On the road again, again

writing-on-the-road

Silk’s Post #142

October 14, 2015 … Sometimes I wonder whether we should be doing a writers’ blog or a travellers’ blog. 5travellers5journeys5months? We 5writers do seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on the road. Just take the last three or four months, for instance …

Paula hopped all over visiting family this summer … Cincinnati one day, Florida the next. On her last check-in she was back home in Gibsons, BC, writing as she gazed over the harbour from her beachy retreat. But that was a few days ago, after she got back from La Quinta, CA. Or was it San Diego? Anyway, now I think she’s in (surprise!) Surprise, AZ for a tennis tournament.

Joe is recently back from his proposal adventure in Whistler, BC, where he won the hand of the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world on top of a mountain (then helicoptered back down and took a nap, apparently – hey the air’s pretty thin up there). After his flurry of camping trips and other family travel adventures, I think he’s back home in Langley, BC, writing between kids’ hockey practices.

Karalee had her eagerly-awaited mother-of-the-bride trip to Mexico this summer, then immediately took off for a kayak adventure in Haida Gwaii. What a juxtaposition! It sounds like she’s home now from her business conference in someplace very sunny (Las Vegas?) and her family getaway to the California coast. Writing I hope!

Helga is now back in her elegant and ever-fascinating birth city, Vienna, Austria, spending time with her indomitable mother. I am positive she’s soaking up material for a book to come. But soon after she returns to Vancouver, BC, she’ll be off again to her new winter home in Palm Springs, CA.

As for me, half my summer was spent on the water, sailing the San Juan Islands, WA, then up the BC coast to Desolation Sound and back. And now I’m on the move again, on a camping road trip down the coast to California catching up with family and friends.

As Carole King sang: You’re so far away. Doesn’t anyone stay in one place anymore?

Well, the answer seems to be “no”.

What is this urge to be in constant motion all about? Are the 5writers going all jet-setty on you?

The reality is that much of this to-ing and fro-ing is about keeping in touch, and sharing activities, with family and friends. The reality is that personal mobility is the new normal. Families living for many generations in the same place used to be typical. Today, it’s much more likely that you have relatives and friends scattered across the country, or the world.

This is just one reason more people travel, more often, and to more places than ever before.

But, with some reluctance, I have to ask this question: When you’re constantly packing, or unpacking, or doing laundry while planning for the next departure, is there really time – and focus – left for writing?

Oh, we’re getting lots of stimulation all right. We’re collecting experiences and studying the great smorgasbord of real-life characters out here. We’re soaking up sights, sounds, smells, tastes, moods, settings that could be used to build memorable storyworlds.

But when will we “settle down” and write about it?

In airport lounges? Holed up in chic but unfamiliar cafes? Huddled near a sputtering campfire while coyotes yip in the distance? By night-light, propped up with random pillows in someone’s guest bedroom? Hunched over the navigation table of a rocking boat? Typing with fingerless gloves, sitting on a cold hockey arena bleacher before dawn? Under a beach umbrella between dips in the water?

It all sounds so romantic, so interesting, so fun, so possible. The Writing Life. We can do it anywhere, anytime.

Sure we can. But do we?

Well, here I am, on the road again. Again. My writer’s nook for today is the table of our 5th wheel trailer while I listen to the Pacific rollers out beyond the pine fringe, beyond the flat, stretches-for-miles strand at Grayland Beach State Park, WA.

And I am writing. Getting it done. Even though all this travel has made my post days late. In part, this is because of being constantly on the move or in the midst of social events. But the other challenge is that getting online while away from home is often like winning the lottery. You really take your chances. As I write this it’s Wednesday afternoon, but I have no idea when I’ll actually be able to post it.

My mission today was to call my inner naysayer a liar. When I sat down to write, that little whiner inside was kvetching:

“Writing on the road is too haaard. I want to go for a walk on the beach. I want to read a book. I don’t feel like working. You can’t send your post today anyway, so what’s the point? Why bother going on a trip to someplace beautiful and then use up all your playtime sitting inside writing? I’m missing all the fun. Writing on the road is too haaard!”

Oh, yeah? Well I did it anyway. Maybe not my most captivating post, but it’s certainly “in the now”. And from the heart.

And I didn’t miss the fun. I made my own.


October 16, 2015 … Friday morning under a fog bank. I’ve finally got a cell signal here at Nehalem Bay, OR where we’re camped just behind the dunes on the spectacular Oregon north coast, where every view around every curve is heartbreaking because you want to stop, right there, and just stare at it for hours. So that’s the good news, and here’s the bad news …

5/5/5 challenge scorecard for the week:

New pages written:  Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Word count:  Still 9,320

Rewrites:  None

Blog posts written:  1

Research done:  Nope

Best new thing:  Being on the road again, again.

Apple progress:  3 dozen oatmeal apple muffins in the freezer. Okay, two and a half dozen … 6 already gobbled down.

Making it up vs. making it real

research-key

Silk’s Post #139 — As the 5writers and friends dive into our second write-a-book-in-five-months challenge, we will all (at some point) come face to face with The Research Conflict.

