Fjords and Wonders

Helga’s Post #11 — That’s the name of our upcoming cruise to South America, our first trip to that rugged, beautiful continent. It’s both a mutual Christmas present and a special treat  to mark our anniversary. Most of all, it’s our reward for dealing with life’s challenges.

It’s a bit of a departure from our  travel style of years past. We still have heaps of camping gear to prove it. It  gets dusted off now and then when adventurous (and younger) house guests arrive and load the stuff on the way to the great outdoors. For me, camping only has nostalgic value now (and I do have lots of great memories of those romantic jaunts). I feel my body has earned the right to a comfortable mattress and a flush toilet. I’ve done my share of gazing at the horizon through the mosquito net of a two-men tent. Now I look forward to seeing the coast slide by from my veranda on board the elegant Marina, preferably with a glass of bubbles in my hand.

So there’s much anticipation at our house. What it means for my writing though is as yet unclear. Consider this: How much sense does it make to stare at a computer screen when you could be looking out over vistas of majestic fjords on the Chilean and Argentine coasts, or to marvel at colonies of adorable penguins in Patagonia?

Not all is lost however: I will make every effort to devote some guilt-free writing time. Perhaps late at night when there’s nothing to see outside, after the last bar on board has closed and entertainment has retired, and when my husband is happily dreaming about the delicious Escargot Bourguignon starter at dinner and the top-shelf single-malt Scotch to end the evening.

But I am getting ahead of myself. We’re not there yet. Embarkation is still 10 days off. For now, I’m eagerly reading up on all the ports where we’ll anchor or dock. I love doing detailed research of a trip before I go. Also – and this is a favorite pastime – I’m checking out culinary offerings. All menus of the six restaurants on board as well as the grand dining room are already printed out and neatly filed in my document folder. (‘And that takes priority over writing?’ you may rightfully ask).

All to say, I have been distracted. But I’m determined to do the right thing: to honour our challenge and do more writing.*  (Note restrictions below) Who knows, I may surprise you with my page count next week if I’ll be able to post to the blog en route. Maybe it will be a pleasant surprise. Maybe not.

Update:

Pages written to date: 47

Pages written since last post: -6 (yes, as in minus)

Reason for minus page count:

  • Splitting my protagonist into two.
  • Splitting the novel’s setting between New York and Vancouver (from Vancouver only)

Pies or other desserts eaten: 0 (I must fit into that sundress I bought 4 years ago)

Glasses of wine consumed: 0 Monday to Friday, for reason of above sundress; 3 each Saturday and Sunday to celebrate the weekend

Days at the gym: 000

How to make up for lost exercise: Tango in Buenos Aires

Courtesy: http://www.easybuenosairescity.com/tango1.htm

* Once I have ticked off all items on that mile-long to-do list before we leave for Rio in five days.

What dreams may come

Joe’s Post #11 — Writers have the unique privilege of saying they’re working no matter what they’re doing.

Reading a book… working! Browsing the internet… working! Sitting at a café staring out into the world… working!!! (and yes, that is a picture of me drinking coffee if any women are reading this.)

But there is another place where we do our work. Under the covers. At night. With the lights off.

Dreamland.

Sure. Dreaming is a vital part of being a writer (well, so is sleeping or drinking wine, but stay with me…) I believe all of us dream, though not all of us remember our dreams. Remembering them or not, they help us writers unlock things from our murky subconscious. Character details. Exotic locations. Plot flaws.

So, like a lot of writers, I therefore keep a notebook beside my bed for those moments when I wake up with something awesome.

Sure I end up writing things like “socks and sandals.” (I know I was having a nightmare about wearing socks and sandals, but I have no idea why I woke up and thought that was important). Or “Vegas riding a horse.” Or “The Taj Mahal is blue.”

But there was also, “Need to show ranger in action, not just talk about it.” “Mention hatred of heat earlier.” “Dammit, I forgot about the backpack again.” “Mother should be beautiful.”

Nonsense to anyone reading it, but meaningful to me, helping me realize either mistakes I’ve made or ways to make my story better.

But, in some very special cases, I also get a story idea from my dreams.

Lou Rains meets 50 Shades of Grey. I won’t go into details since this is not a porn site, but it gave me a pretty cool idea for another book.

So, sure going for a walk is working, sure watching a good movie is working, sure, driving is working, but if you really want to accomplish something as a writer…

Sleep.

