Thursday, March 10, 2005

Running From the Past

Started filling out John's Character Development Worksheet today. Everything was going fine until I hit the question "What is the character's greatest secret?" and its close relative "What does he fear would happen if his spouse ever found out?" Much pondering and musing ensued.

Our greatest secrets tend to also be the source of our greatest fears, which in turn fire our greatest motivations. This quite often happens in the secrecy of our own subconscious minds. John's greatest secret engenders his greatest fear which is what drives him and keeps him so intensely involved in his work. He is running as hard as can, but he is soon going to find out that he can't escape.

What is it that he's running from? What drives him so hard? His past contains something so horrid, so evil that he won't even admit it to himself. What is it? Thomas knows. I sometimes hear him late at night whispering in my ear, my own personal Hannibal Lecter. His soft, seductive voice and impeccable reasonableness pull me inexorably forward toward the edge of the Pit. He wants me to look in and see the things that hide in the shadows, gibbering and capering with gleeful insanity.

I asked the Tarot and it told me "King of Cups, Reversed". A father or father-figure who is deceitful and untrustworthy. My mind immediately linked this up with "the sins of the fathers are visited on the sons unto the seventh generation". When I put this together with the undercurrent theme of betrayal that is evolving, I ran into a big "Uh-oh".

This is the part where I tend to back away and look for something more innocuous. I can't do that. Writers establish a relationship with their readers. We have to gain our reader's trust, their faith, if you will, that we will be honest with them. Unfortunately, I can't be honest with my readers unless I'm honest with myself. They will know, and once that rust is broken, it is almost impossible to re-establish. No matter how much I want to keep looking "through a glass, darkly", I must look, not into a mirror, but directly into my heart and soul with clear eyes and a firm resolve to face the monsters and bring them out into the light.

I consider myself a reasonably liberal free-thinker. I value honesty and candor. There are some subjects, however, that cause me to turn into a staunch, head-in-the-sand, denier of the truth. This is the kind of territory that I'm exploring right now. This is the scenario that keeps replaying itself in my mind:

John's family consisted of him, his father, and his older sister. His mother had died while he was still an infant, and his sister, 7 at the time, had raised him. Though nobody talked about how his mother had died, his father, and therefore his entire family, was treated as pariah by the community. Some secrets will just have to remain hidden for now.

When John was 9, his sister, now 16, became pregnant. She confided in John that their father had been having sex with her regularly since she was 10 and that the baby was his. She then ran away deep into the mountains. A few months pass. John and his father have always been practically strangers, and his father had only barely tolerated his presence in the house. With Sarah now gone, their discomfort with each other grew, and John lived in fear that his father might hurt or even kill him in a drunken rage. What actually happened was even worse. His father came to his bed one night…

"Raise the stakes", Maass says. Turn the screw. John and Maggie raised a daughter. She now has a five year old daughter. Children tend to follow in their parents' footsteps, especially children of abusers. This is going to get ugly. Every now and then I have to ask myself why I do this to myself. Because I'm there? Because I'm square? Because I'm the closest thing to Heaven…never mind. Because I must.

Ugh. That kind of thing really makes me feel slimy. I served on a jury once on a case where a father was accused of molesting his 5 year old daughter. It still haunts me. It was a mistrial, by the way, so we didn't have to decide. Whew!

"Father, if it be Thy will, let this cup pass from me…nevertheless, not my will, but Thine be done."

On a side note: I have determined that John is a Leo and Maggie is a Cancer. Fire and Water, a volatile mix, to say the least. Deborah (new name is now official, for now) is an Air sign. Can you say "conflict"?

Another excellent plotting article

Again from PBW's list of plotting resources. Great stuff in there! This one is about using the Snowflake Process to develop your novel. Again, it doesn't fit my style exactly, but it appeals to the librarian part of me that longs to bring order to chaos. The "voice crying in the wilderness" part. That champion of lost causes I referred to a while back.

Anyway this article uses a top-down approach. Find your premise. Expand it into a sentence. Expand the sentence into a paragraph. Take each sentence in the paragraph and use it as the starting point for its own paragraph, turn each paragraph into a page. Etc., etc., etc. Continuous refinement until you have what amounts to a 50-page detailed outline. He also does a line-per-scene using Excel. Intriguing to some extent, but I much prefer to keep that in a Word document.

Back in my former life, when I had a mind, I wrote computer programs this way. It's a familiar technique, and one that will contribute something to my process, which is still evolving and probably will evolve forever. I'm glad to be reminded of it.