I’m dramatizing, of course – isn’t that what writers do? But especially at the beginning of a fiction project, research certainly can feel like a conflict. It keeps insistently horning in, begging for attention just when we’re trying to lay down some narrative riffs, slowing our progress and often carrying our attention off in far-flung directions.

How to manage simultaneous research and writing is a topic we’ve talked about before in this blog (search this site for “research” and you’ll see how many posts pop up), but it all came rushing back to me last week when I tried to get off to a quick start and pile on some wordage. For me, early progress is the critical push I need to keep momentum going. As Karalee noted in her recent post, “Commit to finish”, most of us are much better starters than we are finishers.

The last thing a writer needs is to get bogged down at the starting line, dragging a heavy load of research references along.

Now, we’re all writing different stories in the 5/5/5 challenge, with some projects still to be confirmed, but it looks like at least four of us are writing real-world fiction in which settings, topics and context will require a high level of accuracy and authenticity. Two of us have added the extra challenge of writing historical fiction, and at least two of us have chosen settings in places we don’t live – and perhaps have never even seen.

All to say that most of us are embarking on a research journey as an integral part of our story development. We’re not necessarily starting on a blank page, however. A lot of homework has already been done in preparation, and there may even be some outline-ish story plans lying around. Most of us also have early chapters drafted (some of these written quite a while ago and pulled out of the drawer again on September 5th).

But regardless of conceptual story plans, or background reading, or research notes … you know what happens when we sit down to actually write a scene. A ton of fresh questions suddenly materialize, demanding answers before we can confidently craft that next paragraph.

For example, I have an opening scene in a prison visiting area. Yeah, I know. What was I thinking? I’ll probably lose eight out of 10 readers in the first three pages (and the two that read on will be weirdos), but it seemed like a good idea at the time. I’m happy to say I’ve never had the pleasure of sitting in a prison visiting area, but as a writer that’s now a problem. I’ve seen lots of them on TV and in movies, but since this is a specific prison, I need to describe a specific visiting area, not a generic one.

My choices: 1) go there (not now, thanks); 2) search for information online (did that for half a day, didn’t find a visual representation); 3) call and request a photo or description (maybe later); or 4) make it up.

I chose to make it up, and that was okay.

Until curiosity got the best of me and I made another foray online, dug deeper, and deeper, and actually came up with some footage of the visiting area in that particular prison. Woohoo! I couldn’t have been more excited if I’d discovered a forgotten winning lottery ticket in the back pocket of my jeans. And all it required was, oh let’s see, about 8 hours of research.

Wow, this book is going to take a loooooong time to write at that pace.

There are lots of strategies writers use to work around this research vs. writing time/distraction conflict. Some dedicate a significant preparation period to research and outlining, then barrel on through their first draft without interruption. This doesn’t work so well for “organic” writers (sometimes called NOPs or pantsers), however. Others flag unresearched items with a “check later” note, and just keep their writing pace up without breaking stride – not a bad idea.

Most of us probably do a bit of everything: some basic research in preparation for writing, some interruptive side-trips while writing the first draft to research critical points that affect context or plot points, some good old making it up as we go, and some clarifying research at second draft stage.

But while that’s all well and good, it may also be worth thinking ahead about the level of detail and accuracy really required to tell a particular story authentically, and engagingly.

That’s my challenge to the writers on our 5/5/5 journey: stop now and consider the most congenial balance between making it up vs. making it real.

It is fiction, after all. It just needs to feel true, to be authentic enough to suspend disbelief. Yes, inaccuracies will be picked up by readers who are more intimate with your topic, or setting, or context than you are. It would be nice to make everyone happy, but the majority of readers really won’t know whether there are 15 cubicles in the prison visiting area, or 20.

And there’s another, even more important, consideration: the story flow. All the details that make a book “authentic” are really there to set the stage for your play. Story is king. The factual details should add texture, context and sometimes meaning – but not distract.

Inaccurate details or lazy generic writing distract. Have you ever read a book that made you mentally chew out the author for “obvious” blunders or frustratingly vague or clichéd descriptions? Of course you have. Even famous authors can be guilty of this. Tsk tsk.

But equally distracting is an avalanche of carefully researched, totally accurate details that are entirely irrelevant or unnecessary for telling the story. It’s just show-offy. Look how much research I did! When I encounter this, I want to scream I don’t care, just get to the point for crying out loud.

If I may repurpose the sly quotes Stephen King chose to open his wonderful book, On WritingI think they perfectly frame The Research Conflict …

Honesty’s the best policy.   — Miguel de Cervantes

Liars prosper.   — Anonymous


Word count:  5,658

Rewrote:  Prologue

Blog posts written:  1

Research done:  2 days’ worth

Best new thing:  A weekend of harvesting the apples in our orchardapple-harvestjonagolds

Thought of the week:  Like so many other aspects of modern life, politics has now fully metamorphosed into a reality show. What’s next?

