Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

The Gifts Your Character Receives

December 10, 2018

My mother sent me some Christmas ornaments that she inherited from a friend. Although I did not know this friend, Mom knew I would appreciate her workmanship, and wanted to make sure her legacy survived a little while longer. I appreciate the gift, not only because the ornaments are beautiful, but also because my mother trusts me to cherish them,and pass them on to someone else who will love them.

This got me thinking about character development. What is your protagonist trusted with, aside from carrying the plot? Is she the cousin who gets all of the batty uncle’s books because only she will take the time to catalog them? Is she the gardener who ends up with dying houseplants because her friends know she’ll nurse them back to health? Is she the keeper of the calendar for herself, her family, her church study group, and the neighborhood babysitting co-op? Whatever gifts she receives tells something about her (even more if she keeps them).

Luck and wisdom!

What Your Tools Say About You

December 3, 2018

I have collected cookie cutters most of my adult life, although I rarely use them outside of the Christmas baking season. They’ve come in handy for quilting designs, so I don’t feel too guilty about the number of cutters I’ve acquired. Still, your tools tell people something about you. My husband and I have been writing family biographies, and we’ve been amazed and amused at the tools our relatives collected, kept, and used.

As a novelist, I have given my characters something interesting to use in order to give the reader a better understanding of who these people are. Once I’ve decided what I want the reader to know, I insert the proper tool. My quilting heroines, for instance, use fabric, thread, and scissors in various scenes. As a biographer, I have to work backwards. I need to tease out what the tool meant to my relative based on what I remember and the stories told to me so I can better understand who this person was.

So here’s the deal, should anyone want to write my biography through the lens of my cookie cutters. I like bright, shiny things. I like tiny, cute things. I like cookies. And that’s really all these tools say about me.

Luck and wisdom!

Jolabokaflod – An Icelandic Christmas Treat

November 26, 2018

Giving books at Christmas is an Icelandic tradition that goes back to World War II. It’s called Jolabokaflod (Christmas Book Flood). It helps that Iceland’s literary history goes back to the medieval era, and that every Icelander gets a book catalog sometime in November from the Iceland Publishers Association. As an independently published author I would love to see a Christmas Book Flood start in this country, so I have to wonder why most Icelanders buy books and most Americans don’t (or at least that’s what I’ve been told).

I am on the far edge of the book-buying curve. My one regret is I buy books by the pound and read by the page, so I’ve got stacks of unread books around the house. They go nicely with my stacks of unfinished quilt projects because if push comes to shove I can throw some fabric over the books and call them end tables.

One of the reasons I don’t read as much as I would like is that reading is a treat for me. It’s my reward for getting all the chores finished and my deadlines met. Since I acquire obligations at the same rate I acquire books (and fabric), you can see my problem. Even if the chores are done, there is always some deadline or other hanging over my head.

I suspect that is true for many Americans. Reading for pleasure is treated as an indulgence. I think the Icelanders have a better idea – reading is a treat, yes, but a vital one, like making time for family or enjoying the outdoors. I say it is time to be nicer to ourselves, and revel in the joy of reading. If that encourages you to buy more books for Christmas presents this year, so much the better.

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!

A Journey With Embroidery

November 7, 2018

There is something about embroidery that turns my fingers into a (nearly) perpetual motion machine. The top for On To Africa needed more embellishment, so I started adding a few lines of embroidery here and there. Before I knew it, the journey to a quilting-ready top was finished.

One side of the top is more heavily embroidered than the rest, but I’m okay with that. Most of this work was done by another artist (and I still don’t know who – none of my friends remember where I got the blocks either), and I’m perfectly content to let her work get all the attention.

I first thought I would leave the center appliqued panel alone, and fill in the open space with quilting. Then I realized the jacquard will absorb all the quilting, so I might as well embroider the living daylights out of it.

Shameless self-promotion alert, embroidery on the journey into space is a pivotal plot point in The Chenille Ultimatum. If you need a good giggle, give the book a try.

Luck and wisdom!

Normal Life for Me and My Characters

November 5, 2018

I vacuumed for the first time since hurting my ankle. While not exactly an earth-shattering event, it was a milestone for me. Cleaning isn’t my favorite activity, but once I didn’t have the strength or stability to push around the vacuum cleaner I became obsessed with recovering enough to do so, to get back to a normal life.

