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A few days ago I watched a group of high school seniors struggling to write two-page essays about their lives and their plans for the years after graduation.
These were kids who spend untold hours sharing information—sometimes what I consider to be way too much information—in conversations and phone calls and text messages. This was a topic that required no research or attributions. The assignment seemed like a no-brainer.
And yet, after putting down their names and the date and the class period, most of them came to a full stop. Hung up on how to begin, they stared at that blinking cursor.
I felt their pain. Hoping to hook readers who happen across my books but aren’t familiar with my name, I labor long and hard on first sentences and leading paragraphs. Years ago I learned to delay the stress of crafting that opening and leapfrog into the story by leaving a blank space and writing this: Something brilliant goes in this space and I know I’ll think of it later.
I passed along that advice and saw a few kids catch fire and start hammering their keyboards. Others, though, sat like statues. I offered another piece of time-worn writing advice. “Don’t worry about getting your sentences and paragraphs in order. You have that cut-and-paste function. Move things around and clean up transitions later.”
More fingers prodded the keys, but about a third of the class was still floundering. I hit them with the ever-popular first-draft dogma. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be great or even good. It just has to be done. You’ll fix it later.”
That was enough incentive for a few to suck in deep breaths and tap hesitantly at the keys. But there were still three staring at their screens with expressions of fear, loathing, panic, and/or soul-searing anxiety. Trotting to their sides, I did a quick survey: “What are you having trouble with? What would help you?”
If you’re a writer, their responses won’t surprise you. They felt that what they wrote—in this first draft or any other—wouldn’t be good enough.
Thanks to that critical little voice in my head, I know Not-Good-Enough Territory well. In fact, I take up residence there every time I sit down to write.
The terrain is riddled with sinkholes and quagmires and quicksand. If a map exists, it’s not accurate. Storms swirl across the landscape and a sudden freeze is always imminent.
One trick to traversing this hostile land is to get moving and keep moving. If you write fast enough, you may outdistance the inner critic or develop enough momentum to leap across or plow through obstacles it throws in your path.
Another trick is to be your own BFF and make plenty of positive noise to drown out snarky comments that could bring you to a halt. If you can’t shut the inner critic up, then shut it down. Congratulate yourself on every simile and bit of dialogue. Cheer the completion of each paragraph. Reward yourself for every chapter.
I shared that philosophy and saw one boy take it to heart. In a few moments he was pounding away. Ten minutes later he had a full page. One of the others managed a paragraph before the bell rang. The third said she couldn’t work in a room filled with people, but made notes.
As for me, when I got to my keyboard, I took my own advice, shut the little voice down, and cranked out eight pages. They might not be good. They might be barely this side of dreadful. But they exist.
What are the tricks you use to get the job done? Leave a comment and share your strategy.
Carolyn J. Rose is the author of more than a dozen novels, including the Subbing isn’t for Sissies series (No Substitute for Murder, No Substitute for Money, and No Substitute for Maturity), and the Catskill Mountains Mysteries (Hemlock Lake and Through a Yellow Wood). She grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She founded the Vancouver Writers’ Mixers and is an active supporter of her local bookstore, Cover to Cover. Her interests are reading, gardening, and NOT cooking. Website
Mysteries usually take place in urban settings. The average person assumes crime rates are higher in the concrete jungle, and therefore, more suited to crime fiction. Even if the stories don’t take place in New York, Los Angeles, Miami or Chicago, they often occur in some sort of town. After all, the country too slow, an easier life not conducive to violence. People get along and aren’t into each other’s business because they aren’t up under each other. It’s where the city dweller goes to relax. Peace, quiet, calm Americana.
Sorry, but that ain’t necessarily so.
In a lot of rural settings, E-I-E-I-O spells dead.
The country is where chemicals can dissolve your lungs, invisible gases from silos and cattle asphyxiate, tools disembowel, machinery rips off limbs, and animals, given the right situation, eat you right down to the bone.
Imagine all that opportunity in the hands of a diabolical killer.
Most mystery readers imagine more mayhem in urban areas. In the country, however, murder can be hidden under the lower forty acres, or amidst the livestock feed. Heck, hide the body in the dirt under a livestock barn and who’s going to notice? Drop them in with the hogs and the body disappears pretty efficiently. Just remember to take off the watch or remove the glasses. Pigs spit those out.
