Friday, November 21, 2014

Take Time to Dig

If you're looking for the perfect gift for your writer friend this Christmas, here it is - Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass.  Definitely.  I can't say enough good things about this book.

Stick a copy in your own stocking, too.

My copy is highlighted in a rainbow of colors with notes crammed in, underlinings, starred passages, and corners dog-eared.  At the end of each chapter, the author lists soul-searching questions to break through the crusty surface and let you peek into your character's psyche and motivations.  (And by association, your own.)  I worked through the book slowly, forcing myself to take the time to dig deeply and squeeze all the juice out of the story.

One of the exercises that proved the most satisfying was to write down 20 things that only my protagonist would notice.  Until then, I had no idea that the house sucks in its breath when the housekeeper turns the key in the lock each morning and exhales when she leaves at night, or that my protagonist's husband talks in his sleep about his dead wife.

The author made one particular statement that I'm still mulling over:  "The fact is that everything that your conscious mind has yet to discover about your characters and story is already fully formed in your unconscious mind.  It's been there since the moment the first hint of the story surfaced."

I'm not sure how I feel about that. Do I create or does the character dictate to me?

In order to see the story and the characters fully formed, I need





Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tram Ride





This thin thin wire
Sways in generous bulging arcs
From breeze to breeze
Like a child's jumprope
Or the rippling undulations
Of a lustrous serpent
Moving through thick waters.

We are suspended under
This snakerope
And we are pulled along
By it. There is no escape:
The mountain floor beneath us
Is frighteningly distant.
The trees are miniature layered fans
And its boulders a pebbled mosaic.

A ridge rises before us.
Our eyes tells us there is no
Way over it, and yet
The cable passes through a crevice.

This, then, is faith:
We know we must follow where the cable has
Gone, and let our hearts
Finish the ride,
Finish the ride.



copyrighted poem
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Monday, November 17, 2014

It's Up to Us


I'm quite a fan of American Idol. And The Voice and X-Factor, and any other music competition shows you can throw my way. But mostly American Idol. I love how these shows have given a platform for talented singers who otherwise might never have been exposed to the world. Even those who don't win the competition have achieved far more than they ever thought possible, simply because of the exposure.


I was reminded again this morning how much I love those shows and the amazing platform they provide when my daughter showed me a YouTube video of a new release from Danny Gokey, a third place finalist in Season 8 of American Idol. He was a favorite of mine, as well as my husband and our family, and even though Danny didn't win, I had no doubt he would have a fabulous career in music. Here is the link to his latest song, Hope in Front of Me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KIhYZQ_ovw

Not for the first time I wished, and said aloud, that there was such a venue for authors trying to get their "voice" out to the world in the form of their novels. A place where writers could connect with a tailor-made audience.

Sadly, there isn't. So it's up to us, you and me, lovers of good fiction to get the word out about our favorite books and authors. We have the ability to give a leg up to those novelists who touch something within us, to get the "word" out, pun intended. We have the ability to turn a ripple into a tidal wave, or at least a nice breaker the author can ride to a higher profile. After all, word of mouth is still a great way to expand readership.

So, I encourage you: when you read a book you love, tell someone. No, tell everyone. Post reviews. Email the author. Authors love hearing good things from their readers. Just do what you can on behalf of that author to promote his or her work.

What would happen if we all did that? What would it mean to  a writer and his or her work to have that kind of wind in their sails? What would happen if you --

Friday, November 14, 2014

Time is a Greased Pig

The weather has belatedly changed. I walked in temperatures cold enough for a wool cap, mittens, and a scarf this morning. By the time I got back, my nose ran like a spigot.

I'd forgotten my iPod, and so I let my mind out for recess. I don't know if this is the beginning of a story or an idea for a story, but this is where my mind went when the whistle blew:

Time is a greased pig. The more I try to capture and subdue the wriggling thing, the more unmanageable it becomes.

Up until menarche my life was a cord stretched taut from birth. That cord has unraveled into three frayed strands, the beginning, middle, and end. The beginning is just past my eleventh birthday, and I’m the only girl in the fifth-grade to have boobs and cramps. Being the odd girl in class is not my biggest problem, but it sure doesn’t help.

The middle is three children and a husband who disappears for days at a time. No one must know, especially the children. Oh God, not the children. I’m taking accounting classes with mere babies at the junior college. The girls, and there are several girls in my classes, do not wear a smidgen of makeup. The hair at their scalps is thick with grease. I want to march them all to the bathroom and shove a bottle of Preal into their hands. The classes are my secret. I almost always have a headache in the middle.

