One of the things I’ve grown to believe about writing is that stories are like children: they all develop at their own pace. As parents, we sometimes have to be patient and let our child grow according to his or her own timetable. As writers, we sometimes have to be patient and allow our story to reveal itself when it’s ready. Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote the following post about a work in progress. It’s a little embarrassing to admit that I’m still working on the same book – further along, but still a long way from completion. This story is taking its time revealing itself to me, but I choose to believe that its slow growth is a ripening process – both for the story and for me. At the moment, it’s the story that’s in control, not the teller.
There are few things more exciting – or unsettling – to a writer than admitting you’re not in control of your story. Most of us like to think we’re in control of our lives, but, deep down, we know that’s only partly true. In reality, our lives are subject to a million and one curves the universe can throw at us. As writers, though, we’re dealing with a universe of our own creation, so we should be in control. Right? You’d think so. But, as in other aspects of our lives, it’s not always the case. Sometimes a character or even the story itself throws us a curve.
I wrote LOVE AND NOT DESTROY as a stand-alone – or so I thought. It’s the story of Peace Morrow, a young woman who was abandoned as an infant and adopted by a strong, loving woman who gave her a nearly perfect childhood, but still, Peace can’t help wondering about her biological parents.
Thinking back over it, I remember that my original intent was that she would never discover who her biological parents were. The idea was that she would come to realize that it doesn’t matter whose blood flowed in her veins. She is what she makes herself. Somewhere along the line, I realized that it was unfair to the reader and to my protagonist to leave that part of the puzzle unresolved and, truth be told, I wanted to know myself. So, by the end of the book, Peace has learned that her father is dead and her mother is someone she doesn’t really even like. That’s a complete turnaround from my original intention. The story took over and told me what needed to happen. I thought I’d tied up enough loose ends that the story was finished.
But Peace’s situation haunted me. I had to know what happened next and, unless I wrote the story, I’d never know. So, there you have it – I’m writing another Peace Morrow book. I planned to write about Peace’s relationship with her adoptive and biological mothers, and, almost as important, the relationship between the two mothers. It seemed like an interesting premise for a book. I had what I thought was the perfect title: ALL THAT I AM. I felt confident that I could make an interesting book out of this situation. I wrote a couple of chapters, introducing new characters as necessary to flesh out the story and, since I write mysteries, I inserted a mystery element into the book … and, wham, the story took over. I realized the new characters’ lives were impacted in ways that could not be ignored. Peace and her two mothers are still there, but the focus has changed.
That’s where I am now. I’m being led down an unexpected path by characters who I thought I’d created, but who have assumed lives of their own. That’s what characters do; they demand that their story be told and even reveal to those of us who consider ourselves their creators what that story is. All we have to do is find the right words to do justice to the lives of these people.
Writing is an unpredictable endeavor – sometimes unsettling, always exciting.
I can’t speak for larks and katydids, but I hope for their sakes, it is true for them. And I think it must be. How else could a lark sing so beautifully? Or a katydid produce its own uniquely musical sound?
I know it’s true for human beings (some more than others). I’m convinced that our dreams make us more human (in the case of other species, perhaps more lark-like or more katydid-like). Who knows? I do know that my life has been shaped by my dreams. As a kid, most of the trouble I got into was because of something I did (or didn’t do) when my mind was busy living a daydream. I remember overhearing my father say to my mother in absolute frustration, “I think she wakes up in a different world every day.” I must have been about ten or eleven at the time and I was not offended, just amazed. I thought, “How does he know?” I realize now what I didn’t know then: that other people wake up in other worlds too. There’s a statue next to our library of a little boy lost in a book. And what is a book but a dream? Next to him, there is a stack of more books. More dreams waiting their turn.
Some even come true. I’m getting to live my favorite dream. I write books!
I think the universal need for dreams is the reason books are so essential. Writers share their dreams and confront their fears in the stories they tell; readers recognize their own dreams and fears and, in the process, we come closer to understanding an often insane world–even manage to exist sanely in it.
So – dream on.
Another perfect summer day. I love summer, love driving down the street and seeing flowers blooming in my neighbors’s yards, love having friends over for dinner on the back porch, love … oh, so many things. I think most people share my feeling about summer. It’s the season of freedom, freedom from the routine of school for the kids, freedom from the constricting clothing we have to wear in the winter. There’s no snow to shovel. On the other hand, there is grass to cut and summer is also the season of humidity and mosquitoes. Like every time of year, it’s a mixed bag of good and bad. All things considered, I’m grateful that I live in an area where we experience four distinct seasons.
