Monday, January 31, 2011

On Writing

This past week has been somewhat less productive than I would have wanted.  But I did make some mental in roads and sometimes that is the most important thing.  I had some serious distractions, but that is something we must all work around.  So this week I submitted an entry to a flash fiction contest, finished a short story and presented it to my writers group, and worked out some plot issues on the novel. When I write it here, it sounds like a lot, but it was, for the most part, wrapping up loose ends, not really producing anything new of substance. Mostly, though, I came to grips with what I was trying to accomplish as a writer.  I have a really bad memory, so I will probably have to come to grips with it again, multiple times.

Believe it or not, part of the light bulb going off was reading the romance novel that I reviewed in my "What I Am Reading Now"  segment.  I was reminded that a good portion of reading and writing is for entertainment.  I had gotten very caught up in writing literature, which in my mind is different than just writing a good story that people enjoy.  Don't get me wrong, I do want to be a good writer, a really good writer.  Ultimately though, you can be an awesome writer and if your work is not engaging and fun to read, it doesn't matter, because no one will want to sit down and read it.

This was emphasized by the introduction to "The Best American Short Stories 2010" written by guest editor Richard Russo.  He related a tale of a question and answer period with Nobel Prize Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer.  When asked

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What I Am Reading Now - "Show No Mercy" by Cindy Gerard

Listen, reading books is a lot like eating in restaurants.  I don't walk into a McDonalds and expect white glove service.  So when I pick up a romance novel, I don't expect fine literature.  I do expect a good plot and a fun story.  Cindy Gerard is a RITA award winning author, an award given by the Romance Writers of America.  This novel is the first of series of novels for the Black Ops Inc.  "BOI's" and is actually a spin off from an earlier series.  Ms. Gerard does what a lot of romance writers do and that is link characters through novels.  This story did stand on its own, but I did get the feeling in a couple spots that I was missing something. The attraction between Jenna and Gabe would have made more sense if I had read the previous book.

I have to say after my recent reading list, I was ready for some cotton candy, or as my mother used to call it "popcorn for the eyes."  This novel fit the bill, it is a very typical romance with the plucky heroine and the brooding dark hero who had been horribly wounded physically and mentally in the past.  He must give up his new love for her own good.  Yada, yada, yada.  The funny thing about romance novels is that they are strictly formulaic.  As a matter of fact, if you are a writer writing romance novels and don't follow the formula, you may have difficulty getting published.  Again, back to the McDonalds comparison.  When you order a Big Mac, you want to get a Big Mac and not a Filet O'Fish.

Ms Gerard's plot comes together well and I didn't feel like she beat me over the head too often with the reason why our hero couldn't be with our heroine.  Even though it was all mental, it was relatively less flimsy than other novels I have read.  I had to laugh a couple times at the lines she used.  I quote from the novel:

Monday, January 24, 2011

What I Am Reading Now - "Last Night at the Lobster" by Stuart O'Nan

This was a book club choice.  One of the things I like about book club is that I end up reading books that I probably wouldn't pick up otherwise.  Stuart O'Nan has written several other novels over the years including "The Good Wife."  This particular book is about the last night that a Red Lobster is open and how the manager is trying to keep it all together.  He is trying to keep a mutinous crew on task and sort out his personal life between the waitress he loves and the girl friend who is pregnant.  Mr. O'Nan uses very expressive language and artfully brings the reader into the novel.  He really draws his characters and that is what this novel is about, characters.  This is about one man coming to terms with his life in one last shift.

One of the things that caught my attention on the first page of the novel was the language the author used.  His description of a New England mall a few days before Christmas was vivid.  Cars "sniffed" for parking spots.  They were crusted with salt.  I was standing in the parking lot with them.  Mr. O'Nan had a way of describing things but not telling you about them.  All description was firmly part of the narrative, a master of "show don't tell."  Something that as a writer myself, I struggle with every time I write something and still have a very long way to go before I master it.  He shows you the story, he mentions Jacquie and you get the hint that Manny and Jacquie had a relationship.  He indicates that the relationship is in the past just by one simple sentence.  He does not go into a big retrospective on it.  It simply becomes a ribbon that weaves through out the entire story.  Reading this book is like getting on to a highway. When you get on, you move forward, you don't go back and look at the exits you missed.

