Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How a Writing Mind Works--Kernels

~~Writers are asked, "How do you do it? How do you get your ideas? How do you write?" all the time. Sometimes we can't really tell what caused a specific scene, but at other times, it is quite clear. Lately I've been experimenting with what Diana Gabaldon calls "kernel writing." Read her description HERE. In the past, I've not been the most adept at getting these little bits down as they occur and I'm sure some of the very best have gotten away from me.

~~Now that I have Inner Editor entertained and distracted, I've been having more and more kernel moments. Today there were two specific instances. One was not a real surprise--it dealt with a scene I've been working on for FRIENDLY FIRE. The other was completely out of the blue. It deals with an idea that has been bugging me for years with THE DAWN AND THE LION. I've known how the military saluted their superiors in the chain of command for over two decades. It really never made much sense and at times, I've tried to change it, to no avail. Today I found out the symbolism behind the salute.

~~I have been rereading Catherine Asaro's SKOLIAN EMPIRE series and the method of salute kept standing out.
"The officers saluted, raising their arms to chest height, outstretched with fists clenched, crossing their wrists with the snap of muscled skin hitting muscled skin." (THE RADIENT SEAS p. 274)

~~Then I had a clear scene to pop up in my mind that explained the salute and moves plot along nicely. The POV character is Canda Aurora, the female protagonist. Even without knowing all that goes before or comes after, I think this kernel will illustrate how my mind was working this morning. Note that the general mentioned has no specific name yet, so X stands in its place. I hope you enjoy.

A chill walked up my spine. August was dead. No one had to tell me. No one needed to share their grief with me. Mine was larger than the three worlds. Larger than a human heart could survive.

General X, the chief of staff, second in command stood before me. "My Lady Regent." His hand rose sharply and he touched the center of his forehead with his fingers. I'd seen the salute a thousand times since I came to Patria. A salute to Brennan, to August and now to me. No matter how I grieved, I had responsibility. For General X's salute said it all--My mind is yours to command. The chill became a blizzard.

~~How do your scenes come to you? Do you find inspiration in what you read or do they develop from outlines?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Tea With My Inner Editor

~~I owe the following conversation to Charlotte Rains Dixon. She offered free, fifteen-minute coaching sessions on her blog last week. Knowing I needed help to shut my inner editor up, I jumped on the offer. Among the wonderful suggestions was this one—have a discussion with your inner editor. Picture them. Talk to them. Explain their roles in your writing. This clicked with me. I don’t know if your inner editor is male or female, human, elf, or fairy, but mine is me.

~~If you are wondering how on earth I could have a photo of my younger self dressed as a 1950s school teacher, there’s a story behind it. Of course. ; ) When I was in high school, we had a 50s dress-up day. I borrowed an old suit from my momma, twisted my waist-length hair into a tight bun, and painted my lips and nails scarlet. And guess who won? That’s right—me. The teachers who judged the contest loved being reminded what their teachers looked like in the 50s.
~~So without any further ado, here’s "Tea With My Inner Editor"


     It was a shock to see her sitting on the floral wing-backed chair, hands folded primly in her lap. The tight little smile painted in Revlon Million Dollar Red was so unlike her usual scowl. The dark brown hair as the same—a tightly rolled bun at the nape of her neck. The same white handkerchief and pink lilies of the valley adorned the severe, tight, black suit. I’d never seen her in a different outfit. Never.

     "Would you like some tea, Miss?" My voice squeaked. If I didn’t find a way to settle my nerves this chance to set things right would be for naught. And somewhere deep inside I knew it was the only chance I had to get my writing off square one.

     "That would be nice, dear."

     I was puzzled. It didn’t sound like her voice. There was no censure, no reprimand. Just ultimate politeness.

     "It’s sweet of you to ask." The small leather pump tapped twice.

     Swallowing hard, I asked, "Darjeeling or Earl Grey?"

     "Oh, the Earl unless you have some of Old Wilmington’s Lord John Grey." Her voice trailed off, a brow raised in question.

     She reads Diana Gabaldon’s books? I couldn’t picture her reading the life and loves of my favorite characters, Jamie and Claire. That didn’t seem possible, but only a fan would know about that tea. "Uh…no. If the Earl will do?"

     "Of course, dear."

     Her hands were still clenched tightly as I gently placed my prize teapot on the low table. I’d pay for the Earl Grey with hives, but it was worth it if we could come to terms.

     "I asked you here to visit when I didn’t have a pen in my hand for a reason." My cup rattled against the saucer. My nerves staged a new assault and tightened my throat.

     "Yes, dear? I assumed there was a reason." Irony made her voice resonant.