Each time of year has its own seductive charm, from the spare elegance of a bare-limbed tree in winter to the extravagant bounty of a summer garden. Much as I love summer, spring and fall are my favorite seasons. They are less intense than the periods that precede and follow them, but to me, they are more interesting. Lacking extremes of heat and cold, the transition seasons are more gentle. They are also less predictable. Each day begins with a decision: T-shirt and shorts? A sweater and jeans? True, that’s a trivial decision, but if you don’t get it right, you’ll have an uncomfortable day. Even if you do get it right, there’s a good chance it’s just temporarily so. By mid-day, something as capricious and beyond your control as the weather may force you to regret your choice, maybe even change not just your clothing, but your plans.
Transitions in novels are like that too. These parts are more gentle. They are not the scenes of intense action, but those moments of introspection that follow or precede the action. They are less predictable, when readers wonder how characters will react to events beyond their control. They are the scenes in which the characters have an opportunity to change and grow. They have to make choices, some of which may be trivial in themselves, but they can produce unexpected results and lead to other, more difficult choices, which in turn, lead to … yes, more changes.
Transitions show the characters in their more reflective moments. It is here, in the periods of less intense action, that we get to know the characters, to understand why the choices they have to make are difficult for them. If they’re done well, we, as readers, agonize over the decisions with the characters and start to identify with them.
I think of these scenes as bridges – where the writer guides the story from beginning to middle to end and, if they’re good at it, they make it look easy – as natural and inevitable as the changing of the seasons.
As you may know, I sometimes post on Classic and Cozy . Since the contributors to that blog all, like me, once wrote for Avalon Books, it seems appropriate that I share my thoughts about the tenth anniversary of my first published novel there too.
I hope you’ll follow the link and check out what I have to say. Leave a comment and you might win a free book.
In case you don’t have time to go there, I’ll repeat here my conviction that readers are an important part of the creative process and how much I appreciate your support and encouragement over the years.
This month, June 2015, marks the tenth anniversary of the release of my first published novel, Put Out the Light.
I’ll never forget the thrill of getting the call from Avalon Books. As luck would have it, that happened on my birthday. Best present anyone ever received! I don’t remember what I said, but I know that a few seconds into whatever it was, I realized I was making no sense whatsoever. I took a couple of deep breaths and started over. I don’t remember what I said then either. I guess it doesn’t matter. What matters is that Avalon didn’t hold it against me and went ahead with the publication of Put Out the Light.
It was a major milestone in my life. I had reached a goal. When I started writing this book, I told myself it didn’t even matter if it was published. I just wanted to see if I could actually write a book – a whole book – so I put those first words on the page with only the vaguest idea of what came next. Finally, I finished the book. I had a story that, at least in my oinion, held together. There was a beginning, a middle, and an end. I was enormously proud of myself, but only for a few minutes. It hit me that it did matter to me that the book be published, so I started down the road toward another goal – publication. A different goal. A different process and not an easy one. Nevertheless, after a long and not-always-pleasant journey, I achieved that goal and, since then, have reached a few more. One thing I’ve learned along the way is that a goal reached is not an end, but a beginning. There’s always more to the journey.
I’ll be sharing more about this journey in the days ahead. Next week, I’ll be blogging about it on Classic and Cozy, the blog written by some old and dear friends from my Avalon days. Here’s a link in case you’d like to check out what they have to say: http://classicandcozybooks.blogspot.com/ I promise you’ll find it worthwhile. The current post is by Janis Susan May and is about finding the right length for whatever you’re writing.
That’s enough from me. Time to step aside and let Marielena share her news. Okay, you’re on, my friend.
My novel “Loreen on the Lam: A Tennessee Mystery” made the leap from ebook to paperback on May 25th through the wonderful publishers at
iPulp Fiction. http://www.ipulpfiction.com/indexLOREEN.html
So what’s so special about having your book in print? For starters, you see the fruition of years of hard work. Your book now has an ISBN and people can find your novel and buy it.
