Posts Tagged ‘writing life’

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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!

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!

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!