Metaphorical Tapestries…

 

My post today is about “depth and richness.” [i] And as usual, the road winding roadgetting here is twisting and curving. This particular writing thought path started for me this last August, with a Jackie Zortman post on her blog, Jackie’s Mountain Memos. It is the most lovely post, and the link is provided below[ii]. Besides Jackie sharing her past memories and her present day touchstone to her family, there are several lovely oil lamps pictured in “This Little Light of Mine.” I’ve collected a couple lamps myself from antique stores, and I find the unknown memories and possible past family events associated with the lamps, intriguing and compelling when it comes to story-imaginings.

Then recently at a High Desert Book Festival discussion on what inspires authors to write about the desert, I talked about those courageous and tough individuals that came before us, how tough it must have been, and how lucky we are to have benefited from their pioneering efforts. (Such as in my current Rhodes series.)

Then from another direction,[iii]—there are past discussion I’d read orrug participated in—on whether pottery was Art versus craft. I always sided with art, and now as I move more down my writing road, once again I’m siding with art. So, how can we  make our writing-tapestry[iv], more alive, more colorful, and more textured?  More artful? Fancy flowery talk I know—but at the core, I think, a true and solid goal.

In a nutshell, the key here for me is how the past is influencing, determining, and controlling how our characters are experiencing their present. And on all levels, physically, emotionally, and proactively even–such as in determining what they do in the action part of our story. Indeed, I very much think our metaphorical writing tapestries then become more colorful, more textured–more a work of art.

In my reading, I love it when the author brings the past into a current story; which for me, not only brings an emotional touch of nostalgia to the tale, but also a richness to the current world happenings–as they are layered upon past events–and the contrasts between those two worlds. The past is no longer just background for what’s about to happen—but key to understanding current world character’s thoughts, emotions, and motivations. Why the heck they’re doing what they’re doing.

My bottom line point is, past events need to come through on a personal level through our characters eyes and heart. Not cardboard characters with simply narrative pasts, but living, breathing pasts that are part of their being, and make them full-flushed-alive as they experience their present. I know, I’m talking about characters as if they are actually alive. They are, aren’t they?

Happy writing trails.


[i] From Webster online–Tapestry: A piece of thick textile fabric with pictures or designs formed by weaving colored weft threads or by embroidering on canvas, used as a wall hanging or furniture covering. Used in reference to an intricate or complex combination of things or sequence of events.

[ii] https://jtzortman.wordpress.com/2019/08/25/this-little-light-of-mine/

[iii] Trying to figure out if and how to get back into pottery.

[iv] I know the picture is not a tapestry, but a rug–but it is the closest visual I have.

The Last Goodbye…

This is a short post “looking inside” one author’s writing process/journey…

ThinkingHeadtoBook2Several weeks ago, Gayle Bartos-Pool posted an excellent writing on polishing your latest[i] before sending your wonderful novel out into “the world.” My “polishing activity” follow-on thoughts this week, are on my developing questions to use when looking back on my novels once they are actually gone and fending for themselves in the world.

One of my writing goals has always been to continually improve my writing — classes, books, editors, advice from writers I know, reviews, blogs like Writers in Residence (smile)—you get the picture.  Mainly, trying to do better than my last book.

This last item for me, has always been haphazard and unstructured. Especially since I have never reread any of my books after publication, except when I’ve read snatches at several events. Even that was hard—once published, the work is mentally and emotionally gone. If I didn’t have “important details” files, I probably couldn’t recall many characters names. Though sort of having a series now, my Shiné world and inhabitants have remained with me from book to book much better, stronger, and more fondly. Still, I haven’t reread any of them.

