Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Embarrassed, Red-Faced Woman with Too Many, Superfluous Words

I've just finished an exercise from The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman.

Wow! Is my face very red! I didn't think I had a problem overusing adjectives and adverbs. But I do. Maybe you knew? 

The exercise was to take the first page of a manuscript and highlight all the adjectives and adverbs. I found four adverbs and 28 adjectives. Whew! 

Three of the adverbs and 13 of the adjectives proved indispensable. The rest I ruthlessly cut--a word savings of 5%! I also exchanged a commonplace noun in the first paragraph with a snazzier one.

Have you examined your modifiers?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Staying Afloat


For my final ICL assignment, I chose to begin a middle grade novel. 

About two weeks in, this feels as though I’ve jumped into a raging river and the current is carrying me toward some dangerous frontier. According to the prevailing metaphors and puns, I’m supposed to be “steering a craft.” If I’m in a boat at all, it just may be the bark of folly!

I’m most afraid of the monster beneath the surface: plot. Coming up with a viable plot seems so easy. Many agree there are only three: (wo)man vs. (wo)man, (wo)man vs. nature, (wo)man vs. God. Every story is a variation on one of these.

By now I’ve heard and read thousands of stories. I know what makes a good story. But that doesn’t mean I can write one.

Maybe I will drown in this river, dragged down by the plot monster or by some snag invisible from the sparkling surface. Or maybe (not likely) I’ll dog-paddle my way to shore, shake it off, and curl up in my warm and dry doghouse. 

Probably, I’ll just tread water for a while.

Have you noticed progress tends to come in quantum leaps? That you seem to be at a standstill, and then suddenly, you reach a higher level of skill and confidence?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday

"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." Genesis 3:19

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Little Help from (and for) My Friends

Inluvwithwords, published author extraordinaire at Out on a Limb  just gave me an award. Thank you, Ruth!

The rules for this award say that I must thank the giver and link to his/her blog, list 10 things about myself, and pass the award along to six other deserving bloggers. So here goes:

1.) I'm the youngest daughter of a youngest daughter.

2.) I think dogs really can talk, but humans aren't developed enough to hear them yet. 

3.) I learned how to do a flip off the diving board when I was five years old.

4.) I have three fabulous daughters: one redhead, one brunette, and one strawberry blonde.

5.) I've been married to my sweetheart of a husband for 37-1/2 years and one day. :)

6.) I made chocolate truffles for the first time on Valentine's Day 2012. 

7.) I was the only child in my family to need glasses and corrective shoes.

8.) I'm certain ecstasy is a drug that consists of sunshine, water, wind, and motion.

9.) One part of heaven on earth is watching your grandchildren grow.

10.) Collectively, my husband and our three daughters have 7 college degrees and one pending. Did I mention that we are Alabama fans? Roll Tide, y'all. :-}

I'd like to pass the Kreativ Blogger Award along to:

16 Balls in the Air

Katie Clark--The Ramblings of a Cancer Kid Mom

Confessions of Character

The World Crafter's Inkspot 

Kelly Hashaway 

Old Fashioned Girl


Final Gift

Whitney Houston died broke in spite of the hundreds of millions of dollars that she earned. 

Tragedy like this makes it difficult not to believe in a curse associated with talent, success, money, power, fame. 

The human condition is fragile even as it thinks itself invincible. It’s like driving a powerful auto. You hit the accelerator; your tires squeal; and you leave the jalopy behind you breathing your dust and smoke. The car has suddenly become an extension of you; its power, yours. You smirk and say, “Aha, look how powerful ‘I’ am!” 

Because success comes so easily, and sometimes so early, to the super-gifted, they may forget that it is, in fact, a gift. They may think instead it’s something intrinsic to them, that they achieved it on their own—and not by God’s gift and blessing. 

That kind of hubris is our downfall. Because all of usperhaps especially the famous, the super-rich, the powerful, the wildly successfulare subject, as Ecclesiastes reminds us, to time and chance. 

The very qualities that make us successful in one area blind us in other areas. The energy we expend developing and reveling in our talents isn’t there to expend loving our children, or mending our sorrows, or guarding our assets. 

I’m writing this for myself mostly. Not that I believe I’ll ever be as successful as Whitney Houston, nor that my gift is anywhere near as great. But I’ve known the curse of success on a small scale. I believed the uphill climb was my own doing, although I wouldn’t concede responsibility for crashing. 

Eventually, I realized I had it backwards: God raised me up and I had thrown myself down. Pride did it. Selfishness. Supercilious treatment of others. Forgetfulness of the Giver.

Too many artists’ final gift to us is priceless; it’s a cautionary tale. Never forget it. 

All you are, all you have, comes from above. Pride destroys it. Gratitude preserves it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Whirling Dervishes

I love cross-genre art. I love it when musicians base song lyrics on literature. For example: “The Battle of Evermore” by Led Zeppelin is by way of Tolkien; “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” by the Police is by way of Goethe. I’m sure there are many (more current examples) out there that I’m unaware of.