Getting back to work

Joe’s Post #143

Getting back from a writing retreat or a workshop, or even a conference, is a lot like coming back from a vacation with a bad case of the runs. It’s not like you don’t want to get on with life, but sh*t just keeps cropping up.

orange is the new blackBack at home, there’s all sorts of distractions, from Orange is the New Black to a regular life full of ball hockey practices, dishes and yelling at the dog for barking at the cat who’s hissing at the frogs, to bills and fights with Canada Revenue Services.

So while it’s easy to find time to write when you’re on a retreat, or at a workshop, it’s hard to keep that momentum going.

In the last week, I wrote 30 pages. Better than most weeks in 2015, that’s for sure, but far below what I should be doing. And that got me thinking.

How do you keep up the momentum?

Thoughts?

For me, it routine is still my best hope, but I can write for 2 hours a day in the morning and produce 2 hours of crap. So that may not be everything.

keyFinding inspiration is the key. I mean, that’s what those other events are for, right?

Can you find it from other writers? Sure. So you need to be part of a group. A fun group that loves to write.

Can you find it from books on writing? Maybe, but it’s just as easy to get bogged down in editorial mode and that could mean you’ll be writing and rewriting and rewriting the same 30 pages over and over.

Can you find it from novels? Ah, that’s the ticket. At least for me. Nothing inspires like a good book.

Can you find it alone? Hmmm. Maybe, but inspiring myself is kind of like trying to cut my own hair. It usually ends in tears and a trip to the doctor to reattach an ear.

So how do you stay motivated?

talents

Is writing a lonely occupation?

Karalee’s Post #116

I have been known to say that writing can be lonely. I’ve even changed my life this year  by joining a business in direct marketing to augment my retirement AND meet up with friends and talk to strangers. Lots of strangers. And many of those strangers have become friends.

My life has changed. I’m happier being more social. I’m more at peace and moving in a direction that I’m enjoying. Now, did I make this change in my life to get out of the house more because writing is lonely?

 

My answer is a resounding NO!

No that is, that writing is lonely. It isn’t. Not ever. When I think about it, I was wrong when I said that writing can be lonely. How can it be when my mind is filled with characters and places and relationships and mysteries and, and, and…. There’s so much happening when I write that there is NO ROOM for loneliness!

So where does this sense of loneliness come from?

I had to laugh when the truth hit me. I realized that the only time I feel lonely “writing” is when I’m not actually writing. It’s when I stop writing and sit there, just me and my computer, and I feel that I’m the only “real” person in the room or the house. It’s when the sun is shining outside and I think I’d rather be in the garden, or when I “should” be doing the millions of other chores in my life that suddenly become important.

It’s when my writing isn’t flowing that I can feel lonely. It’s when I have hours in my day to write and I continue to have difficulty staying focused that loneliness creeps in.

This was happening to me and I needed a change. I had to get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself. My family no longer required my full attention and I had energy to burn.

AND, I have come to realize that I am more social than I ever thought I was. I want more social interaction and if I can achieve this and do business at the same time, it’s a win-win for me. I used to own a large physiotherapy practice and I’m enjoying the challenge of being in business again.

I’m not throwing in the towel regarding writing. Not at all! With fewer hours to sit in my office chair, there’s more push to stay focused and be more productive. My “not writing” hours will be fewer and therefore not as lonely.

A change is good for my writing!

__________________________________________________

Achievements this week:

  • my garden is all planted and set to grow!
  • I’m the sole caretaker of the neighborhood traffic circle garden. I also got this area planted/weeded for the season.
  • reorganize my office/writing area. I’ve moved twice in the last three months to accommodate others in the house. Back to normal in September!
  • 1 hr/day writing. Need to get 30 pages done for July 5th!

 

Keeping balance in my life: 

  •  Sticking to the Slight Edge philosophy to achieve success in my new business and in my writing.
  • Daily meditation and exercise. I am healthy, have good energy and am staying more centered.
  • Staying in touch with fellow 5Writers every Monday (or Tuesday) keeps our group strong and supporting one another!
  • A positive attitude leads to more happiness, and more writing!

Perspective Photos:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy writing!

 

The dilemma of choosing POV

Karalee’s Post #105

I’m well on my way writing my next manuscript.

My main character is a displaced detective trying her hand in a new business venture. I’ve written many of my major scenes awhile back and over the last couple of months I’ve dedicated time to early preparation for my daughter’s wedding this summer. Alas, my story has sat mostly idle.

That means that I’m catching up with it again and glad to say that I’m loving the story! It amazes me when I leave my writing and come back to it and I get excited all over again. I feel like shouting, “Damn, I can write!” The feeling feeds my passion, and us writers need a boost once in awhile to keep going.

But now I find myself toying with character POV. I know you are probably saying, “Isn’t it a bit late? Why didn’t you decide before starting to put words to paper?”

Well, I thought I had. Rather, I started writing in third person because that’s what felt the most natural at the time. I didn’t really decide up front in my outlining. I guess I let my muse decide at the time.

