Tuesday, July 10, 2018

In the Writer's Garden

Anyone who knows me or has read my social media know that I have a meditation garden, love flowers, and feel bad for weeds (which are just misplaced plants). Over the winter, a heavy snowfall  broke a tree in half (we discovered later that the inside of the tree was rotted).

It landed on the wire fence, so both had to be removed. Two weeks ago, the tree was cut down and just this past weekend, I fixed the fence. (Yes, I did.) Without that tree, more sun shines on the garden. I had worked around the shade, planting sun-loving flowers in pots or on the outside edges. Now half the garden stood in the glare of the sun.

Changes had to be made.

It reminded me of my novels. You start to build one way, but things happen- critiques, editor/agent comments, lost plot threads, etc. It requires major changes. Some plants could stay where they were, some had to be moved, and some were crushed by the tree guys. I needed to add full sun plants, move around statues and objects of interest. In my novels I've had to change endings, kill off some characters and add others, and I've had to revise/add/delete language. What results is the same garden (book) but it's different.

Here are the results:

The long view

A new addition - red grass

My black-eyed Susans blooming. They are a lustful bunch- all over the place!

Calendra - I love the pink and green

A burgundy dracenia spike

A bird house crafted by YMCA camp kids thanking me for my donation

No garden is complete without a gazing ball

I have a statue for each son - this is Alec, my animal lover

This is Thomas, my Harry Potter/avid reader fan

This is Collin, my gardening buddy (when he was younger and wanted to help)

The fixed fence (I do nice work). See my pretty blue chair?

I turned the stump into a pedestal 

The first time my lily bloomed! 

My cats love the garden too!

So that's where I've spent some time. I hope my novel looks and turns out as good as my garden. With both, I don't follow traditional rules- I don't like stuffy, formal gardens, but I don't like chaos either. Same with my books; I hate angst and stereotypical characters but I love books that touch me emotionally. 

Now to fix that novel...


Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Nice Guys/Gals Need Not Apply....

I'm working on a middle grade story. The main character, Jake, is having issues. (It's middle grade- there are always issues.)

One of the criticisms I'm hearing is that "I don't like the character enough."

Um, do you like every person you meet? I don't. And I know some people don't like me at first (and sometimes not even later, but that's a drama for another day.) While teen books are reflecting more of reality- sexual assault and gender identification, bullying, school shootings, etc., it seems every book's main character is a nice person. It's not like that in reality. Everyone knows this yet few write it.

My character has to have room to grow.

I'm not buying into the 'your character has to be likable' in order for the story to be good. Maybe I'm just a little tired of the kumbaya, sugary portrayals: a nice girl who's the cheerleader with the best boyfriend and perfect life who suddenly finds her life in a mess. Or the jock with a promising college football scholarship who's a nice guy except for that drunk driving episode. Or any other story where everyone starts out nice.

People are complicated. Characters should mirror that. There are times when you meet a person, and they come off as a jerk, or nasty, or just annoying. Maybe they have a problem or situation you don't know about. Until you learn more about them, you won't understand why they may come off as unlikable. Possibly they are simply unlikable; that doesn't make their story less compelling. If we're looking at a short time period, we could all point the finger and accuse each other of not being nice- at that time, or from that time going forward, or backward. Everyone has those moments of 'un-niceness' and I dare anyone to argue to the contrary.

Photo by Kat Jayne, courtesy of Pexels

Maybe a character or a specific person is just a jerk. There are real people like that. Look around. Maybe you're related to a person that isn't so nice. Possibly you work or live near someone you don't like, but you have to interact with them. That's real life. Middle grade and young adult books should have characters like this; if kids understand complex issues, they will understand, and accept, that not all people are sweet, nice, helpful, etc. And that doesn't make the character a villain.

Before you write off my character Jake, get to know him. By the end of the book, you'll understand why he's the way he is and that to tell his story, I couldn't make him sweet.

You might even like him.


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Ye Olde Manuscript

I'm working on a new book. (So what else is new?)

But this time, I'm doing it olde school.

I'm handwriting the entire book.

Why??? you scream? When a laptop is quicker, has instant SpellCheck, you can look up anything you need, and I'm only going to have to type the whole thing anyway?????