Due to some manual dyslexia, I munged the link to my WIP page yesterday. Maybe this one will work? Thanks for letting me know, Debra! If only the damned computer would do what I want instead of what I say. :)

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Feet of Clay

In her list of Ten Things to Help With Novel Plotting, Paperback Writer has a link to this page. Thanks, PBW for a great resource list!

Jungian Novel Writing: a Mythological Approach to Story Telling: that's an attractive concept for me. I believe that all story telling is mythmaking. Writers create and re-create our culture's myths constantly. We dream, and we tell our dreams to others so they can learn to better understand the reality we share. I haven't had a chance to explore the rest of this site yet, but it's on my Favorites list.

Two things I wanted to say about this article in particular. First, it's a great introduction to some basics of novel structure. I have read an awful lot over the years about the "story arc", but this is the first time I've ever actually seen this concept illustrated. While I think this author's approach is a little simplistic (hook, first plot point, mid-novel reversal, second plot point, resolution), he has given me something I can latch on to and use as a fundamental template while I'm feeling my way through the darkness of my first novel. He also stresses the concept of Premise very hard. By starting from a 3-word premise statement and working upward, I can keep the development and structure under control and maintain an overview of the story. I was working in a somewhat similar fashion already, so the validation helps.

Second, this article really points out the dangers in self-publication. Mr. Sheppard probably whould have proofread a little more carefully or asked a friend to proofread for him. The article is sprinkled with distracting statements like:

"Premise is the Rosette Stone for decoding the entire idea and getting it into the form of a novel." Would that refer to the stone tablet unearthed by Napoleon's army near Rosetta, Egypt?

"Any event that sticks in your mind does so for a reason, and that reason is that it means something to you. What, you may not quiet be able to verbalize, but it does." As a librarian, I'm all for verbalizing quietly, but I don't quite catch the drift here.

This is a very good introduction to novel plotting for rank amateurs such as myself, but a little bumpy to read.

Musical musings

While reading this article and the one on "The Four Point Plot Line", also on Paperback Writer's list, I was struck by the similarities between novel structure and the Classical 4-movement symphonic structure. I have long been fascinated by the similarities and differences between writing and music. This came about when I first read Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter. It is still one of my favorite books and an eternal gold mine of illumination and steak-and-potatoes food for thought.

Hofstadter mainly explored fugues and canons, and I have plans to write short stories in these forms at some point when I have the skill. "Fugue in the Key of Shadows" has been on my idea list for several years, now. One day, I'll get up the nerve to start.

A parting shot from the distant past

"Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are!"

I have no idea why that drifted up. I'm not sure I want to know.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Further clarification

At the time Thomas was "courting" her, Maggie was hypnotised and thought it was only a dream. Sort of like Lucy Westenra. She was afraid she was being possessed by a demon, an incubus, and ran to John for salvation. That is why she doesn't recognize Thomas now. He seems vaguely familiar, but she can't place him. She does remain susceptible to his influence. That magic doesn't fade with time.

I have finished and posted the plan for 2005. In order to finish writing a first draft in 6 months July-December), I will have to average 550 wpd. I can do that. Character building is next. I'm a week ahead of schedule, but I can't afford to get cocky. Character building has always been a bug-a-boo for me. I've always shied away from digging too deeply, but for a novel, I have to. Take a deep breath and dive in. It's only cold for a second.

Lurching through the landscape

Small progress on the latest landscaping project. After the rain last night, the soil was just too wet and heavy for me to get much done. I did get the area smoothed and somewhat level. Tomorrow, I'll try to get the edging in place, the soil dug out, the weed barrier laid down, and at least some of the rock in place. I want to finish up no later than Thursday so I can get some perennials set out over the weekend.

Tomatoes are sprouting. They should be big enough to set out after Easter.

The Danger of Writer's Blindness

Every writer has a vision. It's what gets us started on this road and keeps us going through the learning curve and into the ranks of the published. My vision drives me forward every day. The dream of putting my messages in front of interested people is always fresh and alive. My nightmare is that I will lose sight of my vision and begin to settle for "good enough".

The problem is money. Writers get used to being paid, sometimes handsomely, and lionized. The lure is very strong. Just keep doing what sells. If you break out and explore fresh territory of get too far away from what made your reputation, your work gets harder to sell, no matter how good it might be. Think about all the authors who have become a kind of cookie-cutter book mill. Many of them recognize what has happened and would really like to break out, but their agents and editors won't even look at anything that's outside the marketing plan.

How m,uch courage does it take to walk away from a lucrative career in order to satisfy your creative vision? Bankruptcy looms over you with every breath. What price artistic integrity?