So many natural causes and accidents with easy cover up, and fewer people to notice.
And the methods can creep you out.
Manure pits just seem to be a pile of stinky crap. But fall into it, even only knee deep, and you can drop dead in minutes.
Most bulls have their mean and cantankerous moments, and regardless how smart your character is, lock him in with a bull weighing close to a ton and the odds even up pretty quickly.
In a particular type of conventional silo, nitrogen dioxide forms, smelling like bleach at its peak. But the gas is heavier than air. It flows down chutes and collects in lower areas around farm buildings, in corners, under feed bunks, even against the floor. What may seem only like a nasal irritant can result in a person dying in his sleep hours after exposure from fluid collection in his lungs. A crazed antagonist can contain a character and expose him to the poison, then let him loose to die hours later alone, the murderer nowhere around.
Death in the country can be horribly gruesome. It’s easier to dispose of bodies, plus you have a lot more area to do it in. Acres and acres of cropland, woods, irrigation ponds, and pasture. Bring in citified law enforcement, and your bad guy has an even greater chance of getting away with the deed.
The Carolina Slade Mystery Series is set in various rural areas of South Carolina. The country settings make for unusual crime, and there’s usually some agricultural bent to the mystery: a hog farmer killing for land titles, tomatoes harboring drug shipments, seasonal migrant pickers turning into slaves, and with the newest release, Palmetto Poison, a governor has access to deadly poisonous peanuts. This unique arena with all its colorful players, unique murder opportunity, and breath-catching display of nature is what makes Slade’s stories intriguing.
Setting should be as strong a character as your protagonist, but it doesn’t have to mean high rises, airports, apartment complexes, dank city alleys, or industrial parks. America was founded on agriculture. Farmsteads where the sun rises over waves of wheat and seas of corn, where a man fights to work at an honest living in tune with Mother Nature. Where people know how to fend for themselves, deal with threats, and dispose of them in ways a city fella’ would never imagine.
C. Hope Clark is author of the award-winning Carolina Slade Mystery Series published by Bell Bridge Books. She is also editor of FundsforWriters.com, and her newsletters reach 45,000 readers. www.chopeclark.com / www.fundsforwriters.com Palmetto Poison is on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and wherever books are sold.
When I started writing mysteries, I subscribed to the wing-it method of plot and character development. I never gave more than a passing thought to theme. My rationale was that meaningful messages distilled from the story were for BIG novels, IMPORTANT books, CLASSIC literature, WEIGHTY tomes included on must-read lists.
I told myself that even though I might long to create a book on the order of _______ (insert title of your favorite classic here), the odds against that happening were higher than the national debt. But that didn’t mean that that I wouldn’t do all I could to craft a decent story. (Well, all I could do short of boiling down 100,000 words to extract the theme.)
That line of reasoning allowed me to skate. And I did—until those pesky writers in my critique group called my bluff and asked, “What’s the theme of this book? What’s the core message?”
Then skating turned into stumbling and stammering.
Still, I didn’t change my philosophy until I saw the light. Okay, to be honest, I wasn’t looking for that light. I more or less tripped over the lamp while writing No Substitute for Murder.
When I had a first line I didn’t hate too much (“The problem with getting your life back on track is that there’s usually another catastrophe hurtling down the rails to knock you off again.”), I realized I could use it to bracket and focus the story. Barbara Reed’s efforts to get her life back on track would unravel again and again. When she finally got back on the rails, she would be too cautious to celebrate.
That set me up for the sequel, No Substitute for Money. The pursuit of money—legal and illegal—is at the heart of the book, so I made that clear on the cover. The pursuit of a “perfect” life is another aspect of that theme. Because expressing the concept at the start kept me “honest” while writing the first book, I did it again. (“The problem with perfection is that the definition is open to interpretation . . . perfection is often temporary, transitory, and untrustworthy.”)
As I wrote, I noticed that nailing down the theme helped me develop characters and subplots. Having a theme made the road to the final page seem straighter and smoother. And it meant that when I finished and started revising—something I do only after putting the book aside for three months—there were fewer bits of business that didn’t seem to work and far less fat to trim.
I was hooked.