Pages Written to Date: 220

Books on Writing read: 1 (James Scott Bell – Plotting)

Number of awesome friends visited this week: 12

Number of friends who gave me pie: 0

Enjoy the moment

Karalee’s Post #11

Can you imagine trying to read a book at the same time as watching a television show and Tweeting and Facebooking? Would you enjoy the book at all? Or worse, would you complain that it was hard to get into the book? It would certainly be a different read than if you were curled up in a quiet place sipping a coffee and only reading.

I thought of all the above when I was sitting in The Cellar Jazz Club last Saturday listening to the Mike Allen Quartet with friends of ours. We had dinner beforehand in the Club followed by two outstanding jazz sets. Adam Thomas the bass player had an out-of-this-world falsetto voice and every band member was completely caught up in the moment and enjoying the moment.

But the two people in front of me texted and Tweeted throughout the entire first set (then left before the second set, thank goodness). I found that the light from their phones was distracting in the dark room and it was so irritating that it took me out of the moment. I felt like asking them to turn their devices off, but my polite voice wouldn’t let me.

With heads down, these two multi-media crazed people kept typing away. Did they even see the band or “hear” their music? They couldn’t possibly have taken in the whole music experience to the same extent as those of us that were listening intently and enjoying the moment. And if everyone in the audience were on their social media devices I’m sure the band members would have noticed. Surely it would have taken away from their musical experience too.

And that made me think of trying to read a book while being constantly distracted by social media. Is it fair to the author that has spent hundreds of hours creating the story for the reader’s sole entertainment? Can you even think of a book that can withstand the stress of constant interruptitis? (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. My medical background was calling me to make up this word.)

Now I feel much better about not allowing myself to be distracted (as much) by email, Facebook, twitter and our 5Writer’s blog as I did at the beginning of this challenge. At the moment I have enough of my own life challenges on the home front that are taking me away from my writing, but it is personal work that has to be done. I’d much rather be driving down south or watching the fog in San Francisco.

That said, I know I haven’t acknowledged my progress-to-date. I’m progressing slower than the goal I’ve set for myself, but my story is getting written and I am close to the end of Act One. I’m using a great writing software called Scrivener and it gives the word count for every file, and as I have each scene in a separate file it means I do the totaling for the whole until I learn how to do it differently.  I’m still new to the software.

Scenes written: 13 (I guarantee they are shorter than Paula’s)

Words written: approximately 12,000

Pages: 50

Goal: finish Act One by the end of November. No pie unless my goal is met. Rewards help. Yikes, that means only 3 days to go.

Happy writing fellow 5Writers.

And may all our future readers take time to enjoy uninterrupted moments engrossed in our stories.

Oh my fog!

Paula’s Post #11 — So if you haven’t figured it out by now, we 5writers have a handy-dandy little protocol for determining what day of the week to post to our blog.

We take turns.

Originally, we discussed having a more informal process, (rotating the days of the week for example), but let’s face it, we all have enough pressure right now. We don’t need the extra stress of trying to figure out whether it is our ‘blog day’ or not.

Invariably, my blog day is Tuesday.

Invariably, my blog day falls the day after Silk’s post.

Invariably, we seem to have something similar to write about!

Why is that?

Anyway, back to the post protocol and the familiar deja-vu-all-over-again feeling when I invariably follow Silk, we are once again rolling out ‘variations on a theme’.  To wit, the joys of travel on the busiest days of year; the challenges of writing on the road; the fear of things lost, physical or ephemeral.

I, too, sallied forth this past American Thanksgiving Weekend, leaving last Wednesday afternoon for a short hop, skip and a jump flight up from Palm Springs to San Francisco, accompanied by my lovely husband to attend the Canadian Bar Association Conference

Who planned this shindig, anyway?

All proceeded smoothly. We boarded the plane and discovered we had seats in the same row, across the aisle from one another. I knew this would work out well, because:

I WAS GOING TO WRITE!

I felt smug as we readied for take off. After all, some of my most prolific writing sessions were inspired by airports or had taken place on airplanes!

A tingle of excitement ran through me as I pictured pulling out my laptop the moment the ‘fasten your seat belts’ sign was extinguished. I’d somehow ended up with an entire row to myself.

But not for long.

A flight attendant tapped my elbow and said, “I’m just going to move someone up.”

Inward groan.

I pictured some harried mother with colicky twins, but no! A very handsome man appeared with an oversized dog carrier. His puppy, it seemed, did not fit under the seat and rather than kicking him off the plane (trust me, you wouldn’t have dreamed of doing anything of the kind either) the flight attendant found space for him in my row. And then we started chatting. And chatting. And chatting…

Before I knew it the flight was over!

My husband had just collected our bags when he turned to me with an odd look on his face and announced. “I think I just left my iPad on the plane.”

The plane that was continuing on to Seattle!

