Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Never Walk and Think At The Same Time

September 24, 2018

The mantra for hiking in treacherous territory is, “If you’re looking, don’t walk. If you’re walking, don’t look.” I never knew it applied to going down the stairs in my own house. Apparently it does. I was thinking of the next bit of cleaning I had to do, and missed the bottom step on the landing. My ankle took a beating, but at least nothing broke.

My ankle in an air cast

I resurrected another saved object – the air cast in the picture is one I used 30 years ago when I broke my ankle practicing a small leap for ballet class. That was embarrassing for so many reasons, not the least because I was taking my first ballet lessons as an adult. My mom never enrolled me as a child. She was afraid it would damage my feet. She was right. One of these days, I’m going to create a story around my dickey ankles and the many times they’ve rolled, collapsed, buckled, and otherwise betrayed me.

What you can make from dowels and stuff

Another story I have to write is about the magic rooms where we keep our collection of odd but useful stuff. As I tried to take a step after the fall on the stairs, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to put any weight on it at all that day. I casually mentioned to my husband that a cane would help. The light went on in his eyes, and within the hour he had made me the cane pictured above from scrap wood and a leftover furniture cup that he had in his workshop. I’m proud of being a pack rat, and someday will find a way to incorporate it in a story.

Luck and wisdom!

World-Building Through Cheese

September 17, 2018

Cheesehenge

The local paper ran an article about cheese not being the source of all evil for anyone worrying about cardiovascular issues. My inner cheese-hound yipped and yapped and chased its tail, because I adore cheese but there is a history of heart disease on both sides of the family. While rescuing my recipes for cheeseballs, cheese sauces, fondues, savory pastries, souffles, and quiches from the dusty corners of the cookbook shelf, I thought of how I’ve used food in my sci fi stories. Ann Anastasio and I have featured food in each book of the Chenille series. We’ve also made a subplot out of Earth foods that are similar to products on our imaginary planet, Schtatik. Reading the article about cheese reminded me of all the nutrition advice I’ve followed only to be told later that the studies were wrong, which illustrated a hole in my world-building. When I think of what my aliens might eat, I’ve always envisioned their diets as an ideal, or bound by ritual. I don’t think I’ve ever given my aliens a chance to cheat on their diets, or indulge in comfort food, or visit the junk food aisle in their groceries. I’ve never even considered what their groceries would look like. Ever. From now on, however, I’m going to spend a little time imagining what my aliens think they should eat as well as what they do eat, and why it matters. World-building through cheese – yeah, that’s a thing now.

Random Notes On Writing and Life

September 10, 2018

 

Sometimes finishing the book helps. I started reading The Art of Character by David Corbett, then got slowed down in the middle. The exercises are wonderful, but not exactly what I needed at the time. Continuing to read brought me to this passage: “As you launch your characters through the gauntlet of want and conflict, you will see this in your own life, suffer the scars, feel the tension of consequence like a wind humming through you. You will find yourself in your words, if you work honestly and deeply.” This is what I was getting at in last Monday’s blog, just not as eloquently.

Save stuff. I have saved this puzzle holder for years, even when it was obvious we would not be putting together another jigsaw puzzle ever. Guess what makes a perfect holder for antique maps that my husband inherited from his grandfather? Guess who feels incredibly vindicated?

Buy the good chocolate, then eat it. There really isn’t much more to add.

Good News – There’s A Glitch

September 3, 2018

Everything was going fine, then there was a glitch.

My comfy chair

The release mechanism on my trusty recliner broke. Knowing that the seat was perfectly usable without the reclining function – and the rest of the sofa was nowhere needing to be replaced – I prepared myself for having to sit like a lady. Then my husband suggested trying to repair the mechanism. He succeeded, and now I can lounge to my heart’s content. I also got a chance to rescue all the beads that had fallen under the chair over the years.

They tried to escape, but I caught up with them

The experience reminded me of the emotions I need to convey in my writing. When a new villain appears out of the blue, how will my protagonist react? What will her first emotion, be? Her second? When will resignation set in, or the conviction that now is the time to fight back? While I’m not saying everything that happens can be translated to our stories one way or another, it never hurts to try.

Sometimes the Universe Listens

August 27, 2018

Last Monday, I sang the praises of notes-to-self on scraps of paper. That very week, my husband gave me a card:

While the advice is sound, it is the card itself that is important. That clipboard is functional.