So, my point in this post is to share an actual list I’m working on to counteract my unfortunate tendency not to re-live what I’ve written, AND also enable thinking about what I want to do better in the next one. Improve my writing. Here’s the beginnings of what I’m working on so far from my looking back perspective..:

RTCTQuestionMark.jpg

  • More dialogue, and more action involving characters physically doing things (this is just a nugget of a goal—and I’m not sure exactly what I mean yet. Especially since I just reread a short story by P.D. James called the Mistletoe Murders where there’s mostly narrative—and I loved it.)[ii]
  • More action with real personal danger involved.
  • More real romance other than intellectual “love of the Mojave.”
  • Characters “actually” having changed, versus in the “process” of change.
  • More skillfully handle “musicality.” (do so much rewriting in that area — especially balancing long passages with short)
  • Better develop traditional “mystery” conundrums. (An outstanding example of what I’m talking about here is Agatha Christie. What a mind!)
  • Better balance against each other – (1) stopping a reader in reading-stride, versus (2) using the absolutely perfect word–noun, adjective, adverb, verb–for description emotional impact. Love finding the perfect word!

I plan to think about all these items, and more, as I start writing my latest Shiné adventure, Deceiving Eyes. But these items are peculiar to me and my writing goalsand the point of my sharing all this “what’s in my mixing bowl stuff” is to offer the thought of doing this type of farewell with your own ideas, writing, and goals?

Which leads to my second point, actually using Last Goodbye thoughts in the future. Not just thinking about them…smile. Another bullet for my list.

Happy writing trails…


[i]  https://thewritersinresidence.com/2019/08/14/polishing-the-gem-3/  Polishing the Gem

[ii] See Jackie Houchin’s post last week about our favorite authors.  https://thewritersinresidence.com/2019/08/21/these-are-a-few-of-my-favorite-reads/

 

 

More This and That…

My “This” today is a written-versus-spoken mea culpa, and words of encouragement I meant to say in person the first Thursday of this month. There’s a “trying-to-be” startup writing group that is getting together the first Thursday of every month at our local Newberry Family Center. But I didn’t make the last lunch. I wanted to come, and I wanted to offer to the few that might have shown up, encouragement to write, write, write… So, I decided to post my undelivered spoken writing group encouragement thoughts and words here, since I couldn’t make it to that meeting[i].

I’m a firm believer that if you aren’t a “pen to paper genius protégé”which I’m definitely NOT!—you have to make the MISTAKES that make you better: and if you don’t WRITE and REWRITE, you never make those growing mistakes, and consequently, your writing doesn’t improve—and often, doesn’t even get done. You never get that “Great American Novel” out there, or that wonderfully enjoyable cozy series with protagonists you love and hope everyone else will too, or the chronicling of your special hero, or the biography of someone you admire, or your book of poetry, or book of songs, or how to do something you’re good at, or your own memoir… I know, it’s rather trite and obvious words of encouragement—but I don’t think the sentiment can be expressed too often. Write and make those mistakes that move us forward, make us better writers.

To quote from P.D. James’s 5 Bits of Writing Advice (taped up by my computer where I can repeatedly read)  “…Don’t just plan to write—write. It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style….”

My “That” thought in this post is also prompted by “what’s going on in my life right now”—and is also a follow-on thought to making those “mistakes.” First off is to write the darned thing, but then, once you’ve written it, finding editors you trust is crucial. I’ve been so lucky to have great editors along my writing journey[ii]. The Caretakers, my latest book, is now in its third round of edits—sometimes it seems endless. But the release date is finally out there for the first week in July. And here’s the point—a lot of my “how could I do that again,” are misspellings, grammatical no-nos I never seem to remember, leaving out articles, and chronology and character mishaps[iii]—which I attribute to my carelessness and grammatical blind sightedness. BUT, with every book, and with every editing report, I also learn something about my writing that I can improve.

An example from my latest of what I’m talking about—I tend to go on-and-on about what’s going on in my character’s heads and their environment—with not a lot of “action” or dialogue. It’s a tendency that can bring about reader loss of interest. Well, the opening of my latest went on and on—which I wouldn’t have noticed because I liked the character (smile). And there isn’t a lot of thriller/adventure type action throughout the entire book, which didn’t really jump out at me. My editors of course saw these areas for improvement—and in line with my “This” above, pointed out opportunities for me to improve my craft.[iv]

So, here’s the big questions(and my answers) I’m presenting in this post—aimed especially to “in process” authors. Do you want to write? Then doing is the answer, no matter how daunting it might seem. Do you want to be the best author you can be? Then pay attention to areas we can improve for readers to enjoy our work. My thinking is—”writing” is a process, not a done-deal.

