Archives for posts with tag: writing

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

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​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.

​Forget writer’s block. I’ve got writer’s freeze!

I don’t remember another stretch of frigid weather that was so long, annoying, and time consuming. There probably was one, but it’s easy for a difficult winter to slip right out of a person’s mind, after the spring warmup brings an early round of short sleeves, lemonade, and selective amnesia involving anything to do with the winter endured.

My area is prone to frozen water pipes. The worry starts when temperatures creep below (or as in recent weeks, drop like a rock) 20 degrees Fahrenheit. The best preventative is to run the water in all faucets in a steady stream the size of a pencil lead. The moving water helps prevent freezing of said water. My pipes get air in them periodically, so I have patrol the whole house day and night for the duration to make sure the streams haven’t become  sputters or stopped altogether. Leaving cabinet doors under sinks open helps keep the pipes warm. That is such fun. Who doesn’t enjoy whacking their knees on forgotten jutting cabinet door corners? I think…everyone, community wide, but it’s a necessary evil. 

I have a heat pump. I’ve never understood how the things work, how they pump heat, and why they also provide air conditioning, but are not called cold pumps in summer. Their most fun feature is that, inexplicably, the air conditioning comes on as part of the defrosting process, so that for every two degrees the heat may gain, it loses one during defrosting. Otherwise, they want to run all the time, any time there is even a hint of extreme temperature. I want to make them stop occasionally, since one I had before overworked itself and started spewing mystery fumes nobody else could smell that tried to kill me. Weather like the current Arctic Blast leaves me no choice but to turn it way down, let it do its thing, and worry. 

Thankfully, we’ve avoided freezing rain, since that is a particular bane to my existence. If I don’t time it perfectly and it’s not running when the rain starts to freeze, strands of horizontal icicle grow alarmingly fast, and the big motor fan blades just inside the top under a metal grill get locked in place by deceptively fragile looking lines of ice. Then it must be turned to the mysterious setting called Emergency Heat, until the thaw arrives to release normal functioning from the icy grip of whatever winter storm descends from Elsa’s summer home to the north. 

A few years ago I heard a weatherman say heat pumps weren’t made for weather like we have. Um, then why, pray tell, are there so many of them attempting to do a job with a built in uphill battle under conditions they aren’t meant to handle? Sometimes I feel like baking bread, brownies, and cookies in my own personal Great Ice Station Zebra Baking Show to supplement the heat, but don’t dare shut myself inside with that many treats. I wouldn’t want to emerge in the spring with powdered sugar in my hair, and bounce down the street from sugar overload.

Ah, yes. The writing angle. Well, I was on a roll there for a while. I had a slugghish story that was fun to write, but trying very hard to drag its heels…and mine along with it. I  couldn’t quite get it to go where I thought it needed to be. It still hasn’t. What it eventually, suddenly did was go where it knew it needed to be. New imagery triggered by a single phrase. New direction. Partial new title. Then complete new title. It was cooking hot and fast in my head, some back corner of my brain finally finishing what it was doing to burst the results forth with renewed energy and excitement.

Before I could sit down and get all of the new growth organized and into story form, the four icebergs of the coldpocalypse paraded into my sky and my attention was siphoned off into the tasks of keeping a functioning safe and comfortable-ish environment…safe and comfortable. Still, though in the midst of feeling like a walking slushie, trying to stock up on groceries between frigid blasts, not being amused to find that Walmart’s cold food section had been stripped literally bare by ravening hordes who beat me to it, and listening to water hissing and gurgling as it streamed down the drain like so much literally liquid money, that back corner of my brain keeps opening its door to let the words and images and bits of dialogue out. 

Anybody who tries to tell you that plotting isn’t writing has no grasp of the persistence of the will to write. It may not be physically tapping keys or plying a pen, but thinking is the basis on which the big, beautiful world of writing is built. It’s part of the process. In fact, a case could be made that the thinking part is the actual heart of writing, while the physical part is the product of that process. It’s where the ink meets the page and makes visible the thoughts and images and words that become creative art.

