Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Grounding Your Setting With Clutter

July 13, 2020

As I was dusting the treasures on the shelf by the front door, I noticed the mask I am storing there for quick use when a delivery person arrives. That mask grounds any photos of my living room in a specific time and place. Even if the pandemic is forgotten, historians will understand the clue – and readers of historical fiction. I’ve always enjoyed reading the rich descriptions of good historical fiction writers, but it never occurred to me that noticing the clutter in my house could help me develop my skills as a writer.

I’ve shied away from being too descriptive for fear that a) it would be one more thing that would become a continuity error; b) I would spend so much time on the items in the room the plot would get away from me; c) even if I remembered where I put the hunting knife and what the protagonist was going to do next, I had no intention of turning the story into a murder mystery so why would I even mention the weapon? Now I’m thinking I can describe the clutter as much as I want to show the reader when the story takes place, and perhaps more about the characters.

I mention clutter as character because I have tissue boxes all over my house. I live in a part of the county known for allergies, and I got tired of racing to one measly tissue box when the kids started sneezing. As soon as they were old enough to understand we don’t pull all the tissues out at once no matter how much fun it is, I decorated in Mid-Century Kleenex. It’s a small thing, but I’m looking forward to seeing if I can find one item that tells readers all they need to know about my protagonist.

Luck and wisdom!

A Travel Memory

July 6, 2020

These square plastic sacks make the best project bags!

This month’s issue of Writers Digest is about travel. Since now we’re all about getting people to stay put, what with the pandemic and all, the editors decided to shift their focus. One article was about being a travel writer from home.

I mention this because setting has always been hard for me. Yes, I have to do massive amounts of world-building because I write science fiction, but creating the setting I need from scratch is easier than describing what’s actually there. Go figure.

I decided I would try to write a travel article about Santa Fe, which is where I have gone for the last ten years for Art Quilt Santa Fe. The producers decided not to schedule one for 2020. The decision made me sad then, but didn’t they save themselves a world of grief! Anyway, I tried to recall the streets, the museums, and the parks. I don’t remember the scents of Santa Fe because most of the time I couldn’t smell anything. I always went during prime pollen time and my nose was stuffed. My first stop in town was usually the pharmacy for more antihistamines. That reminded me of the restaurant tours we took, because Santa Fe is serious about food. That reminded me of the last errand I invariably ran, which was a trip to a Senor Murphy chocolate shop.

So there you have it, from trying to complete a writing exercise to trying to find a website in three easy steps. If I can’t go to Santa Fe, a tiny bit of Santa Fe can come to me (or will, when my candy order arrives).

Perhaps tomorrow I’ll try the writing exercise again.

Luck and wisdom!

Symbols

June 29, 2020

Symbols are powerful tools for artists. In my writing and fiber art I make use of symbols that I hope will at least entertain the reader or viewer. However, not all symbols are mine to use. I try to remember that in my writing, which is why any social equality messages in the Chenille series come through the aliens. Although we have quilters of color in our cast, Ann Anastasio and I decided with our first book that the most important aspect of any of our human characters’ personalities would be that they were quilters. We didn’t want to appropriate symbols from another culture. That isn’t always the case with my fiber art. I use commercially produced fabrics and embellishments. Some of the symbols used in those materials may not mean what I think they mean, much less what I want them to mean. I discovered that the week I posted a picture of Nightmare Catcher for 2020, then read about some of the deeper meaning behind Native American dreamcatchers. I’ve decided the dreamcatcher isn’t my symbol to use, so I’ll make another version of that quilt. It’s a little harder to unwrite an appropriated symbol from a published story, so I’ll probably have some regrets about my work as I discover more about our wonderfully complex world. That’s not the worst thing that could happen to me. Life is about learning from our mistakes, right?

Luck and wisdom!

My Message

June 22, 2020

Jill Lublin spoke at the latest virtual Tri-Valley Writers program with a discussion of publicity – how to use it, how to get it, how to create it. She emphasized that we need to focus on our message a little more than our book(s), because the message will generate interest in people most likely to become our readers.

Like most wonderful advice, there is a huge catch. You first have to identify your message. Sad to say, “My invisible friends yakked at me until I wrote their stories” is not sufficient for your message. Nor is “I had this idea for a cool title and wrote a story to fit it.” Ditto for “Why can’t we have a world where prairie dogs tap dance wearing top hats?”

I guess I’ll spend this summer thinking about who I am and how that can become a message. Perhaps that will encourage me to get back to editing, in hopes I can find something useful in the pages of my novel.

Luck and wisdom!

Color Lives

June 15, 2020

Over a year ago I learned about the book The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair. “Self,” I said, “this sounds interesting. You should get it.” Then life got in the way. I didn’t order the book until recently.

Oh, what a treat I have been missing.

