Digging for Characters

I recently read Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. I’m a fan of Steinbeck, but have to admit I struggled with the beginning of this book. It was full of description: describing places, houses, people and even a couple pages on the Model T truck. By page 34, I wasn’t sure what the plot was. Halfway through the novel, I realized how this Nobel Peace Prize Winning Author continues to draw me in—characters.

There are over two handfuls of unique, interesting characters in this book. While writing, I often want to reach for clique or average, especially in secondary characters. I want to challenge myself to dig deeper for those unique personalities that we love to read about.

Here’s an example of a secondary character, Gay, in Cannery Row that only participates for thirty five pages. While I don’t remember the color of his hair or body type, I won’t forget this story anytime soon.

 

Doc asked, “How are things going up at the Palace?”

Hazel ran his fingers through his dark hair and he peered into the clutter of his mind.          “Pretty good,” he said. “That fellow Gay is moving in with us I guess. His wife hits him        pretty bad. He don’t mind that when he’s awake but she waits ‘til he gets to sleep and          then hits him. He hates that. He has to wake up and beat her up and then when he goes      back to sleep she hits him again. He don’t get any rest so he’s moving in with us.”

“That’s a new one,” said Doc. “She used to swear out a warrant and put him in jail.”

“Yeah!” said Hazel. “But that was before they built the new jail in Salinas. Used to be           thirty days and Gay was pretty hot to get out, but this new jail—radio in the tank and             good bunks and the sheriff’s a nice fellow. Gay gets in there and he don’t want to come         out. He likes it so much his wife won’t get him arrested any more. So she figured out this     hitting him while he’s asleep.  It’s nerve racking, he says. And you know as good as me         —Gay never did take any pleasure beating her up. He only done it to keep his self-                respect. But he gets tired of it. I guess he’ll be with us now.”

 

Steinbeck paints gritty characters that stick with us. Two dimensional characters are easy, like neighbors that we wave to while our garage shuts. There is more out there, let’s tip over their trash and see who they really are. Let’s keep digging.

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Feed Your Muse

I love to write. I don’t know why anyone would pick this profession for any other reason. A month ago though, the dark monsters of the swamp came out to haunt me. You know the ones with those killer claws: stress, anxiety, and insecurity.  And with writing content articles and editing my current novel, writing had morphed into some twisted self-deprecating job.

I needed a break. I needed to close my computer for a few days and feed my muse.

It was difficult at first to shut down the nagging voices telling me to be productive. But I closed my laptop, packed my bags, and escape to the country.

I went for walks. Got caught in the rain. Read for enjoyment. Mother Nature calmed my soul and left my imagination free to play.

Not everyone is not able to run away, but we still need to make time for ourselves and, as ted talksElizabeth Gilbert referred to it, Our Elusive Creative Genius.  In this TED talks, she explains that when we see our muse, or creative genius, as something outside of us, then it is easier to maintain our sanity.  It is worth the time to watch.

I enjoy thinking of my muse as a separate identity or creative genius. One we must feed and nurture in the hope that it’s won’t torment us.

How do you feed your muse?

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The Brothers Grimm

 

Every now and again, I like to dip into history and non-fiction. I find the change of pace welcoming and what I learn always intriguing. My most recent read was The Brothers Grimm: Two Lives, One Legacy by Donald R. Hettinga.

Jacob and Wilhem Grimm are most popular for combing the German countryside for fables and legends and publishing them. Disney has made a mint on several of their stories such as Snow White or Sleeping Beauty. But the story behind their lives was a true and interesting tale woven with kings, queens, and even revolution. The brothers Grimm preserved these ancient tales and also the German language with their books on linguistics.

My favorite part was when a critic of their first published book of stories complained that they were too graphic and disturbing for children. Jacob (the elder brother) responded that grew him up with his mother telling him the tale of How Some Children Played at Slaughtering, to show him the dangers of playing, and it worked for him. The story is about children who pretended to play slaughtering pigs and ended up killing their playmates. Fantastically morbid, I know, but part of me is still intrigued enough to read it. Wilhem Grimm’s take in response to the critics was also noteworthy: “You can fool yourself into thinking that what can be removed from a book can also be removed from real life.”

The Grimm brothers survived many political regimes and Napoleon’s conquests that sent soldiers into the streets outside their house. They dealt with poverty and death. By the end of their lives, their work and contributions were celebrated and revered. They spent their last days together, as a family.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the book: “In a grain of sand we may see the sense and significance of large globes of which our world is one of the smallest.” Jacob Grimm

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Ten Commandments of Reading

The other day while my son was reading book four of the Michael Vay series, skipping book two and three since we’re waiting for them from our library, I decided he needed to learn some very basic rules of reading. So in my horrific English accent, I proceeded to the commandments of reading.

