Writing Thinks for Me

MM900046559Writing the third book of my trilogy, The Beryl Stone Trilogy, has been an experience quite opposite from the first two. Dancing Naked in the Rain and Stars Walking Backward were an experiment of the unknown. All I really knew was that the main character, Megan, was a part of me. She personified that missing piece in my life that was clawing desperately to be seen–not particularly for anyone else, but for me.

Strange as it may sound, I didn’t know myself. Hidden deep within were little pieces of a puzzle that hadn’t found their place in the big picture. This isn’t unique. I think there are a lot of people who have been scurried into a life and then live it bravely. I’m also aware that many rebel and fight furiously to replace the missing pieces.

Writing showed me who I wish I’d been all my life–someone willing to take chances (without fear–well, maybe a little, but not the kind that stops you dead in your tracks and shoves a dream away to a place hard to reach). I’m not talking about dare devil stuff–don’t care to be Evel Knievel or Harry Houdini.

In Dancing Naked in the RainMegan puts down her chalk (yes, she’s a teacher just as I have been) and dares to attempt her dream. (Hence, the title, daring to do something a bit out of the ordinary.) Aww, rather slobbery, I know. But I think you’d probably agree: when we look back on our lives, we realize that there are things we wished we’d done.  I always wanted to write. Of course, there’s a difference, I don’t think I even knew how much until I began Megan’s adventure. See, I told you I didn’t know myself.

In Dancing Naked, Megan’s off to Scotland, writing her way across the Highlands, when she meets a man and circumstances that make her dig deeper within herself than she knew possible. She finds she must be not only a lover, but a detective, an explorer, and, yes, even a bit of Knievel. (When you’re dealing with the underworld, you either tuck your tail and run or brazenly attack the unknown.)

My apologies to Shakespeare, but Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day,/ And make me travel forth without my cloak/To let base clouds o’ertake me in my way,/Hiding thy bravery in their rotten smoke? Yes, I’ll blame it on the smoke, all those excuses that hamper the way.

In Stars Walking Backward, the second of the series, Megan’s tested again. Just at the point in life when she is ready to settle in to enjoy her dream, her stars begin taking steps in the wrong direction. So, she’s off again on another adventure, and this time she’s without not only her cloak, but also without her wizard. Whoops! Did I say wizard? Well, he’s not really, but he’s something like that. Guess I shouldn’t have told you that.  After all, I  don’t want to spoil it for you. However, I will give you a hint. He’s really there. She just can’t always see him.

Now I’m working on the last of the trilogy. I’ve entitled it Voices in the Dark. And, again, there’s a valid reason for that. You see, Megan has been curious about her Irish ancestors for some time, and she feels that since she is living in Scotland, searching for information on her ancestors would be most timely and convenient.

I had a heck of a time figuring out how to let her do this and keep it interesting for the reader. I contemplated, mused, and talked about it obsessively with my husband before it came to me. Yes, it came to me after I’d read a non-fiction book that a gym friend suggested. It’s funny, after I read the book, I decided it hadn’t helped me at all, but it was right after that that my idea materialized (in my head, of course). The idea was nothing like the book, but somehow it led me to a wonderful idea. And, I am now letting those voices in the dark be heard.

I’m a bit resistant to reading other novels like mine. I just don’t want to be influenced by them. I figure if I don’t read them, I won’t have that problem–obviously. I know, I know, I hear all the time that I should read this author or that author. I just can’t do it. I know how it is. My sneaky little mind would wrap onto an idea and then convince me it was my own. I want it to be mine. Just mine.

As I continue to write, I learn about myself and, somehow,  I learn to think. Oh, my goodness, I’m hearing my teacher voice. How many times have my students and I sat and talked about a piece of literature? How many times have I steered the discussion to the why’s and the how’s of critical thinking? Many, many times. They learned and were better off for it. And now I’m learning.

