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

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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.

Loverly!

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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 sometime potter. She lives with her husband and assorted canines in the High Desert.

Way back when, a favored relative we occasionally visited would say, “That’s just loverly,” when she liked something—especially when giving a compliment. She wasn’t using loverly as a stand-in for being lover-like, but as a confounding of the word lovely. At least that’s what my brain took as her meaning—that the object she was referring to was very nice. Pleasing. Her remembered words, and pictures of her in my mind’s eye are what brought me to this post, and my topic—Adjectives and adverbs in writing.[i]

ThinkingHeadtoBookMany far more successful writers than I have shared their opinions, preferences–and given advice regarding the use of adjectives and adverbs in fiction writing. And the current trend, I think, is the fewer the better. Edit them out. My (slightly contrary) thoughts here are about my personal leanings, and are inspired by what I like to read—not a rule from a writer’s perspective. And underlying my thoughts, are topics which I hopefully have mentioned before—(1) The benefits from exposure to as many ideas and information as possible (like I’ve heard here at Writers in Residence) (2) Breaking rules or current writing customs in favor of your writing instincts and “voice.”

The short, sweet, and to the point of this post is—I love adjectives and adverbs. To me, they can enhance, convey feeling, bring connotation, or even add warmth or coldness to an idea you’re trying to express. They are what brings the cadence to your “voice,” and the musicality to your writing. To me, the right adjective or adverb can help a reader sense the scene, heighten sensory perceptions already described, or even quickly picture a whole character. A few examples…

  • His tone was conspiratorial, and slightly excited.
  • But Meldon’s loud voice, surprisingly high and squeaky, brought him back to current day.
  • With him whistling appreciatively to himself in his cruiser-cocoon, in acknowledgement of their hard work and accomplishment…
  • Ben willfully continued to ignore both yesterday morning’s congratulatory thoughts about the Caltrans crew…
  • Still, and quite annoyingly—even so protected from outside forces, when Ben looked down at his lap, he needed to brush away fine granules of yellowish-sand from along the crease of his meticulously pressed right pants leg

For me, Judging when an adjective or adverb will bring depth to a character, the scenery, or to just make a more musical sentence—versus self-indulgent prose-writing, is well worth thinking about. I usually make my judgment call for “keeping,” but if the word is not doing what I want, finding a better adjective/adverb. And if still not working, scratch the whole thing, and try writing a different way.

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Another Writing Balancing Act

If there’s actual advice I’d like to offer—it is before cutting out all those evil-adjective and word-adding adverbs (especially the “ly” ones,) think about a couple other concepts dear to my writing heart—voice, and the musicality of your writing. Said another way—true enough, one should watch out for shooting yourself in the foot with tortured over-written prose—but at the same time making sure you are writing prose that makes your heart sing!

Would love to hear your thoughts on the topic…

Happy and loverly writing trails!

 


[i] Merriam Webster online: Adjective…a word belonging to one of the major form classes in any of numerous languages and typically serving as a modifier of a noun to denote a quality of the thing named, to indicate its quantity or extent, or to specify a thing as distinct from something else…  Adverbs are words that usually modify—that is, they limit or restrict the meaning of.  They may also modify adjectives, other adverbs, phrases, or even entire sentences. An adverb answers the question when?, where?, how?, how much?, how long?, or how often?

A Peek Inside the Kitchen…

Winding Road SignThere’s a TV show I no longer often watch, but in its day with me, I absolutely loved. The show’s name is/was, a variant, of “How’s it made.” When I watched faithfully, they often visited the manufacturing processes for different foods, many I knew about, or ate. With that idea in the background, I thought sharing another twisting-turn and stop on my winding-writing-road might be fun (and cathartic for me). This time, stopping at the “plotting-land” rest stop.

In my mind (and the imaginary worlds therein), characters and setting come easy—plot pieces not so easy. Not because I don’t have ideas, oh no—just the opposite. Too many pieces I want to combine—somehow. Adding to that, my taste in reading and writing is–the trickier the better. With surprises of course. While at the same time making sure, when the truth does comes out, the pieces have to all hang-together. Have to make sense—once you’re looking at the facts in the right way.