That mental endeavor is so important a part of a writer’s existence that it does its thing in the back corner of the brain called the subconscious​, even when real life actively tries to freeze it out with mind numbing cold and stress and sometimes fear. It’s a gift really, that we can write with our minds, when conditions try to tell us otherwise. Pen and keyboard and paper can, and sometimes must, wait. The urgent need to create another world through the sheer power of firing synapses, thankfully, doesn’t have to.

This article is an old book and old movie lover’s dream. Names like Woolf, Dickens, Forster, and Bronte are scattered throughout, like beautiful, slow burning leaves flavoring autumn with their timeless scent. Their related books are the crispness in the air. Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre, Mrs. Ramsey, her family and their guests, Mr. Wilcox and his younger bride overshadowed by his late wife…these are the people of some of my favorite literary treasures. They all leave their footprints preserved in this article, along with the houses that serve, in their way, as characters as well. Some of the houses that inspired stories like Howards End, Rebecca, and Jane Eyre are described in a way that brings back memories of reading the novels and wanting to read them again. My favorite segment is about Talland House that inspired Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. There’s a black and white picture of the actual house that makes me wish I was in Cornwall, so I could photograph it myself and perhaps look to the lighthouse from the garden. Some of the article’s descriptions evoke imagery from the books or scenes from screen adaptations. Reading it is a mental tour through cherished places brought to life by authors with often surprising connections to their characters’ homes. 

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jul/29/pemberley-manderley-howards-end-real-building-fictional-houses?CMP=twt_gu

I’m at the proofreading stage of my new novella, and find bits of writing help echoing in my mind. Some I can actually put to use. It’s scattered all over the internet, but most is like the writing world is sewing empty hulls, instead of viable seeds. 

Here are 3 actually helpful tips.

1. One of the best ones I’ve come across is this: “That” is usually unnecessary. 

As I proofread, I’m struck by just how much I use it, without thinking. Removing it not only makes the piece read a little more smoothly, it also cuts the word count quite a bit. Especially in larger manuscripts. I’m becoming more aware of it, which may mean I’ll eventually be able to mentally cut it just before my fingers can get it typed. 

2. Tightening is always good, as long as you know when to stop. 

This one is always in the back of my mind, particularly when I’m writing a screenplay. There I can often do it mentally as I go, but that doesn’t mean the tightening is over when “Fade out” is typed. While good tight fiction is desirable, a tight script is essential in a squeeze-the-last-word-out-that-you-can kind of way. That last bit is the kind of thing that makes me stop and ponder the “that” situations above. I write largely by instinct. It’s often on the fly, with pauses to figure out if something is right or wrong, depending on how it sounds or more elusively feels. So, I dithered over the “that” I eventually committed to. But it’s getting easier to get rid of the ones that I don’t need. (Did you spot the unnecessary “that” there?)

3. “That” is far from the only often unnecessary word.

Or sentence

Or, heaven help me, paragraph right on into page. 

The actual tip is a succinct and painful “Kill your darlings.” 

This may be the most difficult piece of writing help to take not only to heart, but also to pen. Or delete key. This is the one I’ve found almost impossible to implement. It took a lot of experience to grow the wisdom needed to even begin to learn to ruthlessly slash and burn my way through a manuscript. It comes down to finding the honesty deep down beneath the euphoria born of writing a beautiful description. The crucial question to self is this: Will the story still stand without this part I love so much? If I delete it, will the story be less, in any way but word count? Often the answer is to hit the delete key. Sometimes, when I can’t quite let those darlings go, I start a file called (Story Title) Bits where I save the deleted parts, just in case I can convince myself I was wrong and justify putting something back in. I can’t actually recall a time when I put something back, except in my imagination. Do I take out everything that needs to be killed? Of course not! My writing tends toward literary, even when it’s genres where the style can be a bit startling. Deciding what should be eliminated can be a struggle, though as I write more and more I learn to use the brief amount of time that passes between formed thought and typed prose to decide before a problem spot has been actually written. It’s easier since I added /screenwriter to my self-description. It’s even fun sometimes, when I’m in just the right mood, to go all scorched earth on a   script that needs a page count pruning. 

These are the tips that help me most. If you have the patience to strain out all the nonsense that muddies the cyberwaters, there are more bits of useful information lurking. 

Oh. There’s one more tip right at the top of all things helpful. This one hovers above all others, is the most necessary, and means the most.

Believe in yourself. Always.