Friday, August 31, 2012

Pondering the Short Story

As I sip my "Mellow Moments" tea, I am thinking of my book characters. I have a lot of them in my novel-in-progress. I don't know right now if I'm breaking any rules, but the fact is, they just keep coming to me as I write. It's likely I have way too many, and I'll probably be told someday to shave the numbers. But I can't kill any of them off before they've had a chance to shine. We all come across numerous people as we go about our day. Really, sit and count. Surprising, isn't it?

This week, I happened upon this blurb: "Write short stories. Fail faster." Hmm, interesting. But then- nah, I'm not really into short stories. But what does that mean? I'm working on a novel, forget it. Wait- I like doing things faster. Don't like to fail. But-- Stories? Love 'em. Short? Less commitment. Maybe there's something to this, but not for me. Or is there?

While I pondered this for a couple of days, I realized there is a lot I still don't know about my characters. So I listed all of them, marked the ones who were minor characters, then wrote a question I had about their past life. The entire page swarmed of short stories begging to be written. One character told me something interesting about his past, which I transcribed in one evening. . . *I know non-writers think it weird when writers talk this way, but there really isn't a better way to describe it*  After this, I was intrigued. I was hooked. I found the source of the blurb and bought the book in order to learn more about the craft of writing the short story.

I began to have this thought that just maybe, by writing the characters' stories, it could improve my novel. Of course, it would give me an amazing amount of writing practice. Just possibly, I could then share them with readers- if that time becomes right. How fun would it be to get a glimpse of these guys, then come across them in a novel and realize that you know why they just did what they did-- even if the other characters don't.  

It's also possible these stories won't be seen until after the novel. I liked the premise of "Fail Faster" because it's true-- it does feel pretty good to get a piece of writing finished and shined to a polish. The failing part just means that it's out there, floundering on its own, and has a good chance of rejection. But, something learned now can mean more success later.

By the way, did I mention that I love my characters? I'm having so much fun figuring out what happened to them before they came to be in my story. I hope I get to introduce them to you very soon.

What about you? Do you have any thoughts on short stories? Do you read or write them? What do you like/not like about them?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Triple Giveaway and Q/A with Lori Lansens

The Summer blog series is coming to an end. . .it's a little sad. . .but in this Triple Giveaway, I'm sure you'll find something great to read. That has been my hope all along-- to introduce sublime authors and their masterpieces. So I'm happy to bring you Author Lori Lansens, and three wonderful stories, starting with The Girls.

This is a fictional autobiography of conjoined twins, Rose and Ruby Darlen. They are twenty-nine years old at the book's beginning, and are joined "by a spot the size of a bread plate" on the sides of their heads. Rose is compelled to write their life story, and figures they can finish it by Christmas (seven months away). Ruby is also expected to contribute chapters, and the girls have said they won't read what the other has written. The book is written with the chapters changing between Rose's and Ruby's portrayals of the events in their life. 
It was very hard to believe this book was fictional. The details and the characters are just so real, and the reader feels every joy and trial they go through- the mark of a wonderful book.

Rush Home Road was Lansens' debut novel. It is a powerful story of Addy Shadd, an elderly black woman whose world is turned upside down when five-year-old Sharla Cody, abused and neglected, shows up on her doorstep. Sharla has been abandoned by a mother who takes off for the summer, and is not as sweet and easy to care for as Addy originally thought. However, they develop a deep bond that also helps Addy work through many of her past heartbreaks. Addy was born in Rusholme, a town in southwestern Ontario, settled by fugitive slaves in the mid-1800's. Addy longs to return someday, but she has had a hard life. The author does not gloss over many of the hardships both Sharla and Addy have experienced, so readers, take this into consideration. It is well worth it to make it through the themes of hate, love, and forgiveness.

The third novel I want to share with you is The Wife's Tale. Although I liked each of these books, I'd have to choose this story as my favorite. Mary Gooch's husband, Jimmy, fails to return home on the eve of their twenty-fifth anniversary. Throughout the day, Mary processes what has happened, and remains in denial that he may have left her. She thinks back over her life, and all the ways in which being obese since the age of nine has affected her. She has settled into an inert lifestyle, unhealthy in most ways, disappointments causing her to wear "a path from the bedroom to the refrigerator." Once she accepts his disappearance, she is shaken out of her comfortable life in Leaford, Ontario, to begin a journey to California to find him. Through the journey, she ultimately transforms herself into a person no longer dragged down by weight physicallly, which also changes her fears and habits into confidence. She finds relationships, and she finds herself. I loved reading Mary's story-- it is like the ultimate makeover. 

The author, Lori Lansens, agreed to answer a few of my questions!
How did you decide to write that first book?
I had known the characters of Addy Shadd and Sharla Cody in Rush Home Road for as long as I can remember. The book is set in the landscape of my youth in southwestern Ontario. When another artistic venture went astray my husband encouraged me to write the story I had been imagining for so many years.

Where did you get the ideas for these novels, and how are they connected?
I don’t get ideas for books so much as I get characters. The characters always come first. The characters sprang from my hometown and my youth in Rush Home Road. The characters of Rose and Ruby in the girls grew out of my preoccupation with early motherhood. (I felt physically bound to my children - that was the jumping off place.) Mary Gooch in The Wife’s Tale is a character that I’d written about in different guises. I am preoccupied by the relationship of women and weight.

What kind of feedback from readers have you enjoyed most?
I get messages from my website about all of the books and each has been a favorite. I suppose it depends on the reader.

What do you hope readers will take from these stories?
I enjoys novels that move me. I also enjoy stories that provoke me to shift my perspective.