Sure, ebooks are convenient. But a print book? Ah. You can hold it in your hands. Turn pages. You can bookmark or dog-ear it. You can put it on a shelf, spill coffee on it while reading it, go to sleep with it.
And you hope that people buy and like your book because after all, this IS your baby. You hope they enjoy the story, relate to the characters, and laugh at and/or cry with them.
Speaking of those characters, let me introduce you to what reviewers are calling some of the quirkiest, yet most appealing folks around.
Loreen Thigpen, our heroine. She escapes from a Houston prison by stealing the tour bus of a famous country music singer so she can get home to her dying mama in Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee. Along the way, Loreen picks up three unwanted passengers, not knowing one of them is a hired killer.
Tilly Davis, a battered wife who’s a twit personified.
Buffington Splatt, a deaf-mute Bible salesman. What’s his story anyway?
Sister Sarah, a nun who adds her holy touch to the group.
And there are other unique characters, residents of Red Boiling Springs: Olivia McLoon, who has some mental challenges, and her brother Sammy, who has cared for her most of his life. And let’s not forget Loreen’s Grandpa Mac who has a secret past.
Does Loreen get home in time before her mama dies? And does Loreen’s mama tell her about her grandpa Mac’s secret? And who is the murderer on the bus?
Most of all, I’m hoping that readers pick up on the underlying messages. But if they don’t, that’s OK. The relationship between a reader and a book is personal. And in the end, the book is just FUN to read!
So, if you’re in for the road trip of your life, Loreen would love your company. You can hop on board the bus here to purchase the book through iPulp Fiction: http://www.ipulpfiction.com/indexLOREEN.html
And thanks so much for taking time to support this writer and the writing community!
Thank YOU, Marielena, for stopping by.
Readers, I’ve had the pleasure of reading Loreen on the Lam and can tell you it’s quite a ride. I hope you’ll check it out. I promise you won’t be bored.
One of the things I love about being a writer is having my books in libraries. Sometimes I visit them on my way through the stacks. How vain is that? I write mysteries and my last name begins with a C, so I’m on a shelf with Agatha Christie – something that never fails to send a tingle up my spine.
I can never resist reaching out to touch the spines of my books. If a book isn’t on the shelf–even better. Someone is reading my story! I feel an instant connection with that reader, though I’ll probably never know who it is. I send hopeful thoughts into the universe that they enjoy the book. Will my characters be as real to him (or her) as they are to me? What other books does this person read? I could go on (and on), but I’ll spare you.
I admit what I’ve just described is an ego trip, but my love affair with libraries is much more than that and began long before my books wre rubbing shoulders (spines?) with Ms. Christie. Some of my earliest and best memories are of wandering through what seemed to my young self like miles of books in a hushed, almost reverent, atmosphere. At least it was hushed when I was a girl. Libraries are livelier than they used to be–a good thing, I think.
The library in the small town where I live now has a section with puppets for the children to check out along with their books. No hushed reverence in that corner. Lots of giggles though. Sometimes the library experience leaves the building altogether. There’s an outdoor story program where a librarian travels to a nearby park with stories, songs, jokes and puppets. Participants are invited to bring a lunch and have a picnic. Another program I love is “Kids Reading to Dogs”. It’s not unusual to see a small person sprawled on the floor reading to a large and attentive Golden Retriever. Yes, the child is reading to a dog. The idea is that all kids really want to read; they all want to do well in school, but some of them need a little extra help–and a lot of practice. Reading to another person intimidates them, but they feel comfortable with a dog. There’s no need to measure up, no fear of judgment. To me, these programs are perfect examples of how libraries have changed as community needs and life styles have changed.
I was talking with one of our librarians recently about the changes she’s seen in her career. One thing is that the number of audio books being checked out is growing dramatically. Another is that half the space in the reference section is devoted to computers. There are almost as many requests for help navigating the Internet as there are for reference books. Does this signal the slow death of print books? I don’t think so. I believe the need to learn about different things and to become part of an imaginary world is a basic element of human nature and having information and stories available in different formats reinforces that need.
My friend said one thing that hasn’t changed is children’s story hour (her favorite part of her job). The kids still sit on the floor in front of the reader, wide-eyed, spellbound by the power of story–on their way to a lifelong love of books.
How about you? Do you have special memories of libraries? How do you feel about the changes that recent years have brought? Some people find them a little frightening. I’d love to hear how some of you feel about this.