While rereading my manuscript I’ve realized that, although I’ve written the story in third person, I have my main character in all the scenes and in her POV too. Not even my antagonist has a scene in his POV.

My story could easily be written in first person.

I didn’t consciously do this. I’ve written many stories and all in third person multiple POV’s. All that is, except one. The last novel I wrote I tried out first person. I enjoyed the close in-your-head perspective and maybe I continued in this manner without actually planning it.

Now I seem to be in-between the two! Should I make the switch to first person? The reader would be closer to the main character. But then I’m restricted to only her POV, although I could still write my antagonist in third person without a problem. That could be a good option.

I need to give my story more thought and decide if I want another POV character. Will I have a better story if I do? Should I give the antagonist his own scenes? One thing I can say for sure, writing is never an easy task!

My options are still open.

How do you decide what POV to choose when you write?

As it happens, Nathan Bransford has a post today about POV called 4 tips for handling multiple perspectives in a third person narrative. It’s worth checking out.

Next week I will address another perspective to be aware of in our writing.

************************************

Writing Progress: Good progress reviewing my very rough first draft. Considering my POV choice.

Writing Distractions:  

  1. One thing leads to another and I found myself with paint brush in hand and touching up the baseboards and door-frames in my old and now my new office and the hallway between! Not in my original plans for the week, but it looks great!
  2. Vancouver’s winter is so mild that the crocuses and daffodils are blooming. The garden called very loudly and I spent a day cleaning out old foliage to make way for new. Oh, I also went to a garden shop and got some primulas. Gardening is my other passion….
  3. Ongoing photo project. I’m digitizing old photos at home on a scanner and have sent video tapes off to be digitized through Costco.
  4. Got my tax stuff done. Awesome!

Treats eaten: homemade apple crumble after said tax stuff done!

Movies/TV watched: Happy Valley on Netflix, catching up on Downton Abbey.

Books reading: Gabor Maté’s In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, books on writing. I’ve downloaded a few from James Scott Bell.

Perspective Photos taken this week:

puddles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

venza mirror

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy writing!

Conflicted… again.

Paula’s Post #84

I”m conflicted.

If you read my post from last week, Open for Debate, you’ll note that this week, I had every good intention of continuing with the topic of ‘deconstruction’ as a tool to improve our writing. As I noted last week:

Just like the title on the Meccano box says: we’re going to start with ‘parts and how to use them’. Each of us will figuratively rip a bestselling novel apart, and then examine the bits and pieces of the type of book we want to write. We’ll study each of those bits and pieces, having regard to the end product we wish to write, until we have a solid understanding of what made those novels ‘tick’.

So, determined to make good on that promise, I walked down the road of good intentions this weekend, spending hours on Amazon and Goodreads, trying to decide exactly which novel I wished to ‘deconstruct’.

It had to be a good one. It had to be an author I loved, or could fall in love with. It had to be an author who’d met with high critical acclaim in the mystery-suspense genre.

Soon, a number of excellent candidates vied for my attention:

John Grisham’s Pelican Brief – a great yarn and a strong female lead. And I’d read it. A long time ago, but I’d read it. They even made it into a movie! A pretty good movie starring Julia Roberts.

Pelican Brief

Stuart Wood’s Orchid Beach – the first in his Holly Barker series. I hadn’t really read much of Wood’s work, (he’s more known to readers for his Stone Barrington series) but poking around, I discovered he publishes about three books a year under his contract with Putnam, and something like his last 30 novels have all been hardback bestsellers on the New York Times list for fiction. Not too shabby.

Orchid Beach

Margaret Maron: The Bootlegger’s Daughter – Where the heck have I been? I haven’t read Maron’s series either. But her protagonist, Judge Deborah Knott, according to my research, has just appeared in the 19th book in this venerable, award-winning series. What else did I discover? Maron’s won the Edgar, Agatha, Anthony and Macavity awards. A stellar achievement. (I hopped right over and ‘liked’ her page on facebook).

Bootlegger's Daughter

Hilary Davidson: – Damage Done – The debut novel in her Lily Moore series and an Anthony award winner for best first novel, not to mention finalist for the Arthur Ellis and Macavity awards. A pretty hot start, right out of the gate. But wait, I haven’t read that one either.

Damage Done

By now, I’m beginning to get a little knot in my tummy repeating this over and over again. Maybe I’ve been working too hard at my ‘other’ work’, I mutter under my breath. ‘What’s that dear’, my husband asks. ‘Nothing.’

I shake my head, startled at how far I’ve fallen behind in my reading.

Louise Penny – Still Life – Canadian author of mystery novels and winner of the Ellis and Anthony awards, for her debut novel featuring Chief Inspector Gamache of the Homicide Department of the Surete du Quebec.

Still Life

Whew! I can wipe my brow with relief. I discovered the fabulous Ms. Penny last year, and even blogged about it in my January post: Reflections on my ‘Not Writing’ Life.