Do you have any more novels in the works?
Working on my fourth book now but I don’t like to talk about work in progress.

What do you like to do when you are not writing?
I have two children ages 10 and 12. My husband works long hours and is often out of town for weeks at a time. Does that answer your question? :)

What advice do you have for new writers?

Well said, Lori! Thanks to the author, I have A SIGNED COPY OF EACH BOOK to give away! Please let me know either 1) If you're a writer, do you get ideas first, or characters? How does it work for you? OR 2) If you're a reader, let me know which one of these stories you'd like to read most. Any particular reason?

Find out more about the author at her website. A random drawing will be held 8/26 (US/Canada only).

Congrats to Quilt Lady, .ambre., and Lisa P for each winning a book! You will be contacted for mailing details. Thanks for participating.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

8 Lessons Learned in 8 Months of Writing

The close of summer is a sad time for me, even when the temperatures have been over 100 degrees here in the Midwest for most of it. I still love the sun, the swimming, the freedom, the vacations, the flowers, the red, white, and blue, and the fun with my kids. I have found myself reflecting this week on what I have learned in the eight months I have ventured into the world of writing.  
1. When in serious doubt about where your book is going, resist the urge to go back to the beginning. Plunge ahead, and get to the finish line.
I still get these moments where I think, How in the world am I going to get out of this mess I've created? Is it even worth it? Maybe starting over will lead to some new ideas. But I've read and heard from others that finishing is so important. As in life, you can reflect on the past for awhile, but then you have to move on. Eventually, I'll be back to the beginning, but if I do that now, I'm going to lose momentum. I might also lose what my characters are trying to show me. I can't just leave them hanging now, can I?
2. Brothers can be great encouragement, especially when they're as funny as mine.
One day, I was lamenting over the fact that I didn't know whether to use real street names since my scene was in an actual city, in an actual point in history. Some of my historical facts were going to be accurate, but then there was that "fictional" part. I said, "What if someone actually tries to follow my directions and sees that this place doesn't exist?" He imitated for me the type of person who would do this, and then told me about the most amazing nerd, also known virally as "red shirt guy" in this one-minute video.

I will laugh and think of this every time I'm worried about that one person who's going to come to my book signing, and call me out on an inaccurate detail.

3. When you're in the zone, and your subconscious writes something seemingly out of nowhere-- chances are you've probably read it somewhere.
I informed an author friend that my character had uttered a phrase I had never used before, nor ever remember even hearing. I was amazed by how it just spewed onto the page, and even further, did not even mean what I thought it meant. ("Inconceivable!" "You keep saying that word- I do not think it means what you think it means." - Princess Bride, of course).
I was almost utterly embarassed when she said, "Well, that is funny. But if you look at my book-you-just-finished-reading on page 203, you will see that phrase used." What? How had I not remembered reading that, but my brain had somehow absorbed it? And funny enough, she used it right.

4. When you write about a brave character, it might just tend to make you braver in real life.
We often write about the kind of character we wish we could be. But sometimes, real life and fantasy overlap. To believe in something, and give it life on paper, we are not only creating a fictional character, we are creating new parts of ourselves. So if you are trying to improve some characteristic in yourself, consider writing it into a fictional character. Then imitate. But use this power for good, not evil.

5. Writing is one of the few wonderful places where, if you hit a roadblock, you can skip it and go ahead into the future to write a new scene.
Writers have different methods, but this one has worked for me. Who says you have to write straight through, just as you have to live life in a certain order? Maybe if I skip ahead to a future scene, I'll get my answers to get through this point in time. If only life were actually like this! Think about how much you learn when you look back at a problem you once thought was so huge. But then again, in life you have to fight through those obstacles to learn and grow. There is no other way.

6. History is incredible. It gives the springboard behind writing historical fiction because there are so many little tidbits you can bring to life.
When I started, I took a year (in the 1800's) and began to look at events that happened during the year. My research took me to a situation in which a young lady is mentioned. She is the only one who stands up to a bully in defense of a man, of all things; her name is never given. The writer did not even know who she was at the time. She did exist as a blip in history, and the moment I read it, I thought, that is my character. Everything took off from there. If you are wanting to write, this is all it might take to spur your imagination. Pick up a piece of history and go from there!
7. Social media is so time-sucking, but it's also a lifeline.
I have to be thankful for Facebook, because it has allowed me to connect with so many new readers, writers, and friends. I have enjoyed supporting them along their journeys, and the great thing is, they have also supported me. Writing can be lonely, but knowing there is a system out there of friends who care about what I'm doing-- it's so amazing to me. So here's a call to "like" my new writer's page on FB. I would love to interact with more of you. Let me know what you're up to, so I can support you, too! Just knowing that someone else is looking forward to my book has kept me going many times.

8. Celtic Woman on Pandora makes a great soundtrack by which to write. This, and New Age Essentials.
Sometimes I can't get rid of the distractions until I stick my earbuds into my laptop and get the music going. I have found that concentration has been one of my biggest enemies, and this is almost like classic conditioning. I hear the violins, my fingers know to write. (Well, I wish it happened exactly like that). This music has dramatic highs and lows, beauty, sadness, joy. Drums beating, sounding like a herd of horses across a plain, rainstorms, nature, flutes. Whether the sound of history in Ashokan Farewell, or Irish fiddlers, or haunting themes from Lord of the Rings and Braveheart, it's all there. I love music as much as reading and writing, and love how it helps my imagination.

 Have you learned any lessons this year? Either in reading, writing, or life?