Today’s Writing Challenge—And a Resource

Today’s writing challenge illustrates the kind of problem I never thought about before I started submitting items for publication: I need to (probably) change the name of the *key* artifact in my middle-grade fantasy, Juggling the Keystone. Bad pun intended.

The Keystone is a magical orb that is sort of a wizard’s all-purpose key. It unlocks things. Anything. Unfortunately, the word was previously claimed by the architectural world. Merriam Webster defines it as “the wedge-shaped piece at the crown of an arch that locks the other pieces in place”—not the kind of thing you’d want your main character to juggle.

So why not just call it the Wizard’s Key or Magekey or something like that? Well, another important item in the book is the songstone. I kind of like the parallel name structure—Keystone, songstone—since they’re kind of parallel items.

To help me tackle this challenge, I’ve been using one of my favorite resource books, the Flip Dictionary, by Barbara Ann Kipfer, Ph.D. It’s kind of like a thesaurus, but not. Instead, it offers collections of related words for those of us who can’t come up with quite the perfect phrase. For example, under “horse” there’s a table of “Horse Terms”, including: martingale, oxer, passage, piaffe, prance, puissance, rack, singlefoot, tack, tittup, trot, and volt.

For my renaming challenge, I’ve consulted the entries for key, stone, orb, unlock, puzzle, magic, open, and container, which gives me a nice list of names that almost work.

For the Key motif: Mermetic Key, Wizard Key, Riddle Key, Arcana Key

Or, keeping the Stone motif: Wizard Stone, Riddle Stone, Solving Stone, Unlocking Stone, Opening Stone, Maze Stone, Gordian Stone (which I like, but refers to a completely different universe and mythology.)

I kind of like GPS stone, but I guess that doesn’t work, either. Any suggestions?

A New World


Well, after spending a weekend feeling lousy—mostly sick in bed—I got up today feeling like I’d stepped into a new world. After yesterday’s rain, huge drops of water sparkle on every leaf and grass blade; the path to my son’s school is awash with lilac fragrance; tulips, irises, basket-of-gold, and lilacs splash the world with color; and the songbirds are out in force, fighting over territory and mates with a battle of music. It was like stepping into a fantasy world, painted just a bit too bright and beautiful to be real.

Or maybe that’s one gift of the writer—seeing the storybook ideal overlaying the real world.

Or maybe that’s just what I do when I’ve been sick: see everything with fresh eyes. For instance, I get up in the morning assuming that I’m completely better when, in fact, I might still be dragging just a little…or a lot. It just seems, to my storybook mind, that if I want to be better, I should be better. I have so many things I want to do!!!

If anyone knows how to make that work, please let me know. Otherwise, I think I’ll be having a slightly less productive day today than I’d originally fantasized!

:) Cheryl


In some ways this feels like the first real day of the retreat. I wrote yesterday, a little, but most of what I did was think. I pressed my back onto the warm boards of the deck and imagined scenes floating in bubbles above my head, imagined how they fit together and built on one another, and I picked and prodded until I had a new opening chapter for the Peru book. It’s a much stronger opening and does a better job setting the tone for what the book’s really about. That chapter, I wrote, all three pages of it.

And then I had to go through the same process for what should come next.

It’s such a glorious thing to have hours of silence and solitude in which to recreate this story into something closer to the ideal that’s in my mind. Today, I continue that process. I’m sitting on the porch, computer plugged into the wall, while rain chatters against the tin roof overhead and drips from the eaves in front of me. The sky is gray, the air is chill, and for the moment at least I believe that I’m a writer and that beautiful things are going to pour forth from my fingers.

Every writer needs a time like this, a time when there’s enough quiet to hear what’s in your heart. I feel incredibly lucky to be here.

:) Cheryl

PS—I’m posting my accounts of the retreat a few days in arrears, because we didn’t have Internet access at the retreat house.

Retreat Prep

I’ve never been involved in procuring food for a small crowd of people like our retreat group. It’s the kind of experience that makes me want to start wrtliting cooking mysteries, just to be able to incorporate the sheer sensual experience of buying enough food to fill a car trunk side to side and top to bottom. Check out the grocery cart:

This is only a portion of the weekend’s food, the Costco fresh produce section, to be precise. We also spent an hour at a local cooperative market, where it was possible to buy things like heirloom tomatoes, arborio rice, fresh cilantro, flax seed pancake mix, and mango lassies. Yum…

It was nice to participate in prep work, because I definitely needed a mental transition to get into the weekend. As for the food? Wwow. That’s all I can say.

— Cheryl