Our next local writers “keep at it” lunch is just around the corner… Sure hope nothing happens to keep me away this time, because I need a little, “Have you started the next one yet?” encouragement.

Happy Writing Trails!


[i]New water lines being put in kept me at home.

[ii]Mike Foley, Kitty Kladstrup, and Virginia Moody.

[ii] See Gayle Bartol-Pool’s excellent post last Wednesday https://thewritersinresidence.com/2019/06/19/polishing-the-gem-2/

[iv] In the case of The Caretakers, I’ve whittled out three pages from the opening, and I think I’ve “livened up” some scenes.


A Visit with Marilyn Meredith

As referenced in my May 1 post here on Writers in Residence, I wanted to talk to Marilyn Meredith about the unique experience of using real people’s names. For me, a “one of a kind” experience. Thank you, Marilyn, for including my namesake character in Spirit Wind!

Marilyn in Vegas 1
Marilyn Meredith

Hi Marilyn, and thank you so much for doing this interview with me. This last Wednesday, I mentioned on this blog site how seeing my name in a book felt, and some thoughts about the experience.. I really enjoyed reading Spirit Wind—plot, characters, location, interactions… In line with those thoughts, my first question is:

  • Where did you get the idea of using another author’s name in a book? I thought it such an unusual idea. I certainly loved being in the contest-and of course, was thrilled to be a winner.

At various mystery cons I attended, big name authors auctioned off the chance to have the winner’s name used for a character. I thought why not do that in a contest on a blog tour as a way to get people to follow the tour. It worked, and was fun for me.

  • If you personally know the person, do you think about that person when you write their name in the story? Or are you thinking about the character? I’ve used the first name of people I’ve known, and sometimes memories not connected to the book surface—and I have to stop for a moment or two.

No, once I know the name, I start conjuring up a persona for that person—however, for Madeline Gornell in Spirit Wind I did add something about the real Madeline—and I’m sure you know what that was.

  • What kind of feedback have you gotten from others?

Everyone seems to have loved the experience. One fellow, and another friend, who is gay, loved that I his names sake was a macho cop.

  • Location/setting is really important to my enjoyment of a novel. I love being “taken away,” which you very successfully did in Spirit Wind. Why did you choose the Tehachapi setting? Is Tehachapi a special location for you:

I’ve always been fascinated by Tehachapi, the wind machines covering the mountains, and the engineering miracle of the Loop, where the engines of long freight trains pass the ends. I also had a friend who suggested that I use Tehachapi and the Stallion Springs resort as a setting.

  • Do you believe in ghosts, or spirit directions and/or haunting? I found that a very intriguing part of the story.

My beliefs about spirits is that there are both good ones and bad—as in the biblical sense. Though I’ve often thought that the memories of people who once lived in a place still exist. And to be perfectly honest, I love ghost stories and haunted houses.

  • Are there other back stories to your plot—or interesting happenings that inspired you? Such as the earthquake in Tehachapi? Or?

I remember that big earthquake in Tehachapi though I didn’t live there. When I was researching Tehachapi I learned a lot about the devastating earthquake, what it did to the town and to the women’s prison. Before the earthquake, a young movie star was incarcerated there for killing her husband, but later was released, and yes, that gave me a big part of the plot.

  • What were your personal feelings when you visited the wind turbines? For me they were HUGE up close and personal.

They are absolutely enormous—and there are so many of them! Even more interesting, is the many ranches and homes tucked away among them.

  • Any other thoughts you’d like to share about Spirit Wind?