     "Well, you see—"

     "Get to the point, dear. Or I’ll have to get out my red pen." The toe was tapping again.

     Swallowing the lump, I blurted, "You’re blocking my writing. I’ll never finish Laura Grace’s story much less ever have a hope of really starting Canda’s. You never let me finish a sentence without that hectoring voice in my ear. ‘No adverbs. Choose a stronger verb. Every sentence in that paragraph is in the subject-verb pattern and in the one before, they all started with a gerund clause.’ Or if that’s not enough, you remind me that a first person narrator never notices herself grin or frown and you snarl, ‘Your body language is a cliché and your setting is non-existent!’"

     I paused to catch my breath and looked up at her. The golden-brown eyes were wide with shock behind her wire-rimmed glasses. A tear gathered in the corner of her eye.

     Brows drawn down, she looked at her clenched hands, knuckles white with stress. "All I ever wanted was to see you succeed, dear. I didn’t know. Truly I didn’t." Her voice was thick with unshed tears.

     "Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you, Miss Editor. Really, I didn’t. And I do need you. It’s just you get in the way when I’m writing my rough draft. It’s stifling, actually." The shiny head rose a bit and a smile tugged at the ruby lips. "And yes. I’m used nearly every ‘ly’ word I can think of and ‘just’ in nearly every sentence, but, Miss Editor, I need you to understand—I’ve got to have room to maneuver when I’m drafting or I’m never going to complete a sentence much less a novel." My whine grated on my ears, but she had to see.

     "Could you…" I wracked my brains and then a light sparked to life. "Could you take tea and read Outlander while I’m drafting. Just until I have a draft that needs editing…"

     A flicker of hope lit my heart as her little smile grew. A delicate sip later, the smile became a warming sun, rising on a new day. "Yes, dear. That would be lovely. I’ve missed Jamie and Claire." The smile grew into a wicked grin. "In fact, I might just let my hair down." She reached up and released the tightly wound bun. A cascade of silky brown fell over her shoulders. "Yes, just let me know when I’m needed." Her toes kicked out of the tight shoes. And she unbuttoned the jacket. "I think I need a break right now. If that’s all right with you."


~~So now I know what to do when I need to write—tell Miss Inner Editor to get a cup of Lord John Grey and visit Jamie and Claire.

~~What do you do to get your inner editor to be quiet?

~~P.S. Miss Editor didn’t take her red pen to this. Something about a certain masterful scene at Castle Leoch…

~~P.P.S. If you don’t know what scene I’m referring to, go get a copy of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander immediately and follow it up with all the rest of the series. I dare you to read 100 pages and stop. ; )

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Writer's Bestiary--A Poem

~~I write poetry from time to time and thought I'd share my latest one. It came from a discussion on the Books and Writers Forum about writing woes and what our tears do. I have to thank Ron Wodaski and Deniz Bevan for some of the images. Ron's blog is HERE and Deniz's is HERE.

The Writer’s Bestiary

I crouch in a desolate, desert waste
Of dry words without life or form or taste.
Then my muse appears to sit at my feet,
Her hand cupping, catching my tears;
Her smile wild and sweet.

“Dear One,
Each drop you weep holds
    oceans of healing, and
    balm for those you seek.
In my hand I hold the cure
    for word count dragonflies,
    each wing made complete.
They water the hummingbirds who fly,
    knitting your scenes together
    unfolding your plot to the sky.
When your characters refuse their names,
    your tears ease the roly-polies’ fears,
    and soften the beetle’s hard shell,
    where their hearts hide so well.
And as your tears overflow on
    caterpillar, cocoon, and butterfly,
    setting becomes focused and clear.
Choked throats, full of dialog are freed
    as your tears tend the songbird’s wing,
    allowing it once again to fly and sing.

“So cry, Dear One.
Your tears are not shed in vain.
Use them to write your story once again.”

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

I've Been Tagged! and You Really Like Me--I Think...

I was tagged by Deniz. I don't think it's good to tag you right back, so I'll just say thanks. You mentioned the Cherry Hill Houseparty from last summer. I just realized yesterday that this time last year, I was working hard to prepare to host all you lovely writers! It's only been a year and yet it seems like ages ago. Then we spent the fall in Istanbul. What's next?
Here's the questions I had to answer:
1. Do you think you're hot? Of course! It is summer in Georgia, isn’t it?
2. Upload a picture or wallpaper you're using at the moment.--(Image removed for copyright)

3. When was the last time you ate chicken meat? Today.

4. A song you listened to recently: “Down to the River to Pray” It counts if I was singing it at the time, doesn’t it?

5. What were you thinking as you were doing this? How blasted HOT it is! Is the air conditioning working?
6. Do you have nicknames? What are they? ARRGHHH! I hate this question!  I hate all my nicknames. The only one I’ll tell is the one I gave myself—Zanna Maria. So there!

