“What makes your character cry?”
Here’s how I know that anyone could write a story, I challenge you to find one mom who didn’t immediately imagine what it would have been like if it were her eight year old caught in yesterday’s explosion. I bet they could tell you fifty ways they visualized it; could probably describe it down to the clothes their child might have been wearing.
Imagination is a wonderful and awful thing. It allows us to come up with fantastic ideas, machines that fly, foods that pop, tights that are see-through (okay, maybe not always great ideas). It also, though, gives us the fodder to speculate, what if. What if I don’t get that job? What if the tree fell the other way? What if our school was next? Like stories of psychics wanting to shut out other people’s thoughts, I am sure I am not alone in sometimes wanting to shut down my imagination.
I see this fine balance most clearly in my own daughter who has an amazing imagination but also struggles with anxiety. Her body always connects the what if to a fight or flight response… even when the what if is potentially positive. What if I get the part? The excitement turns to adrenalin, which tells her body there is danger, which turns her positive thought into a negative one.
The only way I have learned to shut off the voice of my imagination is to focus only on where I am and what I am doing at the moment. I ground myself by washing dishes thoughtfully; feeling the soap and the water on my hands, and hearing the splash of it against the edge of the sink. Or I garden. I listen to the birds calling and the mower rumbling next door. I feel the dirt crumble beneath my fingers and I watch a worm make its way slowly back down, into the moist earth.
Today I pray and today I focus on the moment. Because today my imagination is not my friend.
“What quirk does your protagonist have? If they don’t have one, give them one.”
Quirk’s are a particular interest of mine. I think they make life interesting, movies hilarious, and novels deeper. So I was thrilled when Mr. Maass added this to his list of prompts for creating more compelling characters.
I was working on my third novel… the one I am revising… the one giving me trouble right now… and was using it to experiment with technique. In this case, however, I was relieved that it already had the quirkiness that Donald Maass
was suggesting. For example the hero has the oddest habit of wearing theme-like clothing:“What?” Aiden asked innocently, although this time Lucia knew there was no way he could be oblivious to his fashion choice.“No one has worn a bathing outfit like that since, like, 1920, I think.” she shook her head still cracking up. “You are sooooo outrageous.”“I know, isn’t it cool?”“It’s something,” she answered, unsure how else to describe it. He was wearing what looked like long johns except they stopped above the knee. The top part was a tank and the whole thing was striped. Striped! Well, really, she thought, where did he even find something like that?
I have been able to picture this very clearly… maybe even based it on a friend from my past (just saying). But Donald Maass encouraged us to go further. Why do they have this quirk. Why does it work for them? And put them in a situation where it doesn’t. What happens then?
I can tell you what happens then, we all know what happens then; we’ve lived through it. He feels like an eight year old caught watching Barney- sad, embarrassed, self-conscious, and ashamed. Being the solid, self-confident guy he is he will shrug and say, “who cares what they think.” But inside what has always been fun to him will become tainted and make him feel a little bit sick in his stomach. He will have eaten the apple of knowledge and nothing will be quite the same after that.
It will also make him feel insecure with the heroine, Lucia…but that is a whole other can of worms.
Quirks are funny because they indicate we don’t take ourselves too seriously… and often this is entirely appropriate. Sometimes, though, life is
serious. The question is, what happens with our quirks then? If I were a kind writer I might let Aiden off the hook and assume he gets this. But Donald Maass challenged us to be the Old Testament rather than New Testament God when it comes to our characters. Test them, wring them out, allow them to fail so that, through fighting their own internal demons their grace can shine through.
Things are about to get tricky for Aiden and the rest of the characters in Molto Mayhem. It may take a while to get it revised but I have a feeling my readers are really going to enjoy the quirkiness, and humanity, when it is eventually released.
“I can’t believe I’m only half way. They shouldn’t make this so long.”
The couple next to me had received one of Starbucks treat receipts. A fantastic way for the company to encourage user feedback by offering a free drink after the customer fills out an online survey. I have received one before and have not been likewise overwhelmed by the process…. But apparently not everyone feels the same.
There is a reason short and sweet has become an adage; people appreciate conciseness and care when writing. Samuel Butler said - Brevity is very good, when we are, or are not, understood. I suppose at worst, keeping our message short runs the risk of confusion. But better that than confusion and boredom!
When I first began writing I attempted children’s stories. This led to a huge appreciation for the talent required of this genre. To fit an entire story into 250 words takes discipline, clarity of thought and an extensive vocabulary. I quickly switched to novel length adult fiction.