Damn! I have a sneaking suspicion that is maybe what we are all doing with this whole deconstruction project. Not writing, that is. This isn’t good. Not for a writers’ group.

So that’s why I’m conflicted.

Last evening, I explained the whole deconstruction idea to my husband, always a good sounding board. He listened for awhile, mostly patiently, while I described what we hoped to achieve. He even hung in there as I read the first pages of several of the novels I was considering ‘deconstructing’ (he voted for Louise Penny, by the way).

In the end, however, he turned to me with growing impatience and said, quote:

“Success is measured by how well you tell your stories and not by whether you make the best seller list. You shouldn’t try to be an industry, some of them (the bestselling writers) are just bad writers!”

“Go back to your Hawaii novel and tell a good story.”

He thinks we 5writers are becoming way too pre-occupied with writing about writing, and have lost sight of the whole purpose: which is just to tell a good story.

I told him I would think about that, and would even include his words in my blog today.

So I am.

Food for thought: maybe I shouldn’t get bogged down in deconstructing someone else’s bestselling novel. Maybe I should just tell the story I want to tell.

I’ve told my 5writers’ colleagues that if I do ‘Deconstruct’ it likely will be either Louise Penny’s ‘Still Life‘ or ‘ Margaret Maron’sThe Bootlegger’s Daughter‘.

But I remain conflicted.

Yet, in the end, maybe we don’t need to be ‘all in’ on this. One of the best articles about ‘deconstruction’ for writers is Kathy Steffen’s ’10 Steps for Deconstructing a Novel (or How to Learn from Great Authors). Steffen prefaces her ’10 steps’ with the following advice, which I’ve excerpted in full:

The best way to learn how to write a book is to read and write. Seriously. The write part is easy (hahaha—at least in theory). Write. As much as you can—early in the morning, or at night, or at lunch, or write every day at a specific time, or, or, or…(for ideas on time to write, here are some ideas in Make Time to Write and Find Time to Write). You get the idea.

Now for the reading part. If you are a writer, you are probably a voracious reader. Read, read, read everything you can, especially in the genre you want to write. Reading other’s work will help you study story structure and analyze what works and what doesn’t so you can apply concepts of writing that resonate with you to your own writing. How to do this? Read first as a reader to enjoy the book, then go beyond the “magic” and take a look behind the curtain to discover how the writer enthralled you. Get that other part of your brain working—not the imagination part, but the analytical part. Read as a writer. Deconstruct your favorite novels.

Novel deconstruction isn’t a book report where you just tell what happened in the book. This is a method of digging beneath the surface of the book to see what makes it a can’t-put-it-down read. This can be an eye-opening experience. Give it a try!

Good advice, eh?

I’m going to think about that, but first, I’m going to catch up on my reading.

A clear and present danger

file000619017870

Paula’s Post #65 — We live in the digital age. A time of ever-increasing distractions. Our iPhones, our iPads, our Fuel Bands and Fitbits, our 1000+ digital cable channels, our Netflix and Twitter and Linkedin accounts… all contribute to a world where the hours of the day are subjected to being sliced and diced like a French chef’s mirepoix, until there is nothing left but a few stray minutes here, an hour or so there.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t shake the vague sense of feeling ‘robbed’ by all these distracting influences.

I know, I know,  I can hear you all now: “It’s your own fault if you can’t turn off your phone for an hour or two – if you can’t push yourself off the couch and pick up a book instead of sitting rooted, like a gnarled old oak, transfixed by the Olympic’s Women’s Parallel Slalom Snowboarding event or the latest episode of Downton Abbey.  

We all make choices, this is true, but there is no disputing the radical changes the digital age has brought to our everyday lives.

Just 10 years ago, I actually visited libraries on a weekly basis. Visited bookstores too, almost as often, checking out with armloads of heavy books from my favourite authors. I recall vowing to purchase Sue Grafton’s alphabet offerings, in order, all the way to Z is for… but alas, faltered somewhere around P is for Peril.

P is for Peril

I was amongst the first to cheer the introduction of the eReader, the device that heralded the dawn of a new age, a utopian future where we could travel through Europe without fear of running out of books to read, or of being charged excess baggage fees when the 17 travel guides we’d squirreled away in our luggage resulted in our suitcases topping out the scales at somewhere north of 50 pounds.

Up until the last decade, for better or worse, actual physical ‘books’ were an omnipresent part of our everyday lives.

Now, with rare exceptions, most of my books are downloaded to my iPad. I still like to buy real hard copies of the reference books that I used in my business and  I think I will always want to buy hard copies of ‘writing’ books, for these I like to index with little stickies and dog ear the pages to mark passages that resonate with a particular sage piece of advice. But now, my purchase of ‘real’ books, as far as fiction is concerned, is more often than not confined to purchasing that special first edition of a favourite author’s book, or better yet, the hot off the presses launch of a writing colleagues debut novel.

To me, this is disturbing.

How could so much have changed in so short a time?

Not everyone is like me. I’m sure many of you are still acquiring books, whether from a genuine preference for the touch and feel and smell of ‘real books’ or from an altruistic need to ‘save’ a dying art form.

