Monday, December 18, 2006

Take Heart

My dear friend Amy has just been here, and we've been chatting over coffee as we often do, sitting on the two big chairs in the living room with our legs curled under us like teenagers. In one of those brief moments of silence that fall in even the liveliest of conversations, Amy raised her eyes over the rim of the oversized coffee mug she likes best to drink from, and gazed at me a bit hesitantly.

"Guess what I've been doing?" she said.

"What?" I asked, interested in the prospect of a new activity.

"Writing," she answered proudly.

"Writing?" I asked, puzzled. "You mean, like books?"

"Well, no, not books exactly - not yet, anyway," she fluttered. "I've been writing a journal, and also some - well, some poetry."

"Geez! That's great!" I blurted out excitedly. "When can I read it?"

"Oh, God, I couldn't let you read it!" she exclaimed in a horrified voice.

"Well, what's the point of writing it if you're not going to let people read it?"

Amy snorted rather derisively. "I knew you'd take that attitude," she said. "Can't I just do it because I like it, and it makes me feel better?"

"Well, sure, I guess," I answered, still puzzled. I thought that all writers were just show offs, and wanted people to pour over every word they wrote.

"You see, Jenna," she said, taking the tone of voice you would with a stubborn eight year old,
"some of us find using the written word a great way to work out our feelings about ourselves and our lives. It isn't just about being published."

"Sure, I get that," I said. "But wouldn't it be great to actually write stuff that other people read and find meaningful for their lives? I mean, if what you're writing about is important to you, it stands to reason that other people might find it important to them as well."

Amy nibbled on her chocolate cookie. I could see her thinking over what I'd said.

"Well, I suppose you have a point," she conceded. "But, I really never thought about writing seriously - you know, it's just a hobby." She chewed away thoughtfully, then stopped to let the chocolate chips melt slowly in her mouth. "Mmmm, " she murmured, "these are always so good. I love how you make my favorite cookies every time I come over."

"Of course, because I know you love them," I said. "What if I said, 'oh, I'm really only interested in baking for myself, no one would want to eat my cookies anyway."

"What! That's nuts! Everyone loves your chocolate chippers!"

"Yeah, and maybe everyone would love your writing and your poetry, too," I said, nudging her with my smile. "Didya ever think of that?"

Amy grinned ruefully at me, and wrinkled her nose. "Okay, I get it," she said. "But I'm not nearly as good a writer as you are a baker - "

"STOP!" I shouted, holding my hand in front her, palm out, like a crossing guard. "There is no self deprecation allowed in the fine arts - either writing or baking! You'll never know how good you are unless you keep writing and put yourself out there for others to read."

I could see the wheels of her head turning. "Maybe I should take a class," she mused. "Or look for a writer's group."

"I've heard it's really easy to set up a blog - you know, a personal website kind of thing, where you can post your entries online. I bet there are lots of online groups you could join. That way, you could even remain anonymous, if you wanted to."

Grinning now from ear to ear, Amy grabbed another cookie and jumped up out of her seat.
"You are so smart, Jenna!" she shouted. "I'm going home right now and look into that!"

Within seconds the screen door slammed behind her, and her long legs were flying down the street to her house.

"Hmm," I sighed, taking the last cookie for myself as I gathered up the cups and napkins. "Guess there's nothing left for me to do but some more baking!"

in response to exercise one of Pen on Fire, Barbara DeMarco's book on "igniting the writer within"

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Wedding Picture

The deep waves of my mother's thick, dark hair nestle elegantly against her shoulder, undulating like the ocean. Her head tilts flirtatiously toward my father's chest, as he stands firm and resolute beside her. Such sparkle in her eyes, stunning in their azure blueness, sparkle that says, "Yes, I'm on my way to a life - my own life, not my parents life, not a girl's life, but a woman's life." Her dress screams excitement and adventure, it's bright blowsy floral print a slap at conventional bridal white or ivory. After all, Reverend Samuelson's dark little living room could easily withstand the glow of that rosy print, the couple standing there arm-in-arm surrounded by Mrs. Samuelson's dark brown tweed living room suite. Indeed, my mother herself seemed to give off a glow, alight with love and desire, like the flame of a candle in the middle of a May afternoon.

And there's my father, his olive skin so deeply burnished from those months of sunshine in the South Pacific, his thick black hair every so slightly in need of a trim, curling mischeviously over his forehead. He has cleaned up well, trading his Navy Dress Blues for a double breasted suit, purchased for him by my mother's parents since his own family is so pressed for money these days, three young children left at home and their mother so recently dead. His smile, rich, warm, yet somehow sly, as if he knows a secret he's unwilling to tell.

My mother's father has said to his wife, "I'm afraid he'll never amount to much," referring to my father's penchant for having a good time, for gambling, for sleeping on the job which my grandfather had acquired for him, after a good word here and there at the plant got the sailor boy hired. My mother, of course, will hear nothing of this, for this slightly foreign boy with his swarthy good looks and smoldering black eyes has completely captured the heart of a small town southern girl. So she hangs on tight to his dark suited arm, while he stands, feet wide apart, leaning just barely away from my mother's clasp, one foot into the future.

Exercise entitled "Wedding Picture," by Jayne Ann Phillips, from Now Write, Fiction Writing Exercises From Today's Best Writers and Teachers, edited by Sherry Ellis

Saturday, December 2, 2006

It's All in the Character

For the past month, I've been reading and studying Elizabeth George's book on the craft of writing. I should acknowledge that George is my all time favorite mystery author. I've read all of her Inspector Lynley series, some of them more than once. She creates such a sense of authenticity in her characters - they're all so richly developed, with intriquing story lines and intricate lives and personalities. Her recurring characters - Lynely, Havers, St. James, Deborah and Helen-have their own story arc that carries a well developed plot line of its own. Her novels are almost like getting two good reads for the price of one!

Having read about 3/4 of her book on writing, I can now understand how she accomplishes these marvelous books. George is a master planner - none of this "fly by the seat of your pants," "sit at the keyboard and let it all hang out" stuff for this woman. She spends weeks, even months, creating detailed character analyses for every character, travels to the locale taking photographs, taping interviews, researching history, creates complicated plots lists and summaries - all this before even beginning to actually write the story. She is, by her own admission, a left brainer - in fact, she writes that she has to caution herself to sublimate the left brain's tendency to take over once she actually begins writing the novel itself.

I'm particularly intriqued by her complex character analyses for each character, which is the first writing she actually does once she has a basic idea in mind and has completed her (also complex) research process. After choosing a name, and defining the role in the story, she free writes a present tense narrative about each character, employing a stream of consciousness method to "free up" the right side of her brain. She becomes the character's analyst, knowing everything about them. While creating these detailed character analyses, George says that "essential elements of the plot become apparent." In essence, this work does very important double duty in the noveling process.

Later on, as she actually writes her rough draft, she keeps character "prompt sheet" posted near her computer. These sheets provide short reminders of the characters physical characteristics, background, most important strengths and weaknesses, core needs and ambitions, motivation, and sexuality.

Moving Write Along

With the successful completion of my NaNoWriMo adventure, I'm moving write along into a blog dedicated to my writing practice and my efforts to learn more about the craft of writing. Here's where I'll store notes on the craft book I'm currently reading and how it's impacting my current writing projects; any writing exercises I complete; and ideas and progress on new writing projects. I'll also post links to other writing blogs, writing contests, workshops, etc. as they become available.

So, let's move write along...