I started work on No Substitute for Maturity with a sketch of the cover. I wanted it to illustrate that everyone has a different take on what it means to be a grown-up. I began the story with Barb’s thoughts about baggage that makes it difficult to do what it takes to be mature—“emotional and psychological cargo like attitudes, opinions, expectations,preconceptions, preferences, and prejudices.”
Throughout the story, Barb wrestles with the definition of maturity. Is it based on little things like not drinking out of the juice carton? Is it founded on big things like learning to accept what you can’t change? Taking responsibility? Mastering self-discipline? Keeping your mouth shut?
Those questions became the breadcrumbs that led me out of the “undergrowth” in the middle of the book and to a conclusion that echoed the theme of maturity—in a childish kind of way. After all, being an adult doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.
And being hooked on theme doesn’t mean that I have to write deep, important, serious books. Which is a huge relief because I’ve been thinking that the next book in the Subbing isn’t for Sissies series may feature Bigfoot.
Carolyn J. Rose is the author of the Subbing isn’t for Sissies series (No Substitute for Murder, No Substitute for Money, and No Substitute for Maturity), as well as the Catskill Mountains mysteries, Hemlock Lake and Through a Yellow Wood. Other works include An Uncertain Refuge, Sea of Regret, A Place of Forgetting, and novels written with her husband, Mike Nettleton, Drum Warrior, Death at Devil’s Harbor and Deception at Devil’s Harbor.
She grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She founded the Vancouver Writers’ Mixers and is an active supporter of her local bookstore, Cover to Cover. Her interests are reading, gardening, and not cooking. Website
In the outback, distances are vast and the area in my state alone is the size of several small European countries. The outback is a mixture of gulf wetlands and waterholes, red desert and sand dunes, pockets of lush grasslands, and enormous cattle stations. These stations truck cattle to market by road trains, semi trailers pulling one, two, or three trailers, or dogs. These road trains take up the full width of most outback roads so travelers learn quickly to get off onto the side of the road when you see a large cloud of dust coming towards you, because chances are it’s a road train and the driver is hurrying to get the cattle to shipping ports or to saleyards and abattoirs.
Suzi Love now lives in a sunny part of Australia after spending many years in developing countries in the South Pacific. Her greatest loves are traveling, anywhere and everywhere, meeting crazy characters, and visiting the Australian outback. She adores history, especially the many-layered society of the late Regency to early Victorian eras. In and around London, her titled heroes and heroines may live a privileged and gay life but Suzi also likes to dig deeper into the grittier and seamier levels of British life and writes about the heroes and heroines who challenge traditional manners, morals, and occupations, either through necessity or desire.
Embracing Scandal is an historical romance and the first in my Scandalous Siblings Series featuring five siblings who are all scientifically-gifted. Lady Rebecca Jamison, a mathematical genius, saves her family from financial ruin by dabbling in the London stock exchange.
I admire writers who embark on writing journeys of exploration, writers who probe the depths of self and soul and society, who mine their memories and share their pain and triumph, and who offer insights into the meaning of life.
When I finish reading a work by a writer like that, I feel like I’ve been on a journey to a land both strange and familiar. I’m exhausted, yet energized. I know that concepts and characters, situations and turns of phrase will stay with me for years and color my thoughts for the rest of my days.
But I’m not that kind of writer.
When I was young, I dreamed that I would be. But it turned out that deep down, as the saying goes, I’m pretty shallow. When you look up “lofty thinkers” you won’t find a picture of me. My earliest reactions and interactions with books are proof of that.
When my mother read the story of Goldilocks and those bears, I asked if Goldi put maple syrup or brown sugar on that porridge. Tales of life on the prairie made me grateful for the nearby general store and its stock of candy bars. I felt sorry for Robinson Crusoe because he didn’t have a refrigerator to keep his cola cold. Heck, he didn’t even have cola. Pirate stories made me shiver—not so much because these were bloodthirsty types, but because they ate moldy biscuits.
When I grew older and tackled books on my own, I loved the adventures of Nancy Drew. But when Nancy was tied up and locked in a closet, I never wondered if she spent the dark hours considering the fleeting nature of life and what doors might open after death. No, I wondered how she could manage to pass the time without obsessing about food or needing to get to a bathroom.