When I packed up my house to move last summer, I could have built eight foot walls from the shelves full of books we’d accumulated over the years. Some purchased, some inherited, but either way far too many to move yet again.

In case you think otherwise, there isn’t a huge market for used books – they’re difficult to even give away. But my 5writer colleague Joe was quick to step in, offering to ‘shelter’ several fine books in his collection.

Indeed, I’ve started to think maybe we need to develop ‘book rescue’ organizations, something akin to ‘pet rescue’. Noble undertakings where you offer to provide a home, temporary or otherwise, to save old books from being euthanized at the dump.

But think about it for a minute. Even if you do rescue these books, how many of these books are you actually going to read? Are we ‘book readers’ the last of a dying breed?

What about young people? Are the majority actually reading actual books these days? I know the Hunger Games trilogy and the Divergent series have captivated a certain segment of teen and young adult readers, in much the same way as J.K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter series managed a decade before with somewhat younger readers, but is this an isolated trend?

My sister-in-law Eleanor is visiting this week; a retired high school teacher, she is a life-long reader who still works with young people, tutoring ESL students. Eleanor is a true reader, having read every day of her life, from the time she learned to read. She even admits to feeling upset if she doesn’t read a little bit everyday, if only for ten minutes, before she falls asleep.

But Eleanor readily agrees that she finds it disturbing when she has to almost ‘force’ some of her young adult students to read books, even for pleasure.

I’m beginning to wonder if we may have done our children a disservice, herding them into English class and forcing them to dissect books like specimens in a biology lab. Dictating that a novel must be ripped to shreds until there is nothing left to love. Lost is pacing, plot and most egregious of all, the suspension of disbelief. Who wouldn’t rather play video games?

Perhaps what we need is a revolution in reading. Since it debuted in 1996, Oprah’s Book Club has helped to keep reading fun, social and interactive. She’s even got lists to help introduce kids to the joy of reading.

Yet even here, some have criticized the pop culture, mass appeal of the books Oprah has championed over the years: Scott Stossel, an editor at The Atlantic, wrote:

“There is something so relentlessly therapeutic, so consciously self-improving about the book club that it seems antithetical to discussions of serious literature. Literature should disturb the mind and derange the senses; it can be palliative, but it is not meant to be the easy, soothing one that Oprah would make it.”[1]

Seriously? What a snob!

I don’t know about you, but I want to fall in love with books again. Yesterday, a beautiful 80 degree blue sky day in the California desert, I launched my floatie raft and drifted about my pool. Within minutes though, I was antsy. I knew something was wrong. I didn’t have a book I could take into the pool. Two sat on my bedside table: The Spellman Files, a hardcopy, first edition mystery by Edgar nominated author Lisa Lutz bearing a personal inscription to the friend in my Bocce league who’d lent me this delightful debut novel.

No, no, no, no – definitely not taking that one in the pool.

Ditto for the second book on my night table, The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett, another hard copy first edition debut novel that is winning rave reviews. This book a Christmas present from my cousin Mark.

Not pool fodder, no, no, no.

I finally settled on launching with NumbersRachel Ward’s debut YA psycho thriller about a disaffected teen with an unusual affliction, the ability to see ‘numbers’ attached to people, the numbers the dates of each person’s death. I’d purchased the book when researching the genre for my own 5writers YA novel, but never did more than read a few of the early chapters.

Yesterday, floating on my raft under an azure sky, I lost myself in this little paperback book, if only for an hour or so before yet another social engagement. But that hour was enough to rediscover the joy of reading. I didn’t pick it up at the end of the day, when I was exhausted and destined to fall asleep in a mere 10 minutes or so. No, for once I found the time to read in the middle of the day, my iPhone and iPad safely ashore, I floated adrift and unplugged from the normal distractions of everyday life.

I can’t say it is the best book I’ve ever read, but that is not the point. Yesterday, I cherished the simple pleasure of reading just for fun.

The Atlantic’s Mr. Stossel would no doubt cringe at my choice of reading material, decrying the author’s thin characterizations, familiar themes and simple prose.

Who cares!

If we do not rediscover the joy of reading for pleasure, I fear there is a clear and present danger lying just ahead.

I fear we will have no one to write for.

For you followers of our 5writers blog, I suspect I’m preaching to the converted. If you’re following a blog about writing, your either a reader, a writer, or both. Most likely your spouses and kids are too.

But what about the rest of the people in your little world? Do you know a boy or girl who never reads? A young adult who has yet to discover ‘the joy of reading’? A spouse who may have slipped from grace, distracted by the easy ability to watch six episodes of Breaking Bad in a single evening instead of picking up a book? Even amongst yourselves, are you finding you have too many books you are ‘supposed’ to read, with little time to just read for fun?

If so, I’m suggesting a small experiment. Pick up a book you’d never otherwise read. Read it for fun as quickly as possible. Try not to analyze it. Try just to enjoy it.