That got me thinking about character development, and what my characters might latch onto when they feel out of their element. I can imagine my plucky, unconventional heroine looking forward to doing her laundry when she returns to Earth from her interstellar explorations. Her sidekick and potential boyfriend might think running an errand for his mother would mean he is really home. These scenes may never appear in the novel, but that’s okay. If I know that the character feels untethered because part of her past is no longer relevant (even a chore she always hated), it will help me understand how she might react in the scene. Building a character, like keeping house, is all about what happens when no one is looking.

Luck and wisdom!

Coincidence in Fact and Fiction

October 29, 2018

I went to see the doctor about my ankle (which is progressing as well as can be expected), and the universe handed me one of those coincidences that begs to be part of a story. The doctor I saw in the minor injury clinic was the same doctor who saw me seven years ago for a bad sprain of my other ankle. At that point, the clinic had only been open a month; now, the clinic will be consolidated with a another facility – in about a month.

Real life is full of these coincidences. Most of the time, they just make amusing stories. Fictional life is also full of coincidence, but requires the coincidence to have profound meaning. As soon as I left the clinic, I started wondering how I could turn these two chance appointments into something else. A thriller might cast the doctor as a sleeper spy, with the first meeting introducing the spy’s contact (the patient), and the second setting the story in motion. I write sci fi, so maybe I could have the doctor insert a device in the patient in the first meeting, and require the second meeting because the device is malfunctioning. What would your genre do with this coincidence?

My foot, SLOWLY healing

Luck and wisdom!

Autumn Prompt

October 22, 2018

My ankle is recovering, but I still like to keep it elevated as much as possible, which makes sitting at the computer or sewing machine a bit dicey. I am keeping up – sorta, kinda, maybe – with my novel and my quilting, but haven’t achieved any ground-breaking results. That’s why, for today’s writing blog, I present a prompt. This is a picture of my region’s autumn color. California really does have a fall leaf season, which usually lasts at least a couple of days between the last triple-digit heat wave and the onset of cold rain and sleet.

You can see a palm and pine through the branches of the tree in the foreground. I took this picture as inspiration for a quilt, but it can work a little harder as a prompt for a short story. Give it your best shot, and if it turns out to be poetry or very short fiction, feel free to post it in the comments section.

Luck and wisdom!

Our Story-Saturated World

October 15, 2018

We see stories every day. Movies, television, sometimes even advertising informs our potential readers. When there are so many stories floating in the air, how can we make our work stand out?

The short answer is write your best; the long answer is more complicated. Perhaps we start by losing our fear of the story that’s been told before. I’ve critiqued dozens of short stories and several novels. All of them had been told before. That didn’t stop me from enjoying the story in front of me.

When Ann Anastasio and I started on our first novel, Death By Chenille, we knew we would be following a familiar plot – unsuspecting heroines save the world from space aliens because they are the only ones who know about the invasion. Rather than worry about it, we reveled in it. We both love a good monster movie, and 1950s sci fi movies, so why not use the formula?

The essence of a good story is that it grabs the reader and propels her into another reality. She may recognize the thwarted love story, the unfair accusation plot point, even the journey of the villain-as-wounded-everyman. If the story is compelling (or even a little goofy), the reader will continue turning pages.

Luck and wisdom!

The Time of Gratitude

October 8, 2018

It’s week 3 of The Great Ankle Recovery. I’m still hobbling, still not driving, and holiday season is approaching. While Thanksgiving starts the holiday season for most people, many writers I know consider November 1 to be the kick-off date. That is the beginning of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, where the goal is to write at least 50,000 words in 30 days. I’ve never done it, but I’ve seen friends though the Time of Gratitude – and if you’ve completed NaNoWriMo you know what I mean. No matter how grudgingly, your friends and family had to give you the gift of time to write or you never would have achieved your goal. The same will be true in December, the King Kong of holiday months. If you get a chance to write, be grateful.

Were I a good motivational consultant, I would set out my list of “Seven simple things you can do to make time to write” or “Five sure-fire ways to get your family off your back” or even “Three words to ditch all your responsibilities so you can sit at the computer.” Good luck with that. There are no simple ways to create writing time, no sure-fire ways to get people to leave you alone, and no magic words to ditch responsibilities without massive consequences. If you can manage to edit a chapter between gift-buying and eggnog-slurping, be grateful.

My extended holiday wish for you, no matter what you celebrate, is confidence in your craft. Yes, your schedule will be disrupted this month. Yes, you may forget a few details about your plot or characters. Yes, those deadlines will be staring you in the face sooner than you would like. You are a writer. You will persevere. You will get back to work as soon and as often as you can. And when you do, be grateful.

Luck and wisdom!