Sunday, January 30, 2011

"Life Happens"

As news spread about my upcoming book, the most frequently asked questions from other aspiring writers have had to do with how the story line is developed.
     "How did you get your idea for your book?"
     "How do I keep my story from fizzling out?"
     "I've got the beginning, and the end, how do I come up with the middle?"
     "I thought I had plenty of material, but when I put it all down, it's only twenty five pages."
     "How do you think up twists, or build suspense?"

     In one way or another, these all were my same concerns, several being large contributors to my early failures, but in this post I will address the first two. I have a gazillion ideas in my head, but like picking an ice cream flavor when there are too many choices, sometimes deciding on the exact right one for a story becomes an exercise in futility. 
     What do I do? 
I decide before I go into the store based on my immediate craving, be it chocolate, mint, some tart sorbet, ...what ever, and when I do, the process is made simple.  So how does this relate to picking a subject?  Once I stopped trying to pre-determine the perfect subject, compelling plot and creative story line, I found that writing flowed much more freely.  In other words, go with what moves you in the moment, a gut instinct, craving, or just a mindless notion.
     The inception of"Posey Dawson" (one of my manuscripts yet to be submitted for publishing) came in just such a manner, popping into my head out of nowhere, as little more than a funny thought.  Immediately upon arriving home, I began to write it down and something amazing happened.  One thing led to another, and as my two characters began interacting, the story grew legs and just took off on its own.  That was the moment, when I first began to understand the principle of "Cause and Affect" as it applies to writing fiction.  Most times, all you need is a couple of characters reacting to what the other says or does to start your story going. Then, with the addition of other characters, each acting consistent with their individual personalities, opinions, histories, attitudes, strengths and weaknesses, the community of your fictional world begins to interact within itself, and life magically happens.  All we have to do as writers, is start the ball rolling, and then gently guide it along.  Of course that's over simplifying it, for surely there's more to writing a novel than that, but it's a great place to start, and once you have something written, then you'll have a base to manipulate and shape any way you wish.  If a potter wishes to create a pot, he must first produce a lump of clay, and start his wheel to turning.
     From time to time while following the natural flow of my characters, I find my story veering in a direction that I don't like, so I simply go back and change the cause, or what ever happened to turn it in that direction.  By changing the cause, I also change the reaction, or affect, thus steering the story back to where I want it to go.  While working on "Search For Yesterday", I didn't discover this phenomenon until late in the story as I struggled to find the right way to wrap it up.  For days, I obsessed, over my unresolving plot, trying to contrive something mind blowing, and then one night while at dinner with my wife, my mind did blow.  Without even realizing I had done it, I had long since written in all of the components necessary to produce the ending I sought, but had failed to see it until just then.  With only a simple change in one of my supporting characters moral condition, I not only found the solution to my plot, but within a few days, the ending wrote itself.
     A common thread in all of my writing teacher's and professor's instruction over the years, was the need for any writer to practice, or more specifically, to write often.  So try this, you have to hone your skill on something, why not give my theory a whirl and see where it takes you, you might be amazed.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

"Broom Closets"

     Have you ever been in a moment of introspection, wherein you find that you lack vision to satisfy the requirements of your intended goal?  While building a community of homes a few years back, my partners and I ran into an interesting realization that may more clearly demonstrate my question.          
     Though all of us were skilled and well seasoned in the home building and Real Estate world, including our male agent, we found that experience and know how were not enough alone, to give us a winning perspective.  The homes were beautiful and affordable, yet we were struggling to sell them and couldn't figure out why.  Finally, one of the partner's suggested changing agents.  We agreed, and the following week I met with our new agent in the model home.  She seemed to like the flow, colors, and general feel, but upon completing her inspection, we returned to the kitchen area where she promptly asked,
     "Who designed this home?
     "I did," I answered proudly.
     "Humph," she chuckled, " figures."  Surprised by her sarcasm, I asked why she would say that.
     "Where's your broom closet?" she replied, "'re all men aren't you, and you designed these homes without consulting a woman.  It's nice," she continued, "...but of all the words I hear it saying, none of them would appeal to a woman." 
     Humbled and a little embarrassed, I immediately went back to the drawing board with her added perspective and found a way to get our homes to speak woman.
     In creating my stories, I sometimes come upon personalities, or scenarios requiring perspective that my bank of experience and knowledge just doesn't have.  When this happens, I've learned to seek help from someone who does.  I do my best to set the stage, position the characters in their respective places, developing the scene and then seeing it through to where it leads.  Finally, when I've done everything I can with it, I seek correction from someone I trust, who also possesses the needed perspective I lack.  Note that I said "correction", not "opinion".  In order to successfully develop characters and situations that reach beyond the surface of reading, I have found it necessary to surrender the right of way to someone with a clearer line of sight, despite my personal attachments or pride.  As in-love as we may sometimes be with our beautiful kitchens, ...sometimes we simply lack broom closets to make them complete.
     About a year back, I was working on a Prequel to "Search For Yesterday", and was proudly reading a portion of it to my twenty year old daughter.  When I concluded, I fully expected to hear her gush about what a terrific piece of writing it was, but instead, she looked perplexed.
     "I don't get it," she said, trying hard not to put her words in a way that might offend me, "...that whole scene has the potential to be great, but instead you just glossed over it, giving little play to the human element that would surely have gone on between such a trio of characters." 
     "How so?" I asked having already learned the above mentioned lesson about broom closets.
     "You have two men: one bad, one good, and a beautiful woman wearing little more than a breech cloth and breast covering, ...doesn't that situation call for more than a shallow exchange between the two men about what they're going to do when morning comes?  Think about it!" 
     I did think about it, and with her help, what was a, "just above average" scene, now screams attitude, suspicion, and sexual tension that digs well beneath the readers skin, to the places that really feel.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Not So Fictional Fiction (Part One A)