Now I have a device for keeping notes that I will actually use. I’m taking this as a sign from the universe that this will be a good writing week. Yes, I am indulging in magical thinking. When the universe is listening to my unspoken pleas, who am I to insist on cold, hard logic?

Like Rose Petals, or Why The Paperless Society Is A Terrible Idea

August 20, 2018

I routinely make a note to self to check old to-do lists when I remember that I’ve forgotten an important task. That I forget tasks often is a sad commentary on my attention span, but that’s not the point. The point is, I would be lost if I didn’t scatter notes to self all over the house like rose petals at a wedding.

Yes, there are reminder apps on my phone and email, but they require thought and planning. Notes to self only require scraps of paper and something to make marks. Pencils, pens, crayons, soot from the fireplace, finger paints, blood from the paper cut you got tearing off the scrap of paper – any of these will do.

When you’ve written your note, you can be sensible and place it where you are likely to find it. That place will not include your desk, because it is already filled with other things. It should not include the freezer, even if that is where you generally find your coffee mug (admit it, the mug ends up there when you think about your latest plot twist while looking for something for dinner at the same time). My preference is to create a personal, private treasure hunt of notes to self. The surprise of finding a reminder to pay an important bill immediately can often shock my little gray cells into remembering what my character’s arc was supposed to be before I wrote that last chapter that changed everything.

Go ahead, regale me with stories of perfectly organized electronic calendars and to-do lists. Brag about never missing appointments and always being on top of events. Just leave me with my scraps of paper artfully decorating every flat surface.

When Life Gets In The Way of Writing

August 13, 2018

getting-in-the-way-plant-8-13-18

There are days when I feel that the universe itself is reaching out to pull me off my path. Whether I’m being sucked into a thicket of daily tasks or surrounded by a hedge of small crises, the result is no creative activity that day. I can work myself into a full-blown pity party in no time, wailing that life is getting in the way of writing (or quilting). Then I come across someone who faced real thickets and real crises.

getting-in-the-way-text-8-13-18

This is what Chiura Obata wrote for the exhibit of art he created while in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans. This is the painting that went with the words.

getting-in-the-way-painting-8-13-18

I’m not going to promise that I’ll never feel sorry for myself again when life gets in the way of writing, but at the very least I’ll try to make it a short whine.

Rage Against the Portrait

August 6, 2018

Being a writer isn’t all about putting words on paper. Artists of any kind also have to be marketers, and that usually means selecting one’s public image. I really hate choosing portraits. The problem isn’t that they don’t look like me – the problem is they do (and yes, I rage against my mirror as much as I rage against my portraits).

At least I’m smiling

This month has been particularly taxing. I’ve been lucky enough to be interviewed by a local newsletter about Tri-Valley Writers, but that meant finding a picture for the article. I’m also taking on the role of president of Tri-Valley Writers, and that means finding a different picture for our newsletter. Then I noticed that my WordPress photo is woefully out of date, as is my photo on the Tri-Valley Writers website. I’m tempted to put in a picture of something else, but that’s not what a sensible author who actually wants to sell some books would do.

Or is it?

The first medal I ever won got its own quilt

By the way, here’s where you can find my latest book, The Chenille Ultimatum, written with Ann Anastasio.

Misdiagnosing Your Writing

July 30, 2018

Is it time to fix your words?

It isn’t often that a misdiagnosis helps my writing. A few years ago, a new doctor decided that the colleague who diagnosed the rash on my palm was mistaken. “The good news is, what he prescribed didn’t do you any harm,” she said. The better news is, I decided I could make that work for me.

Stay with me here. Diagnosis is hard, and diagnosing skin issues is one of the hardest. It’s the same with writing. You know something is wrong is with the story, but what? Is there a hole in the plot? Are the characters not playing together nicely? Is the subtext fighting with everything else?

Now comes the real hard part. You ask people you trust for help, but what if they misjudge the problem? What if you’re advised to rejigger the plot, but that doesn’t solve anything? Back to square one with different advisers?

I can’t tell you what the solution is for your problem piece. I usually let the words rest long enough that my inner critic shuts up and the inner genius can get busy (I’ve had one piece resting for six years now, so this isn’t exactly a quick fix). In the meantime, nothing I did has done any harm. Tweaking the plot, changing the characters, revisiting the subtext – that’s all important work which will help me be a better writer for the next project.

So, thank your advisers, beta readers, and critique partners for all their misdiagnoses. In the end, it’s worth it.

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.