you give them too much. And sharing your work is fantastic, especially if you get good feedback- but I've hit major problems before by letting opinions lead me down different paths, and, worst of all, by believing my own press- something you just can't do until you're proven, and you're not proven til you're holding your own book in your hands.

So, more giving, in the aim of more receiving. And at all times, keeping my perspective. That's my underlying theme for 2013 as I drive on toward the finish line one more time.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Inspiration, at Home and Abroad

In the continuing saga of me and  my manuscript ...

Well, I did finish my revisions … a little over my deadline of May 31st but not by too much, and with good reasons for running late (a revolving door of sick family members being one of them) so I’m happy with that. Even better, I got everything done just in time to pack my bags and head off for a vacation … to Paris.

Here's the proof.

("Children? What children?")

Ah, Paris. The city I’ve longed to visit ever since I can remember and the setting of my book, no less. I spent my ten days there pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, and have come back with a ton of fodder for my book and with my batteries fully recharged for another round of revisions.

And I mean revisions; not the wholesale re-writing that the last few go-throughs of my manuscript has entailed, which I’m mighty happy about.  I’ve chiseled away enough of the first (and second, and third and fourth ...) draft of my manuscript and can now see the full shape of my story. It’s lumpy and bumpy and in need of a good smoothing over and final polish, that’s for sure, but at least I’m at the stage where I’m swapping the heavy duty mallet and chisel work for the finer rasp and file business.

Anyways … rolling up my sleeves to get stuck into my manuscript once again got me thinking about the things that help keep up our enthusiasm for projects that take a long time to come to fruition. For it can start to seem all too hard and pointless, especially when the creative well has run dry or that vinegar-lipped lady is on your shoulder sniping that your writing is crap.

One thing that works for me it to step back from the keyboard, to go out into the world and visit museums and art galleries, take walks in the park, listen to music or catch a movie (or, cough, go to Paris), all of which serve to clear my mind and top up my creative juices so that I come back to my writing with renewed drive and fresh perspective.

But when I don’t have the time or the ability to do these things, my bookshelf is my best battery re-charger. I have a handful of authors whose works I can dip into, just for a page or so, and I’m guaranteed to come away awed and inspired. Their writing grabs me, reminds me of what I’m aspiring to, and the swell of excitement and hope that I feel compels me to get my butt back into my chair and write.

Not every writer does this for me, but a few are guaranteed to. Writers such as Deanna Raybourne, Jo Bourne, C.S. Harris, Ariana Franklin, Thomas Harris, Sarah Waters, Louis Bayard, Imogen Robertson, Geraldine Brooks, to name but a few.

And all the ladies here at ATWOP, of course.

I know some might find it a depressing exercise to read polished, published work, then dive into the hot festering messes they’re working on, but I don’t. They urge me on to do better, and to ignore that vinegar-lipped bitch and write some more.

So tell me: whose work inspires you?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Cast of Characters

Boulder Bay is a wild, untouched place. It's far from anything remotely civilized, isolated by the sea and the mountains that circle it. The only footprints you'll find in the sand are those of animals. The only noises you'll hear are natural ones like the buzzing of fat, furry bumblebees, the roar of the ocean breakers, and the melodies of birds.

I can only wonder what the locals think when we motor in on our boat and camp at the mouth of a small, crystal-clear river. By now some of them must remember us. I remember them, at any rate, and with this, our third visit, the sight of familiar characters was like greeting old friends.

Even before we finished setting up camp, it became clear that the neighborhood had had some changes. Our campsite has a lean-to frame that we built to serve as a kitchen (with the addition of a tarp it becomes sheltered). The bald eagles use the frame as a perch, probably happy that these oddball people have left them this seat with front-row views of the river in a land where trees are scarce. We found numerous eagle feathers scattered in the kitchen. "My eagles," I thought happily, "are still here." Not only were the eagles still living near camp, they were busy raising an eaglet in a nest that was empty the year before. Thriving.

What were not thriving were the little Sitka deer. We found nothing but bones on the beach. Numerous skeletons, as if the whole herd had died in that place. The darling fawns of last year were now nothing more than smaller skeletons among the larger ones.  It was a hard winter, with deep snows that pushed the herd from the hills to the beach where they eventually ran out of food to eat. I mourned the lot of them, those graceful, big-eyed creatures who meant no harm to anyone.

But life goes on, and the happy evidence of that was the newest neighbors to move in - a family of river otters. It was such a joy to watch the four of them roll and tumble on the sand in a knot of silky fur and sleek bodies. Such fun! They lived in a small creek behind our camp and I think we probably trespassed on their property. But they didn't hold a grudge, apparently, and soon accepted us warily - enough to bring their pups down to the sea to go to otter-fishing-school, anyway.

The biggest character on the block, the Kodiak brown bear, was still in residence too. We saw one bear on the beach and wisely turned back from a walk. Other than that one sighting, we saw nothing but footprints on an almost daily basis. There was a mother and cub who seemed to cross paths with us like ships in the night. They were there, but preferred to avoid us. The mother's prints told of a careful bear with long claws. The cub's small paw prints revealed a more playful nature. She took the shortcuts, wandered more, and just like a kid, walked through the mud while mother walked around it. 

 The family of foxes who live across the lagoon from our camp had wisely moved their den away from the eagle's nest. We didn't see the kits, as we had the year before, but we saw the parents often, as well as their kit from last year. She was now a lanky, curious thing who came to camp several times. I had a nice conversation with her at the fire one evening. She sat down not far from me, content to let me carry the conversation. Her eyes were golden, glittering with wonder and curiosity.

The only animal I've named is a harbor seal. Constance earned her name early because of her uncanny habit of popping up in the bay no matter where we were. We could walk miles down the beach and she'd greet us there. We'd come back to camp and she'd be there, too. Constant, like a shadow, watching with big wet eyes. I'd wave at her and yell, "Hello Constance!" My husband, who had a "crazy French girlfriend" named Constance, always said her name with a French accent. 

Even my own characters came along. Nathan, Carrie, and Carl flitted in and out of Boulder Bay like the small brown birds that fluttered around our camp. Without the bright white pages of my wip, the three of them had a holiday of their own. Nate thought about being a hunting guide. He'd buy a boat and live on it, he said. He'd call it the Compass Rose.

Eventually it was time to leave our beloved Boulder Bay. We bid farewell to the creatures who kept us entertained, who kept us company, and who reminded me that there are stories being written every day by characters more real than the ones in my head.