Sparrow Hawks

     Midway through Search For Yesterday, Zeke makes his entrance, and plays a significant role throughout the rest of the story.  Unlike most other characters of the book, Zeke can't talk, read, tease or fight, but he can love.  He is a Red Tailed Hawk, found by Kid and raised from an ugly fuzz ball to adulthood.  Although the finished book doesn't include the thousands of descriptive words I had written about him in the original manuscript, hopefully we didn't cut so much that it prevents you from fully appreciating him.  I have a long history with birds of prey, starting on the night my father took me to see the movie, "The Other Side Of The Mountain", where in a young boy leaves home to survive by himself in the mountains.  Early on, he takes a baby Peregrine Falcon from its nest, and then raises and trains it to hunt for him.  What an impact that movie had on my four year old imagination.  From then on, I began looking for hawks, eagles, and falcons where ever I could find them, taking any opportunity I could to watch them, or look at their pictures in books, while dreaming of the day I would have one of my own. 
       Yesterday while enjoying Sunday dinner, Marianne exclaimed, “Hey, aren't those your hawks?” Her attention was fixed on two tiny Sparrow Hawks peaking out of an eight inch opening at the end of our basketball standard, and with just a glance I knew she was right.
     For any of you who haven't seen one of these miniature masterpieces of God's artistic design, they are beyond cool, and as I have already mentioned, along with other related osprey, have been a fascination of mine for nearly as long as I can remember.
     “Do you think they'll nest in there?” Clara, my fourteen year old asked, recalling the many times I've recounted stories involving me and one or another distant relative of our new visitors. I replied that I hoped they would, while at the same time indulging  in a momentary trip to this colorful childhood memory.
     Having noticed that a pair of small hawks had made their nest way up in the eave of our small Milford farm house, I determined that one way or another I was going to catch one. Reaching the small opening wood peckers had made in the yellow lapped siding might have looked impossible to another seven year old, but if I possessed anything with more range than my imagination, it was boundless, youthful ingenuity, and there was no way the twenty feet height problem was going to dissuade me. With a huge wooden wire spool, serving as a base, I added to my starting height with a heavy wooden crate, and then on top of that I situated a slivery old ladder that must have predated Moses. It leaned so steeply up that I had to hug its entire length all the way to the top just to keep it from falling backward, and then with my finger nails clawing into the bottom of each lap of siding, I inched my way upward until tiptoeing on the top rung I could reach inside the hole.
     I can still feel my heart pounding with excitement as I reached blindly around in the dark void searching for something to grab. One tiny slip, or wrong move and I'd have been a goner, but I don't remember the thought ever crossing my mind, I just kept at it and finally my persistence paid off. Tightly clutching the nasty little bundle of slashing razor blades, I ignored the pain of his tearing beak, and carefully inched my way back down the ladder until my feet once again touched ground. My hand was torn and bleeding in multiple places, but that didn't stop me from rushing inside to show Mom what I had got, and to this day, I still remember the chuckle, and proud look of amusement in her eyes as she shook her head slowly back and forth in disbelief. I kept the mean little ripper in a box for a day or so, but not being able to so much as open the top let alone touch him for fear of him unleashing holy hell on my hand again, I gave up trying and set him free.
     That was neither the first, nor last of my encounters with hawks over the course of my life thus far, and today as I watch the two birds beginning to make their home in my back yard I am reminded that some things in life never change.  Surely for me, the nostalgic feelings that stir inside when I see even one of these little birds, are some of those things.  My first novel wouldn't have been complete without some inclusion of this mini obsession of mine, and I hope that this and other glimpses into what makes me tick will add to the luster of my stories.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Not So Fictional Fiction (Part One)