That's the real down side of being an artist, and writers are artists. We like to speak of the "craft of writing" and focus on telling a good story. We may even come right out and deny that our writing has any artistic value. After all, it's just fantasy or horror ro romance or mystery or whatever. Nevertheless, the reality is that writers create art. We paint and sculpt and sing with words. Our words contain our dreams, our vision; they take our unique perspectives on life out and lay them in front of the rest of the world. Are we willing to sacrifice that vision and that art for the sake of money? Are you? Am I?

Some writers can overcome this obstacle and reinvent themselves. That's a very hard road. Just ask Holly. The stress and anxiety are killers. I have the greatest respect for writers who keep their dreams and visions alive through all the demands of marketing and sales numbers. For each of these, there are many who cannot. They are the hacks, the "wordsmiths", the merely good enough to sell. I do not want to join their ranks. I pray for strength to stand firm and remain true to myself and my dream. Only then can I bring my art to life.

This is a little disturbing...

Some of it is frighteningly close to the truth.

What Kind of Geek are You?
Favourite Color
Your IQ is frighteningly high
You are a computer geek
Your strength is you actually have social skills
Your weakness is chocolate
You think normal people are aliens
Normal people think that you are disturbed
This QuickKwiz by owlsamantha - Taken 196550 Times.
New - How do you get a guy to like you?

Monday, March 07, 2005


I'm so used to working in Word that I hit Ctrl-S periodically out of sheer habit. It seems that Blogger has adopted this hot key as the "Publish" key. I had never noticed that. Duh!


Perseverance is the key point in both these books, the perseverance to finish and the perseverance to keep improving. Resting on your laurels is a good way back to the day job, should I ever be so lucky as to escape. I read the first part of WTBN as an allegory. "This is what happens to writers who get cocky."

The Price of Beauty

Spent the weekend digging up a space to put a glider and a wildflower garden. I'm attempting to create a "Serenity Space" outdoors. For a quick musculo-skeletal anatomy lesson, indulge in a little strenuous labor after a long lay-off. Ouch. It'll probably get worse, too. I have to level the area (which may involve some small terracing), install a 5" plastic border, dig out 3" deep inside that, lay down a weed barrier, fill the hole with rock (6 cubic feet of Red Lava), place the pavers (12" square sandstone), set up the glider, and sow the wildflower seeds. I may not be moving well by the end of the week.

Can't get it out of my head

There were times when our bodies glistened.
There were times that we can't stop missing.
There were times that we'd lay in bed and listen
to the pounding, pounding chorus of our desperate hearts.
Nothing could have torn us apart.
There were times we had it all.
There were times we had it all.

Jim Steinman--"Loving You's a Dirty Job But Somebody's Got To Do It"
from Bonnie Tyler Super Hits

This time, I'm going to publish intentionally!

As I was saying...

Before I so rudely interrupted myself by publishing the last post before I was through. :)

My train of thought often jumps the tracks and drives off cross-country.

Attitude adjustment

I've been reading through (again) How to Write and Publish Your First Novel by Oscar Collier and Frances Spatz Leighton. This is one I bought years ago when I was first toying with the idea of writing this novel. While Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel gives ideas on how to improve your work, Collier and Leighton focus on getting that first novel written and out the door. Just finish, baby! I have also started a careful re-reading of WTBN. I want to work through the Workbook as well, preferably before July 1.

The Heart of the Matter

Thomas met Maggie when she was 16. He was "passing through" and happened upon her out walking after dark. He was going to feed on her, but fell in love instead. He was courting her in preparation for "turning" her so they could be together when John came to town to preach a tent meeting. John was 22 at the time and already had quite a reputation as a preacher. As one may imagine, Thomas was flabergasted when Maggie walked down the aisle at the end of the meeting. Even worse, John and Maggie drove to Bristol the same night and were married the next morning by a JP. Thomas was pissed, but tried to make light of it. He thought he had gotten over it until he crossed paths with John again, some 25 years later. At that point, he discovered that he was carrying a deep and abiding hatred for John and Maggie and decided to take his revenge.

In Yoda's words: "Now things are worse."


I always thought Jezebel got a bum rap. She was a priestess of Astarte doing her duty by trying to convert the Israelites. She sure didn't deserve to be thrown out a window and eaten by dogs. Gah.

Have you ever noticed how gory and violent the Bible really is? Maybe we ought to rethink letting children near this thing. TV shows sure as Hell wouldn't get away with this kind of crap, or movies either. Does telling these stories in church somehow make them less horrible?