Saturday, May 26, 2012

Chaos and Saknussemm's oracle . . .

This week I read Kris Saknussemm's article "Historical Novels and The 'Truth'" (The Writer January 2012), in an ongoing attempt to remove chaos or at least diminish the to-read pile in my office.

Saknussemm wrote on the novelist's responsibility to the truth and concluded that what really happened 'back then' shifts drastically, depending on which version you trust -- from your vantage point of several decades later, several hundred years, or more.

Since weaving facts into fiction is a preoccupation of mine, his comments were intriguing enough to push me over to his site where I discovered -- not only a fascinating site that uses video, music and clips to promote his book, Zanesville, but there I found the oracle!

Having properly emptied my mind, I asked my question, pressed the button, and received this enigmatic sentence:

You meet the ghost of yourself in every unfinished task.

Now there's something to think about. For if I pick up something I wrote five years ago, for example, in a sense I am no longer that person. But I re-experience who I was at that time. A very different way of looking at unfinished projects.

Saknussemm, dubbed in Wikipedia as a 'cult novelist and multimedia artist' has a new book out about slavery set in the 1840s, Enigmatic Pilot (Random House Books/Del Rey Books 2011). This one's definitely on my to-read list.  And I will follow this writer as well, despite his reputation for being somewhat of a 'shock jock,' for he has an edge on blending the visual, the written word, and internet-based technology that is fascinating.

If you wish to play with the three Chings, go to Kris Saknussemm's site, enjoy or skip the intro, and click on "Ask the III Chings" (after you have a question in mind).

I just checked his ZanesVille out, the first in the series. Dubbed a satire, this outrageous book will challenge me, but it will have to wait until next week's reading . . . another unfinished project!

Source of Saknussemm's portrait:  Wikipedia.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sunday . . . on finishing . . .

Our possessions talk to us. Yes, we can walk through our apartments, our homes, and all our 'things' present us with dialogue. African violet? "Have you watered me?" Laundry basket? "You're late!" Mending basket? "When are you going to tackle me?" Pile of unread magazines? Dishes in sink? And writerly types, "When will you update your synopsis?"

But some of what we choose to keep close to us carry memories: An ivory elephant, an indigo-cloth covered box from my aunt who lived in post World War II Japan, a print of mermaids by Melissa Cole, a Spokane artist, another of Frida Khalo, a Turkish bowl with vivid red tulips. These objects we surround ourselves with nurture us and define us. We keep close those things that remind us of who and what we love.

This week the daily writing goes well (those word counts are racking up). I would get a sticker from Rachel (who teaches music) for having exceeded my goals every day this week. Two books came through on interlibrary loan. One from the Library of Congress, Thomas Cook's An Exile's Lamentations, written probably about 1841 to record his experiences as a prisoner on infamous Norfolk Island. And the other, First Australians: An Illustrated History (eds. Rachel Perkins and Marcia Langton) told from an aboriginal point of view, lavish with discussion and photographs of artwork from the 19th Century. I'd much rather read either of these books than dig into that mending basket! And it's Sunday. Time to heed the bird calls just outside my window and walk amid the lilacs in Manito Park.

At the end of each day, I check my office to see that all is cleared away, whether writing, research, quilting, or whatever project is current. For morning begins with writing Years of Stone, and I want my fingers to know the story.

You can see a preview of First Australians in a slide show or a video. The book also is available on amazon.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday Reflections . . .

Writing every day with a specific number of words as a goal is working for me. Hooray! I'm also not writing every day for A-Z April's Blogging Challenge. But . . .

I miss seeing what everyone else is doing, thinking, feeling, writing. That was a neat community of writers. I couldn't visit every single 1718 participants. Maybe I met 40 new bloggers. Tried to visit them every day. Laughed and cried. Learned a few new strategies. Appreciated the wide range of celebrations of what it means to be writing and connecting with others who care about writing. Would I like this to continue? Yes.

Last night I dreamed about the last hummingbird or maybe the first humming bird of summer. I met a prolific journalist-writer who has dreams of four more books. The trees here are in full flower. Every street filled with that bright spring green and outrageous cherry pink. Someone is moving in the empty apartment next door, and I feel guilty for not pitching in. But this morning's writing hit quota. It's time to do a little online reading, make breakfast for my DH, and maybe move a few boxes for the new neighbor. Write on, everyone! Write on.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Down for the Count . . .

The last few days have brought some neat ideas my way.

First (and very helpful) is the idea that blogging doesn't have to happen every day. Completing the A-Z Blogging Challenge was intense and sometimes did take me away from that day's writing, though I gained much along the way. So, thanks to blogger Amy Tan's suggestions, I'll now post on the blog about 3x a week. Haven't set up a schedule yet, but already this feels good.

Second, do I really have a specific writing goal? Looks like we'll be going to Africa in Oct/Nov 2012 for about 6 weeks. As my mother would say, 'Ooofta!' I already know that will create a big hole in my writing, so it's time to figure out what I really want to do. That's easy. I want to finish the first draft of Years of Stone at roughly 90,000 words.

Do I have a schedule? Only six months takes me to October and the Africa trip. Can I complete this first draft in 6 months, sitting now at roughly 53,000 words and a good plot outline? That means some 5,000 words each month. That means 200 “good” words a day. Even on a bad day, I should be able to write 300 good words. Every day.

GOAL: 300 ‘good’ words a day.
GOAL: Complete first draft by October 2012.

After coming home (and decompressing -- and processing notes and pictures), I should be ready to go back to work about mid-December (if not sooner). So it's reasonable to send that my draft out to 'first readers' (a term used to describe those hardy and deeply trusted editing/writing buddies who are willing to read a first draft). If they return in 6-8 weeks, the timing is perfect.

