Monday, February 28, 2011

The week in writing 2/28/2011

So this last week has been quite an interesting one from a writing standpoint.  I didn't write a lot but I made some new connections and decided on a path going forward.

My sister, Carolyn, introduced me to a friend of hers, Sharon Struth, who went from being an accountant to an author.  You can check out her blog here.  She was very encouraging and offered a lot of helpful suggestions.   One of the things that I took away from our talk was that it is time to get some pieces ready and submit them for publication.  I admit I have been resisting sending things out; it seems very overwhelming for me and, frankly, I am afraid of the rejections.  So I braced myself and marched out yesterday and bought the 2011 Writers Market, which I will use to find appropriate publications for my work.  Then I'll have to write query letters and get some pieces out.  Yikes!  Just the thought makes me wonder what the hell I am doing.  Why at 45 do I find I have to go out on this bizarre limb?  I have a good job; things are going well; we are all healthy.  But, I also find if I don't write, I get cranky.  I am always wondering, "Did I reach a reader?  Did they hear me?"  I am completely addicted to the feedback I get on my writing, negative and positive.  So I labor on despite my doubts.  Sometimes I do think I am crazy, though.

On Wednesday I started a three week seminar sponsored by Springfed Arts, a local arts organization.  It is a small group of 5 or 6 writers.  The instructor, Gwen, and two students are all published, the rest of us are not.  Gwen's lesson for the evening was characterization.  She wanted us to build characters that were 360 and then let the reader make the call on whether they liked them or not.  We had to write a scene based on someone walking in the room.  Who is this person, what are they like? What details are universal so the reader can relate and what are particular to that character so they are set apart from the rest of humanity and are not a stereotype.  The funny thing in writing this scene is I did the first part easily, then Gwen asked us to go back and add the particular details and I drew a complete blank.  I have never had such a complete sense of writers block.  I think my mind was emptier then when I meditate!  Then, as is typical, I got in my car to drive home and it all flooded in.  I had the outline of a novel by the time I got home.  Crazy!  I have posted my scene below with reader questions following.  Please take the time to give me some feedback by posting comments on the blog.

Jack always hears his Mama’s soft worn voice every time he comes in from outdoors. “Take your hat off, son. It’s rude to wear one indoors.” So he has been in the habit of removing his Stetson whenever he came inside long before it was necessary just to get through the door. As he stands with his hat in his hand, he looks around expectantly wondering if the five people watching him might recognize him for who he is. His heart sinks as he realizes that the five pairs of eyes are watching him expectantly too. Looking to see if they know him, if he is a writer too, like they are. There is a mutual sizing up, like strange dogs walking stiffly around in circles sniffing each other, until one tail wags and breaks the ice then there are smiles and handshakes all around.

Jack takes off his worn shearling jacket and shivers. God, he doesn’t think he will ever get used to the damp and cold in Michigan. He sets the coat and hat carefully on the couch and takes a seat at the table, trying not to take up too much room.

“I’m Jack,” he says watching the eyes around the table widen in surprise at his accent. He is getting used to it. Apparently, not too many people are moving to Detroit these days. It was Marcus’ idea. Getting in on the ground floor he called it. They had been lying in bed on one of those languid afternoons when the best thing to be doing is lying loose-limbed in bed after making love, drinking wine and snacking, waiting to repeat the cycle.

“Let’s move to Detroit,” Marcus had said. “We can buy a foreclosure and fix it up. You’re handy.” Marcus‘ hands moved expansively, drawing his vision out, encompassing them both in a new future. “There is a fabulous gay community and I could get a design job. I know the reputation is dismal, but it can only go up, right?”

Jack had said yes, partly because it was impossible to bring Marcus down to earth after he had an idea but mostly because the thought of living somewhere he would be recognized was a siren song he couldn’t resist. His parents, siblings, and friends had stopped seeing him after he started living with Marcus. They all looked through him even while they might seem to be speaking right to his face. His ex-girlfriends became the secret agents of town, claiming plausible deniability. Now he is in a strange city, living in a half finished bungalow, alone and still a ghost.

“So, Jack, we are trying to get to know each other by talking about themes that show up consistently in our writing. Our obsessions, so to speak. Mine is memories. What’s your writing obsession?” Gwen asks.

Jack shrugs. He really doesn’t want to say. Every time he writes something he feels like he is standing naked on the median of I-75 during rush hour, begging to be heard. The indifferent blowback from the passing vehicles washes over him and nothing changes. He is hoping that by taking this course he will finally have the courage to write his truth and then to show it to the world, to reach someone, to change something. Sometimes the truth burns so deep and bright inside he feels he will shoot up into the sky as a new constellation, illuminating the earth. Showing what happened, making people see him. 

“My obsession is vision,” he says. 

My questions are: What do you know about Jack?  Based on the scene, what kind of person is he? What are the universal characteristics and what are the particular ones?  

Again, please comment on the blog.  Also, if you read it and don't care to comment in detail, I would still like to know you checked it out, so please leave me a note saying "I read it, and liked/loved/hated it."  Thanks so much!


  1. Well I would say the universal characteristics are that he is from Texas (maybe) with an accent and a Stetson hat. I think one of the particulars is that he respects his mother.

    I feel like I am back in high school english class having to figure out the difference. It's a good challenge to have to figure these things out and not just mindlessly read something.

  2. Hi Jeanne-
    Thought I posted yesterday, but it disappeared! Technology!
    Anyway, glad to see you're pursuing submitting your work. Rejection is scary...I even wrote a story on it if interested . But the moment got me to take my work off the pile and stick in an envelope. You're doing all the right things. Your class sounds great and your story had some wonderful descriptions! Keep the faith :-)

  3. @Anonymous

    Thanks for your encouragement Sharon! I am just finishing revisions on a short story and then I will be writing some query letters. It is scary, but it is the next step!