Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

History and Your Story

July 8, 2019

We are all connected by history, whether or not those connections show up in our family stories. While reading The Great Influenza (by John M. Barry), my husband realized that his grandfather (pictured above) brought the family from Canada through New York in late 1918, when thousands of people in that region were dying every day from the flu. My husband wondered what his grandparents might have known about the epidemic, since wartime censorship and bureaucratic panic kept some newspapers from reporting the full extent of the crisis. If they knew, how worried were they about bringing their young children into the area? Could this also be the reason why all records of that crossing disappeared – perhaps the clerk who processed them died before he had a chance to file the paperwork?

When you are creating the world your characters inhabit, consider the way history will affect their lives. Even if you aren’t writing a historical novel, the past has a way of intruding on the present. If nothing else, a random connection with some great historical event could explain an odd behavior in a parent or grandparent that shapes your character’s choices.

Luck and wisdom!

Crowd Sourcing Good Luck

June 19, 2019

A friend asked me to look after her plant while she is out of town, which is a real hoot as I have the blackest thumbs on either side of the Mississippi. She knows this, but either doesn’t believe me or wants to give the universe a chance to perform a miracle. I’m going with the second option, which is why I am going to ask any and all to send out cosmic hugs to this little creature.

Week 1 – still alive

Yes, I am trying to crowd source good luck, but not for me. I will take no credit whatsoever if the plant thrives. I am barely able to keep my own plants living. This one is hanging on out of sheer force of will.

The little plant that could

Don’t tell me about your never-fail plant food, or the wisdom of repotting. My mother and husband are fabulous plant whisperers, so perhaps that’s all one family gets. I won’t ask for a green thumb. All I’m asking is you hold a happy thought for the innocent plant entrusted to me.

Luck and wisdom!

Why Novelists Need Research

November 12, 2018

I still use my Encyclopaedia Britannica for quick research. Although I write science fiction, I want my human characters to be grounded in reality. Even my alien worlds and characters benefit from references to what we know (or think we know). Then an on-going project showed me just how valuable research is for novelists.

My husband and I are writing biographies of our families. Since just about everyone was a tinkerer or maker, he thought including a section on tools would be useful. Last week he started cataloging all the cameras we had inherited, and he decided to research each model. He wanted to know when it was produced (to narrow down when our family member might have bought it), how popular it was, what special features it had, anything that would help him understand why the camera was prized enough to make its way to us.

While doing this research, he remembered a narrow, pocket-size camera his father once owned. He discovered that it was marketed as a compact, convenient camera for families to use, but it was picked up by both the U.S. and Soviet spy community because it was easy to conceal and the optics were superb.

When I heard this story, I thought of building a story on the undiscovered spy in an otherwise normal family. Yes, the story has been told before, but that doesn’t mean I can’t use the plot, and now I have a tool – Ian’s camera – to use as a prompt.

That is the fun of research. You never know where it could lead you, what story it could inspire, or where that story could take you.

Me and my camera, a long time ago

Luck and wisdom!

Thrift and Character Development

July 23, 2018

Noah Longshore, my dad’s father, supported a wife and four sons as a coal miner during the Depression. What he didn’t know about thrift from being the youngest of twelve children, he learned in the ’30s, and the lesson stuck. He journaled throughout his life, but would be mindful of the paper.

Lani Longshore Noah's diary

Noah’s diary

This page contains entries from four different years. Noah would use the same journal until most of the pages were full. Reading his diary was a completely new experience for me, since I am used to seeing only one year at a time. I wondered how much of what he wrote on any given day was shaped by what he had written the year before, or the year before that.

Then I wondered if this might not be a fabulous technique for character development. What does it tell you about your character if he saves paper as if it were a treasure (which, of course, it is)? What does it tell you about your character that he can review his life in chunks if he so chooses? What questions would it answer about your character if you put together three (or more) events spaced over several years on one page? Let me know if you find the idea intriguing.