In addition, several recent blogs from authors I like/know were about the back-stories to “why” a particular novel—the who, what, where triggering the story. Those posts also got me thinking down this line too, even though they weren’t addressing my particular challenge—the specifics of plotting.

This post is also a public retraction of a private proclamation (smile). I have a very small part in producing an area newsletter, involving layout. One the very competent ladies[i] who spearheads this effort, asked me if I liked puzzles. My flippant answer was no. Duh! A puzzle of course provides the basis for most of my mystery-plotting efforts. Admittedly, for several of my books, my plots were based on simple and one-dimensional ideas, i.e.–a singular and straightforward mini-mart off I-15 combined with a dog named Joey[ii]. Or, could you kill someone with clay flying off your pottery wheel?[iii] Or simply, the beauty of a unique mountain—as in my first novel, Uncle Si’s Secret.

But over time, my writing goals have changed—expanded—one might say “Gotten out of control!” For example, here’s a peek inside the kitchen of my latest. All the images, thoughts, ideas, and accompanying action and symbolism for  Rhodes The-Caretakers. Ingredients for my latest plot:

  • puzzleclipartCreated a character (a villain) in my last Rhodes adventure that I’ve become fond of, and now want him to have a key part in my current story-line. Yes, my mind says, Mugs Nightshade needs to be in the mix somehow,
  • More than once a limo has passed me on I-15, with tinted windows I couldn’t see into, and I wondered who they were transporting. Of course there had to be a mystery involved—not something simple like a celebrity being shuttled from LA to Vegas. No, something more sinister for sure. But then, I also saw a limo on I-40, why, and where could they possibly be headed on I-40? Laughlin maybe? Or doing Route 66 in a limo? Hardly…,
  • Also on I-40—for an extended period of time, dust was flying, huge trucks were coming and going on and off the median strip producing blowing sand—and of course, because of my PSWA awareness, often a highway patrol officer “on guard.” Caltrans was redoing the median strip in our area, which meant grading, clearing, and replacing culvert underpinnings. This situation, I wanted so much to be a key plot/puzzle piece,
  • As if that wasn’t enough, ran into one my town’s volunteer firemen[iv] at the community center, who listens to the channel/band for fires. Goes straight to a person in need—he’s one of the good guys. So, another piece that caught my imagination—I wanted a fire, volunteer firefighters, the devastation caused by that fire, and with murderous intent of an arsonist,
  • Too much Midsomer Murder binge watching also sent me down the imaginary trail of intrigue produced from a “village struggle,” as in many Midsomer plots. I wanted to include something like that…but in my case, are there enough folks in Shiné even to fight over anything? Hmmm,
  • And for sure—another key plot element I wanted was someone from Leiv’s past to arrive in Shiné. Maybe even on the run from a murderer?

ThinkingHeadtoBookEasy putting all that together, right? Just move the puzzle pieces around until they all fit together intriguingly. Ha!

Well—I finally did make it through the plotting puzzle part and put all those piece together to form a plot I’d like to read. Indeed, I’m now about half through with this book—slow writer. But the cake is mixed, and in my mental oven. And now that I’m finished actually bringing the puzzle pieces together, I also wanted to share how grand the feeling is when you’ve fit it all together in a way you like.

Not sure if plotting is a challenge or joy for others, but would love to hear about how your pieces come together. And on the reading front, do you enjoy tricky multi-layered goings on? Or do you prefer when the author just tells the “darn story” and gets it over with!

Thanks for visiting my kitchen-rest-stop on the winding writing-road, and,

Happy reading and writing trails!


[i] Vickie Paulsen, Paula Deel, and Ronnie Shaw. [ii] Reticence of Ravens and Counsel of Ravens [iii] Death of a Perfect Man, and [iv] Larry Menard

Do You Hear Me?

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 in her “Rhodes” series. Madeline is a lifetime lover of mysteries, and besides reading and writing, is also an occasional potter. She lives with her husband and assorted canines in the High Desert. Visit her website and Amazon Author Page.

 

This is not a “how to post.” No, more like another one of my mental-meandering-around and thinking about writing posts. (Thinking about writing is often easier for me than actually writing.)