And in high school when we were presented with Walden, I wondered why Henry David Thoreau planted beans. I hated beans. Why couldn’t he plant peas or corn or yellow squash?
Back then I was more concerned with the physical than the metaphysical. And not much has changed.
I have never discovered any great truths about myself while writing. I have discovered several not-so-great truths:
- If I sit too long my butt gets numb.
- If I’m stuck on a plot point I get the munchies.
- If I’m in the middle of a tense scene, my bladder demands attention.
- If I fail to save my work regularly, the computer will crash.
Most of my journeys are simply short hikes to the kitchen or that room with all the plumbing, with an occasional foray to retrieve the address book and find the number for the geek who rescues my crashed files.
I’m not even sure I want to discover anything new about myself. The stuff I already know is mundane, trivial, typical, or should be filed under “Why the heck did I do that?” But I doubt even chapters dealing with those incidents would hold anyone’s interest long unless the only other choice of reading matter was the Congressional Record.
So, if you were with me at that party or on that camping trip or along for that week in Florida, here’s something you might consider good news—I swear I’ll never write a memoir.
Carolyn J. Rose is the author of several novels, including Hemlock Lake, Through a Yellow Wood, An Uncertain Refuge, Sea of Regret, A Place of Forgetting, No Substitute for Murder, and No Substitute for Money. She penned a young-adult fantasy, Drum Warrior, and two cozy mysteries, Death at Devil’s Harbor and Deception at Devil’s Harbor, with her husband, Mike Nettleton, author of The Shotgun Kiss.
She grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She founded the Vancouver Writers’ Mixers and is an active supporter of her local bookstore, Cover to Cover. Her interests are reading, gardening, and not cooking. Visit her website www.deadlyduomysteries.com
If you set your time machine for December 2,000 years ago, and drop in on ancient Rome, what you see around you might make you check the gauges to make sure your timing is correct. Wreaths and swags of evergreen trimmed with red ribbons adorn statures and doorways. Togate Romans bustle about wishing each other greetings of the season and exchanging gifts. Some of the temples around us have stages set up for tableau or plays later in the afternoon. Tables set up in the public spaces of the Forum are redolent with roasted meats and the smell of barbecue hangs in the air. From the far side of the Palatine Hill, you can hear the cheers of a stadium full of fans at the day’s sporting event. If you join the crowd of variously dressed commoners at the gates of one of the massive private homes, you might sneak a peek inside at tables laden with treats such as spiced sweetbreads and tables of gifts including candles, small statues and bags of coins.
It feels like Christmas!
But it can’t be Christmas. Whatever is happening in faraway Palestine at this moment, Romans won’t celebrate Christmas until Constantine coops the outlaw religion in the fourth century – several hundred years in the future if our time machine is properly set. A quick search flashes the answers across our contact lenses.
The ancient Roman festival of the god Saturn shared many customs with the modern celebration of the Christmas season. Decorating with evergreen branches and red ribbon or yarn, gift giving, charity to the less fortunate, entertainment and sports are among the parallels. Early in the Republic, the Saturnalia was only about three days and was celebrated at the temple and within the household. By the time of the first century BCE in our calendar, it continued for over ten days.
The Roman calendar celebrated many festivals, but Saturnalia was the longest and most festive. Sacrifices at the altar set up in front of the temple provided meat for the feasts. The fat from the organs was burned upon the altar and the flesh anointed with wine and spices (hence the sweet savor of barbecue.)
Everyone was admitted to the Circus Maximus for chariot races and “wild beast hunts,” though as today certain seats were reserved for the upper classes. (Public executions and gladiator contests might be included between races, but the Coliseum and the excesses of the Empire are still in the future.)
Rome was at heart a political society and aristocrats were at the center of a network of clients – dependents who could be depended on for support in the political arena and who depended on their patrons for support in business and commerce. Clients commonly visited their patron at dawn to receive a donative and any instructions for the day. Refreshments might be served and gifts given to seal the connection. Of course everything ramped up at Saturnalia.