Still, brevity is an admirable goal... and one for which I will continue to strive. And in that vein, I believe this post has now made its point and it is time to move on.
“I wish they would still let us light a fire in the fireplace…. Early summer nights can get cold here.”
We’d just finished our tour of Vikingsholm
and were talking with the wonderful park ranger who had provided such great information on the beautiful old house.
As a child I’d spent my summers at Lake Tahoe, and it was a family tradition to hike down to Vikingsholm and have a picnic there. So I remember the spot fondly and was so glad to finally be able to share it with my own family. But even more, I loved taking our hike because it was the first time I had gone back since using it as the setting for one of the scenes in Betting Jessica
I recently wrote a guest blog post for Romancing the Genres
where I describe why I love to write contemporary fiction. I enjoy being able to use things I observe or overhear or past experiences. The scene from Betting Jessica
is a perfect example of this.
On one of our trips when I was young a terrible storm came up and began raining and then hailing on us as we were half way down the mountain. My mom had us hold towels over our heads to keep the stone sized hail from hurting
and we ran down the mountain until we reached the castle. When we arrived there we found all of the visitors huddled inside and they quickly made room for us.
As I took the tour my memories of that experience overlapped with the story I had created. I asked the park ranger if the fireplace was ever used, and this led to us talking about that childhood experience so long ago. I explained that I remembered a fire being lit in the fireplace and at some point the ranger pulling out his guitar and leading the storm hostages in song. She told me that although the fireplace was no longer used, she had heard stories about the previous ranger playing his guitar and sometimes having a fire there.
Fortunately, Betting Jessica
is fictionalized because when they arrive at the castle after encountering a similar hailstorm they are able to have an intimate moment sitting on the hearth in front of the fire… something that couldn’t actually happen at Vikingsholm today.
Still… as I stood there, getting ready to shoot a YouTube video for my fans, Erik and Jessica were as real to me as the ghost of my past self.
Main room at Vikingsholm
with fireplace in the background.
“Have you noticed the UPS guy’s been using the porta-potty in front of the neighbors’ house?”
Seriously? Yeah, really…. The guy has been doing that. A house on our street has been doing some remodeling and apparently the construction workers toilet has been seeing some extra use.
To be fair… driving around all day is kind of a crappy (pun absolutely intended) job. I don’t know about you, but I am always sipping something when I drive; coffee, water, soda. At some point it would have to get to you, right? And then what? I imagine that is why I often see fed-ex and UPS drivers stopping into Starbucks.
In a past life I spent a lot of time on the road as a sales rep. (selling checks which is so funny I just had
to say it). Anyway… I know what it is like to require a pit stop and I became very good at sussing out the very best spots to, shall we say, take a break. So… just in time for your summer travel, here’s my list of top five places to go to
the bathroom when you have to go
(please note: porta-potties are nowhere on this list
5. Hotels (in the olden days it was useful that they also had phones).
4. McDonalds (‘nough said… who hasn’t done this?)
3. Community Colleges (just be careful of the parking)
2. Starbucks (duh! Although not an option long ago when I was on the road)
1. Libraries (where next year you should also be able to find a copy of my book, Untangling the Knot
Like how I snuck that in? Yes… it is official! I have finally received my first book contract and will be publishing the digital version of Untangling the Knot
by Christmas and the print version sometime next year.
Am I excited? Definitely! I love the publisher (Soulmate Publishing LLC); am thrilled to be working with a great editor; and can’t wait to hold a hard copy of this wonderful story in my hands before I turn fifty. (Click over to The World of my Books
to see more about Untangling the Knot
As a side benefit… today marks the one year anniversary of my blog
. What better way to celebrate than with an announcement of this wonderful milestone. Today in particular I’d love to hear about your own dreams being
worked on or already fulfilled; so please leave a comment.
And remember… Every journey begins with a single step (even if it is only in the direction of the porta-potty).
“I like to keep my washboard abs covered…. I don’t want to be that guy
Don’t hide them on our behalf, I say; although, Starbucks might frown upon a bare barista. (points for alliteration.)
‘Tis the season to begin showing off those beach bodies, should you have them, and laying claim to the hard work of many gray days. For my part most of my body will still be as covered up as possible. Not only am I as pale as a beluga whale… I also feel like my body matches one right now.
Around me, though, everyone seems to be motivated to get into shape. I even caught my dog doing sit-ups the other day… or maybe she was getting ready to puke, it is difficult to tell with her. I however feel I am doing well if I take the parking spot on the far side from Starbucks. That extra .0002 mile might make a difference.