Keep calm and carry on. We knew backtracking would be futile. Instead, we lined up for a cab and headed for our conference hotel, The Grand Hyatt Union Square, which, if not dazzling, at least is newly renovated in a city-chic kind of way with an excellent location on Union Square, the heart of San Francisco’s shopping mecca.

As soon as we hit the room I pulled out my laptop and plugged it in so the battery would be running at full capacity. Tomorrow morning, Thanksgiving Day,

I WAS GOING TO WRITE!

But when we woke up my laptop, inexplicably, needed charging. I figured I must have plugged it into an outlet that didn’t work once the lights were turned out.

So off we trekked for a Cable Car ride to Fisherman’s Wharf. But with glorious weather and holiday crowds out in droves, everything took longer than planned. Before I knew it, we’d arrived back at the hotel with just a few minutes to spare before we were due at the restaurant where I’d made our Thanksgiving Dinner reservations.

We strolled though the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel and met ‘Gentleman Norman”, the cutest little dog you’ve ever seen (next to mine of course) who has about ten times as many Facebook followers as the 5writers and is also a ‘published author’.

By the time we returned to our hotel, I wanted to write. I needed to write. But remember, my poor husband had left his iPad on the plane. He had no way of watching Netflix. Unless, of course, I lent him my laptop.

I relented.

I knew he would fall asleep in minutes anyway, tryptophan always does the trick.

But, but but…. he didn’t fall asleep. He’s hooked on The Borgias you see and was almost at the end of an episode when he turned to me and said those fateful words:

“Hey, your battery is almost dead.”

Impossible!

I’d plugged it in myself. I checked and the power cord was connected to an outlet at one end, my laptop at the other. But the little charging light wasn’t twinkling. So I tried another outlet, and another and another as the battery indicator dipped from 7% to 5% to 3%…

And then I shut it off, fearing my laptop was truly #&%%+@#? (And no, ‘truly’ in this case, is most definitely not an overused adverb).

I hoped it was only the battery, but I didn’t know for sure. What I did know was that I’d violated the Cardinal Sin of writing, I’d failed to back up my work since we’d left Canada, a few weeks earlier.

Gulp. 

The flagship San Francisco Apple store was located just a few blocks away. A store that would open at 6:00 am on Black Friday and be mobbed with shoppers all day.

Swell!

You can tell your husband really really loves you when he agrees to get up at 5am and accompany you (aka be your bodyguard) for an early morning  trek through the darkened streets of San Francisco. If you doubt, just read Silk’s post from yesterday, wherein she describes her husband pounding out an extra round trip from the Canadian border back dow to Eugene, then back up again, all to retrieve Silk’s forgotten laptop.

But perhaps my husband had an ulterior motive?

We emerged from the apple store an hour later, happy smiles on our faces. A new power cord for me, a shiny new iPad for my husband.

NOW, I WAS GOING TO WRITE!

Except it was time for the conference to start. And then it was time to go to dinner with old friends that now live in the Bahamas. And then it was time for the conference to start again. And then it was time for dinner with my husband’s partner and his wife. And then it was time for the conference to start again. And then it was the last afternoon and my husband was leaving for Canada the next day and I was not.

SO I WAS NOT GOING TO WRITE!

I was going to take the ferry to Sausalito and watch the fog roll in under the Golden Gate Bridge and cloak the city in a snowy white ermine robe. I was going to eat a great deal of pasta and gelato for dinner and get up early and head out to the airport with my husband whose flight was at 10:10 even though my flight wasn’t until 3:30.

BECAUSE NOW I HAD TO WRITE!

And I did.

The airport was fogged in and my flight was delayed. Then we had what was described as ‘mechanical difficulties’, an ominous sounding phrase, but in this case turned out to mean only that one of the lavatories wasn’t working. Whatever, tack on another hour-long delay.

So I wrote some more.

Finally we took off. And though the plane was full, I had a whole row to myself. So I wrote.

I arrived back in Palm Springs 4 hours later than scheduled, but after a pretty much wasted 5 days, I redeemed myself today. All I can say is:

Thank God for the Fog!

Pies Eaten This Week:

Hmm…. that’s hard to answer. What do you mean by ‘pies’? Technically, I believe the correct answer is ‘none’, unless you count one small pumpkin tart from the dessert buffet at the Fairmont. (Don’t even ask about the other 5 days of restaurant meals consumed).

