Archives for posts with tag: writing

I’ve come hard up against a writerly situation that I can’t quite figure out. This comes from the part of my life that’s as a published author, not the write, submit, rinse, repeat part. When one of my stories was published by a prominent magazine, reactions by reviewers and regular (as opposed to irregular?) readers were split right down the middle. The first review I read was negative, and to me seemed mean spirited. It basically accused the story of using dialogue to info dump, annoy, and offend the delicate sensibilities of discerning consumers of fine science fiction. The half that were positive reactions mean the world to me, as they were lovely and insightful. If only human nature would always skew toward the positive. Instead, while I treasure the wonderful reactions, the negative ones nag at the back of my mind.

The major nag is an almost subconscious stream of consciousness pondering of the process of short story writing and aftermath–ing. The way I see it, there are two ways to project story from the writer’s mind to the readers’. One is exposition. I’m of the less is more school on this one. The idea of subtlety allowing…forcing…a collaboration between the imaginations of writer and reader is so appealing to me. I’ve always loved that experience as a reader, though I enjoy the more wordy authors too. One of my favorites, Virginia Woolf, wrote prose of great beauty, using her particular kind of magic to still leave room for reader imagination participation in among gorgeous foot long sentences. But we can’t all be Virginia Woolf. In fact, none of us can. Which is as it should be. We can only be ourselves. Write our best. Leave the rest to collective imagination. And hope for the moments when one instance of meeting of the minds or a collective experience reaches near zeitgeist status…in a good way.

The other way of expelling story from one brain to another is through dialogue. I’m big on that one. Some readers love it, others apparently really don’t. The beauty of dialogue…is the opportunity to create beautiful dialogue. I’m far from claiming that my characters’ conversations are always like jewels dripping from their papery tongues. Or often. But sometimes…sometimes…. The things characters say to each other can do so much more than move story along. They tell their own stories of personality, hardship, joy, courage, and honor. You can either have characters express themselves as only they can or sometimes clumsily try to force your vision of their lives into a reader’s head. The reader may resist. The character may as well. Then nobody is happy, fictional or flesh and blood.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to just carry on, writing what I want and how I want, and trust that the readers who get it will enjoy what they’ve read so much that they think about it long after the last word has drifted across the bridge from my mind to theirs. The ones who don’t get it aren’t going to suddenly stop looking for things to dislike. They’ll be the way they are whether I try to change my weird, wonderful way of writing by instinct or write the way I love and keep loving it. So I’m who I am, they’re who they are, and that’s fine.

I think that maybe when you write fiction for long enough, you come to care about your characters as much as you care about the real people that pass through your life. You listen to them. You watch them. If you’re lucky they don’t judge too harshly. And if you’re really lucky they build their own bridge between minds. And hearts. Then you know you’ve done your job as a writer, and what critics say fades into the background. If, sometimes, it doesn’t, it makes you more determined to do the best you can. Better than you can. Being better than you think you can is like armor. Armor that creaks and sometimes rusts, but stands strong. Just be prepared to fall while wearing it. Getting back up is a nightmare, but the entire process of the writing life can be the stuff of dreams.

Very happy to announce that my 2019 Big Break Screenwriting Contest entry has made the cut to Semifinalist! I just realized I’m smiling as I type. Screenwriting is such a cool thing to do. Being recognized for it is even cooler.

Grateful.

This is one of those years that make me want to just pretend I didn’t enter the Nicholl, maybe even pretend it doesn’t exist. No entry, no results, no blog post.

But, it does and I did, so here it is. 2019 is one of the rare times when neither of my two feature length screenplay entries moved the needle at all. Not a single positive read. There’s usually at least one, often more.

There. It’s out.

This blog is intended to not only cover the good things that happen to me, but also the not so good to out right bad. The good for obvious reasons. The bad so someone else dealing with something hard in their lives may stumble across it and feel a little better being reminded that we’re not in whatever it is alone. Sometimes just thinking of even one stranger sharing our pain or disappointment from afar can make enough of a difference to actually help. From Alzheimer’s caregiving, to grief, to the events that take peripheral positions to that kind of thing, we all carry burdens. Even if the “only” burden you carry today is a disappointment, a setback in your writing life, don’t ever forget that’s a legitimate thing to deal with. In some ways it’s actually a grief within itself. We put our whole selves into our scripts and stories and novels and poems. Of course the setbacks are hard to deal with.

This year I have an “advantage”. A compressed sciatic nerve is pretty much consuming my life. That kind of physical pain can outscream just about anything else. So, I was upset about my screenplays performing so poorly, especially after doing so well other years, for a few hours, then shrugged it off and carried on, as must be done when you’re addicted to screenwriting competitions.