Saturnalia grew to be a time of excess, when the social norms were turned upside down. Gambling with sheep’s knucklebones (early dice) was generally forbidden, but practiced openly during this time. Unique to the aristocratic households was the custom of the servants’ banquet on the opening night of Saturnalia. The master and his family served the family slaves, who were dressed in the master’s garments and reclined on his couches. A Saturnalia King from among the slaves directed the revelry, and could even order the master to entertain with singing or dancing if he chose. (The wise “King” understood, however that the upset was only for one night and revenge could take the rest of the year.) Today, we pay homage to these early customs with the “King of Revels” or “Prince of Fools” at Mardi Gras and similar festivals and by “tipping” those who provide service to use during the year.
So, with our connections to the past and present once more established, we can enter our time machine once again and return to our own time.
We step into the middle of an arena of screaming plebeians. For just a moment we’re sure we’ve really messed up our settings this time and leapt forward only a couple of centuries into the middle of the Coliseum. Then we notice the uniforms and realize it’s football.
Judith Geary, author of the Getorix series: The Eagle and the Bull & Games of the Underworld, Celtic adventure in ancient Rome. Website www.judithgeary.com
Whenever I mention mermaids, I notice the emergence of Duchenne smiles on the faces of all the men in my circle.
What is a Duchenne smile?
Very simply, it is a smile that is characterized by the raising of the lip corners which in turn raise the cheeks and form crow’s feet around the eyes. French physician Guillaume Duchenne first recognized this smile while conducting research on the physiology of facial expressions in the mid 19th century. According to Duchenne, that distinctive smile is associated with a strong positive emotion.
My conclusion—21st century men are still intrigued by those Sirens of Greek mythology, preferring to focus on their physical beauty and enchanting songs. I imagine that male minds can easily conjure up images of wavy auburn tresses, mesmerizing green eyes and a curvaceous body. Very few men recall the less-than-enchanting stories about mermaids distracting people from their work and causing them to walk off decks or run their ships aground. Or even worse, squeezing the life out of men and drowning them out of spite.
In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus went to great lengths to avoid being seduced by the hypnotic music of the Sirens. He ordered his men to stuff balls of wax into their ears while approaching the Sirens’ island off the coast of Greece. And he tied himself to the ship’s mast so he would not be able to jump off, swim to shore or do anything that would endanger his own life or that of the crewmen. According to Greek legend, Odysseus is the only man in the world who actually heard the Sirens sing and lived to tell about it.
It is not surprising that women considered Sirens (mermaids) serious rivals for the affections of their partners and feared they would transform their men into mermen. But rejecting or injuring a mermaid could bring misfortune to the man and possibly the entire coastline.
The Sirens featured in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, however, bear no resemblance to their predecessors. In fact, many mermaid enthusiasts were shocked by these scaly and hideous creatures, considering this break in the traditional beauty of the Sirens almost blasphemous.
I was amused by the “mermaid” sighting in George Clooney’s 2001 film, Oh Brother Where Art Thou. A loose take on Homer’s Odyssey, Clooney plays Everitt Ulysses McGill, one of three inmates on a prison chain gang who escape in search of a $1.2 million treasure. While on their quest, they encounter three quasi-mermaids doing their wash while singing with a delightful country and western vibe.
In Between Land and Sea, I introduce a different kind of mermaid, one not so young and not so beautiful. But one that will appeal to a broad demographic of women, offering hope and inspiration to anyone who has been dumped, deceived or demoted.
My advice to the men with Duchenne smiles…
Why not pick up a copy of Between Land and Sea for the woman in your life and sneak a peek?
After giving up her tail for an international banker, Isabella of the Mediterranean kingdom is aged beyond recognition. The horrified banker abandons her on the fog-drenched shores of southwest England, leaving her to face a difficult human journey as a plain and practically destitute fifty-three-year-old woman.
With the help of a magic tablet and online mermaid support, Isabella evolves into the persona of Barbara Davies. Along the way, she encounters a cast of unforgettable characters, among them former mermaids, supportive and not-so-supportive women, deserving and undeserving men, and several New Agers.
My debut novel, Between Land and Sea, a paranormal romance about a middle-aged mermaid, has just been released by Soul Mate Publishing.
I live and write in Guelph, Ontario.
