Friday, October 29, 2010

Folk Friday and middling

Friday again. This week has gone by with the speed of lightning. I’m waiting for my students to arrive, so I thought I’d better turn my attention to Folk Friday.

I’m smack dab in the middle of Shattered right now. Had a good writing evening last night, got the first scene transition in Chapter 10 worked out. Not a huge number of words, but a roadblock out of the way. I think the next couple of chapters will go quickly.

So far, the middle of a book has been the most difficult part for me. I start quickly, full of the momentum of my new characters, and with an idea of the ending clear in my mind. Then I hit chapter eight or nine and the flow of words slows to a trickle. I know where I’m going, but which of the countless possible routes will I take? Do I need to go back and add plot threads to keep the middle from sagging? Do I need to throw in a twist that will take my characters in a completely different direction?

I know this is a common problem, especially with writers who are pantsers like me. With McShannon’s Chance, I solved it by writing the end and working backwards. Eventually the two halves met in the middle. Once I allowed myself to stop trying to write linearly, ideas started popping into my mind to fill the void.

Authors who can plan their plot in detail – and then follow it! – amaze me. So do authors who write scenes in no particular order. There are as many ways to deal with a book’s sagging middle as there are authors. Some use a collage or storyboard. I’ve tried collaging and enjoyed it, but didn’t find it particularly helpful as a writing tool as I have a strong visual image of my characters and setting from the beginning, and end up simply looking for pictures to fit that image. Perhaps I’ll experiment with a storyboard. Writers of blogland, how do you deal with the middle of a story? Anyone have any innovative ideas to share?

Oh, yes, folk Friday! Last week, an RWAC chapter mate of mine, Carolyn Laurie, posted a wonderful video on Facebook of Raylene Rankin, Cindy Church and Susan Crowe performing together in Alberta. It’s been a while since I heard three such wonderful voices that blend together so well. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dialogue and Layering and Stuff

I’m working on Chapter 10 of Shattered, where Alice and Liam tentatively decide to take a chance on a relationship. The chapter involves a lot of dialogue between them, and with Alice’s family. When this happens, I often handle it by just writing the dialogue, omitting the thoughts and body language that go with it. Afterwards I go back and fill in the narrative.

I find this useful in a couple of ways. If I have trouble adding thoughts or actions, it makes me take a second look at the dialogue. Would Liam really say that, and if so, why? What does Alice really mean by her reply? Leaving the narrative until later also lets me write the dialogue quickly, without stalling on the exact words to describe what someone is thinking or angsting over whether I have too much narrative or not enough. I still do that when I go back to write the next layer, but having the dialogue already in place makes it easier.

Then I often find myself going back to add a third layer – emotion. I usually don’t include a lot in my first draft. I used to think that having a rather flat, unemotional first draft was a weakness, but now I understand that it’s part of my process. First I have to tell the story.

In a recent blog post, my RWAC chapter mate Donna Alward used the term ‘discovery draft’. That’s what this run-through of Shattered is becoming. Writers of blogland, how do you approach a first draft? Do you write a lot of words and scenes and then prune later? Do you layer like I do? Do you sometimes write dialogue only?

P.S. on my fitness program – got my monthly weigh and measure done yesterday, the first one. This is my baseline. Instead of updating each week, I’m going to wait until my next weigh and measure in November. I’m making my workouts and watching what I eat, so at this point I’m pleased. Slow but steady is the plan.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Folk Friday: Wild Women and motivation

I’m really not an analytical person – a bit surprising for a former lab technician I admit. I guess that’s why I’m not in a lab anymore. When I write I just tell that person’s story as it comes to me. Now, after brainstorming at our yearly RWAC retreat last weekend, I want to see my characters from a different angle.

Take Liam, for instance. What does he want? To heal emotionally and physically and get on with his life. What else would an injured war veteran want? But let’s get specific. He needs to work, and he likes physical work, but would he want to work for someone else? Maybe he’d rather have his own company. Maybe he’d like to build houses. Perhaps he was in the process of starting his own construction business when the war intervened.

As for Alice, she wants to teach music to gain some independence, but would she really rather perform? If she didn’t need to support herself, what would she do? I think she’d rather be on stage, where her dyslexia wouldn’t matter.

The joy of a first draft is discovering the characters. The joy of retreating, and brainstorming, is the creative energy it generates – and, of course, the plain old fun.

This week’s Folk Friday is a tribute to my chapter mates - those ‘wild women’ full of creativity. Enjoy!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Folk Friday: Heroes

Looking back at my posts over the last couple of months, I see that I’ve said very little about McShannon’s Heart. I’ve heard from Bluewood and the word is that a Christmas release should be doable, so I’m expecting edits very soon.

I haven’t looked at the story much since submitting it, so I’m looking forward to seeing it with fresh eyes. I love the Yorkshire setting, and of course, Chelle and Martin. Which brings me to a topic dear to my heart: heroes.

So far, I’ve written four heroes: Trey McShannon, Martin Rainnie, Nathan Munroe and Liam Cochrane. I’ll count Liam and Nathan because they are fully formed in my mind, even though their stories aren’t finished. I love them all or I couldn’t write about them, but could I choose a favourite?