When my daughter and I visited Tehachapi to make sure I had everything right or right enough in the story, while visiting the wind turbines, we came across an injured back-packer who’d been following the Pacific Crest Trail all the way from Mexico. We gave him a ride into town. I thought about the fact that I could have woven some interesting tale about him into the story, but it wouldn’t have worked.

Tehachapi wind machines.2
A few of the Tehachapi Windmills

Thank you, Marilyn. Spirit Wind is a most enjoyable book ((of course I  might be a tad biased(smile)) Here’s Marilyn lovely ethereal cover and contact info.

https://fictionforyou.com

https://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com…

 

This and That…

Fotosearch_k25788172The “This” in my current title (I’ve used a similar title before) refers to BBC audio-book plays. The “That,” is my name being used in a novel. I don’t think the two are connected, though I’ve experienced writing ideas and connections coming at me from surprising directions. As I found out with my current WIP.

I’ve tried, but don’t have the knack for writing screenplays, much less a regular play, much less a BBC type radio drama. But I’m thinking there is something to be learned from dissecting your novel down to acts or segments. Especially if back stories, scene painting, character development, internal thoughts, etc…are what you/I like to write. And also, if forever-in-length compound and complex sentences with parenthetical phrases, asides, and flashbacks are what one(me) likes writing.(smile)

Recently though, over the last year or so, I’ve become very fond of “This”—BBC radio broadcasts offered by Audible that I can download to my Kindle and listen to as I’m falling off to sleep. My current favorites are Simon Brett’s[i] novels with the leading character Charles Paris. Adapted for radio, with Bill Nighy in the lead as Charles Paris.[ii] I’ve read many Simon Brett novels, and I’m very fond of his books and characters: now, I am also so impressed at the skill, ability, and writing-ear of the novel adapters for BBC Radio. (Of course Bill Nighy is also an extremely good actor-film and voice.)

As you may have already guessed, from “This,” my thoughts have gone down the ThinkingHeadtoBookpath of—how the essence of the character, the basics of the plot, and setting, are all capsulated into two-to-four hours of narration with a few sound effects to produce a really enjoyable play/radio adaptation. Though I’m still thinking about this particular tightrope,  I have noticed in my latest edit of my latest WIP my “what’s necessary” filter seems heightened. Of course, there are items not crucial for a “hearing” experience,  that I still think are necessary to the reading experience to enable escape to/into a different world through a character’s eyes. Indeed, both well done BBC plays I’ve heard, and many loverly novels I’ve read exemplify story-telling at its best–but from different perspectives.

The “That” is—my name used in a book. Marilyn Meredith, a wonderful writer with two series[i] I follow had a blog tour contest wherein a person who left a comment on each post during the tour went into a drawing . The Prize—Marilyn would use your full name in an upcoming book. What a wonderful promotional idea, I thought, and still think. I won one of her contests.

But I must admit, at first encounter on the printed page, seeing and internally hearing my full name was disconcerting . Marilyn’s Madeline Gornell, was of course quite different from me (I think!) Except for her hobby. It was a unique and enjoyable experience, and this Sunday here at Writers in Residence, I will be posting a short interview with Marilyn with some questions about Spirit Wind, Turbines, ghosts, and more…

I am combining the first names of two lovely ladies I know into one for a character’s name (with their permission of course). LydiaRose. And  given my own feelings and reactions now, I’m now wondering if I should. I liked my name “in lights,” but will they too, once the deed is done? Hmm…

A further follow on tidbit and unexpected connection—and to my joy—seeing my name in Marilyn’s latest Tempe Crabtree novel also led me down the character names path,[iv] and yet again, out of the blue, a serendipity connection was made—I realized what was wrong with a recently dumped WIP that I just didn’t like! I changed a name, and with that simple revision the “underlying” plot fix popped right out—A change of character emphasis, and whose mind to start the darned thing in. Now I’m back to Rhodes The Caretakers rewrite/editing. Hope to have out by July…

As always, love hearing your thoughts on my meanderings—such as audio books, BBC radio dramas, character names, ideas coming out of the blue, unexpected connections–this and that…

Happy Writing Trails!