Inspiration Prompt 1

June 25, 2018

We inherited this clock from our daughter. We had been storing it (and some of her other possessions) ln case she decided she wanted it later, but she said she was ready to let it go, so we are using it now. The notion of inheriting things from your children has me wondering if I can write a story about a clock that travels backwards in time. That got me thinking about other visual prompts I could present. After I came up with a second idea, I said, “Self, use these for a blog series.” So, for as long as I can find something in or around the house, that’s what I’ll do. Share your first line if this inspires you!Lani Longshore clock

My Life As A Sawhorse

June 18, 2018

I’ve always said if I ever get around to writing my memoirs the first volume will be called My Life As A Sawhorse, and the second will be Getting Lost With Lani. Rachael Herron spoke at Tri-Valley Writers the other day and gave me the title for a possible third installment in my life story: Packing Up.

Herron said that good memoir doesn’t have to cover one’s entire life. One could relate a series of stories that are thematically linked, or focus on the events of a few years. Getting Lost With Lani is an example of a theme memoir. Sadly, it will be a rather long book.

My Life As A Sawhorse would cover our first years as homeowners. My husband is a talented woodworker, and he decided to make a lot of our furniture. That’s all well and good, except we had moved from a 1-bedroom apartment to a 4-bedroom house, which meant three-quarters of the space was empty. We were also extremely house-poor. We had the money for the supplies for the furniture, but not for workstations or sawhorses. Thus it came to pass that when my husband was cutting large sections, I was on the output side of the saw holding the pieces steady.

The title for a third installment of my life story, Packing Up, comes from one of Herron’s writing exercises. She told us to write down six pivotal moments in our lives, then choose one event and write a couple of sentences about that. I realized the most life-changing moments for me center around the many times I’ve moved. It isn’t just the pulling up stakes that changes a person, it’s the putting those stakes in a box with all the other bits of one’s existence. Packing is an art form as well as a skill. It is fair to say that one of the reasons I am married is because the man who became my husband made an off-hand comment about my packing. He was part of a group of friends helping me get the last load out of one apartment and over to my new one. The last load is always a bit sloppy, and I wasn’t going to let his comment slide. I went on a campaign to make him think better of me. Five months later, he proposed.

So there you have it, notes for a 3-volume story of me which I will write in my copious spare time. What are the titles of your life story?

The Garden

May 9, 2018

I puttered productively in the sewing room this week, but the results aren’t worth photographing. The garden is, however, thanks to my husband. He took up gardening a few years ago, which is why the plants live. He says he only buys plants that thrive on neglect, but don’t believe him. I know what a neglected garden looks like and this isn’t it.

The front garden has a lovely section devoted to iris and daffodils. This blue iris is one of my favorites.

He built a lot of small raised beds. The columbine is the only plant that survived the frost in this bed.

Here is a view of the back garden with Trevor the Gargoyle. Guess who whined until he bought her the statue?

In addition to gargoyles, I also like wind chimes. These chimes are hung in a place that doesn’t get all that much wind, but that’s okay too. I like the little tinkling sound, but the neighbors’ dogs don’t. Trust me, howls don’t harmonize with chimes.

Luck and wisdom!

Character traits through the generations

April 16, 2018

I told you about finding inspiration for my characters in obituaries so my friends and family can’t complain that I’m using them for my stories. Sometimes, however, you run across a character trait that spans generations and just happens to fit what you need in your writing. That happened to me in The Chenille Ultimatum.

My dad and me a long time ago

This is my father. He was a great guy, usually laughing unless some piece of equipment had the temerity to misbehave. He also sang to himself. We’d hear him puttering in his shop, and all of sudden he would sing a snippet of some song he heard years ago, or yesterday, or just made up.

My grandmother

This is my father’s mother. She sang to herself, too. I discovered that one day when she was making lunch and didn’t know I was still in the kitchen. She started humming to herself, then sang part of a verse, then went back to humming. “Aha,” I thought, “that’s where my Dad gets it.”