The opposite occurs too. Writers sometimes take their cues from music or painting.

According to a creativity book I recently finished and recommend, Creating a Life Worth Living by Carol Lloyd, I’m a bit of a “whirling dervish.” I go from one artistic thing to another. It’s not ADD, although it may appear to be. It’s just that I hate burning my artistic bridges in order to specialize. 

I have an easel with a half-finished canvas set up just in case I get creative fever for turquoise and persimmon paint instead of bold verbs and precise nouns. I’m a sucker for interesting forms and spaces. Trees mesmerize me. 

Music, especially if it has an odd rhythm, gets me right here in the heart and the muscles—activates that “dance” sense known as “kinesthesia.” (Happily, I leave the playing of music to those who are good at it, which I'm not.)  

Art genres overlap and feed into each other in some wonderfully inexplicable way.

You may have noticed that the title of my blog, “The Writer Shade of Pale,” is a corruption of “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” That's a song by Procol Harem from the 1960s that relies on imagery from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (“one of 16 vestal virgins,” who, BTW, “were leaving for the COAST.” See my earlier post, “Life’s A Coast.”)

Does your writing involve other artistic genres? Are there songs you know that are taken from literature or vice versa? Do you engage in another art that inspires your writing? If so, leave me a comment.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Cabbage and Iced Fish

You’ve probably heard it said that writers need to be “noticers”—that it’s those authentic details you notice and include that make your writing come alive. But it’s not the easiest thing in the world to do, to notice. We’re all wired uniquely, and I’m wired like a cat. I pick up on unusual sights and sounds—the thump on the roof or the dark shadow passing over—but when things are normal and usual, I’m on autopilot. 

Even when I tell myself to be all eyes and ears, when I vow to pay attention to the lisp of the sour-faced cashier or the way my hairstylist holds the scissors when she’s chatting and not snipping—I come home disappointed. I get caught up in the mundane. Unless I’m working on a specific character or assignment, I forget to notice.

Then there’s the opposite phenomenon. I have noticed this terrific bit of sensory data, but it doesn’t fit with any character or story I’m working on. That’s when it’s a good idea to keep an idea notebook. With just the right detail, however, I suspect you could construct a complete story around it. 

I’m thinking of one by Flannery O’Connor. In it a large woman holding a grocery bag has a scrap of cabbage stuck to her cheek. That scrap of cabbage—is that what sparked the story? I wonder. It’s as if the totality of the woman can be deduced from that one detail. 

Then there’s the metaphor in Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna: “her feet like iced fish in the bed.” A perfect detail, perfectly described. 

Noticing what other writers do will be the subject of a future post.

What have you noticed lately?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Life's a Coast


When I was a child, we used to go, not to the “beach,” but to the “coast.” I've always thought going to the coast implied something different from going to the beach. Go to the beach and the sun shines and you stroll on the sand. Go to the coast and you sidle right up to the edge of the world.

It's a radical journey, getting back to the roots of things, of relationships, leaving all the unnecessary trappings of civilized life behind. It's a wild and daring adventure. Or at least it used to be.

When I was about four, I remember arriving late at night, and my family, all six of us, joined hands and slogged into the moon-scribbled surf. Later, Dad turned his pockets inside out looking for his car keys. Not finding them, he summoned a mechanic who shattered the driver’s side window of our locked Buick and hot-wired the ignition. High drama for a four-year-old.

At the coast you couldn’t drink the water out of the tap—or at least you wouldn't want to—so we'd drive someplace inland to fill large bottles from an artesian well. We didn’t require air conditioning because we had only one window unit at home in the living room—and we never turned it on except on the sultriest Fourth of July or when company came.

At the coast my sometimes high-strung father became loose and laughing. He worked hard all his life, but he sure knew how to have a good time. In burger joints or seafood restaurants, he’d chuckle and say “Get whatever you want.”  And believe me, we did! When I’d go fishing in Cotton Bayou with my older brother, Dad would pay me a nickel for every fish I caught—the same fish more than once, no doubt, because I threw them all back. Then with the proceeds I’d buy comic books at Sunnyland Grocery.

Only at the coast could Sunnyland have been called a grocery. True, it sold bacon and eggs, and milk and bread, but alongside plastic pink flamingos, floats, fishing tackle, ice, stale bagged peanuts to put in your Coke, and—let’s see—ethyl at about twenty-nine cents a gallon.

Nowadays, you can go to any number of beaches, all with high rise condos and luxuries you couldn’t (or wouldn't want to) afford even at more reasonable prices at home. I suspect that most people have never had a real vacation. Going to the beach is one thing. Going to the coast is another.

If the coast even exists—if it wasn't just a figment of my childhood imagination—then I don't know where to look for it anymore.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Low Maintenance


Sometimes all you need to be happy is a walk in the sunshine.
An iPod playing Van Morrison makes it 
that much better.