[i] Simon Brett, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Brett

[ii] Bill Nighy, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Nighy

[iii] Marilyn Meredith https://fictionforyou.com/

[iv] We have several great posts on character names on Writers in Residence!

Some Thoughts on Sex…

by M.M. Gornell

My post’s title[i] was intended to garner interest, and if it did get your interest—hope it’s not too much of a disappointment that I’m referring to having a protagonist with a different gender than one’s self.

I recently had a “writing surprise” on my winding writing-trail-adventure. Which in turn led to my gender thoughts… And here’s the path of how I got here:

  • I’ve been working over a year on a third Rhodes novel, finally finished it, but during rewriting/editing several weeks ago, decided I didn’t like it. This is a completely new writing-happening for me. Especially at this point in a work. Why didn’t I dump it a long time ago? What was this new perspective that turned me off? Most probably, I will revisit one day with these very questions, but for now, Rhodes – The Caretakers is now a lonely file on my backup drive—maybe never to be seen again.

It’s a strange feeling, having really enjoyed writing the story for so long—then dumping it out of the blue. Nonetheless, I’ve moved on to a new novel.

  • Rosemary Lord’s post on de-cluttering a month ago really hit home when I tried to open a file cabinet drawer, and it got stuck on the hinges because the drawer was too full with to-be-filed “important stuff” jammed into it. Then an hour (exaggeration) down the road later of wrestling with it, accompanied with a few choice words, I finally got it open. As it turned out, the offending paper contained notes from a panel G.B. Pool invited me to participate on back in 2012[ii] (I think at the Burbank Library).

The notes I found sounded good, but I can’t remember what I actually rambled on about (get nervous and have a hard time trying to speak and think at the same time—and can’t rewrite and edit like with writing) I do remember having great panel compatriots who were very kind, gracious, and carried the panel through quite well.

  • Here’s the convergence back to sex on this particular winding road. The novel I’m working on—after abandoning The Caretakers—has a female protagonist. And, the novel is written by a fictitious male ghostwriter (who has promised his client to write from the female protagonist’s POV since she is supplying him with the novel’s material.) POV shifts are rather tricky, but it’s fun-so far…

The overall writing impact—some of my favorite male protagonists written by women(outside of my Writers in Residence female writing friend’s wonderful male protagonists), are Adam Dalgliesh, Hercule Poirot, Tom Barnaby, and Roderick Alleyn. So what is the key to P.D. James, Agatha Christie, Caroline Graham, and Ngaio Marsh’s successful portrayal of the opposite sex?

Talent, artistic writing ability, or learned craft? [iii]. Right now, I’m thinking it’s the ability to get inside a character’s head, then convey how they’re seeing the world to a reader—no matter their sex. Seeing the world and experiencing your story from inside, looking out…rather than the perspective of looking from the outside at the events occurring around them.

Said in another and hands-on way, I wrote a sentence recently in this new novel, reread it, then said to myself—wow, that sounds like Leiv (former male protagonist), not like my new protagonist, LydiaRose. So what was wrong with it? I ended up deciding nothing. For in this particular scene it was a typical windblown desert day—and looking out—it would be the same, no matter the character’s gender. I’m thinking writing this book is going to push me as a writer, and getting it right isn’t something I can get from reading a writing book—rather, from writing experience.

I guess, my bottom line here is, trying something new is an excellent way to further hone your craft. And writing from opposite sex perspectives might be an excellent topic to think about…

As always, would love to hear your thoughts about writing, and heading out into new writing adventures.

Happy Writing trails!


[i] Last week, G.B. Pool wrote an excellent post on titles!

[ii]It was a mystery writer panel with Robert Fate, Mike Mallory, G.B. Pool, Kate Thornton, and moi. All panel member wrote a main character of the opposite sex.

[iii] Art vs craft is a topic I’ve also often heard discussed among potters.