We carry on, while running an internal question-with-no-answers session involving a loop of “why?”, “how?”, and “when will things turn back around?”. We think and hope and wonder, and keep on writing and learning and dreaming. That’s the writer’s life. Sometimes we curse it . Hopefully, briefly. The rest of the time we love it. We live it. We make happen whatever we can. If all we can make happen is our writing world, that’s enough. Where else would we want to be?

A paraphrasing of the old saying that eloquently sums up the elusive nature of dreams one knows are impossible, my above title aptly conveys the feelings with which some writers and most fans of the Bronte sisters are all to familiar. I suffered from Emily Bronte envy long before I was privileged to walk on some of her beloved ground in Haworth. Once I stood gazing at the Parsonage and walked along a well worn public path, with its bright green grass, stone wall, and tantalizing vistas across a wide, wild stretch of moor, I longed to travel back into her all too brief lifetime to experience it for myself. Briefly, of course, since the Brontes lived lives that were tinged, then deluged with pain, heartbreak, and tragedy.

This Atlas Obscura article dangles the past right before Bronte lovers’ eyes, in the form of a farmhouse the Bronte family visited. They partook of the bookly feast contained in the home’s impressive library. Perhaps, perchance…possibly…Emily based a part of her novel Wuthering Heights on this centuries old property. Even without the Bronte connection, it would still be an amazing piece of English history. 

There’s the problem of the wishes part, though. Ponden Hall is for sale, but for more money than most of us can afford to do more than dream about. This article provides pictures and descriptions that make the dreaming enjoyable, even in its sheer impossibility. One can only hope that the eventual buyers are thrilled by their new connection to literary greatness and get unending pleasure from their new home.

https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/wuthering-heights-farmhouse-inspiration?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=atlas-page

​My mom’s only surviving sister was 10 years older than she was. Charming and fun loving to the point of being goofy at times, Aunt Pearl was also beautiful.

She had long, coal black hair that she coaxed into ringlets with a curling iron. Unlike our modern day ease of curling irons that plug into any convenient outlet to heat with electricity, Aunt Pearl’s curling iron was heated by putting it down the chimney of a coal oil lamp! This feat could be iffy, as it involved metal, a flammable substance, and uncontrolled heat…not to mention lighting those lamps was essentially setting a small piece of fabric (the wick) on fire, then the light was constantly fed by the flame that burned until it was put out. There was also the fun prospect of singed hair and soot getting in the hair as well. In that instance Aunt Pearl was fortunate that since her hair was already as black as it could be, it hid the worst of any damage that was the price of wanting nice curls. Later on she set it into marcel waves that looked wonderful. Eventually, she wore it in a Roaring Twenties super short bob. Add the drop-waisted dresses that were all the rage, topped by a cloche hat, and she looked as if she’d stepped straight out of a talkie, the newfangled motion pictures that took the flapper set by storm.

During this era my mom was a small child, who adored her big sister. Aunt Pearl was wonderful with children, as I discovered for myself. People back then, early in the twentieth century, had more family members than beds, and sisters often shared a big four poster, piled high with a feather bed and several hand made quilts. The quilts were composed of fabric pieces salvaged from worn out dresses and blouses, so that a pointing finger could trace the story of each piece through remembered occasions from  the time before its original form was worn out. 

Aunt Pearl liked to tell stories, particularly of the ghost variety. When I was little and she’d come to visit, I would sleep with her and be deliciously thrilled by whatever story she wanted to tell me in the wee small hours of the night. One in particular that I’ve never forgotten was about two elderly sisters, who shared a bed as girls. Every night there would be terrifying knocking sounds, eerily seeming very near to them, though there was nobody else in the room. It was only when they were old and any day could be their last that one sister finally confessed to the other that she had been the mysterious knocker who kept the hoax going on for so very long, and utterly convincingly. It turned out that she had double jointed toes that she would carefully crack against the wooden footboard to make the terrible knocking sounds. Aunt Pearl had read about it in a magazine or book and did a very effective retelling in the dark.

My mom and her beloved sister were as close as a child and young woman could be.  There came a time when my mom started to notice whispered conversations and furtive activities between Aunt Pearl and their mother. Eventually, when she saw Aunt Pearl packing up her things, my mom asked Grandmother what was happening. They had dreaded that moment and Grandmother so hated to cause pain to her little daughter that she pursed her lips for as long as she could bear her own silence and then reluctantly answered the question “Where’s Pearl going?” with the puzzling “She’s going to M.” A bit of explanation followed, and my mom finally understood that her near constant companion and always game playmate was getting married. It must have been heart rending to watch the wonderful presence she took for granted as being hers always leave their home for a new one of her own. Aunt Pearl and Uncle Dick got married by a Justice of the Peace, while seated in their buggy. That seems to have been a thing at the time, though I think not overly common. I imagine it was quite the ice breaker at parties and such. 

