The Process is Progressing

Dear Liza,

As you know, I have been working on my children’s history story about Portland for a little over a year now. For the first six months I read about Portland history so I know how it became a city and what sort of interesting things happened here. The Oregon Historical Society and Belmont Library became my favorite hangouts.

A Young Lady in 1903

I chose to put my story in the spring of 1903, when President Theodore Roosevelt came through Portland on a country-wide tour. There was a parade, a ceremony in what is now Washington Park, and a banquet. It was a very big deal and I think it would make a good backdrop for a mystery story. But as I told you, I don’t know much about mysteries.

So, I studied that, too. For a few weeks, I read Nancy Drew books and articles about mystery story plots, character development, and clues.

But as a teacher, I never really understand something until I need to teach it. So I pretended I was teaching someone about how to make a mystery story.  I cut shapes out of paper to show everything that happened in the story: action, characters, description, distractions.

A new way of seeing a story

I practiced using these pieces to map out the first eight chapters of The Bungalow Mystery, #3 of the Nancy Drew books. I could see when action happened, when characters were introduced, how the chapters alternated between action and description, and how each chapter ended in a new mystery or dangerous situation.

This took some of the mystery out of writing my mystery! I am now working on my own story, using these paper pieces to  make the characters move to solve the riddles of the story and come to a happy ending. If I don’t like the way it is going, I just move the pieces around! I feel organized, less confused, but flexible enough to create and re-create the story until it is right.img_9480.jpg

Of course, once I have this visual outline done, I still have to write the actual words….but that’s the fun part! I am happy to have found a way of working that works for me.


Grandma Judy

It’s a Process, it’s a Process….


Dear Liza,

Today I am thinking of a lot of things. My old friends and colleagues at University Park are starting a new school year, and I am thinking about how excited and stressed out they are at the job ahead of them. Teaching, like so much in life, is a long process.

I am also dealing with a process. After researching Portland history for more than a year, I am realizing I STILL don’t know enough to write the history story I want to write. I know the history, but the story is not working.

Fortunately, I have good people in my life to help. Auntie Bridgett and I talk about history, truth, and accuracy, so I can understand how I feel about writing a make believe story inside an historic story as a way to make the history easier to understand. It is a tricky needle to thread.

I have Grandpa Nelson, who reads more than I do, giving me new ways to think about the plot of the story. One day he suggested making my story into a mystery! That sounded interesting, because there is a bit of a mystery in it already. Then I realized I haven’t read enough mysteries to know how to write one. How do I add clues in an interesting way? How do I write a believable young detective for 1903?img_9329.jpg

Like Hermione Granger, when in doubt, I head for the library. Nancy Drew, here I come! I checked out three of the hundreds of Nancy Drew books, and am taking notes, just as though I were in a class. I am learning the basics of character, clues, plot twists, and making a story interesting and detailed without drowning in description.

But in the midst of all this learning, I was beginning to get discouraged. Maybe I can’t write the story. Maybe I’m not smart enough, or creative enough. Maybe I am fooling myself.

Then my dear sister-in-law Christy sent me a book called The Dalai Lama’s Cat, by David Michie. Feeling pretty unproductive anyway, I sat down and read it. This delightful book is written from the point of view of a stray cat who gets adopted by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama in India. In the stories of the cat’s life, the writer teaches Buddhist precepts in down to earth ways. We see that putting others first is a true cause of happiness and that patience with one’s own failings is necessary. I finished the book and felt rejuvenated.

I had been getting in my own way. First, I stopped trying to write for a few days to sew and cook and do things for the people in my life. Having success, even in making cookies, while focusing on others instead of myself, was a wonderful feeling.  I took Auntie Bridgett to a new place for lunch, the Im Jai Thai, on Belmont, and got healthy, delicious food for the body and soul. IMG_9324.jpg

I may not be good or smart enough to write the story YET, but I can be, and I will be.

It’s a process. And in the meantime, I will read, take notes, and make clothes for a recently homeless doll.

Love, Grandma Judy



Writer’s Block

Dear Liza,IMG_6373.jpg

As you can tell by all the writing I’ve been doing, my brain has been running full speed for a long time. Now, I seem to have hit a bump. IMG_8410.jpg

Besides these letters to you, i am writing a history story about Portland, Oregon. I’ve done all the research, but it isn’t turning into the story I want. It feels clunky, slow, and bossy. It has a teacher’s voice, which is understandable, since I spoke Teacher as my primary language for 30 years. But it is not good voice for stories.


I have realized that I have a lot of work yet to do on it, and it is frustrating. It feels like I somehow got to mile 24 of a marathon and realized that I am just coming up on the Starting line.

As a remedy, I am, as they say, “getting out of my own way,” and letting the story sit for a while. I am reading other things, walking when it is cool enough, and trying not to give up on it. IMG_6281.jpg

I am looking for inspiration elsewhere, listening for a voice that isn’t bossy. In the meantime, I will send these lovely random pictures.


Grandma Judy