Where to find Joanne…
At the center of New York’s intellectual life in the in the 1920’s and early 30’s, Dorothy Parker was regaled as the wittiest woman in America. She was not yet twenty-seven. An indisputable Dame of Dialogue, every bright saying of the day was attributed to her. Cracking wise on any and all subjects, as a theater critic her reviews could be biting. Underwhelmed with Katharine Hepburn’s run in a play, she quipped that Hepburn’s performance “ran the gamut of emotions, from A to B.” Always clever and often bawdy, when asked to use horticulture in a sentence she offered, “You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think.” She knew everyone who was anyone in New York, and everyone wanted to know her.
Her bright, sharp, and funny writing belied her early life. Her mother died when Parker was an infant and she was terrified of her father, exacting, aloof and demanding. He took a second wife whose idea of mothering consisted of having Dorothy walk around for hours with a book on her head to maintain good posture. Could that have been why she ended up so bookish? Petite, soft of voice, and with excellent manners drummed into her by her hated stepmother, whom she called “the housekeeper,” she was “fired” from Catholic school after she referred to the Immaculate Conception as “spontaneous combustion.”
She was the only female at the fabled Algonquin Round Table—a table at the hotel reserved for the literary gurus of New York—Robert Benchley and Harold Ross among the regulars, drawn together by their genuine admiration for each other and a passion for the English language. Taste makers all, their clever repartee around the table was followed by late night reveling at one or another’s apartments—not Parker’s, she hardly ever had anyone over, her place spare but unkempt (she had dogs but never trained them).
At first glance shy and retiring, she gave off an innocent and almost helpless aura, but Parker was anything but. She smoked, worked for a living and went to the theater unchaperoned, A New Woman of the 1920’s, she dominated every room she walked into. Enjoying her fame on the one hand, she disparaged and mocked it on the other. The seeming epitome of the carefree good-time twenties, her wit masked an underlying sadness about love and life in general. She attempted suicide twice. “Coda” typifies some of her melancholy, masked by wit.
There’s little in taking or giving,
There’s little in water or wine;
This living, this living, this living,
Was never a project of mine.
Oh, hard is the struggle, and sparse is
The gain of the one at the top.
For art is form of catharsis,
And love is a permanent flop,
And work is the province of cattle,
And rest’s for a clam in a shell,
So I’m thinking of throwing the battle—
Would you kindly direct me to hell?
Popular among men, having no female confidants—one friend said she had the mind of a man imprisoned in a woman’s body—she was perceived as different from other women. Her attitude toward children was one that most twentieth-century women could not imagine; she claimed she didn’t want a child. And yet, true to the contradictions in her life, she yearned for children, masking that yearning in sharp-tongued jibes against those who had them, and the little ones themselves, so people would not think of her as sentimental.
As an author—two volumes of short stories and three of poetry—Parker’s output was small but her influence on the literary world was enormous. In 1929 she won the prestigious
O. Henry prize for her short story “Big Blonde”, establishing her as a serious prose artist and spearheading a new kind of writing. Her language, spare and direct, her characters think and speak in the way real people of their time and class.
A party girl of the 1920’s, “Big Blonde’s” Hazel Morse presents a sad and biting view of a woman’s life in an era often considered both fun and liberating for women. But Morse doesn’t appear to be liberated or having fun. Rendered as both tragic and pathetic, she builds her life around her looks and being a “good sport,” to endear herself to men. Did Parker see herself as tragic and pathetic? Though their intellects and life-styles were worlds apart, there are strong parallels between them. Their public happy-go-lucky personae masked their private sadness, their brief, disillusioning marriages, a string of unsatisfying love affairs and their attempted suicides. We can only imagine what finally happened to Hazel Morse, but Dorothy Parker died when she was seventy-three, alone, in a hotel, of a heart attack.
Rather than imagining, I drew on my own life when I wrote the short story “Keria”* soon after my mother died, bringing back my family history and my father’s working life in the needle trades. And it occurs to me now, that though my life and Parker’s are also worlds apart, we too have something in common. Both our fathers worked in the garment industry, hers as a manufacturer, mine, as a pattern maker/dress designer. Like me, Parker drew from personal recollection when she wrote that Hazel worked in a “dress establishment,” as I did in “Keria,” having my father knowing “more about a dress than a dress knew,” coming alive after mourning for my mother by talking, dresses, on the phone with a colleague. Making me think further, that one way or another, we Dames all have something in common.
*Keria is a Hebrew word referring to the ancient rite of tearing one’s clothing in an expression of grief and anger at the loss of a loved one.