When you are done. Give it to someone else.

Bonus points for anyone who can coax a young person, under thirty, into reading a book, just for fun.

Paula’s Post #65.5 — A quick update: Alas, I did not quite manage to get this post posted by Tuesday, midnight, the deadline for my once a week blog offering. As in ‘if this is Tuesday, it must be Paula’s 5writer blog day’.

As we 5writers all know only to well, the road to you-know-where is paved with good intentions. I’d smugly written this post Monday morning, leaving it to add only the insertion of a number of links to author pages, etc. I figured I had plenty of time to do that Tuesday morning before my flight from California to Canada.

I figured wrong.

Remember, suspense in fiction is created by unexpected events. Events like the misplacement of keys before an international flight. The only set of keys that would let us into our rented postage stamp apartment in Vancouver. The keys we were sure we’d taken down to California, but were no where to be found, despite a massive key hunt. The keys that made us an hour late for our flight (good thing the flight was an hour late too).

But as Will Shakespeare famously wrote: ‘Alls Well that Ends Well’: a good friend picked us up to the airport in Vancouver, stayed with us all afternoon and hung out at Starbucks with us until we managed to track down our property manager and an extra key to our apartment. Our kind friend then joined us for dinner and drove us both to dinner and home, after we realized we still didn’t have a working ‘fob’ that would get us into our locked garage where our car is parked.

The fob is coming at 9 am this morning and we’ll be back in action, even if it looks like I’ll end up with a late start for my journey up the coast to check on our renovations. No bumpy journey is without a silver lining. For me, that was being reminded of the true value of a good friend.

Thanks, Colleen!

.

Land of 1000 dances

latin-party

Silk’s Post #47 — Since summertime is playtime, especially in the Pacific Northwest when we’re experiencing the sunniest season in years, it’s been really hard to stay glued to the keyboard, plugging away on rewrites. But that doesn’t mean taking a mental vacation.

In some professions, success demands that you take your work home with you. The writing profession demands that you take your work everywhere with you. Ideas, lessons and inspiration are around you every place, every day. All you have to do is pay attention and think like a writer.

Take last night. I’m lucky to live across the road from people who happen to give the best summer parties in the universe. Ours is a rural road, on an island we call Planet Saltspring in recognition of our iconoclastic, live-and-let-live vibe. So a late-night neighbourhood dance party under the stars, to the (loud) sounds of a live Cuban band, is not a problem. It’s an opportunity. Our party-giving friends are generous and smart. The neighbours are always invited.

Nursing a bad knee, I kept to the sidelines of the festively-lit party deck that’s built into a bluff in platformed layers. Mostly, I stood on a bench and moved my head and shoulders to the beat like a dashboard bobble doll, camera in one hand and refreshments in the other, watching the swing and sway of the packed dance floor.

Though the dancers all moved to the same beat, no two did it the same way, and I started paying more attention to their unique styles of movement. There were energetic shakers and sinuous swayers. Social dancers who had their own pas de deux going, and solo dancers who were jiving away in their own world. Real stylists who knew the Latin steps, and good ole stompers whose main achievement was keeping the beat.

It was mesmerizing.

Body language is as personal and unique as spoken or written language, and just as effective at telegraphing emotions. Relaxed people stroll. Angry people stomp. Stressed people scurry. People who love people watching and learn to observe body language can sit in a sidewalk cafe and read the personalities and states of mind of passers-by with an uncanny level of accuracy. Or at least conviction.

Sure, it’s hard to know whether your people-watching conclusions are accurate unless you follow them and find out what they’re really up to. (I wouldn’t recommend it, unless you’re an actual private eye instead of somebody writing about one.) However, from a writer’s point of view, it’s the theatre of the mind that counts – not reality.

In the hundreds of thousands of words I’ve read and listened to about the art of writing, much has been said about showing not telling. Use of specific gestures or general body language is a primary tool for conveying a character’s emotions and mood. When you write, “He slammed down the manuscript and leaned into Joe’s space, his hands pressed flat on the desk between them,” you really don’t need to additionally tell us that this guy is pretty pissed off and Joe might consider crawling under the desk for protection. Generally when writers are told to use action – such as physical movement – to tell the story and portray emotion, this is what’s meant.

But there’s another dimension to body language, and that’s character building. Every dancer dances differently, even when they’re dancing to the same beat.

The example above suggests to me a manuscript-slammer with some impulse control issues, someone who’s used to solving his problems through intimidation and direct action. Does Joe want to yell at this guy? Try to talk him down? Get under that desk? Depends, of course, on Joe’s own personality. If he’s an Alpha male, he might yell. If he sees himself as a conciliator, he might talk. If he’s violence-averse, like me, he’d dive for the floor. But the beauty is that the initial action sets up the reaction, and both demonstrate the nature of the two people who are interacting as well as move the plot point about the disputed manuscript forward.