Another thing that drew me to this book is that it is set in Connecticut where I grew up and I am married to an ex-chef.  So reading it was like greeting old friends when he mentioned New Britain, West Hartford, and Barkhamsted.  Even though I never worked in a kitchen or restaurant myself, reading about Manny going through and getting everything ready for the day brought back my early years of marriage when my husband brought home stories of kitchens and customers.  So to me there was a certain familiarity with the setting, like coming home a bit.

All in all I would say this book is a read.  Is it action packed?  No.  But it is a very interesting character study and work of incredible writing.  It makes me want to go out and read more of Mr. O'Nan's work.  Which is the highest compliment I can think of for an author.

Next up on the list, some popcorn for the eyes, "Show No Mercy" by Cindy Gerard.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

New character, new short story

So I got some good writing in this week.  I managed to get another 1500 in on the novel.  I am still setting up characters and introduced a new one.  I have included the excerpt below.  Followed by feed back questions.  The whole process is pretty interesting (at least to me).  Even though I have a pretty clear and detailed novel outline, I am already starting to see the story deviate from it.  Not from the major bones, but some of the smaller details.  Every time I rewrite the story (this is the third version)  Frank lives a little longer.  In the first draft, he was already dead in the second paragraph.  In the second draft he is killed in the first chapter.  This draft he will make through at least chapter 1 if not chapter 2.  God only knows what will happen in drafts 3 and 4.  My goal is to go with this draft until I have finished the novel and then revise, not to revise part way through, like I have done in the past. There are writers in my writing group that bring in chapters of a first draft novel for review while they are still writing. I can't imagine trying to revise the first chapter before the thing is done.  It could completely change the trajectory of the novel. The group has been invaluable to me in working out the novel outline.

I was interrupted on Thursday by an idea for a short story and so worked on that.  I've gotten about halfway through it.  It looks like it will end up being 5-7000 words. It is entitled "How To Throw Out A Dildo."  Surprisingly, it is not very racy, except for the fact that it is about throwing out a dildo and all the things that implies.  It is my attempt at comedy and I may post an excerpt here once I complete it and possibly had the writers group take a look at it.   I am thinking of pitching it to Cosmo magazine, should anyone else think it is funny.  I guess I'll have to remove my "Why Cosmo Annoys Me Post."  I know already it needs a lot more work.  Parts emphasized, parts removed or diminished. My goal is to finish the first draft Monday/Tuesday and then get back to the novel for the rest of the week.

Anyway, here is the excerpt from the novel.

Monday, January 10, 2011

What I Am Reading Now-Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

This is the second of the seven book Outlander series.  I have to tell you upfront that for what ever reason these books are fictional crack for me.  Once I open the cover I am not stopping until I get to the end.  Then I usually have to read the first chapter of the next one just to see where it is going.  Just for illustration purposes, the paperback version of this book is 947 pages.  I finished it in under two weeks.

Wikipedia accurately states that you cannot pigeon hole this series.  And I think that is why I like them so much. There is a romance, but a major plot line is the political climate of 18th century Scotland and the impending Jacobite uprising of

What I Am Reading Now- Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

This post was actually done in January but I am rearranging the blog a little.  So here it is incase you missed it.


I initially had reservations about reading this since I am not particularly religious and have a healthy skepticism regarding man's word vs. God's word.  But Ms. Gilbert's brand of spirituality is like an all-inclusive resort, where everyone is welcome, even the skeptics like me.  She did a great job describing the orbit of her life from serious depression back to vibrant health.  She brought everything full circle, which I like.  I do not like loose ends at the end of a story.

I found it interesting that almost everyone I spoke to found the India part of the story the hardest to get through.  They thought it was dry and a little boring.  I, however, did not.  I have been practicing Anusara Yoga for about 18 months and I struggle with taming my mind during meditation.  I joke with my instructor (see her blog Graceful Transformations in my blog links) that Savasana is the hardest pose for me because I can't turn my brain off.  So I could completely relate to Ms. Gilbert's struggles.

In the end, it was also a great story with Ms. Gilbert herself both the protagonist and antagonist, which is hard to pull off.  I am a writer and it is way easier to show  conflict external to your main character than it is to show internal.  I was rooting for her the entire time.  I am also interested enough that when I find time I want to google her and see what she is up to now. Better yet, she has motivated me to  take a second look at my own beliefs and to spend some of 2011 getting my own mind under control.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Frank and Claire's Relationship

As I promised yesterday,  I had a chance to sit down and do some writing.  I got about 450 words in and I am excited about it! I really needed to write about the relationship between Claire and Frank.  It kept bubbling up in my mind and had to get out!  I added an excerpt below.  Please answer the questions following the text after you read it.  I want to know if I am on the right track.