Of course, I'm continuing to submit maybe 1-2 chapters a month (and critting an equal number plus) to NOVELS-L at the Internet Writing Workshop (an absolutely wonderful resource).

I'll keep you posted. So maybe writing goals don't need to be set only in January at the turn of the new year. How are your writing goals coming?

Thursday, May 03, 2012

On writing . . . and finishing . . .

Three books so far. One rests in a drawer. A thriller, Mothers Don't Die. One is being sent out somewhat sporadically. Standing Stones introduces the MacDonnell clan during the Scottish Industrial Revolution. The current work in progress, Years of Stone, set in Tasmania mid 19th Century, steams right along.

Some days I think I'm learning more about my characters, about how to write their story in a way that reveals some essential truth about the struggle we all face to make our lives a little better. Some days the next book teases me with sly thoughts, and I wonder how long it will be before Years of Stone is truly finished and ready for some form of publication. I also wonder when I'll jump into self-publishing.

But mostly I just write in the morning because if I don't, I get grouchy and feel something elemental is missing, an anchor that keeps me connected to the past and the future in a way that is uniquely mine.

Even when the writing does not go well, when I can't write a sentence that pleases me, I still learn something new. Did you know that 'fadge' is Victorian slang for a farthing? Fadge became the name of one of my characters this week. Here's how he introduces himself:  "You know why they call me Fadge?” He spat. “’Cause my life’s not worth a farthing.”

Fadge is a hulk of a man, silent, enduring, and he's probably spent far too much time in solitary. And yet he shares his Sunday meal of boiled beef with a fellow prisoner. He is also mad to escape. For I'm down in the coal mines this week, in the dank and dark places where men grubbed coal out by hand in tunnels no more than 4 feet high, and young boys ran baskets of coal back to the mine shaft, to be pulled up some 70 feet by a winch. These boys have no names.

I write to bring this history alive -- if for no one else, then for me.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Word Play . . .

1: Spring Haiku

Plump blossoms hide bark.
Tiny leaves sprout umbrellas.
Spring: forget-me-not.

2: Spring Haiku

Plump blossoms hide winter's bark.
Green leaves sprout tiny umbrellas.
Spring rains, first flowers, forget-me-not.

This morning I mapped out the current tough chapter. Mac and Fadge are now 300 feet deep in a 19th Century coal mine. Bits of dialogue come first, then a description, and conflict. It sounds so flaky but now that my characters are 'in place,' they will show me their reactions. Trust the process.

Now, tonight, inspired by those lovely spring blossoms that fade so quickly, I'm playing with words. The first poem follows the traditional haiku format of 5-7-5 syllables. The second has 5-7-5 words.

Today, from the Internet Writer's Workshop forum on writing, comes Michele Riccio's suggestion to try Wordle, a free app that generates an image based on the frequency certain words appear. The more repetitions, the larger the word!

I copied some 20,000 words in from Section 2 of Years of Stone (draft in progress) to find my characters -- Mac, Deidre, and Mary most prominent. That's fine with me. Now I'll do a search and replace to see if I've used 'back' appropriately. An interesting play on words.

Today's post continues my May challenge: to write something every day, inspired by what someone else has written. The haiku (one form of word play) comes from Robert Lee Brewer's Poetic Asides (Writer's Digest March/April 2012) prompt to write a haiku.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

May Challenge #1: Write the Fear

Sometimes our fiction takes us to dark places.

Because I write intuitively, sinking down into my characters, sometimes I'd rather skirt along the top of how they're feeling about the predicaments they've gotten into. The 'real' conflict happens off stage. Sometimes my characters are too polite.

In the chapter I'm working on, Mac has been transferred to prison coal mines in 19th Century Tasmania, a horrible, brutal place of no hope. I don't want to write about what he sees or what happens to him.

Some would say that's the muse talking. Back off. Let the story unfold. Or it could be conflict avoidance. To push on, I could draft the scenes for this chapter and let them rest. Cut them later.

But for May's Magazine Challenge #1, I found this lovely article by Wisconsin poet laureate Marilyn L. Taylor, "How to Write the Poem that Scares You" (The Writer Feb 2012). She offers this advice:

1) Wait. She's talking about letting real time pass before you write about a traumatic event. Some writers wait years before tackling the traumas they cannot forget. But the traumatic events here happen to one of my characters.

2. Tell the poem in third person. This is for emotional distance, and as Taylor points out, "to avoid self-pity." This idea helps me because it suggests emotional punch is possible in third person.

3. Try using a traditional form. Taylor explains that raw emotion can be controlled and transformed through the discipline of form.

4. Use a metaphor to replace literal details.This points the fiction writer to consider all images as vehicles to shape the setting, the scene, and the senses.

5. Use humor. Aha! Humor may be all that's left to these men who face sentences of 7 or 14 years or life. Humor could shape dialogue.

Now I'm ready to go to work, part drafting, part research. My purpose: emotional and historical truth. My poor character should be afraid, for he is going to suffer.

May Magazine Challenge . . .

Last month I jumped in to write the "A to Z Blogging Challenge," a blog a day around the alphabet with the added challenge to visit as many bloggers as I could. Some pre-wrote their entries, some wrote shorter entries, some wrote about a specific theme. Last month I dove into my research and along the way gained some new interesting insights.

So this month, the merry month of May, I offer the MAY MAGAZINE CHALLENGE.

Maybe like me, you have a stack of magazines that you read once in a while but sometimes not at all. These magazines may be about writing, nature, archaeology, history, current events. What do you think about what you read?

The challenge: Select one article and write a reaction. Maybe a scene or story. Maybe a poem.

That's it! Share your post and try to read any other bloggers (try 5-7 bloggers each day) who pick up this particular glove. And then happily recycle that magazine.

I hope you join me.  Write on!