7. Tag eight bloggers:
Laura at Heaven to Earth
Diana and Mary at WOOF
Denise at L'Aussie Writing 
Rachael at Rach Writes
8. A few questions about your tagged friends...

Who's listed as number one? Marie, the Flying Cheetah and the expert at 100-word movie reviews
Say something about number 5. Tara is a great writing buddy. We love sharing crits. I want your books out so I can hold them in my hands, Tara!

How did you get to know number 3? Laura is in my local crit group—Carrollton Creative Writers Club—and she’s a heck of a writer. Laura, you wanted to know how this platform building works, so now you know. ; )

How about number 4? The ladies at WOOF—Mary and Diana—are excellent writers and lovely friends. Be sure and check out their Women Only Over Fifty blog if you like humor.

Leave a message for number 6.  Carol, you’re a wonderful writer. Thanks for asking me to write about the lessons my momma taught me.

Leave a lovey-dovey message for number 2. I love you for offering to be a beta reader for FRIENDLY FIRE. How much more validation can I ask for? Thanks from the bottom of my heart.

Do number 7 and number 8 have any similarities? Denise and Rachael are experts at creating writing platforms. Everything I know, I learned from them.

And hey what about number 9? No fair! You said list 8!!! Okay, I’ll add Charlotte just because she's so good.
You Really Like Me--I think...
I couldn't resist channeling a little Sally Fields. ; ) At least 18 people do.  Did any of you notice the new like button I added on the left? I think I did it correctly, but every time I try to link to my author page, it goes to my Utilities page not my wall. Would some of you lovely people try it--and LIKE me while you do--and let me know if it works. ; )

Friday, June 3, 2011

Inspiration and Imagination--It Takes Two to Tango

INSPIRATION is the inhaling of the memory of an act never experienced. ~ Ned Rorem

IMAGINATION is the liquid solution in which art develops the snapshots of reality ~ Cyril Connolly

~In the June issue of THE WRITER, Bharti Kirchner used these quotes to begin the cover article "The Germ of an Idea." The quotes captured my heart and mind immediately. They're the perfect definitions of two important concepts that fuel our creative forces. The article continues with sixteen published writers of fiction and nonfiction describing how inspiration and imagination have worked in their careers. From Sue Grafton and Elizabeth George to Greg Bear and Elizabeth Lyon, these writers open a window into their process.

~After I read the article, I couldn't help it. I had to peel apart the inspiration and imagination that sparked the two works-in-progress (WIP) that I work on the most. I thought I'd share.

~It may sound like a cliche, but the inspiration for this WIP did come to me in a very vivid dream. In March 2008, I woke from a morning nap (no comments, please ; ) with this image in my mind--A eleven or twelve-year-old girl leaned against a low stage in a crowded church fellowship hall. Her golden curls framed a fully made-up face, complete with eyeshadow, liner, and mascara. I looked out of the eyes of an older woman whose heart was immediately hooked by what was obviously a child in pain. I had no clue who they were, what had happened, or why they were in a room full of little children. It didn't matter. The image stayed with me all day as I completed a long list of errands. The story unfolded as I went from one job to the next. By nightfall, I knew the woman's name and that she was a recently widowed, retired teacher with no children of her own. The girl was an abused foster child named Samantha and the children in the room were all foster children. That's all it took to launch my contemporary, mainstream novel, FRIENDLY FIRE.

~This story's  origins may be even stranger than the one above. I've read science fiction for decades. It's a genre both John and I love, so it's not really surprising that I have a SF WIP. What makes it surprising is that I have no background in science. My field is history. The story is based on the life of a thirteenth century French queen. Really. ; ) My master's thesis is a biography of Blanche of Castile. Her life was full of the political intrigue and family drama that characterizes the Medieval history of England, France, and Spain. Her maternal grandparents were Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine and she married Louis (VIII) "the Lion" Capet. Their son, Louis IX, is now known as Saint Louis. My WIP takes Blanche's life story and translates it into the life of Princess Canda Aurora of Shardonia. With near light-speed travel and tachyon pulse communications, my three planets interact much like Medieval Europe's England, France, and Spain--with a few changes along the way. I think Canda's story has great potential, but don't hold your breath--I've worked on this one for over twenty-five years.

~I'd love to know what fuels your WIPs. Where do you get your inspiration and what spurs your imagination?