Alterations is a short story collection about little girls and adolescents, a teenager, a father, a son, grown women, characters from different types of families and mindsets, their loving and sometimes mysterious bonds, who are altered by their circumstances as they make their way through life.
Alterations is available in eBook and trade paperback from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Alterations-Rita-Pl.ush/dp/1938758153/ref=tmm_pap_title_0
From Barnes & Noble in eBook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/alterations-rita-plush/1115410411?ean=2940016704166
Visit www.ritaplush.com for more information about Rita.
For all the Dames out there who, besides reading Lily Steps Out, would like to listen to the novel, leave a comment, I’ll pick a winner and send you instructions for a free audio.
To begin a work that involves this, I think a writer needs to have a solid grasp on her sense of relationship. Without others in my life to challenge, push and inspire me simply by being their natural selves, I’d have nothing to offer as a writer. Maybe I should scratch that term. Writer. Perhaps it’s best someone who writes should act more as a storyteller when writing about people they know.
Across all genres it’s crucial to recognize that writing a character well is predicated upon knowing character through comparison. It’s a no-brainer in nonfiction, I argue. In poetry it’s the same scenario, that seeing a study as target for creation is based on how one understands someone else versus how she understands herself. This applies in fiction, too. Even in paranormal horror, dystopian literature, YA, children’s books, acknowledging differences and similarities connecting creator and created is how the relationship between reader and story takes hold. It has to come from the author first. Call it purity, if you will.
To make this clearer I have to use myself as example. I write fiction, memoir/personal essay and poetry. My debut novel is first-person. My second novel (currently with publishers) is third-person. My poetry collection is conversational and embraces the elements of a certain style of living. My second poetry collection speaks more to the exploration of human experience beyond what goes on in just my head. And the nonfiction book I’m writing now is just me, “speaking” casually as I’m doing now. Throughout them all, I’m involving someone if not a group of someones I know. They’re almost always aware of it.
Are you ever challenged by a person to write about them? It’s happened to me excessively. Sometimes people request an homage, while other times people say, “I better watch myself around you. You’ll write about me.” The academic response? Duh. For me most often it’s followed by the thought, “So stop being an ass.” Or don’t stop. If you’re a brilliant addition to what I’m writing, be yourself and I’ll be truthful. And I’ll be kind about how I apply that truth. That’s most important. Kindness in application. Truth is what it is on its own.
There’ve been instances where I’ve changed names in all my work. Not because what I was writing was offensive or set to embarrass someone, but rather, it was because we just didn’t get along well enough for me to ask if I could leave their names as is. As writers, most of us are broke and can’t sue, but you never know who’s got a trust fund and wants to own your happiness if not that and your royalties. And I write about everyone around me because I’m in a constant state of fascination, watching others do things my life direction and schedule don’t allow. But consideration is necessary.
I’ll use my mother and my husband to explain further. I’ve been writing at a somewhat professional level for ten years. Across this time my mother has asked what is now the age-old question, “When are you ever gonna write something about your ol’ Mom?” The thing is, I have and I do. She knows this. Yet she wants her image presented through her lens but my fingertips, so she’s in perpetual disagreement with me when she reads my poems and fiction. I think she’ll love the nonfiction book, because I write of her as a challenging person to have been raised by but also I respect and love her for her sacrifices and the unfazed, unknowable love a mother has for her child. So there’s a deep affection and fondness behind what I write when I write her. Because it’s mutual, that love and how unpredictably it expresses itself. As for my husband, he reads everything I write, usually by force. He dislikes half, but I don’t write for him. He knows this. Sometimes he’ll tell me, after reading a story or a poem, that he didn’t really say something a certain way, or I presented an incorrect tone when telling of one of our interactions. Other times he wakes me up to say, “It was beautiful, baby. I loved it.”
Point is it’s all a gamble. But to know where you stand with your work and those it represents, you have to be honest. Nothing matters more beyond this.
Damon Ferrell Marbut is a novelist and poet living in New Orleans, Louisiana. He is author of the acclaimed coming-of-age novel, Awake in the Mad World and the collection of poems, Little Human Accidents released through Bareback Press in Canada. Connect with him at www.damonferrellmarbut.com and http://www.facebook.com/DamonFMarbut