If life is about balance, than mine is sadly out of whack right now. Email seems to have taken over the majority of my day. Even with a fantastic board, being President of my writing organization has been a bit more work than I bargained for. I’m not complaining… I have enjoyed getting to know the members and the organization as a whole better. Also, as I mentioned I get to work with an excellent group of people who are doing amazing things (check out our writing contest on our revised website: http://rosecityromancewriters.com/contest-home/
for a great example of this).
When I am not emailing about writer stuff, my communication seems to revolve around end of the year school activities; playdates, parties, and getting things in order for the summer vacation period. Yesterday at least I got to run around at the park while helping with the school’s field day…something that may have cut a few calories anyway.
I appear to have a limited supply of motivation… and right now it is targeted in these two basic areas, career and parenting. The problem is, from past experience I know that I become miserable when the rest of my life is not
in balance. The physical, mental, social and spiritual sides of me all need to be in some sort of alignment for me to be happy.
But even if I start now I know I won’t have washboard abs by summer. So I’ll stay in my full-on one piece while I swim my laps in the pool this summer. And I’m good with that as long as I can enjoy the view of everyone else’s hard work while I make up for my lazy spring.
“That’s where you find the unarmed bobble-head.”
As opposed to the armed one, I thought? My mind goes to tangible images, so I pictured the only bobble-head I have…. a Christmas ornament that looks like our dog, unarmed and surrounded by the rest of the ornaments decked out in military fatigues.
I’m fairly sure, though, that the Starbucks baristas were discussing an on-line game; something that would be far more threatening than a bobble-head Santa holding an uzi. In the virtual world all things are possible, and a monster with a head that moves around unexpectedly seems particularly grotesque in my imagination.
It is clear that in our virtual world the line between fantasy and reality has blurred. I could write about a life lived completely in a dark, blue forest; and though sad which of us could not visualize a real girl trapped in front of her computer, fleeing monsters through midnight blue leaves.
The online characters my daughter creates are real enough to her to have physical and emotional traits, not to mention names. The spaces she occupies while playing these games are hers in a way that even her room at home is not. Because in her virtual rooms she is in charge… she has designed them and brought them to life and this gives them a reality which outweighs the meager control she has in her actual bedroom.
Want to change room décor? Done!... hair color? Clothing? Location? Done, done done! Friends can be selected and then set aside in an instant. Where in life is anyone allowed this kind of freedom and immediate gratification?
I won’t try to parse out the effects such an easily changeable world must have on our psyches. But as a writer, I will say that it is going to take more and more work for us to illustrate character growth in a time when readers are becoming used to full (and rapid) control over those transformations.
And, as with all change, it is a blessing and a curse. Because while on the one hand it demands more from our craft, on the other hand it opens up a whole new world to explore with our characters; a world in which even bobble-heads might have a chance at true love… if not defense.
“It’s a fluff book.”
Hmmmmm, as a commercial fiction author something about that overhear rubbed me the wrong way. A patient was reading a book and had been asked by the check-in person what it was about. But that’s not what it’s about
, I wanted to tell her; That’s just society’s hierarchical placement of Genre fiction
. Somehow I think she may have moved to the far side of the room from me though, so I kept quiet.
I, for one, think all
books have more value than to be presented as ‘fluff’. The FreeDictionary defines fluff as:Something having a very light, soft, or frothy consistency or appearance.
It’s true… romance books often take a light, meaning either gentle or humorous, approach to emotional topics. And certainly there are many descriptions of soft things in them; soft fabric, soft spots, soft breasts. And frothy sounds so delicious I would actually like
for my books to be described using that term. So, taken apart, the word fluff isn’t entirely out of place.
It is the idea that fluff is of so little importance that she didn’t even want to describe the storyline that bothers me. Isn’t love the most important thing in the world? And isn’t it beautiful when it is soft and gentle (or better yet, frothy).
This debate is interesting in that it comes on the heels of a few articles lately debating the hierarchical difference between Genre and Literary Fiction. Lev Grossman has discussed it in far greater detail than I have room for here (see Literary Revolution in the Supermarket Aisle: Genre Fiction Is Disruptive Technology
). But one idea which stood out for me in his article was this – “There’s more than escapism going on here. Why do we seek out these hard places for our fantasy vacations? Because on some level, we recognize and claim those disasters as our own. We seek out hard places precisely because our lives are hard. When you read genre fiction, you leave behind the problems of reality — but only to re-encounter those problems in transfigured form, in an unfamiliar guise, one that helps you understand them
more completely, and feel them more deeply. Genre fiction isn’t just generic pap. You don’t read it to escape your problems, you read it to find a new way to come to terms with them.”