That’s also where I get it, because I sing to myself too. No one noticed except my children (it annoyed them, so I made sure to sing whenever they annoyed me). Then one day I was working on a scene in The Chenille Ultimatum and I remembered this multi-generational trait. “Self,” I said, “have a character sing a piece of a song she heard from her mother, who heard it from her mother, who heard it from her mother, who heard it from the aliens when they first landed on Earth.”

And so I did. The song becomes a plot point, since the aliens recognize the song and decide they can trust humans after all. The character trait comes from real people, but no one knew until I spilled the beans. Perhaps your family holds multi-generational character traits that will provide plot points too.

Characters and Where to Find Them

April 2, 2018

Friends and family do the most interesting things. You want to include their exploits in your novel, but you know they won’t be flattered. I’ve heard a family story of a man who kidnapped his own son and took him to a foreign country, where he abandoned him. There’s another story of a boy who ran away from home after a war and reinvented his entire life. Both of them would make great characters, but how many generations of relatives have to be safely dead before I can write about them?

My grandfather and his sisters, who had wonderful lives and deserve their own books

The standard advice to novelists is to combine the traits and experiences of several real people to make your characters, but I found a new source. I collect obituaries.

Here are real people, described by those who loved them best, or knew them best, or were paid to research them. I can blend their odd facts and thrilling exploits with my characters. I’m not basing my character on any one person, and I’m adding enough from those outside my social network that they really won’t recognize themselves in my heroine, my sidekick, or my villain. Now I can allow my characters to do what the plot demands without hurting anyone’s feelings.

Except for the kidnapping story – that one may need a bit more time before it is ready.

The Seven Levels of Cleaning

December 27, 2017

We are having guests for the holidays, so that meant getting the sewing room packed away enough to put a cot in there. Going through all the piles is never first on my list of fun things to do, but I always find some reward in it. This time it got me wondering if creating a cost-benefit list might encourage me to go through the process more regularly, and The Seven Levels of Cleaning is what I came up with. But first, I want to show you my studio floor (yes, it actually exists):

 

I can walk on this floor!

Now for the list:

The Seven Levels of Cleaning

Level 1

Reason for cleaning: I want to get to the cutting table to work on a project.

Cost (time, effort): 15 minutes to clear a path; requires a steady hand to rearrange stacks.

Benefit: I might find something I can put away.

Level 2

Reason for cleaning: I need to finish a project.

Cost (time, effort): 30 minutes to clear space to cut, sew and iron; requires discipline not to get distracted.

Benefit: I finish something, and perhaps free up space on a shelf or in a drawer.

Level 3

Reason for cleaning: I need to finish a quilt for a gift.

Cost (time, effort): 30-45 minutes to clear working space; requires finding room on the floor to put the stacks so they don’t fall onto the quilt while I’m working on it.

Benefit: The project will not have odd scraps quilted into the back (yes, this has happened – more than once).

Level 4

Reason for cleaning: I’m having a meeting at my house and the guests are quilters.

Cost (time, effort): 1 hour, minimum; requires neatly folding fabric stacks and consolidating book/magazine stacks.

Benefit: My friends will appreciate the effort enough to pretend they think my sewing room is clean.

Level 5

Reason for cleaning: I’m having an event at my house and the guests are not quilters.

Cost (time, effort): 90 minutes, minimum; may require finding a place to hide stacks.

Benefit: I might find things that don’t belong in the sewing room (more space for me).

Level 6

Reason for cleaning: Company is coming to stay for a few days.

Cost (time, effort): 2 hours,minimum; definitely requires finding a place to hide stacks.

Benefit: I will force myself to admit some projects will never be done .

Level 7

Reason for cleaning: Mom is coming.

Cost (time, effort): Days; requires chocolate.

While the benefits of cleaning are clear and attractive, I suspect I will always need a pressing deadline to actually get in there and clean. After all, it is much more fun to create art than tidy up afterwards. My goal for 2018 is to keep the sewing room floor open for at least two weeks after company leaves. We’ll see if I can be that disciplined for such an extended period of time.

Luck and wisdom!