Once again, a Vons grocery store customer started me down the path leading to a post topic. A lovely lady I didn’t immediately recognize, and who after first saying Hi!–and without any segue of any kind—added, “I like your voice!” I certainly was at first confused; but after a bit more back and forth, I realized she was talking about my writing. Consequently, besides being really pleased she read my books, I was also sent down an “author’s voice” writing-memory-lane during my drive home.

  • I had an English teacher in school way-back-when who critiqued one of my essays (must have stung because I still remember) that my piece had no voice.
  • A paid editor once said, your writing sounds too much like you. You need to “neutralize.”
  • On the maybe I can learn side, another teacher told me[i], your voice is much stronger than when you started this class.

From my perspective, I’ve closed books because I was not “in tune” with what I’m dubbing here as the “author’s voice.” I’ve also closed books because I’ve felt nothing. No voice coming through maybe? Purely guesswork, but I’m thinking the “magic mixture” of one’s literary voice is sentence structure, choice of word, lyricism, asides… All knowing Google says, “…Voice is the author’s style, the quality that makes his or her writing unique, and which conveys the author’s attitude, personality, and character…” Indeed, my internet searches didn’t add much to think about.

Guessing again here, I think some of the same “things” that come through in our writing “author voice,” are the written equivalent expressions of a few pieces of our personalities. Likable or not.

I’m still pondering whether thinking about–or even just the acknowledgment of one’s writing personality is important. And sorry to say, I don’t think I’ve come up with any great answers. Yet. I do believe, despite any “hard-evidence,” your author voice is important to whether a reader enjoys your story—and whether they keep reading your book or pass it on. But I remain open on the question—despite what editors or teachers have said—whether “author’ voice” is an aspect of your writing you can improve upon or change. Your thoughts on the topic on “author voice” are greatly appreciated…

Happy writing trails—and may your voice be heard!


[i] This memory trail goes all the way back to Saturday mornings at Bellevue Community College Adult Education creative writing classes in Puget Sound. (circa mid-1980s!)

Beauty in the Mojave

For Want of Brush or Pallet

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 in her “Rhodes” series. Madeline is a lifetime lover of mysteries, and besides reading and writing, is also an occasional potter. She lives with her husband and assorted canines in the High Desert. Visit her website and Amazon Author Page.


Several happenings on several fronts led me to this post. First off, in my books I occasionally go on and on about sunrises and sunsets—especially in my two Rhodes tales. A few evenings ago a particular sunset caught my

Beauty in the Mojave

fancy—they’re all beautiful to me—but some, depending on weather conditions, are quite spectacular. This was one such sunset, so I found my camera (easier said now than was actually done at the time), and took a few pictures. After some thought and really looking at those pictures, I honestly doubted I could ever express in words the colors, the striations, and the emotional content of those pictures. Not a happy consideration for me.

Secondly, in my current WIP[i]—I realized, “it” just wasn’t right—almost at the point of my tossing the whole thing out. I didn’t feel I was there with the characters, or the story. But before giving up, I did take a few moments to “think.” About my story line, about my characters, about my back stories, even about the underlining premises—and finally I realized what was wrong.

My opening didn’t take me there. And why? I haven’t painted an enticing picture—not taken the reader (in this case me) there. Not that I don’t know the picture I want to open with—but I hadn’t brought that world to my WIP. Sure, I had described the where and what in Billy Belleau’s (opening character) world, but I had not painted the picture.

Easier to do with cameras, or paints if you have artistic talent. For example, while pondering (translate: being lazy) I’m in the middle of a mystery series on DVD called Blood of the Vine. It’s French, with English subtitles, and is set in French wine country. The opening panoramic scenes through the Bordeaux and other wine country regions in each episode are so magnificent, so enticing—as a watcher I’m there immediately. Their plot be darned, script be darned—I want to experience whatever it is that’s about to be revealed.

So bottom line for me, my tale is renewed in my mind, and I have some ideas on what needs to be added to paint my picture to try to take my reader there. And the point of sharing all this? It is to say, sometimes you need to toss. And sometimes you can fix. But in my opinion, if you paint an enticing picture at the very beginning—invite your reader to see what you see, paint a place a reader wants to go—you’re off to a great start.

