Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Shorthand and Character Development

February 18, 2019

We inherited some of the family papers. Going through them is a hoot, and sometimes a howl. Trying to read handwriting from 100 years ago is the howl part. My mother is translating a ledger that her father acquired, although he did not make the entries. Whoever did write those entries wrote hurriedly, and probably used his or her own personal, private shorthand. That got me to thinking about how I could use handwriting and notes-to-self to develop my characters. What would it say about my antagonist if he consistently wrote with perfectly formed letters, and in complete paragraphs? What if my hero preferred his original emojis and doodles to real words? I generally have pretty good handwriting, but when I’m in a hurry, or making lists (like the one pictured) that I expect to be the only one reading, my letters turn into random squiggles and spiky lines. Don’t get me started on the abbreviations I use that even I can’t decipher a week or two later. Keeping my own penmanship in mind as I create my characters could give me a whole new appreciation for who these people want to be.

Luck and wisdom!

What Are The Odds – Coincidence In Life And Fiction

February 11, 2019

This past weekend I was confronted with the reality of coincidence. Both events were of limited scope, but both made me ask myself what the odds are of getting a break when I thought it was a setback.

The first was buying flowers for a friend. I picked up some lovely blooms, and called to see if I could bring them over. Turns out she was out of town, but as it happened I was having a meeting at my house so I could use them as part of the decorations. Then I went to put them in a vase and discovered I had bought almost too much even for my largest vase, and the resulting display weighed a ton. Given that I have no idea what sort of vases my friend has, but I do know she’s been having back issues lately, this was definitely a case of the universe saving my hinder.

The second event was of similar magnitude in terms of the greater scheme of life. I had brought a donation quilt to the guild meeting. I planned to show it during Sharing before turning it in to Community Quilts. A friend asked if she could examine it, and as I took it out I noticed I didn’t put the Amador Valley Quilters label on the back. We always label our donation quilts, and in fact I HAVE some of those labels at home. I simply forgot to sew it on. Luckily, Community Quilts had extra labels and a hand sewing kit, so I stitched it on before Sharing started and was able to turn the quilt in as planned.

There are times in my writing when I wonder if the coincidence I absolutely, positively must have for the plot to work is all that credible. The last weekend gave me my answer – sometimes, the universe does provide.

Luck and wisdom!

The Wonder of Workshops

February 4, 2019

Tri-Valley Writers, a branch of the California Writers Club, is putting on its third writers conference on April 13. I’m president of the branch this year, so naturally I’m biased in favor of the event, but even so the day is going to be pretty special (shameless promotion alert, here’s the website link). I’m telling everyone I know to consider attending because there is nothing like gathering with a group of like-minded people pursing a shared passion to ignite creative bonfires.

You would think, given my last statement, that I would always be searching for workshops and conferences. Not so. Luckily, I have friends who point out the treasure I’ve overlooked, like the Mechanics Institute in San Francisco, which holds workshops and classes on just about everything. I attended a wonderful writing workshop on sentences presented by Nina Schulyer. We spent three hours reviewing sentence structure, and playing with different forms to create amazing emotional effects (For you art quilters, imagine the fun of spending three hours experimenting with different embroidery techniques to enhance the overall artistic vision and impact of your piece.).

Schulyer has written a great book called How To Write Stunning Sentences. Still, there’s something magical about being in the same room with creative minds. You learn from each other almost as much as you learn from the presenter. So, look for those hidden gems around you – the adult learning annexes, small conferences, extension courses – and register for as many classes as time and your budget allow. You’ll thank me later.

Luck and wisdom!

Asking Questions

January 28, 2019

My copy of Wonderland, already flagged and tagged

Creating art usually starts with a question. What if I mixed these colors? What if I sewed these fabrics together? What if a stranger came to town with a mysterious gift? Then you bring out the paints, or the scissors, or sit at the computer and let the rest of the project flow logically from that question. Turns out writing history is the same. You start with a question, assemble your supplies – in this case, the documents, photographs, and artifacts of the era you’re studying – and let the story flow logically from the facts. Except that the interpretation of the facts is colored by the way you ask the question. Steven Johnson asked a question about fashion, recreation, entertainment, and the unknown masses and came up with a different take on history. The first chapter of Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World is called Fashion and Shopping. I’m not thin or rich enough to be a fashionista, but I certainly have experienced the benefits of retail therapy, especially at a quilt shop. How wonderful, then, to read Johnson’s discussion of the effect of cotton on Europe. Not only was cotton a revelation in texture to people accustomed to wool and linen, but the results of the dying techniques developed in India were irresistible. “When Vasco da Gama brought back a cargo full of textiles in 1498 from his landmark expedition around the Cape of Good Hope, he gave Europeans their first real experience of the vivid patterns and almost sensual textures of calico and chintz.” The next line is even better: “As fabrics, calico and chintz first made their way into the routine habits of Europeans through the gateway drug of interior decorating.”