Claire watched as Frank deftly picked muffin crumbs off the table with his large fingers.   It seemed like every morning for the last twenty years, she had watched his large hands moving over the table like birds of prey erradicating any tid bit left.  She would have liked to think that it was because her muffins were so delicious, but since he did it with embarrassing regularity with virtually every food and in any circumstance, she had long since dimissed this notion.  
“Busy day today?” Claire asked as she cleared Frank’s plate and coffee cup.
Frank got up and stretched, nearly touching the ceiling.   He caused a momentary eclipse of the morning light streaming in the kitchen window, throwing Claire into shadow.  She had always loved how big he was, it made her feel safe, even if he did take up a lot of room.
“I have the normal classes, then office hours.  I also have another meeting tonight with the grad students, so I’ll be home late.”
“Another one?   Should I keep dinner for you?”
“No, don’t bother. We’ll grab something close to campus.”
Frank was backlit, surrounded by a bright line of light all around, so Claire couldn’t see his face very clearly.  She wondered what she would see there.  He had been keeping an awful lot of weird hours lately. 

“OK.  I’ll be in the dark room today, so I may not answer the phone.  I took a roll of film of the garden.  I’m excited to see how they came out.”
Frank bent and quickly kissed Claire on the cheek.  “Have fun making like a photographer.  I probably won’t call.  I’ve got a pretty packed schedule.  I’ll see you tonight.”
After Frank left, Claire sat down with her own breakfast.  As she cradled the cup of coffee in her hands, she thought about his odd schedule and how it had cropped up on and off through out their marriage starting when Anna was a baby.  She had never wanted to prove it, but she could swear he had been having affairs.  Did it matter more now than it did in the past?  Did the gold band on her left hand represent less of her commitment now that Anna was in college?  If he was having an affair, what would she do anyway?  Leave?  And do what? Starve?
  
Claire frowned as she put the dishes in the dishwasher.  Then she resolved to put it out of her mind.  Regardless of what Frank was doing, she loved him.  It was almost a reflex.  She wasn’t going anywhere.  She looked at the clock.  She wanted to get the household chores done so she could get into the dark room.

1) Describe their relationship?  Who is the dominant partner?
2) What does Claire think about the relationship? Of Frank?
3) Even though this scene is from Claire's point of view, is there any indication of how Frank feels about Claire?
I'd love to hear what you have to say.  Write on!


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New for 2011

Well, I'm back after a long break for a vacation with my husband and daughter.  We saw family in Pittsburgh and Florida.  It was very relaxing to get away from the grind.

I had an opportunity to finish a short story while on vacation.  I know this blog is about writing a novel, but this idea kept popping up in the back of my head with it's hand up in the air.  "Pick me!"  it kept saying.  It was really quite insistent.  So I spent some time writing it out.  The seed was from a discussion about Christmas tree buying that I heard on the radio a few weeks ago.  It reminded me of our family joke about Christmas tree shopping, which is that it was my parent's annual divorce.  So the story is entitled "The Annual Divorce" and it does take place in a tree lot, but it is not about Christmas trees.

I admit that while I am writing pretty much anything, except maybe emails and blog posts, I am thinking at the same time "This SUCKS!"  I read Elizabeth Gilbert's (Eat, Pray, Love) essay on writing and she feels the same way, so I guess I am in good company.  I guess you have to power through the suckiness.  Once I finished, I had Michael read it back to me, and it did, in fact, suck.  So as with anything, it is back to the drawing board.  I will let it ferment for a couple weeks and then present to the Novi Writers Group.  Then revise, revise, revise.

As for the Novel (working title "Loss"), I have posted a synopsis on the blog.  You might notice the ending is missing.  That is deliberate, for one thing, that would be no fun.  For another, I think I know where it is going, but even my limited experience has shown you really never know where the writing will end up until you get there.  I do know where I have to start though, and that is establishing Claire and Frank's relationship.  Unfortunately, I overslept today, so that will have to wait until later, or tomorrow.  Such is the life of a working wife and mother.