It reminded me of another great article I read recently describing why we cry: Why We Cry: The Fascinating Psychology of Emotional Release
. The very idea of escapism takes us to a place where it is safe to explore our
own feelings about our life issues like fear or rejection or love or isolation. When we can’t find that ‘safe’ place in our own daily world perhaps we look to books for it.
After all, the best definition of fluff takes us directly there… A covering of soft feathers, like down.
To me that sounds like the perfect haven for emotional release.
The sound of screeching tires…
It was the worst sort of overhear for a mom! My daughter’s girl scout troop had headed to the beach for the night, and after packing up to leave the girls were taking a few moments on the rainy Sunday morning to visit the shops near where we had stayed.
I had gone looking for my daughter, and somehow knew, when I heard the screech, she was involved. I ran out the door of the shop and found one of her friends finishing her run across the street toward me and my daughter on the other side of the street… a terrified look in her eyes as she watched the truck slide to a stop near her.
Miraculously, no one was hurt (though my heart stopped beating long enough I thought they may have to take me
to the hospital!)
These are the moments that seem to make sense in our writing but have absolutely no meaning when you are living them. I know some people say time slows down when a crisis occurs, but to me it is more like the moment intensifies so much it overtakes time. What would normally take me minutes to notice blasts at me like a scattergun. I think it is the attempt to process somany details that makes it seem like time has slowed.
It reminds me of a new favorite show I watch, Psych,
in which a guy with a photographic memory can pull in all these details and process them so quickly that he appears to be reading the minds of the people involved. I love the way
they zoom into each little detail that he’s narrowed down as being important; a photo… an empty coffee cup… a wet dog. Somehow when put together these things all make sense of the crime.
In my case the images I got, the sound of the tires sliding on the wet pavement… the crooked smile on the face of my daughter’s friend… the huge eyes on my daughter… the arms of one of the other moms reaching out to hold my daughter where she was… all framed a solid impression of what had just occurred. If I had a photographic memory I am positive I would have been aware of the way the drivers hands gripped the steering wheel or the skid marks the
tires made on the cement.
It is these details that create believable, relatable stories. Most of the time we see the huge eyes and know it is fear. We describe it as fear in our conversations…. “I could tell my daughter was scared”. But as a writer, I know my job is to let the readers know by the details what that fear looked like or sounded like.
Even before I exited the store my brain had processed the single most important detail in this particular story… I heard the screech of the tires; and then silence!
“They told me Fabio was over in the produce section.”
A couple of months ago I wrote about creating great covers for our novels and so my ears were highly tuned in when I stood at the register of my favorite grocery store here in Portland and Fabio’s name was mentioned.
Sadly, he was not actually there in that store. The person was talking about a trip she’d made to Hawaii and a store she had been in there. The rest of the overhear was just as interesting. Apparently Fabio had been surrounded by fans (like, who knew?) and this woman couldn’t even get close.
I’m not terribly good at celebrity spotting; I once walked right by Barbara Walters and didn’t even realize it was her until I heard her voice as I passed. When I lived in London I used to keep my eyes peeled all the time for Madonna or Hugh Grant; and the thing is, I probably went right by them numerous times without even knowing it.
However, I have to think Fabio I would recognize. He has been so pervasive on covers I can’t imagine any woman, my age, not knowing him. That said… I also can’t imagine making any effort to get near him; unless it was to ask about his experiences as a cover model. Personally, I’m attracted to a more clean cut type, like George Clooney or that model I always see in Vogue or Conde Naste Traveller who is usually shirtless and on a sailboat.
My knight in shining armor is more likely to pull up in a convertible Mercedes than on horseback… and he certainly is not wearing any armor, (unless it is Armani). I suppose that is why I love to write contemporary romance rather than historical… it is far easier for me to associate with modern-day heroes.
What is even more interesting, though, is discovering the type of hero my main character finds attractive. They run the gamut of tall and gangly with sandy colored hair, to medium height, athletic with curly brown hair, to tall, super athletic with straight dark hair and blue eyes. I see each of them very differently and each are uniquely suited to my
main character. Jessica, for example, would never be attracted to my hero in Molto Mayhem but then Lucia would never like Erik, Jessica’s hero.
The main thing though, is even if I could get a picture of Fabio, I doubt he’d be appropriate for any of my heroes. I’ll let you be the judge though…
I can’t bring him to New Seasons for you, but I can bring him (in photos anyway) to my blog.