 

“The Less You Write, the Better It Must Be” –Jules Renard

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THE NOVEL THAT TOOK ME FIVE YEARS TO WRITE

Oh, Jules Renard, could that possibly be true for me because I seem to be writing less and less, especially now with Christmas approaching. After having read an article about how we writers should keep a log of our dreams, goals, time we spend writing, how many words we write per day, hour, week, and year, etc., etc., I just have to shrug it off. Writing 1500 words a day every day for a year while logging every minute will supposedly produce 5 plus novels. I can’t imagine in what condition such novels  would be, certainly not worth reading if I wrote them. So, who out there can write 5 novels a year and still be sane enough to brag about it on December 31st?

Maybe it’s just sour grapes. I finally finished my second manuscript, Stars Walking Backward, and it took me a year. Of course, I didn’t write every day. In fact, some weeks I didn’t even sit at the computer. I tend to work in the garden, clean house, wash and iron, dance naked in the rain, go on a trip,visit with friends, or whatever else strikes my fancy.  There’s this little place in my mind that says I’ll get to it tomorrow. Yet, when I write, I’m in heaven, wishing I’d do more of it.

So for now, I’m going to support Mr. Renard’s theory–the less you write, the better it must be.

 

 

You Can’t Blame the Character

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Truman Capote said that “you can’t blame a writer for what the characters say.” I must agree with that, at least that is what I would have myself to believe. When I began writing Dancing Naked in the Rain, I decided to just let the characters do and say what they wanted. Maybe it was a way of taking part in some behavior from which I’ve always shied away. Maybe I just wanted and needed to know what it was like to be a bit more daring. At any rate, I convinced myself to let Megan, the main character in my first novel, do and say anything that popped into her head (or was it my head?).

I discovered a lot of stuff about myself that I wouldn’t have possibly discovered had I not written Dancing Naked. That’s pretty tough to admit. Actually, now that I think of it, I’d do just about everything she did, that is if I had the nerve (she’s a gutsy lady).

John Cheever wrote that “the legend that characters run away from their authors—taking up drugs, having sex operations, and becoming president—implies that the writer is a fool with no knowledge or mastery of his craft. The idea of authors running around helplessly behind their cretinous invention is contemptible.”

Whoops!

 

Drinking Water

Characters Should Always Thirst

When I taught creative writing, I would tell the students to make their characters want something right away–even if it’s only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time.—Kurt Vonnegut

Even though Vonnegut coined those words, I didn’t hesitate to borrowed them for my own creative writing class. I have to say they worked. For my students, it gave them a place to start. If they didn’t already have a starting place for a story, all they had to do was dig into themselves a bit. No doubt, each of us has a desire for something more out of life than just the same-old-same-old. Right?

Today I’m trying to decide what my main character in my Trilogy, The Beryl Stone, wants in the third book of the series.

In the first novel, Dancing Naked in the Rain, which has been published, Megan leaves her teaching job and goes to Scotland to begin a new career in travel writing. Along the way she gets distracted and mesmerized by a handsome Scot–nothing new  here. However, she also gets caught up in a spell–a deadly love spell–with the handsome man, and the remainder of the novel involves otherworldly twists and turns that keep her wondering how she got herself into such a mess and how she’s going to get herself out.

The second of the series is still in manuscript form, but is finished. In it, well, I just can’t tell you that. But I will say that she is on one adventure after another throughout the entire story, and the suspense will bind you to the chair. Bear in mind, that this novel, Stars Walking Backwards, is also a love story. Actually, I don’t think I could write anything that wasn’t based on romance. That’s just the way I’m made.

Now, Megan still wants water–and something else. I’m not sure what it is at the moment and that’s why I’ve started this blog–to figure it out before I get started. Mind you, I’m not one of those authors who outlines the plot, takes copious notes, keeps a journal, a log, or what-have-you. You might say, much to my embarrassment, that I fly by the seat of my pants. Of course, that’s not entirely true. I do a lot of ground work before I begin, like dig in the garden or even travel to Scotland and other romantic places. Really!

I do know this: Megan has a strong desire–as I do–to know something more about her ancestors, and as dull as this sounds, I think I’m going to accept the challenge: how to make the story fun, suspenseful, and still romantic, even if it does deal with a lot of dead people.