Yes, I know it sounds crazy, but hear (read) me out. First and foremost, I want to be thoughtful when I write this book. As my pencil (yep, really old school!) glides across the page in cursive script (and my script is really curlicue curly), I weigh each word. The process slows down to where I think about a word and consider if another would fit better. If so, I erase the inferior word and use the better one. On a laptop, I would be tapping furiously and just keep going, figuring I'd change the word when I started revising. But handwriting (which is becoming a lost skill and art), makes me order my thoughts, it forces me to almost read it aloud in my head. On a laptop, writing is as fast as my fingers can type, and sometimes that's faster than my brain thinks. There will still be many revisions required; I noticed when I picked up the project one day that I'd used the same word in two consecutive sentences. There are empty spaces where information about the time period or the setting needs to be inserted. Laptops make it too easy to become distracted on the www. For now, it's about the writing. Later it will be about correcting/adding information.

Second, I like to write poolside.

Okay, this is actually in the pool and I'm not actually writing, but you get the drift. Laptops + water + a pool bar = disaster. If my pages may get a little soggy from a splash, I leave them in the sun and they're good to go. (Another reason not to use pen, it will smear or dissolve.)

Third, I can write at the beach without fear of surf, sand, or sun blowing up my laptop, or it getting stolen. I can write in the car (until I get carsick) without worrying I'll run out of power. I can write anywhere.

Another reason to write this out longhand is it's giving me the feels, the tone of the manuscript. It's a story about an immortal being and currently, he's in the early 1900's, but he's been around since the late 1700's, and this is how they wrote manuscripts back then. The longer process helps me to think about language appropriate for the times and places; rougher, less elegant speech of a common farmer, and then the elegant, refined speech of a gentleman. When there are chapters that require a lot of dialogue, writing longhand helps me work it out as I go, so that, I believe, it sounds more realistic.

And look at how pretty these journals are! I can't remember when I bought them, but they've been sitting in my bookcase. Like most authors, we see a gorgeous journal and we must have it. We plan on writing in them, but most of the time, we don't because they're too pretty. As I declutter and think about downsizing and simplifying my life, I'm using things that I've 'saved' for one reason or another. I'm writing this book in the journals. I'm signing bills with that sparkly pen. I'm wearing perfume to the grocery store.

I don't think it will take that much longer to write the story (talking about just the basic draft) because when I use my laptop, I go back and see an error and want to fix it, and then spend more time revising and changing than I do adding more words. (That's breaking the cardinal rule of NaNoWriMo: write it down FIRST, revise LATER.) Handwriting forces me to go forward or I'd be erasing pages, and that is not happening. Sure, I might have more revisions when I'm done, but I think I can catch a lot as I type the story into in my laptop.

It's an interesting experiment, but somehow it gives me a serenity while writing that I don't get when I use the laptop. I can't rush the writing or the writing gets too sloppy making it almost unreadable, or I get cramps in my hand. Slow and easy, thoughtful and deliberate. That's the theme of this experience.

I'll keep you posted on how it goes-


Monday, June 4, 2018

Word Games

Language fascinates me. (Hence, why I write.) I like to play around with, and yes, intentionally misuse words. But there's good precedence. Just think about the word 'mouser.' I'm guessing that someone had a cat, and that cat caught a lot of mice. Instead of saying that, they said she was a 'mouser.' Kind of like saying a person is a writer in place of 'that person writes.' A noun becomes a verb.

When I'm talking about my cats roaming through the decorative grasses in my back yard, I tell my sons the cats are 'jungling;'

Photo courtesy of Pexels, Mali Maeder

They are not prowling through a real jungle, but acting like they are. When my cats snuggle into the blanket, they are 'nesting,' not building a nest. (See how fun this is?)

But I'm not the only one who does this. Who first used the words:



linking (as in chain-link smoking)

fragging (as in killing/wounding someone with a fragmentation device, i.e. grenade)

actualizing (to make actual or real)

Do you turn words on end, make a noun into a verb? Use them in unexpected ways? Try it, it's fun.


Sunday, May 6, 2018

On the Flip Side-

It's been a tough week. In my church, we lost a long time member and friend. Another church friend lost her sister. Yet another's father was seriously sick. And then I landed in the hospital. A long scary story later, I'm getting better, but my stepdad is having knee replacement surgery and I'll be giving emotional and driving support to my mom. I'm stretched a little thin so this is my blog post for two weeks, unless I find time, energy, and motivation to post sooner.

Be good to yourself  because you mean a lot to others. And you deserve to be taken care of.

Photo by Ian Turnell from Pexels

See ya soon-


Thursday, May 3, 2018

Just Ignore the Science... Really!