More Writing from the Tight Rope

smallauthorphoto2

Madeline (M.M.) Gornell is the author of seven award-winning mystery novels. Her current literary focus is Route 66 as it traverses California’s Mojave Desert. Madeline is a lifetime lover of mysteries, and besides reading and writing, is also a potter. She lives with her husband and assorted canines in the High Desert.

 

ThinkingHeadtoBookAh, the joy of discovery moments in a book! Or, the waiting far too long for an “it” to happen you’ve already figured out or anticipated. Ideas discussed here before, and from several perspectives.[i] But a recent book I closed last week prompted me to re-visit and add my two-cents because I think it’s a biggie area for thought. And, another writing tight rope skill/art that requires a tricky balancing act—based on one’s personal predilections, storytelling skills, and the complexity of characters and events. When to let the reader imagine and fill in, even arrive at a scene or plot conclusion on their own–versus when you need to supply more clues and details for them to know what’s happening?

On one side of the balancing act—the book I‘m referring to and closed before finishing, was abandoned because I kept finding myself saying, huh? What the heck is going on? And in some cases going back to see if I missed something.

Then there were several recently read books, where I’ve said, out loud even, “I get it already! Move on…” The most recent examples, unfortunately were in my own latest WIP, as I do my slow-going first rewrite. Some authors are sort of long-winded (smile). I can’t pile up too much praise for editors. Still remembering one of my earliest manuscripts, and my editor mentioning how I’d gone on far too long in a suspenseful sequence—with words I don’t remember exactly, but similar to–the reader figured that out two pages back.

And for a little different twist on the topic: a book club member friend shared that her granddaughter in her writing had two characters in a scene/situation she was having difficulty getting them out of. Her solution…she ended the scene there, and moved on, letting the reader figure it out. Brilliant, I thought at the time. Especially since I had the same occurrence happen in my current WIP. And following the lead of this young writer—I moved on.

I personally read on three fronts—audio (especially for classics), paper often for my book club selection, and Kindle eBook if it’s a book I’m thinking I want to have on hand in the doctor’s office. If you’re listening to an audio book, those reader “I got it already” overuses pop right out when a narrator is speaking the words. The main one that my ear often catches in audio books, is the overuse of a character’s name.

balancingActBut then again, balancing again, reminding a reader of a character’s name is often very helpful. But when and how many times?—I’m hoping to improve in that area. This balancing act, I think, is a training of my ear thing. As a reader, on the other side of this tightrope, are the situations where I’ve had to go back to earlier book sections and find the person’s name—especially if they have a title, and both have been used. The same wise editor advised, if you’ve got your POV straight in the telling, your reader is in your character’s head and there’s no need to repeat, repeat, repeat.

So to share my own nugget of writing practice here—I try putting myself in the shoes of a movie director in the splicing room. As I’m rewriting/editing, my book becomes like a movie I’m watching/putting together on the splicing machine (or whatever it’s technically called). And I have available to me, close ups, long shots, predominantly character dialogue scenes, actor narrative or emoting scenes, and setting/scenery shots I need to cut and paste in good storytelling order–and length. The main objective—to give the reader enough info and pictures to enjoy the happenings without wondering who’s who, and what’s what—while at the same time not spilling the beans until the appropriately placed dénouement scene.[ii] Splicing the right scenes, with the right dialogue and narration mix, and in the right order—is not always easy or obvious.

I always keep in mind Eudora Welty, who[iii] professed to cutting her paper work into paragraphs which she would move around to get in the order she wanted. With her process in mind, and as a final thought; in my little word processing world, I’m taking more and more of my “moving around” paragraphs to the electronic trash bin.

Happy continued “tightrope-walking” writing trails!


[i] For one recent example, see G. B. Pool’s excellent post a couple weeks back The Devil’s in the Details with very practical advice in these areas, and much more.

[ii] I sometimes talk to the TV (a habit I learned from my husband) invariably complaining about things that don’t happen in a scene, or telling the actors to, “get on with it.”

[iii] Conversations with Eudora Welty, by Peggy Whitman Prenshaw, pgs 244-and on.