    Being my first attempt at writing a novel, Search For Yesterday presented an immediate challenge; creating a main character, who though fictional, would infuse my story with real feelings, real emotion, and real relatable life experiences.  I suspect other budding authors have met with the same obstacles as I did, arriving eventually at a similar solution, using the intimate knowledge of their own self, or personal life experience, for the anchor around which to build the rest of their fictional world.
     As a tall, socially awkward boy growing up in the country, I had no friend near by, nor the toys, store bought gadgets, or games that most other kids my age had.  My father taught school several hours each day, and religion the rest of the time, and having a large family, including a stay at home wife, he simply couldn't afford such luxuries.  Of course Christmas did come once a year, but few play things lasted more than a couple of weeks in my rough and tumble world, leaving me eleven months of the year to create my own fun.  Fortunately, I had acres and acres of wide open space in which to do it.  Having gluttoned myself enough on exciting stories read to me by my awesome mother, I had more than enough stimuli to satisfy my hungry imagination.  Granaries became castles, and potato cellars caves while abandoned car wrecks, farm implements, and an old school bus easily transformed into secret huts.  The family dog along with a plentiful wildlife and rodent population filled roles of both friend and foe, leaving no shortage of enemies to shoot at, or allies to guard my flank.  Between the ages of five and thirteen, I caught lizards, snakes, frogs and birds by the dozen, some by the fifties.  I raised and trained my first hawk at eight, and my second at twelve and have patched up a half a dozen others during that time and since.  I caught a young coyote pup, pheasant and fish with my bare hands.  A fawn licked my neck and ears while I crouched hidden in a thicket of mountain oak, and I've experienced the sound of surprise a full grown deer makes on more than one occasion, when led by curiosity they approached within inches of my face before discovering what I was.
     Other contributing elements, too many to mention, also helped to fill my world in those early years with color and adventure, and all helped in the creating of Kid, the lanky farm boy from mid western Missouri around which my story revolves.  At first meeting, the reader is introduced to me at age fifteen.  Perfectly at home with nature, Kid's quiet strengths as well as his awkward social insecurities quickly become apparent, and are illustrated in a fictional world that more accurately imitates my own real life than the other way around. 
     From time to time on this blog page, I will add to the theme of this post, sharing additional glimpses into my heretofore private life experiences, with accompanying thoughts and feelings as best as I can, so you may more fully understand and enjoy the characters of my books.
     What a blast this journey has been, and continues to be.  I hope you are enjoying it with me.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sample Preview "Posey Dawson"