Words Written to Date: 19,888

Target Word Count: 100,000

Words short of Target: 80,112

Pages Written to Date: 72

Target Page Count: 400

Pages Short of Target: 328

Biggest Worry To Date:

Yikes – I’m only on “Scene 7” of my laboriously plotted outline. Scene 7 out of 78 ‘imagined’ scenes.  So, even though math was never my strong suit, at my current ‘conversion rate’ of scenes into words , my current projected page count calculation looks something like this:

19,888 words divided by 7 scenes = 2,841.14 words for each converted ‘scene’.

2,841.14 x 78 scenes = 221,608.92 words.

An ‘epic’ YA novel? I don’t think so.

There’s no way I’m going to be able to pump out 200,000 or so words by February 5th and we all know I can forget finding an agent to represent me or a publisher to publish.

Hey… wait a minute. I’ve got an idea. Maybe it’s not one novel…. maybe it’s three or even four.

What was that series called? Twilight? Or maybe I’m thinking of The Hunger Games.

Shaking the hook

Silk’s Post #11 — My subconscious tried to rescue me from writing purgatory this weekend. It happened in a rest stop just south of the Canada-US border on Interstate 5, about an hour before the dreary November day gave up and went dark.

But let’s back up a bit. We had exactly one week between the time we got our renewed passports and the time we needed to be back home today (Sunday) to fit in an overdue family visit in Lodi, California. US Thanksgiving seemed like the perfect occasion to visit with David’s 91-year-old mother and a number of other assorted relatives.

Through a process of reasoning that now escapes me, we decided to drive. Two days of driving south, three days of ping-ponging around multiple households and jerry-rigging a paper-plate turkey dinner in Mom’s tiny senior’s apartment, and two days of driving back north.

The first thing I packed was my computer, along with assorted files and the ever-present books on writing. I’d make the best of it. Maybe I could write in the shotgun seat while David drove. Maybe I could write in the evenings. Or early in the mornings.

Don’t worry, I won’t go into details about this trip. I bet you’ve done one very like it yourself.  Every moment was filled with conversation, transportation, or mastication (a disturbing percentage of the latter at fast food restaurants). I didn’t write in the car. I didn’t write in the evenings. I didn’t write in the mornings.

But inside, I was thrashing with anxiety. My writing pals have pages flying out of their printers like … well, like flying pages. (You can see what I’ve been reduced to, writing a sentence like that). Lord love a duck, Joe has 200 of them (pages, that is)! My book loomed over my head like a Seattle raincloud. Each night it followed me into my dreams the moment I dropped my head on another strange pillow. As important as the trip was, I was chafing to get home where I could settle down alone and churn out some heavy wordage.

Sunday (today) was to be my Brand New Day. The start of a dedicated writing schedule with renewed enthusiasm. No more travel until the new year. A daunting list of ‘must do’ obligations mostly checked off. I was full of eager anticipation (or possibly panic).

Now let’s return to that roadside rest – the last one before the Peace Arch crossing, where Canadian shoppers have a time-honoured tradition of stopping to discard packaging that identifies the new stuff in their trunks as ‘imports’. We didn’t buy anything, but we had to stop to dig out our passports, which were in my computer bag.

The computer bag that was … omigod … NOT in the car.

Gulp.

A frantic call to the motor inn where we had stayed Friday night. Had anyone turned in a black bag, maybe in the breakfast lounge? Yes. Is there a laptop in it? Yes. How about a couple of passports? Yes.

I started to breathe again.

We didn’t even discuss what to do next. (In fact, there was a distinctly chilly silence in the car that lasted several hours). There was zero choice involved. At three o’clock yesterday afternoon we turned south and headed back to the place we’d left at eight o’clock the same morning: Eugene, Oregon. And my Sunday? It would now be reduced to a re-run of Saturday in a butt-numbing version of the “Groundhog Day” time warp.

One whole day scratched off the calendar, 14 hours of driving, and a lot of gas guzzled – all because I was subconsciously trying to shake the writing hook.

Oh, I could blame my not-quite-as-sharp-as-before memory. Write it off to a seniors’ moment. But that would be too logical, too easy. Incidents that defy explanation, that just leave you shaking your head, that make you cringe just to think about them … these incidents BEG for interpretation. If no deep and enduring meaning can be found, perhaps at least an interesting neurosis or a hidden fear might be unearthed.

There’s an old adage that when you inadvertently leave a personal item behind somewhere, it’s because you secretly want to go back to that place. I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s one of those things that sounds ‘truthy’, and besides it’s a handy way to excuse yourself and compliment your host at the same time when you leave your hat at a friend’s house after a wine-drenched dinner party.

On the other hand, it could be that you secretly don’t really want that hat.

So, did I subconsciously leave my book behind in Eugene? Leave behind the growing angst of the galloping calendar and the blank white pages? Try to shake the hook that writing has sunk into me?