Not easy, I don’t think, painting with a word-pallet (though the English-language-hues are seemingly endless)—but well worth the effort. Which  leads me to another topic of writing discussions (and potters also banter this same question around)—Art or Craft? I vote both.

Happy word-painting trails!


[i] Rhodes The Caretakers

Becalmed…

     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 in her “Rhodes” series. Madeline is a lifetime lover of mysteries, and besides reading and writing, is also an occasional potter. She lives with her husband and assorted canines in the High Desert. Visit her website and Amazon Author Page.


Despite my post-title, I’m not a sailboat person. Know little about them—and the several sailing adventures I did have, made me queasy, both when actually sailing, and even when just sitting there on the water barely rocking back and forth. So why the title? I like the word, both its sound and emotional connotation. And for me, it’s more of an accurate description for those times when I’m not in the “mood” to write, than the often used phrase “writer’s block.” Becalmed feels and sounds for more appropriate for what I feel those periods of time.

But why share my current becalmed circumstance and affinity for the word? Because the trail from thinking about the word led me to a possible value in sharing what I actually do to get my “writing-wind” back a-blowing.  Another tool to consider adding to one’s writing toolbox?

I’m pretty sure I’ve listed somewhere in one of my posts the mistresses of crime I love and rely upon for guidance—what I’ve dubbed, my “oldies but goodies.” In particular, Agatha Christie, Ngaio(Nye-oh) Marsh, Margery Allingham, and more recently, P.D. James. And what I do, is go over what in particular I like about their writing, and what I have learned, or want to continue learning from them. My writing-goals in the sky kind of thing. Usually, by the time I’m midway through my list-of-writing loves, I start moving forward again, e.g., new story ideas, or changes to something I’ve already written pop into my mind. I catch a breeze.

So starting with my most recent influence first, Ngaio Marsh(1), and with homage to her:

  • I’ve allowed myself to ignore recent conventional knowledge on the importance of short sentences, and using more dialogue. Funny thing is, I love reading novels in that style–but for writing them, I’m stuck. It was hard, but allowing myself to ignore focusing on dialogue and continuous action has been very freeing for me. But the nugget here, is not to argue the point of right or wrong styles, or what’s a better or not approach—but that Ngaio showed me it was “okay” to write in a way I like and in line with stories I want to tell.  She did it, why can’t I? I have permission from one of the greats…
  • Also, using long-winded sentences, conveying several layers of meaning and complex thoughts is acceptable. Tedious sometimes, and that’s the trick—long but sustaining interest (and combined with short to the point sentences before and after in a melody to achieve what I’ve in the past called lyricism.)
  • Multitudinous characters—like in our real lives—some important, some seemingly not so much, and at different times viewed from different perspectives, but all layering the fabric of our lives–and for me, my stories. I’m very fond of Ngaio’s Inspector Roderick Alleyn(especially when played by Patrick Malahide on video), but often, the other characters take the lead, set the scene, even tell much of the “what happened” part of the story. Not everyone likes that, I know—but I love that in her writing.
  • Also, Ngaio Marsh showed me you can write (have as a goal) many complex literary like tomes, not just one “great novel.” Diligence and tenacity.
  • And then, when I think about her settings, her scenery descriptions, especially in her New Zealand tales, re-envisioning usually gets me going again. Scenery/location/local color and culture can be integral in bringing a story alive–and to my point here--starting the wind back a-blowing.
Sailing with your writing-wind

Now that I’m at the wrap-up part of this post, my hoped for take-away is–reading well(2) and revisiting what you have read, are not only crucial keys to writing well, but can also get a good wind started when you might need one.

Hoping the writing-wind is at your back right now—and I think I feel a breeze coming my way…


Ngaio Marsh – Public Domain Image

(1)http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/Heritage/Photos/Topics/People/MarshNgaio/ https://commons.wikimedia.org  

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ngaio_Marsh

(2) P.D. James is quoted as saying “Read widely and with discrimination. Bad writing is contagious.”