I was chatting with my middle son, an engineering/math major, and he told me that it would be impossible for squirrels like my character Jack in the Evolution Revolution series to learn to use simple machines. When I mentioned Koko, the gorilla that learned sign language, he pointed out that Koko could answer she was 'fine' when asked 'How are you?' but did not ask the same question in return. For her, there was only that moment. Because of that sense of only here and now, she could not 'imagine' any action and its consequences. It would not be possible, my son argued, for Jack, even though he's learned about rolling and sees a rock impeding a wheel from moving, to apply this knowledge to stop bulldozers from coming into his wood. My argument was that squirrels share what they learn with other squirrels, thus 'disproving' (in my mind) that animals only think in the here and now, because teaching others to defeat a food puzzle (i.e. bird feeder), results in future gain.

Photo courtesy of Chris Carter, Pexels

I have some scientific basis for my argument. In a study published in Current Zoology, Professor Thomas Hills, a co-author, asserts that animals which can simulate future actions "must be able to distinguish between their imagined actions and those that are actually experienced." (In my case, it's Jack blocking the wheels on the construction machines because he already did so on a wheelchair, or me watching videos of squirrels solve puzzles and then teach other squirrels.) The authors say their data supports the concept that animals which can 'simulate environments and conceive the future must have some form of self-awareness," and this means projecting themselves into the future in a situation.

My son disagrees.

We will have to agree to disagree. It may not happen now or even in the near future, but I believe animal intellect is slowly increasing, evolving. But that's not science, that's imagination.

Sometimes though, you have to ignore the science. So many books, TV shows, and films would not exist if we simply followed the science. American astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson posted on social media that he was watching the sci fi movie, Armageddon even though it's got rotten science. (Apparently we can't blow a giant meteor in half with a nuclear bomb, and even if it were possible, the fragments hitting the earth would be life-ending events on their own.) There are numerous incidents which are impossible, at least with current knowledge, in many movies, TV shows, and novels. Staying within what we actually know would limit our imagination, and maybe not inspire future generations to achieve what was dreamed/proposed in creative works. (Cell phones first appeared in the original Star Trek.)

So, ignore the science - (but not all; some things are irrefutable like the laws of physics, and you don't want to be obviously ignorant about basic science or the audience won't believe your story.) Creativity and imagination sets us apart from all other animals...

At least for now.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Pull Up a Chair, And Sit A While...

We all have a favorite chair. Maybe it's the big recliner you and the dogs can pile into on a cold night. Maybe it's the barstool at a local pub, surrounded by friends. My favorite is a lounger on a beach, under an umbrella, waves licking at my toes and a good book in my hand.

Least favorites would have to be the hard plastic one in the principal's office (whether parent or child), the dentist's pleather pit of misery, or the front seat of a VW bug (who is that short, anyway??).

This was my office chair:

As you can see it's suede, has a nice leather trim and nicely padded cushion. I added the wheels and shortened the legs because it's not really an office chair, but a dining one. It looked nice with my desk, and the height was just right.

Then I got a new desk.

The chair didn't work anymore.

It was too short, and reaching my arms up caused pain in my shoulders whenever I spent more than an hour in it working on my laptop.

So I started working on the couch. Too close to the TV, the cat, a comfy blanket.... And my productivity went down. Plus, I started getting neck pain from looking down at my laptop.

Time for a new chair. Before I bought one because it was a good deal, or because it was readily available to take home or before it looked good, I had to make sure it fit my needs. I measured the height of my desk, the height of space underneath where my long legs had to fit, and the width of the opening. Some chairs, those big executive ones, while they look really poofy and comfortable, were too wide and wouldn't fit under the desk, or even close enough to it (makes me wonder how anyone got any work done). Some had arm rests so long that prevented me from pulling the chair close enough. My arms would have been very tired after an hour of working. And really, does anyone use those rests? Some were too flat- I needed more back support if I was going to write longer than a blog post. I measured and sat in every chair in Staples. Finally I found a winner:

Yep, not much to look at, and there are no poofy cushions, but it fits all my specs, and unbelievably, is one of the most comfortable working chairs I've ever sat in. Short arms so I can be close to the desk. Adjustable height to fit my legs underneath. Adjustable back support. Quiet wheels. Mesh that has give and breathes.

     "The hard part of writing at all is sitting your ass down in a chair and writing..."
                                                       Jerry Pournelle, sci fi writer, essayist, journalist.

Sitting a lot is what writers do. We writers have a universal code- BIC which means Butt in Chair. It means working. Anyone serious about writing will do a LOT of sitting. Whether it's a Starbucks, the library, or your home, you've got to be comfortable so you're focused on putting down words, not fidgeting in your seat trying to relieve muscle pain.

Let me leave you with this thought:

     "It is the Chair in honor of all those who, however competently, embrace the impossible. Sit in
      that chair someday."                                               Robert Fulghum, author, Unitarian minister
 And yes, I'm sitting in my chair. We both have work to do.