I didn’t fully appreciate, when I bit at that shiny lure, how sharply the hook would bite me back. Writing reels me in, plays with me, then lets me run free as though I’m not on the line. But the tug always comes again, hauling me back, painfully sometimes. Maybe I secretly long for the time when I could just stare blissfully at a sunset without thinking how I’d recreate the experience in words (without backstory, adverbs or too much tell tell tell).

But it’s too late for all that. I’m caught now. If my subconscious thinks it can shake the writing hook by sneakily leaving the dreaded computer 350 miles down the road, it has another think coming. So, this week’s stats:

Miles driven in the service of writing: 700

Words written this week: I’d rather not talk about it

Pies eaten: one slice of Thanksgiving pecan pie with ice cream

Chocolate anyone? Come and earn it!

Helga’s Post #10 — This blogging thingie is getting tougher each week. Scratching my head to find a topic that won’t put my readers to sleep. It must be that the hourglass is filling up on the bottom, indicating time spent on our writing challenge. Focus on your novel, my inner voice screams, not the blog!

In fact, we are almost exactly at mid-point!

Some venerable members (or is it member?) of our group have now arrived at the middle of their novel (200 pages!), galloping ahead, leaving the rest of us in the dust (speaking strictly for myself.).

Speedwriting is what I need to stay in the saddle. Or not? To confess, I am somewhat of a slow writer. Probable cause: I want my writing to be as good as I can make it from the get-go (a BIG mistake if you write to a deadline!) Spelling errors, grammar screw-ups, wrongly placed commas, misplaced apostrophes, poorly placed paragraphs – these are things that give me heartburn. In my own writing especially. Even in my first draft.

Where did I pick up this useless obsession? It goes back a long way.

My German teacher from Grade 4 onwards insisted on perfection in our written work. I remember her well. Her name was ‘Fräulein Klein’, a petite blonde in her early thirties. She was clever about it too. No punishment if we screwed up. Instead, if we handed in a flawlessly written essay, she would give us a piece of chocolate. Doesn’t sound like a big deal? Picture this: Europe was still reeling from the aftermath of WWII. Chocolate in the fifties in Vienna? An unimaginable treat. I wondered about Fräulein Klein’s supply chain, but even at our tender age we had a pretty good idea. We suspected she had connections to the Allied Forces who still occupied Vienna until 1955. We were sure she didn’t get her inexhaustible supply from the Russians; they had little to give away. The French and the Brits were too stingy, so surely it must have been the Americans. They liked to give out treats to the local population, especially to kids. My first chewing gum was a gift from a Yankee soldier. Happy Thanksgiving, America!

English is my second language, but somehow this attention to detail has carried over. Not that my grammar is perfect, far from it. I still make mistakes, particularly in the use of certain words over others, because your brain is programmed to think in your mother tongue first. Still trying to override that.

Unfortunately, nobody gives me chocolate any more for correct spelling.

Update:

Pages written to date:  43

Research books read: 4

Number of nights slept without thinking about plot:  0

Pieces of chocolates received: 0

It’s not that chocolates are a substitute for love. Love is a substitute for chocolate. Chocolate is, let’s face it, far more reliable than a man.’ (Miranda Ingram)

Ah, the middle, it’s the hardest part to write

Joe’s Blog Post #10 — I had the oddest thing happen to me this week. I was about half way through a book –  page 252 – and I flipped to the next page. It was 186. The next one was 187. The next one was 188. It went right up to 216, then leaped to 282. Basically, somehow, some ninny, somewhere copied 30 pages from the earlier part of the book and them into the middle of the book.

How can this have possibly happened?

So I went to the store where I bought it from. I went up to the counter. “I need to return this book,” I told the clerk. “It is defective.”

“Do you have a receipt?”

“At one point, probably, but I don’t have one now. But take a look at it. Page 252.”

“Right.”

“Now look at page 253.”

“Ah.” She closed the book. “Could be a collector book one day.”

“Could be I want to find out if my Space Marines killed the all the demons or found a basket full of kittens. Can I please exchange this?”

To my surprise, I could. Actually, I was very surprised. As she rang through the transaction, I had to ask. “Does this kind of error happen often?”

“More than you’d think,” she said. “Editing isn’t what it used to be.”

And I left, happy at the store, but wondering what happened to standards. In e-publishing, I get it, sometimes there aren’t editors, but mainstream, wow, they need to do better.

Then I thought, but hey, hold on a second. Everyone has trouble with the middles so maybe this is the ideal solution! Maybe instead of adding plot layers or depth or character developement or, ack, emotion, to your book, just copy a few pages from the earlier chapters and hope your readers are too tired, too drunk, too stoned, too world-weary to even notice (or care.)