My first thought on reading these paragraphs was about my next stories and novels. I could build my grand civilizations not on the bones of conquered peoples, but on the imagination of interior designers. My planets could be ruled not by emperors, but by fabric artists. Storytellers could be the most highly regarded in the population. The economies could work because they already have worked here. I’ve just begun the book and have already flagged a dozen pages with notes-to-self on world-building. All of which proves that asking questions is always valuable, and asking odd questions is even better.

Luck and wisdom!

Collaboration – Writing

January 21, 2019

Tri-Valley Writers published its fourth anthology last year. We had a party to celebrate, and in the spirit of collaborative writing we gave ourselves a challenge. Each table (of seven people) was given three prompts and ten minutes to come up with a scene. My table’s prompts were exaggerate, climbing a hill, and an unexpected gift. In ten minutes we had written a scene where a man is certain a mountain lion had pushed him down the hill at the back of the yard, but he would continue pruning the undergrowth. His wife says it was the neighbor’s cat, and he slipped on the ivy, but never mind she’s already called a gardening service. It was a silly scene – and great fun. If you want to bring out a different side of your writing brain, get a group together and toss out the prompts like candy at a parade.

Publishing an anthology is another way to collaborate with writers. Finding a way to agree on editing standards alone is worth the effort. You’ll be amazed at what you learn in that process. At the end, you’ll have a book of stories, and that’s always worth the effort. Voices of the Valley: Journeys may only get local notice, but you never know what that attention will bring. If you have a large enough group to share the expenses, consider publishing your own anthology to see your work in print.


                                                         

                                                    Luck and wisdom!

Sorting

January 14, 2019

I have found that I remember things better if I write them – really write, not just type (although that helps as well). I have also found that I love notebooks and repositionable tabs. The latter are impulse buys for me, much like candy bars at the grocery checkout stand. Finding a packet in a stack of scraps of paper inspired me to start organizing my writing space by sorting through my instructional notes-to-self.

I will use one of my lovely notebooks and a packet of tabs to write my own personal, private user manual for programs, apps, troubleshooting, and general useful information. In the process, I may actually remember how to make things work when they aren’t (rather than whining to the more technologically savvy people around me).

Luck and wisdom!

A View of the World

January 7, 2019

My father, brother, and son are left-handed. I never realized how useful that would be to me until I started writing science fiction. There’s nothing like having your own view of the world turned on its axis to start the world-building process. A simple experiment will illustrate: try brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand (I’ve done it a few times, and have yet to get through an entire session). Now incorporate what you experienced into a story set on an alien planet, and you’re the one who has to adapt.

My mother burned her right hand as a child, and learned to do some things left-handed. I watched her, and also learned to do some things with my left hand. Neither she nor I are entirely ambidextrous, but I like to try using my left hand for some tasks, especially when I’m thinking about a new world for one of my stories. Get out of your comfort zone on purpose – that’s where the creativity starts.

Luck and wisdom!

Ending the Year with Clutter

December 31, 2018

My desk is the windowsill to my mind

I dream of cleared flat surfaces this time of year. I also dream of a productive daily schedule and a workable writing plan for my novel, but let’s not get greedy. The key (for me) to successfully tackling any goal is accountability, so I’m posting a picture of my work space and announcing that my goal is to be able to walk past it without fear of starting an avalanche. I have wanted my desk to be more organized for ages, but can’t quite let go of the scraps of paper, which are often ideas for stories I will probably never write. I’m not ready to abandon the ideas, but I do need to find a better way of filing them (since filing them in piles hasn’t really worked for me). Suggestions?

Luck and wisdom!

Cookie Valhalla

December 24, 2018

Thanks, Walt, for the delicious cookies!

One of my writing groups is mixed genre, and I’m the only sci fi writer. They’ve asked before how I write about a world that doesn’t exist, and I’ve never felt I’ve given them a good explanation. The short answer is you take something you know and push it in another direction. My group likes long answers. Luckily, I was talking to a friend about where fantastic bakers might go when their Final Timers ring, and the term Cookie Valhalla popped in my head. “Self,” I said, “this is your opening.” My next attempt at explaining world building will begin with imagining my favorite people joyfully baking amazing food, doing battle with perfect puff pastry, and ending in an orgy of eating the weapons on the battlefield. How’s that for building a world, eh?

Luck and wisdom!

Legacy

December 17, 2018

At the end of the year, I look back at my calendar and wonder what on earth I’ve achieved. Some years I have the illusion that my legacy will endure, others not so much. Then I remember the magical thinking of writers. Here is an excerpt from an ancient Egyptian poem called “Eulogy to Dead Authors”: “A man has perished, his corpse is dust, and his people have passed from the land; it is a book which makes him remembered in the mouth of a speaker.”

So, keep on writing, keep on publishing, keep on blogging. Even if our words offer only a fragile immortality, they are our best monuments.

Luck and wisdom!