Trey is resourceful and tough, a country boy who would look after and protect his woman come hell or high water. He also has a deep-seated romantic streak . He loves for keeps, and would choose an evening at home with Beth over a night out on the town. He’s my ideal cowboy. Nathan, on the other hand, is a born hell-raiser, the type to challenge a woman and keep her on her toes. I find his streak of deviltry irresistible, and the vulnerability underneath it doesn’t hurt.

Martin has the soul of an artist in a rough-hewn body. He expresses himself through his music, and only shows his real self to the people closest to him. He’s very much like my DH. How could I not love him?

Liam is a quick-tempered, Irish-as-they-come lad who would fight a man for fun and then drink with him afterward. I could probably find him in any Halifax pub on a Saturday night. He’s solid and dependable, with a soft spot for anyone down on their luck. He’s the kind of man a woman could trust absolutely, an every-day hero.

One of the joys of writing romance is spending time with the men of my dreams. Another is seeing how others respond to them. I’ve had one reader tell me that she thinks Martin is a very hot hero. Several have told me they prefer Nathan, and for others, Trey is the one. I have to confess that I’m partial to him myself. There’s something about a cowboy.

This afternoon, I’m off to an RWA retreat, where my chapter mates and I will eat, drink and talk of ‘shoes and ships and sealing wax and cabbages and kings’ – and our fictional heartthrobs. What could be more fun? For me, nothing. People of blogland, what qualities do you look for in a romantic hero?

I’ll leave you with this Friday’s tune, Willie Nelson’s ‘My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys’. So have mine. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Inspiration and Perspiration

Inspiration of the Poet, Nicolas Poussin. Oil on Canvas, The Louvre

I’ve always found this time of year inspiring. I’ve spent a large part of my life as either a student or a teacher, so fall has always been the real start of a new year for me. January? Forget January. Nothing starts in January except diets and Christmas bill payments.

I’m feeling inspired creatively and personally these days. I’m dabbling in writing poetry for the first time in years, I’m getting to the fun stuff in Shattered, and I’ve made a resolution to get myself into better physical shape over the next few months. OK, I’ll put a number on it – I want to lose twenty pounds by March Break.

I know how to do it. I’ve done it before. Being hypothyroid as well as vertically challenged, weight control is a life-long issue for me. It doesn’t help that all the things I love to do most – writing, reading, painting, playing guitar, cooking and eating – are either sedentary or fattening. I’ve accepted the fact that for me, exercise will always be something of a chore. Not an unpleasant chore, but a chore nonetheless.

About four years ago, it started to hit home that the big 50 was edging ever closer, and I didn’t like what I saw ahead for my health or my self-esteem. I looked in the mirror, said ‘enough’ and joined Curves. It worked. I built muscle, cut back drastically on sugar and starches, and watched the weight melt off. Six months took me from a size 14 to a size 6.

For two years I kept working out and kept the pounds at bay. Then my teaching job ended and I spent a year on the road selling insurance. Hours sitting in the car every day, stopping for junk food on top of the lunch I took with me, getting home at eight or nine o’clock at night, eating supper and falling into bed. When I wasn’t working I was writing. That year was plain hell on my body. Relentlessly the weight crept back.

For me, exercise has to be a no-brainer, a part of my routine. No fixed routine, no workouts. Now I’m teaching again, with a regular schedule, and it’s time to get back on track. This will be my third three-workout week, and I’m seeing the results already.

One of the things I appreciate about circuit training is that I don’t have to think. I change machines on cue, my muscles working hard while my mind is elsewhere. Not bad for the creative juices. Neither is having more energy and focus.
I’m taking it slower this time. Instead of dieting, I’m focusing on the exercise and trying to eat sensibly and sustainably. After all, for me, there is no life worth living without chocolate and cheesecake, or even better, chocolate cheesecake. All things in moderation, including moderation itself. I’ve lost five pounds and a size so far, so I’m moving in the right direction. I’ll update my progress here as part of Folk Friday, starting next week.

Inspiration? Right now I’ve got it.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Folk Friday and Poetry

'Musikgesselschaft, Petworth', oil on canvas, by Joseph Mallord William Turner

Here it is, Friday again. Today was one of those days when I had to wonder why I’m being paid for what I do. I took our ESL students to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, then we had a scrumptious lunch at Le Mercato. I can’t think of a better way to spend a work day.

It’s been a busy week. Last night I went to an open-mike session with a friend of mine at Local Jo, a cosy coffee house here in Halifax. This session takes place on the last Thursday of each month, and if you’re in town and feel like hearing a widely diverse selection of fiction, poetry and spoken word performance, I’d recommend it. Shauntay Grant, Halifax’s poet laureate, was among the performers and she is amazing. I couldn’t find a sharable video, but here’s the link to her myspace page, where you can hear her perform.

Shauntay Grant

The evening inspired me to write a poem for the first time in years. A little background: My husband, a professional-level musician, inherited his talent from his mother, who taught piano into her eighties. When she passed away two years ago we inherited her piano, and playing it has been great therapy for him. In music, ‘Father Charles goes down, ends battle’ is a memory crutch for learning sharp key signatures and the reverse works for flats.

Chopin falls soft on the ear,

The remembered cadence of childhood

Lessons learned. Father Charles goes down, ends battle.

Battle ends, down goes Charles’ father.

Through worn ivory keys

Mother comes to you

Speaking words of wisdom. Let it be.