So, if my book ever gets published, check out the middle. It may have something interesting in it.

Update:

Pages Written to Date: Broke 200.

Funny Illustrations Drawn of Beasties in My Book: 1 (reminded me I suck at drawing.)

Number of Dwarven Songs from the Hobbit Learned: 1

Number of People Who Want to Hear Me Sing it: 0

Life without B

Karalee’s Post #10

elieve me, the est of intentions can ecome ogged down by keyoard prolems.

(Believe me, the best of intentions can become bogged down by keyboard problems.)

Now that you understand my problem I won’t continue the rest of this blog post with the missing ‘B’. But I can assure you that although there is no ‘B’ in productivity, the latter is severely hindered without functioning tools. And I became very conscious of how many words have a ‘B’ in them.  For instance:

  • But, before, begin, because, be, become, below, born, by, believe, became…
  •  syllable, symbol, constable, disability, horrible, vulnerable, liable, hobble, habit…

It started last week. I couldn’t log onto my computer as my password had a ‘B’ in it. I even called my computer geek husband in Edmonton where he was visiting his family to see if he had changed my password. I was frustrated and I hit the keys harder on my keyboard as I was talking to him and like Fonzie in Happy Days I was suddenly logged in.

Now able to work  again, I began writing another scene, but when I read what I’d written the sentences didn’t make sense. The problem was easy to decipher; every frigging ‘B’ was missing.

Life without ‘B’ sucks.

I did the usual try-to-fix-it stuff like popping off the letter and cleaning it out, blowing the heck out of the spot to dislodge dust or crumbs that had settled there. All to no avail. Computer geekiness runs in the family (male side) so  I talked to my son that works at UBC’s help desk( sorting out computer problems for the Arts faculty) and he reassured me that the keyboard needed replacing.

It would cost more than my ancient hard-working worn-out Compaq computer was worth.

I kept trying to work, albeit with constant “interruptitis”. I became very conscious about what the missing ‘B’ means to a writer and I wondered what something else missing might mean in other circumstances. For instance:

  • A pianist without a ‘B’ key
  • A carpenter without a measuring tape
  • Driving a car in the rain without windshield wipers
  • A gardener without a shovel
  • Joe without pie

To say the least, it would make life challenging and difficult to do a proper job.

I soon discovered that if I hit the ‘B’ key hard enough the letter would insert, but with regular typing it didn’t. So I started banging my left index finger down when I reached for the ‘B’, but then I’d have to stop to make sure the letter ‘B’ had inserted properly.

I hobbled along trying to get work done and juggled with the idea of going back to the horse-and-cart days and put pen-to-paper. But then I’d have to type it all into my computer later, so productivity would be hindered either way.

Thank goodness my husband had a head start on my birthday gift (I’m a December baby – note two ‘B’s). My computer had started to become slower over the last few months and I was still using Windows XP and MS Office 2003, so he had already purchased a new Dell for me.

And gave it to me early.

Thank you so much.

Life with a ‘B’ is much better.

And may the ‘B’ in birthday and on my new keyboard have a long life.

Now back to work….

But I liked the book so much better than the movie!

Paula’s Post #10

But I liked the book so much better than the movie!

Image

How often have we heard these words? How often have we turned to a friend, a spouse, a relative or colleague and admitted that we really liked the book ever so much more than the movie?

Maybe I should set the scene:

The credits roll, you shuffle your way up the aisle and search for the trash receptacle to jettison all that remains of something north of thirty bucks shelled out for two tickets, a couple of jumbo sized drinks and a tub of popcorn. The line up to the women’s restroom snakes out the door and you calculate the odds of arriving home in comfort without first making a visit to the inner sanctum.

You leave feeling flat, dissatisfied or even angry by Hollywood’s interpretation of your favourite book.

You’ve been left wanting.

Maybe the producers have changed the book in some way. Created some bizarre plot twist pulled from who knows where but certainly not from the pages of the novel we read. Certainly not from the pages of the novel we loved.

Seeing a character we’ve loved and rooted for transformed into something so far removed from the person you imagined is disturbing.

But why? Both are just ‘fiction’ after all. A bit of nonsense conjured out of nowhere by the storyteller.

Then why are we so disturbed?

In my humble opinion, the answer lies in the experience of reading. When we read a book, we crawl into the skin of a character and see the world through that character’s eyes. We live, if only for three or four hundred pages, a life so very different from our own.

In Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, first published in 1936, the characters came so vividly to life for Ms. Mitchell’s many readers, the topic of who should play Scarlett and Rhett overtook baseball as America’s favourite pastime.

In 1936, legendary producer David O. Selznick acquired the film rights for $50,000, (at the time, an unprecedented sum, particularly as he acquired the rights just months after the book’s initial publication, long before the commercial potential of the novel was fully appreciated).

But Selznick’s foresight paid off when in 1937, the book won the Pulitzer prize for fiction and became a best seller, with an initial 1.5 million copies sold. (Flash forward to the present and the sales figures skyrocket to an astounding 30 million copies).

By the time the film production was announced, readers of Ms. Mitchell’s novel were clamouring to have their favourite actors and actresses cast in the film. Selznick, of course, worried most about Scarlett and Rhett, Ms. Mitchell’s vivid, memorable lead characters.

Who would play Scarlett?

Who would play Rhett?

Selznick’s company, as an independent entity, generally ‘borrowed’ actors under contract to other major studios.

For his part, Selznick’s first choice for Rhett was the very popular Gary Cooper, while Warner Bros. offered up Errol Flynn, Olivia DeHavilland and Bette Davis as a package deal, mounting a strong campaign to have Bette Davis play Scarlett.

But the public had other ideas, and eventually Selznick agreed that Clark Gable, then Hollywood’s number one box office draw, was the only possible choice for Rhett. Selznick needed both Gable and MGM’s financial backing and in return for the loan of Gable, Louis B. Mayer demanded a piece of the film, securing half of the profits in exchange for covering half the production budget and lending out Gable to Selznick.

But what about Scarlett?

That was the question everyone was talking about. Selznick announced a nationwide search, seeking a young unknown to play the role of Scarlett (who, you might recall, was just 16 in the novel’s opening chapters). Months of scouring women’s colleges and amateur theatrical societies failed to locate Selznick’s vision for Scarlett. Reluctantly, he again turned to the dozen’s of established actresses fighting for the role of a lifetime, including then 36-year-old Tallulah Bankhead, (a bona fide Southerner from Huntsville Alabama), whom Selznick considered too old and who apparently did not photograph well in ‘Technicolor’. Katharine Hepburn made an appointment with Selznick and ‘demanded’ she be cast in the role, (Selznick apparently told her he could not picture Rhett Butler chasing her for 12 years, all over the south), even Lucille Ball fell under consideration.

But in the end, Selznick chose Vivien Leigh. Almost every film buff has heard the legendary story of how Ms. Leigh, the great Laurence Olivier’s young fiancee won over Selznick when he observed the young Englishwoman, a guest of his brother Myron, during the backlot ‘burning of Atlanta scenes’. But when Selznick eventually announced his choice, the public greeted her selection with dismay, convinced she was ‘too English’ to play Scarlett.

Eventually, Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett went on to earn the admiration of readers and filmgoers alike. Not so poor Leslie Howard, cast as long suffering Ashley Wilkes. Badgered into a role Howard had no desire to play, he felt that at 45, he was a too long in the tooth to play the romantic obsession of sixteen year old Scarlett. “I hate the damn part,” he famously complained, but Selznick was adamant on casting the middle aged Londoner as a 21 year old Georgian gentleman.

Why is this all so important? What does this have to do with writing.

Everything.

We writers sit alone in our rooms, writing. Characters are created, sometimes from our imagination, sometimes the fictionalized reincarnation of someone we know or have known. Sometimes our characters are semi-autobiographical, sometimes complete figments of our imagination. But to us, they often become, well, real. And in a very good book, real to the reader as well.

They live, they breathe, they speak. Anyone who has written fiction will know the strange sensation of having one’s character ‘hijack’ the dialogue. Our characters can and do blurt out the most outrageous things. Lines we were never conscious of thinking, but words that  instead seem to spring from the mouths of the characters we have created.

My point is that memorable characters live not only on the pages we write, but in the minds of our readers. Our readers see our characters, our readers feel their emotions and experience their struggles. And very often, they picture exactly what the character looks like in real life.

If we’ve done it right, we’ve made them care.

If you doubt how ‘memorable’ a character can be, picture Ronald Reagan as aloof, world weary anti-hero, Rick Blaine in Casablanca. Laughable, isn’t it? But legend has it he almost got the part.

So, my ‘post of the week’ is a plea for all of us to work hard on our characters, to make our characters matter, to make our readers care.