The book is delightful, and I know would have informed a lot of my writing if I had bought it earlier. Kassia St. Clair tells stories about colors – their history, their myths and legends, their technical journeys. She also tells about our changing perception of color. She wonders what future readers will imagine when they see the words “avocado green” in a story written by, in, or about mid-century modern times. As one who lived in many an apartment that desperately needed updating, I see a battered stove with matching refrigerator (not always working properly) when I think of avocado green. The color also evokes the smell of an old Army blanket in the back of a station wagon after a family picnic.

If you need to add more sensory detail to your stories, get yourself a copy of The Secret Lives of Color. Read it as you would a treasured anthology, savoring each color described. Within a few pages, you might just find new inspiration.

Luck and wisdom!

Handshakes and World-building

June 8, 2020

My county just opened up more opportunities for people to mingle in social bubbles. The beginning of social bubbling now gives me another opportunity to do some world-building in real life. We’re not supposed to have contact, and at first I was distraught. What am I to do with my finely-honed handshaking skills? When I was in human resources, a firm handshake was part of the routine for interviewing potential employees. When I was a professional volunteer, representing my organization(s) at various meetings, I would greet the other attendees with a big smile and an outstretched hand. When I started going to sci fi conferences, I did the same. Staffing booths to sell my books? Ditto. Since duct-taping my arm to my side isn’t practical, I decided to watch what other people substitute for a handshake. I’ll use that when creating new alien species who may not even have hands to shake. When I think about it, I should be grateful I don’t have to come up with alternative greetings on my own. I’ve got a whole town to watch for gestures I can adapt to my fit my stories.

Luck and wisdom!

Lessons for Novelists from COVID-19: Character Development

June 1, 2020

Every day I read the the charts of how coronavirus is spreading. The numbers go up, down, and sideways, and I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever get a good idea of what is happening. This morning I realized I can take this as a lesson for my characters. No matter what I think they ought to do, until I put them in a scene I won’t know what they actually will do. A novelist can learn a lot from scientists, who carefully plan experiments, then evaluate the results not to prove what they already think but to get an idea of how far off base they might be. The joy is in connecting the dots from what they see to what they thought to what they can demonstrate might be a good representation of reality. The next time my critique buddies tell me they don’t think my heroine is acting in character, I’ll try writing a few more scenes and see for myself. After all, isn’t it wonderful to read your story and finally exclaim, “Aha! That’s who she is.”

Luck and wisdom!

Thanks to the Helpers and Heroes

May 25, 2020

My computer crashed yesterday. It’s not the Cuban Missile Crisis, but as I was waiting for my husband to fix things, I was reminded that on this Memorial Day I owe a lot to many people. To those who put on uniforms to protect us here and abroad – thank you. To the families of those who mourn the ones who never came back – I’m sorry, and also grateful. To those who keep the electricity running, the water flowing, the grocery stores stocked and open, the food chain intact – bless you. To those who take my recycling, green waste, and trash so my city stays livable – thank you. To everyone who has ever given me the benefit of the doubt, a eye roll instead of an eye punch – I’m sorry, and also grateful. To those who have by their words and deeds been an inspiration for good – bless you.

Luck and wisdom!

Spider Road Press Flash Fiction Contest

May 18, 2020

To say I let my writing routine go would be a gross understatement. That routine died and went to heaven, where it is sitting on a cloud, sighing over all the stories I have not committed to paper. That is why the latest Spider Road Press Flash Fiction Contest may be my last, best hope. In 750 words or less, I can create the strong female character who is supposed to be me, the one who actually writes her stories. The deadline is June 1. If you have a character itching to be written, consider entering the contest yourself. Perhaps we could form our own support group?

Luck and wisdom!

Are Clipboards The New Tote Bag?

May 11, 2020

I’ve been involved in several virtual meetings now, and I’ve discovered a few things. First, even for a technophobe virtual meetings are a reasonable solution when you can’t meet face to face. Second, good agendas are more important in virtual meetings than physical ones. If possible, write a script. Let the professionals wing it if they dare. Third, there is as much stuff to bring to virtual meetings as there is to physical ones.

Which brings me to clipboards. In the past I have prepared for meetings by cramming papers, notes, and other items into a designated tote bag. These days, I arrange the papers and notes in the order they appear on the agenda before I join my meeting and snap everything together on a clipboard. If I need any other items, I arrange them next to me on the floor.

I’ve been making do with the two clipboards I own, but there’s a little voice inside my head that’s telling me life would be much better if I had a dedicated clipboard for each committee. This is a dangerous and expensive voice. It sings too sweetly, and online shopping is almost as much fun as real shopping. Maybe if I flatten some of the tote bags I’m not using now and squish them as much as I can, there’s room on the shelf for one or two more clipboards . . .

Luck and wisdom!