My mom and Aunt Pearl remained very close the rest of their lives. They relied on each other in times of trouble and celebrated together during every eventful moment. They took care of each other in bad health, cooked together for holiday celebrations, and were sources of joy for each other just by spending time together. The only time I can remember ever seeing them argue was the moment the check arrived when we were eating out. They would snatch it out of each other’s hands, the bit of paper like a flat, rectangular shuttlecock in a never ending match of restaurant bill badminton. Aunt Pearl usually persisted until she emerged the victor, since she didn’t drive and wanted to repay my parents any way she could for their unending willingness to take her wherever she needed or wanted to go. I’m not sure how she managed it, since I was usually elbow deep in a banana split by the time the check came. All I know is that while she was getting out money to pay, a couple of dollars or a fistful of change would find its way into my pocket, along with a wink and a smile from the person who was to me the same wonderful, beloved companion and always willing playmate that my mom had known in her own childhood.

As she grew old in that remarkable way indomitable spirits have of never quite really seeming to reach true old age, even poor health couldn’t suppress her twinkle or the smile that lit up so many hearts she touched throughout her life. Aunt Pearl was one of those people you never forget. One of a kind. Her memory is indelible. As is the legacy she left me of joy in telling stories. Her dream of being a published author was never realized. That mine has been is in part thanks to her. Dreams can be contagious. Their enthusiasm. Their hope. And their twinkle that burns like a pilot light for my muse. Quite the legacy from a woman who never had children of her own.

​Killing off beloved characters is a dice roll. If it doesn’t work you’ve lost people who love the character, but if it does work you’ve got something sad and tragic, but glorious. After Hershel’s beheading nearly pushed me over the edge into stopping watching The Walking Dead and Beth’s untimely end shoved me a step farther, when I heard that Carl, not Negan, was about to bite the dust of the bitten, I just knew I was a watching goner. I stuck with it though, and now I’m glad I did.

Even though I hate that they killed Carl, they used it beautifully, making the letter he left for Rick touch his father so deeply. That he caught Negan and decided to keep him imprisoned and make him suffer by being confined, and possibly rehabilitate him over time, was a stroke of genius. It’s made it so that in a way Carl is sort of the eternal leader from the grave, because of the way his courage and strength and grace touched so many people and influenced how they can see the world in his wake. The whole thing mindblowingly dovetails. 

I don’t think it’s so very often that a longterm writing stream can take many characters and situations and fit them so perfectly together that, while you can’t see the entire picture until all the puzzle is completed, you get glimpses of fully realized story encapsulated in moments. When a moment appears like that you don’t care so much about what the future will bring, but more about savoring the moment at hand. That’s what the end of Carl’s arc felt like to me.

This Brain Pickings article reminds me how much I love Rainer Maria Rilke. Not only for his formal works, with their distinct rhythms and striking imagery, but also his deep and still timely thoughts on creativity. I read Letters To A Young Poet when I was first learning the ways of my own creative life. It’s different for everyone, but Rilke’s wisdom is timeless and universal.

I struggled to make my way through a maze of combined exhilaration and self doubt, and found the passage quoted here about patience and “ripening like the tree which does not force its sap” more helpful, comforting, and reassuring than anything I’d encountered in the modern world. I have to think. Written words rarely come, until I’ve thought long enough. Sometimes it’s a conscious thinking process, but often it’s spontaneous and lives in the back of my head until it’s ready to become fiction. Poems are different. They tend to burst forth and free, before I even know I’ll be writing a poem. Fiction stays inside my brain, quietly building and forming, and then when it’s ready it commences to be written. This is my way, but when it first started to develop it felt weird and wrong. As if there was a way the words were supposed to come out and I had never been given the key to that way. 

It took me a long time to understand that writers I’d read about had their process and it was perfectly alright that mine was different. As I read Rilke’s letters to that enviable young poet, I felt a calm settle over me. I began to understand that finding and accepting my own, individual creative path would be the start of something wonderful. And it was. Once I became one with Rilke’s concept of the nature and exquisite timing of a tree, its indelible patience and unknowing wisdom, writing became a joy that has sustained me ever since.

Through those letters to Franz Xaver Kappus, Rainer Maria Rilke became my mentor across time. In answer to the ubiquitous question about what one would wish to do if time travel were possible, I always think traveling to sun dappled, long ago Paris to sit beside Rilke in Rodin’s garden, absorbing the glorious light of his thoughtful words, would be a glimmering treasure captured by time itself. If only….

Until time travel becomes reality, his letters will suffice.