I’d love to see some comments from our followers with examples of films where they felt Hollywood got it right: maybe Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander in the 2009 Swedish version of The Gril with The Dragon Tattoo:

Image

And how about, just for fun, where they think Hollywood got it wrong. Okay, I admit the film isn’t even out yet, and the trailers are apparently pretty good, but did anyone really picture diminutive Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher, Lee Child’s iconic iconic, 6’5 anti-hero? Lee Child has more than 60 million copies of his novels in print, so we can predict a huge number of film-goers will weigh-in  on this one, starting with my 5writers colleague Joe, and our founder and still honorary member of our critique group, Sean Slater.

Let’s hear from you!

Oh, and a little show and tell about my progress to date:

Pie’s eaten this week: 0 – (just don’t ask about cheeseburgers or fish tacos).

Pages Written to Date: 41

Target Page Count: 400

Pages Short of Target: 359

Word Count: 11,358

Target Word Count: 100,000

Words short of Target: 88,642

That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

🙂

A sense of place

Silk’s Post #10 — Ooh, ooh, ooh, stop! Slow down, slow down. This is where I want to be. I want to enjoy this, explore everything. Oh please … I don’t want this to end …

Not dialogue from a sex scene in my novel. This was me talking to my husband Sunday morning – not in (ahem) our bedroom, but in our car as we drove south on Interstate 5 in the driving rain, on our way to California for a whirlwind family Thanksgiving rendezvous. What got me so exercised as I stared out the shotgun seat window, watching the exit signs slide by?

University of Washington

Pike Place Market, Seattle

We were driving right by my novel’s locations, the ones I’m burning to explore, understand, become intimate with. Seattle, Whidbey Island, the University of Washington campus, Puget Sound, Deception Pass and so many other tantalizing venues.

I ‘know’ these places. But I don’t KNOW these places the way I need to. I want their smells in my nose, their sounds in my ears. I want to know the shortcut from my protagonist’s apartment to her favourite restaurant, and what – exactly – she might see if she walks that route in the dead of night. I want to see the view from her window, sit in the transit shelter where she catches a bus, stand on the beach west of her family’s Whidbey Island home, and see the road where her brother had his accident.

For me, place is always one of the most important characters in any book. When I took the plunge and wrote my first novel (the one calling to me from the depths of my computer files, where it awaits a strenuous rewrite), I took the advice of many writing gurus and wrote what I know … at least in terms of location. And what I know is my adopted island home. A place locals often refer to, with fondness, as Planet Saltspring. I know my own island so well I can tell you which patch of bigleaf maple trees along the Stewart Road route from the south end to Ganges village has the best show of golden colour in the fall. And I can describe about 90 per cent of the fascinating items you’ll see at the colourful Saturday Market in Centennial Park.

I want to know the locations of my new story this well. But I wanted to stretch out beyond Saltspring. It was time for me to ‘leave home’ and write about a different setting. Seattle and Whidbey Island are not dramatically different from Vancouver and Saltspring Island, that’s true. But every place on Earth is unique, like a fingerprint. And to be a dynamic, memorable – perhaps even haunting – ‘setting character’ for a novel, that place must be authentic. A living thing.

And here we were, speeding down I-5, right past it all. No time to stop because of our breakneck schedule. I could have wept.

I am always mightily impressed by writers who can create an authentic sense of place when setting their novel in location where they’ve never lived. Maybe never even visited. What supreme confidence! To craft a memorable setting – a setting essential to the story and its characters – by drawing on research and imagination alone.

This is, to me, perhaps a more daring feat than the kind of creative world-building that makes fantasy or science fiction so appealing, as awesome as that may be in its own right. The simple reason: no one alive can really complain about how wrong you got it. With real places, every hint of inauthenticity stands out like London Bridge in the middle of a desert to a person who actually calls that place home.

World-building takes magic. Writing about real places before you really know them intimately – that takes crust.

So, as I watched my new novel’s landmarks disappear in the rearview mirror on Sunday, a sense of longing and promise gnawing at me, I made a vow. Like General Douglas MacArthur, shall return. Like the Terminator, I’ll be baahk. I will walk in my characters’ footsteps and look through their eyes at the inspiring, nuanced world in which their story plays out. I will learn what makes this ‘setting-character’ tick, experience its resonance. Bring it to life so that no one could ever mistake it for someplace else.

But not now.

Now, I just need to write and keep writing. Write, right or wrong. Take my best shot. Invent what I don’t really know. Screw stuff up, maybe. Describe things I’ve never seen and paint my settings with colours I know may be off a shade – or even laughably inaccurate.

And then, as Joe described in his fabulous Las Vegas Rewrite blog, I will revisit the scene of the crime and find out how close I came. Or didn’t. And fix accordingly.

Ah, the joys of rewrite. Another bridge to cross.

Deception Pass Bridge, Whidbey Island