But what if the character with the manuscript beef is someone else? Maybe it’s a young female intern who works under editor Joe, and has just discovered that Joe seems to be taking credit for her editorial comments? Would you just substitute her for the previous character and have her perform the same actions? Probably not. You’d have to give her her own unique dance to do, one that conveys who she is as well as how she feels about the manuscript. Likewise, Joe’s reaction would be different in this scenario and would tell us a lot about who he really is.

If this seems like Writing 101 advice, it is. We all know this stuff. But taking this deeper – to the level that great writers master invisibly when they create unforgettable characters that we feel like we’ve known all our lives – a character’s body language should be ever-present. Not just a device used to move a particular plot point forward in a colourful way.

For example, can you visualize Ichabod Crane, Washington Irving’s brilliantly limned protagonist in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”? Skinny, right? Timid and superstitious, but yet persistently self-serving in an obsequious kind of way. Here is how Irving introduces him to the reader:

“He was tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung together. His head was small, and flat at top, with huge ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose, so that it looked like a weather-cock, perched upon his spindle neck, to tell which way the wind blew. To see him striding along the profile of a hill on a windy day, with his clothes bagging and fluttering about him one might have mistaken him for the genius of famine descending upon the earth, or some scarecrow eloped from a cornfield.”

For me, it’s the use of active of body language that brings Ichabod Crane to life. His long snipe nose that looks like a weather-cock on his spindle neck animates his features and I can’t help but visualize Ichabod swinging his head from east to west, sussing out which way the wind might blow, as he sniffs for opportunities to exploit the largesse of the good burghers of Sleepy Hollow. Irving doesn’t just tell us he’s “lank”, but puts his ridiculous frame into motion for us, striding along with his clothes fluttering like a scarecrow. The body language shouts out who Ichabod Crane is. And we can never forget him. (Amazingly, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” isn’t even a novel – it’s a short story. Talk about having a huge and enduring impact with few words!)

gollum

Or think of the rich use of body language to define characters in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings saga. When I think of Gollum (or the dual personalities “Slinker” and “Stinker” as Sam Gamgee labels him), the most powerful characteristic that comes to mind is the way he moves – creeping, skulking, sneaking, slithering like a cross between a rat and a reptile.

In contrast is Strider, the alias of Aragorn Elessar, King of Men. Tolkien comes right out and tells us exactly who he is by giving him a name that’s anstrider action in itself. He doesn’t walk, or skip, or run, or march. He strides forward, patient, wise, brave and full of undeterrable purpose, towards his rightful throne. As a character, he’s as irresistible as Gollum is repellant. He walks the walk.

I can’t close my post without sharing the wonderful literary aside about the Strider character, from Ansen Dibell (Nancy Ann Dibble’s penname) in her book Plot: Elements of Fiction Writing.

“J.R.R.Tolkien has confessed that about a third of the way through The Fellowship of the Ring, some ruffian named Strider confronted the hobbits in an inn, and Tolkien was in despair. He didn’t know who Strider was, where the book was going, or what to write next. Strider turns out to be no lesser person than Aragorn, the unrecognized and uncrowned king of all the forces of good, whose restoration to rule is, along with the destruction of the evil ring, the engine that moves the plot of the whole massive trilogy, The Lord of the Rings.”

I think Strider’s incredibly strong character, born of Tolkien’s compelling instinct to create a leading action figure and define him through body language, caused Strider to win his “audition” with the author for the role of future king, and transformed him into Aragorn.

And now, back to my own dance with the keyboard.

Balancing writing and babies

Karalee’s Post #36 — No, I’m not a grandmother (I’m definitely not old enough, or should I say feel old enough). What is happening though, is my daughter and her boyfriend are nesting. They bought their first apartment two months ago and last Saturday they’ve brought home an eight week old puppy, Bruno the Airedale.

BrunoYoung people are, well, young. Full of energy and sometimes not so practical. For instance, my daughter works in the landscape business and her boyfriend is in construction. Full-time work, plus they have their own company and work an extra three to four hours after their regular job. Plus weekends. It is awesome to see young people work so hard, but a puppy?

Practical they aren’t. They have no time to look after a puppy. And, it’s the busiest season for both of them. Why didn’t they get a dog in the winter? I don’t know. That would be more practical.

But when I think about it, I was running a full-time physiotherapy practice when I had my first, then second and finally third child. I had no family in town to help child mind, and really didn’t have ‘time’ either.

We make time. Prioritize.

So, I’m the fall out puppy-sitter. I don’t really mind except that my two dogs’ noses are severely twisted and I’m on a deadline of reading and critiquing. What about the house and garden, and my son’s graduation in two weeks and all the grandparents here too?

Timing is everything. In real life, and in fiction writing.

This week (and I’m sure the next couple of months will too) reminds me of my story I sent to my fellow 5Writers for them to critique, and how it took persistence and super attention to details to get my ducks to line up for the climax.

In comparison taking care of Bruno is easy. I’ve already figured him out: run him around for 45 minutes and then I can get 1.5 hours work done. Repeat. Repeat.

Bruno

Bruno

If only raising children and writing novels were as easy.

Happy critiquing.