I must end with this note: Megan is not paralyzed with the meaninglessness of modern life. Not by any means. She’s a young woman who is infatuated with her Scottish lover and with the mysteries of the underworld that continue to badger her. And she desires so much more than a drink of water–just as I do.

 

Starting With a Memory

Holding Glasses over BibleAs children we are reared on stories of faeries, superstition, and magic—all sorts of fantastical myths. Why? Because myths are important to our culture, our values, and our belief system. They’re simply resplendent with lessons of life. And I think you would agree that we don’t outgrow the need for them.

Picture yourself as a child, sitting on your parent’s lap, storybook in hand. Hmm, let’s say it’s the classical story “Pandora’s Box.” Colorful pictures show a gruesome Zeus handing over a box to Pandora with the strict warning “Do not open the box.” HA! Well, we know what she does—and, more importantly, why. It’s all about curiosity. She, of course, opens the box and releases all the miseries of the world. Can’t you just see them flying out of that forbidden box and onto the splendidly illustrated pages of the book? And even today this archaic myth has meaning in our own world—one that could stir up a bit of discussion, don’t you think?

Nietzsche, the controversial but well-known German philosopher, believed that all stories are myths. And it’s partially true. Think back to your school days … to your classroom. Remember your English teacher harassing you with questions: What is the meaning of this story? What is the significance of so-and-so’s actions? Why do you think the author uses this setting? Well, you know what I mean. And I know that as you read novels today, some of those same questions come to mind. Well, okay, at least some of the time.

With that said, I would like to share with you how my novel, Dancing Naked in the Rain, came to be written:

Many years ago (actually three), a lady who had always dreamed of becoming an author finally sat down to begin her first novel. And she wrote and wrote and wrote. She wrote 50,000 words (enough for a short novel). But she knew it wasn’t the book she wanted to write. So, she wrapped a rubber band around the stack of papers and threw it in a box in her closet.
Then she went on a trip to England’s Lake District and the Scottish Highland. She walked walled cities, explored Roman Amphitheatres, and marveled at 14th century wood carvings of dragons, kings, angels, human caricatures, and monsters. She walked 50 million-year-old valleys and lakebeds and reread Wordsworth’s “Daffodils” as she sat in his garden overlooking hundreds of the golden flowers “fluttering and dancing in the breeze.” She walked the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond and even peered into Loch Ness with the hopes of a glimpse of the monster. But what really caught her fancy? No, it wasn’t the Cairngorms or Pitlochry or Edinburgh or Inveraray Castle. It was an unscheduled stop in a Celtic graveyard.

‘Woven from the many centuries of decayed debris of fallen limbs, leaves, and sphagnum, the soft earth sank like a richly nubbed carpet under her feet. The woodsy scent wafted up to fill her nostrils, carried by the simultaneous disturbance from her physical presence and the wind’s sinuous movement. She breathed in deeply, delighting in the fragrance. The towering trees whipped above, casting flickers of sunlight and shadow. She spread her arms, leaning back, her face tilted towards the sky. She fancied something, maybe some spirit …’ –from Dancing Naked in the Rain.

Anyway, that experience filled her (that’s me) with ideas, ideas that would speed my novel’s protagonist on to an adventure of her own, one involving an unfulfilled dream.
So I returned home and pulled my manuscript out of the box. In the end, I axed 20,000 words and added 60,000 more, spinning my story out of the Scottish folktale “Tam Lin,” a story that should definitely be one of our own. In the tale of Tam Lin, a young laddie is stolen by the faeries, and a lassie, as luck would have it, decides to save him because she decides she must, yes, I say must have him. (You know how that story goes.) In the process, she suffers through many horrific trials. Sound familiar?

Amidst the struggles of the young lassie in “Tam Lin,” as with the struggles of Megan McEller, the heroine of Dancing Naked in the Rain, is a moral, a lesson to be learned—that anything worth having is worth fighting for. You can choose to ignore the lesson if you like. The story is still entertaining. If you choose to look deeper, you’ll find some questions on my web site to help you along the way.

I wish you the best. Hold on to your dreams and don’t let go—no matter how many monsters wag their heads.