The end is Depends, horrific food, and the constant drone of my roommate’s television. I’m sickeningly healthy, except for mild incontinence. I fear I will live forever. Only two of my children are alive, which confounds me. I haven’t lived that part of the middle years, and I’m not sure I want to. If I’m lucky, I will die before I have to know what happened to Debbie. A mother isn’t supposed to have favorites, but in my middle life, Debbie is the oops child who can do no wrong. Even her hair behaves. No one speaks of my husband. That doesn’t mean he’s dead, but he is not here, and that is a huge relief. He would not have made a nice old man.

I’ve only met one other person who lives out his life in parallel acts. I suppose being odd...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

On the Endings of Things


I used to think that when I arrived in heaven I would be like an conquering hero returning to his homeland, banners rippling. But I hadn't lived long enough. Now I believe I will arrive rather unobtrusively, look for a soft place on the divine bosom, and just rest. 

The fact of my own coming resurrection must be dealt with on a conscious, day-to-day level. For a Christian, it is a reality as inevitable as death, but so much less to be feared. Just as we "build" the quality of our lives, day by day, surely we build our resurrections--or the hope thereof--in the same way. 

Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. --Hebrews 6:17-20a.

We offer these thoughts in honor of Bonnie Grove, who is mourning today the loss of her father last week. Take comfort and peace from our love, dear sister.


In Memoriam:
A Saint Passes

Passing:
Like a little bird breaking
From small confines
Into limitless light, shimmering sun;
Breathless, wings beating,
Blinded by light, impatient,
Exhilarated;

And then
the joy of

Recognition
(waves of translucent luminance like foam on the
endless, untiring sea)
Ransom
Reunion
Rest--
(and eternity stretching as far
as the untroubled sky)

copyright, Latayne C. Scott

(photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Dancing With the Dead

Sometimes a happy life can feel like hell.

Really. This is what we signed up for: a life fully lived.

It's like getting a kitten, or a puppy. At some point you realize that the cuteness and comedy, the warm, fuzzy love all come with a terrible price. You will love this animal who has a short life span, and therefore, one day this animal will break your heart.

You can withdraw from life, and endure the loneliness and sense of waste. Or you can embrace this world, brokenness and all, and cook and eat, sing your songs, swing your partner, fall in love - and know, absolutely know, that one day it will break your heart.

And when it does, you can choose finally to withdraw, and endure the loneliness and sense of waste.

Or you can embrace your wounds, sing a softer song, dance so slowly you seem to stand still. You can still fall in love, even though ...

Friday, November 7, 2014

That House on the Lake



I’m not a song writer, but an article in the November issue of Smithsonian magazine titled, “The Long Way Home” about Rosanne Cash caught my eye.  Rosanne’s father is Johnny Cash and her step-mom is June Carter.  I remember my father’s stories about his family going to the general store on Saturday nights in southern Virginia to hear the Carter Family sing. It’s funny how connected we can feel even generations apart.

I’ve never heard her music, but I was intrigued at how closely her writing process parallels that of novel writing and the stages we move through for art.  She always wanted to write story songs – narratives and ballads like ‘Ode to Billie Joe’ - but didn’t feel it was her strength. Most of her lyrics came from personal introspection which she narrated from her own perspective.  She realized that the questions we ask ourselves change with our time of life. So she took a chance, tapped deeper wells and let someone else tell the story.

One of Rosanne’s new songs was a deeply personal story about her father’s house on the lake in Tennessee.  It was quite different from her other songs, and after singing it live, a man came up to her and confirmed that we all have “that house on the lake.”  She realized that “The more specific you are about places and characters, the more universal the song becomes.” 

I feel this is true because specifics make the story come truly alive for us. Maybe we fill in our own blanks, but we don't connect with vagueness. It just doesn't cut it. Specifics allow us to connect clearly, then take a step back. When we view life through someone else’s lens we have the freedom to process it fearlessly.  Like playing dress-up, we can invest ourselves as far as we want to go, and set the mask aside when we are done.  But we are always changed by the experience.

I encourage you to check out the article here to see the process Rosanne and her co-writers went through from research to finish on one of her narrative songs.  The process for novel writing is much the same, if on a broader scale, but it is so much more challenging to convey one’s story in 54 lines of lyrics. 

The last time my life experience connected