  The Ten Commandments of Reading

  1. Never tell the end of a good book to a friend.
  2. Read the book before the movie, except if the movie is Princess Bride.
  3. If you’re in a used bookstore, you must buy a book. Unless you’re dead broke, then go to the library.
  4. You should always have a library card.
  5. Always read a series in order, unless there are too many to keep count. Then go crazy.
  6. If a friend lends you a book and you accidentally damage it, replace it.
  7. Don’t break the binding of a book or damage a book, no matter how you detest it. Get a bookmark people, even a sock will do.
  8. If you interrupt someone during a good part of a book you must recite the alphabet backwards, while standing on your head. (Parents are the only exception for underage children, and a fire because the safety of a book comes first.)
  9. No skipping to the end of a book. Yes, you know who you are.
  10. When reciting the commandments, please use your best snooty English accent.

library card

When my daughter broke rule one as my son was reading Harry Potter, I thought she’d catch on fire with that blasphemy. And I recommend two library cards, in case of emergencies.

What is your pet peeve when reading?  Let me know. While these may be etched in stone, like every writer knows, the edits never stop.

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Undiscovered Gems

A while back, I discovered a book at the library. Published twenty years ago, this novel had a title that caught my attention: The Parable of the Sower.  I started it on a sunny afternoon, but Octavia E. Butler soon had a tight grip on me, and I kept reading late into the night.parable of the sower

This post apocalyptic novel follows a sixteen year old girl through California in 2025, amid rampant war, drugs, gangs, unemployment, and an unlawfulness that staggers the mind. The realism was nothing I’d experienced in today’s young adult commercial fiction.

This older, under appreciated book struck true and left me thinking about it for days, months, and even years later. There is joy in finding a new book or new author that speaks to you in a language that can’t be contained on paper.

I can’t wait to find my next undiscovered gem. Do you have an undiscovered or under appreciated novel hidden away in your book shelf?

 

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2016 Writing Conferences

Spring is upon us with new anticipated books hitting the shelves (cough, cough Anne Bishop). Also, it means writing conferences starting. From April to September writers congregate to hone their craft and pitch their stories. I’ve shifted through the various conferences, and thought I’d share some reputable conferences to attend. I’d love to hear from you, if you have a favorite, and I can add it to the list.

 

Desert Dreams, April 7-10, 2016, Scottsdale, AZ  http://desertroserwa.org/desertdreams

The Scottsdale Romance Writers’ organization puts on a fabulous four day conference full of workshops, and pitches to agents. I know several who have attended and it comes highly recommended, especially for the price.

 

Las Vegas Writers’ Conference, April 28-30, 2016 http://lasvegaswritersconference.com/

I would love to hear the keynote speaker, Larry Brooks.

 

National Romance Writers Association Conference, July 13-16 2016, San Diego, CA

https://www.rwa.org/conference

Great conference and great location. Who doesn’t love San Diego in July?

 

Pikes Peak Writers’ Conference, April 15-17, 2016, Colorado Springs, CO

http://www.pikespeakwriters.com/ppwc/

 

And if you really feel like going all out, you can even go on a writing cruise

Out of Excuses Writing Conference, September 14-17, 2016, Caribbean

http://www.writingexcuses.com/out-of-excuses-2016/

Cruising around the Caribbean with Brandon Sanderson and a host of very accomplished writers sounds epic.

 

 

 

 

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LIFE AFTER NANO

By guest blogger, author, editor, and extraordinaire Jami Gray

You survived Nanowrimo, the hellish month of November, where you churned out words by the bucketful. You even made it to the final two—THE END, so now what? Do you drag battered fingers to the keyboard to carve out a synopsis and query letter, then attach both to your story and send the entire package winging off to a publisher or agent?

No! (Slapping at your sore, beleaguered digits) Step away from the keyboard, dear writer friend, exhaustion is playing tricks on your poor brain. You can’t forgo an important part of your creative process—the honing of your story.

You wouldn’t present a semi-cooked egg for consumption just because your caffeine fix hasn’t kicked in, right? Then don’t serve the same to a prospective agent or publisher.

The point of presenting your pretty package of story, query, and synopsis to the alters of publishers or agents, is to share your polished gem of beautiful craftsmanship when it’s at its best. This will elicit “ohhs” and “awws” of stunned amazement from said alter deities, and, if the fates are kind, culminate with a blessing of a contract.

This is not to say your story treasure isn’t beautiful, but if you set it aside during the merry month of wintery celebration, revisit it during the dawning of the new year, and then humbly offer it to your support group of choice (critique, beta readers, editors), you may discover that what appeared beautifully concocted in November, could bypass “beautiful” and rocket to “brilliant” with a little polishing here and there.

Take the time to let your story mature, let others sample it, and gauge the reactions. Did your plot twist sneak up on your test readers, or were they faced with it straight out of the gate? Was the emotional journey of your main character fraught with realistic peril, or were the challenges faced not cruel enough to bring them to their knees before raising them higher than before? Did you add an extra arm in that fight scene? Did a character change hair color or personality without explanation?

When we spend a month snuggled up to our story, it’s hard to see the little things, like the fact it prefers to stay in PJs all day long and eat chocolate bonbons, while expecting you to clean the house for impending company.  Taking a step back and a deep breath will ensure your darlings won’t need your constant support to shine. In fact, giving them space is necessary for them to find their inner core of brilliance and shine their creative light upon unsuspecting agents and publishers, luring them into a long-lasting relationship.

Nanowrimo isn’t the end, my writer friends, it’s simply the beginning of an exciting new journey, so like all good adventurers, be sure you’ve prepared accordingly.

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