      The dust raised by the Dawson family wagon, hadn’t yet settled back on to the drive before Posey had thrown clothes and some grub in a burlap sack and lit out.  Billowing puffs of dust scooted out in front of his worn shoes with each grudge-filled stride, the last heavy words of his father drowning out all other sound, with their thunderous echoes still banging back and forth against the hallways of his brain.
     “If you don't like it, ...get out!” were the exact words Will Dawson had used in response to his oldest son's objection to rising early on Sunday morning to study scriptures with the family. 
     Having waited just long enough hear the wagon wheels grind out of the graveled drive, Posey did just like his pa had said, begrudgingly wondering the whole time if finally, his prompt obedience, a thing his father had always preached, would finally be quick enough for his liking.
     "Now we’ll see who's sorry." he huffed feeling mad clear through, …hurt and mad actually, ...two things in a head strong, wounded eighteen year old, that seldom if ever add up to any good! …least ways not right off.
     For days Posey trudged along on tired legs, over hill and dale, re stoking with every forward step, the bitter coals of hurt burning in the pit of his stomach. Why he chose south, he didn’t rightly know. Maybe it was because he had known some folks who had moved that direction, or just the natural drift of things, like water running down hill, or the way stuff falls. When all was said and done, he just sort of picked a point and headed towards it.
     Fourteen times the sun had risen on the runaway trail, and as it neared three quarter of the way across the sky on that fourteenth afternoon, Posey stepped foot onto the sprawling main street of Fillmore Utah, the state’s capitol. The town seemed odd, yet strangely familiar as he made his way south through the business district towards a tall, red rock building towering over the other modest businesses lining the wide dirt road. Not hardly even birds were out, much less people. A half a block beyond the two story Capitol building, stood a stone meeting house, and upon nearing it, he realized the reason for all the quiet. Up until just then, the long hot days had become a blur, but the joyful singing flowing from the open windows of that church, made it abundantly clear what day it was.    
     Typical of most Utah towns, it being Sunday, pretty much the whole community was sitting inside that church, explaining the empty streets.
The music sounded good, reminding Posey of his mother, and all the times she had made him sit for choir practice after Sunday school was over. Fighting the powerful hankering he had to go inside, he settled down on the wide steps of the Capitol building to listen, liking the way the music seemed to bring her close again, even with all the anger and nastiness he had built up in his heart. Funny how God works… He must have seen that the boy was listening, because the sermon was all about temperance, and the dangers of hate. Heavy words like "Obedience", and "Respect", ruffled his feathers some, but yet he stayed and listened anyway, the proximity, and the familiar sense of belonging overpowering his wounded pride.
     When the service ended, Posey stayed put, studying the people as they left, something he had always enjoyed, especially when the people being watched were unaware that somebody was looking. Such a moment paints whole different picture of them, than when their sitting in their Pugh, with saints all around them. He wasn't really judging them for what he observed, at least not the normal stuff. That was one thing his folks had en grained in good and early, the understanding that if he did judge other folks, he would have to be OK being measured up the same way.
     A right handsome man, in wealthy attire, stepped out and dawned his sharply trimmed hat. Salt and pepper gray hair waved coolly over his ears extending midway down his neck, and even at a distance he gave off an unmistakable air of importance. Remaining on the wide landing at the top of the church steps, he loitered about, greeting the passers by as they made their way through the big double doors as if he were the mayor. 
“Looks like you're running for office or something...” Posey laughed under his breath, noting the way the man busied himself about, making sure to be noticed by as many folks as he could get in front of. As Posey's amusement continued, a half a dozen girls appeared on the steps, drawing his full attention away. One, taller than the others by nearly a half a foot, stepped from the open doors and walked over to the man, taking his arm, and leaning in close.
     “Auugh! ...what in the world?” Posey growled.  For a moment his attention returned to the man, simply because of the repulsive sight of such a pretty girl hugging up on him, but soon drew his gaze became drawn only to her.
     “You are somethin'!” he breathed, keeping his eyes fixed on her every move, “...even if you are his daughter.” She was pretty, …looking down right beautiful, even at that distance, with dark, flowing hair reaching midway down her long slender back, her face that radiated like the sun. As they moved away toward the wagons, the other girls flocking around blocked her from full view until all he could see was her back as the buggy rode in turned east onto the street behind a shimmering black horse.
     “Wow Pose…” he said, laughing to himself, recalling his long journey as he made his way down the steps to the plaza, “…that surely was worth the walk!”

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Busting Out of the Tangle

     When I first sat down to write Search For Yesterday, I was unaware of the road block waiting just beyond my awesome beginning.  I say awesome, not because I think it's the greatest ever, but because I believe most writers, when we first get an idea for a story, feel like it's awesome, if not, we would simply discard it and move on.
     At any rate, a few chapters in, I found myself languishing in travel loggish filler babble that wouldn't  interest anyone, which quickly had me tangled in the "I don't know what the crap I'm doing" feelings, or, "how do I get free of  this tangle of clinging vines strangling my story".  Since then, I have conversed with a number of aspiring authors, most having wonderful beginnings to their projects, but that have found themselves mired in the same sinking frustration, with no visible avenue of escape.  What rescued me?  Maybe luck, maybe intelligence I didn't know I had, ...or perhaps when I called for help, discouraged and desperate from my knees, a kind Father and God lended a hand.  Yeah, I think it was that, because I'm neither that lucky nor smart.  The thing I do know, however, is that I'm loved and watched over.
     All at once, I had the thought that I should surround the great beginning to my story with life.  Real, relate able, living, breathing, ...things, personalities, and experiences that while on first thought seemed like they might rob attention from my main character who I thoroughly loved, would in fact, in the end give him the added value he lacked.   I discovered years back while studying fine art, that to give life to an object, one must add light, and shadow, being unselfish enough to sacrifice detail in the background, while being bold enough to cover portions of the desired focal point with objects in the foreground to accomplish the richness that depth of field provides.
     What I learned from my experience, was that writing, like fine art, must include elements of light, color, contrast and depth, and by adding each to my story, suddenly my main character began to pop from the page.  His personality, looks, character, and his adventures, all benefiting because of the development of his supporting cast.  The most beautiful sunsets would seem ordinary without contrasting clouds, mountains, oceans, skylines, and even unseen particulates in the atmosphere.  Often we see only one, but neither has the same value without the other.