Friday, February 14, 2014

Finishing my novel

I am feeling terrific.

Finally, finally, I have completed my novel in linked short stories,  How To Make A Life.

It is the story of four generations of a family over one hundred years, from 1912 to 2012.  The book traces the lives of the family members, sometimes through their own voices and sometimes through the voices of outsides, as they confront mental illness, accidental death, unfaithfulness, old age and illness, while they learn to love and forgive one another.  The stories interweave as we learn about the fate of one character in the story of another and all are impacted by the events of the times.

I started writing this book with single stories, about six years ago.  Gradually, I realized that I was writing about  people who I felt were  connected to one another,  much the way family members are connected.  I began to think about them as a family.

About three years ago I began to write stories that were deliberately linked, that followed the decades chronologically and over time, traced the children and grandchildren of the original characters.  I got enormous satisfaction out of determining their fates, and writing their stories.

Now I will have to go down the long path of trying to publish the book.  I will keep posting on the process, here.

Friday, April 19, 2013

World Events, My Life and My Fiction

          Like most of you, I have been glued to my television for the last few days, watching the wrenching events taking place in Boston, at the marathon and later in and around Cambridge and Watertown.  I go about my daily routine and then come back to the TV to see the latest developments and watch the drama play out on my screen like scenes from The Bourne Identity, or another equally improbable movie.  It is impacting my life on a day to day basis.

          So is the explosion in Waco Texas at the fertilizer plant.  I keep thinking about the people living nearby, feeling the blast like an earthquake, shaking their house and their security.  I think about the  shootings in Newtown Connecticut and Colorado and Hurricane Sandy, and the people I know who were impacted by these events.

          And I think of the people in my stories.  Every single one of them lives his or her life influenced by the events of the times.  I have to remember to place them in real time and think about what was happening in the world when they were living, even if it was far away from them.  Even if it only made them anxious and gave them bad dreams about tsunamis or about terror attacks, the world is always with them.  Using real events in the world in my stories gives characters new ways to react.  It enriches the story, gives readers a way to connect, to say, oh yes, I remember that.

          I will go back over my linked short stories and make sure that I have used, whenever I can, the events that were taking place in the world during the time of the story.  It's good advice for all fiction writers.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Bucket List

I was traveling with my husband for a week in Sicily, enjoying the vibrancy of the green hills, the different shades of green and yellow and pink that cover the land in early spring, trying to describe it in my head, feeling incredibly lucky that I am able to travel all over the world.  As we drove through the country side we talked, as we often do, about what else is on our "Bucket List."

For the first time I realized that my  bucket list consists of only one thing now:  finish and publish my book.  And after that, write another one (I already have ideas swimming in my head).  It isn't that I've accomplished everything else I want to do in the world.  It isn't that I have been everywhere in the world I want to go.  It is that nothing right now is as important to me as giving life to my characters and putting them out there in the world.

The act of writing validates me, roots me in the world as nothing else does. I just got home and I am focusing on this one big goal;  I will not stop until it is accomplished.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

More on Writing What You Know and What You Don't Know

     I received a number of comments from my last blog on whether we writers should only write what we know.  Lots of encouragement.  "You go, girl."  "It's good to take risks." "Don't be afraid to do something new."

     One friend really got me thinking: "Do you  feel like there's a difference in how creatively you can write when you write outside of your own experience?"  Now that is a good question.

     In some ways embellishing on a true story is harder than making one up. When I write about things I know, people I know, experiences I have had, I am always fighting the urge to tell it like it really happened.  Also I worry about people recognizing the original event, saying "That's not what happened," or "I know where you got that idea."  It can be inhibiting.

     Here are some other random thoughts:

  • I've noticed that for fiction, true happenings do not always make the richest and most interesting stories. It's necessary to intensify drama and change dilemmas to get a good story arc where characters learn and grow.  That's probably true for some non-fiction also.
  • When I make up stories about people I don't know, having experiences I never had, in places I haven't been, I have to find a hook back to what I do know.  But love is love, anger is anger, fear is fear, whether it is being felt by me or a big brawny man or a child. Hearts pound, throats close, hands shake.  A jungle in Brazil is different from the rain forest in Costa Rica, but I can imagine the smells and sounds of one, having been in the other. So with research and delving deeply I can  make connections. 
  • Good writing always goes back to detail, particulars, honesty.  When I write from experience the  details that really hit the mark are already there.  When I write from imagination I have to push myself more to pick the right ones.
     The process of writing is fascinating.  Writing this blog has made me look more carefully at what I am doing and why.  I'm really glad I started doing it.


   

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Should We Only Write What We Know?

          Beginning writers are always told to "write what you know,"and the advice is usually taken to mean "write about your own life and experiences." I have even been told by a well respected writing teacher that a woman or a man should never try to write from the perspective of the opposite sex--it simply won't ring true.  For the most part, I guess, I've heeded that advice, and I have done what most new writers do.  I've written about family, as I have known it.  I've written about people, thinly disguised, that I have met.  I've written about things that have happened to me or to others in my life, knowing that the details I can bring to the writing will make it come alive.  And most of it, although not all, has been from a woman's point of view.

          But I have begun to re-think this advice.  If writers only write what we know, we would not have  historical fiction, murder mysteries, science fiction or fantasies of any kind.  The twenty year old Stephen Crane, born six years after the end of the Civil War, would never have been able to write The Red Badge of Courage, which depicted the terror of a young soldier in battle so well that veterans of the Civil War were convinced Crane had been there.  So many bold and beautiful stories and novels have come from writer's imaginations and hard research that if we restricted writers to only write about what they know from first hand experience, it would be far too limiting.

         Why am I thinking about this now?  Because my penultimate story (the next to last one I am writing for my novel in linked stories) started out being about a road trip, camping across the United States.  I have done that twice.  But my main character is a retired cop, a veteran of World War Two and a man--none of which I have been.  He meets a Viet Nam veteran.  I haven't been that either.  I'm a little scared to be writing this story, although it seems to be propelling itself where the characters need to go.  Truth to tell, I'm a little scared posting this blog too and exposing my chutzpah in writing about something I don't know from my own experience.  

          But I'm going to do it anyway.  And if it rings true to my first reader (my husband) and my second readers (the seven wonderful writers in my Monday night writing group) then I will include it in my novel of linked short stories.  Let's see what happens.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

I'm Back


     

     I took a long break from my blog: life, family, weather and lots of travel got in the way. Then it became harder and harder to get back to it. How do you start after three months away?  

     Last week my very good friend presented me with an entree.  She told me that her adult daughter, a wonderful, burgeoning writer, had asked what happened to Florence's Blog?  She said she missed it.  She said she was interested in what I had to say about writing and linking short stories into a novel!  That gave me an incentive to start up again.

     But what to say?

     My writing teacher suggested I should start with what I found useful about writing a blog that focuses on linking short stories. So here's my list of what I like about blogging, and what I hope to offer other people through it:

1.   Blogging makes me concentrate on the linkages in my story/novel.  It was through my blogs that I realized I needed at least one family story for each decade between 1941, when the novel starts, and 2012, when it ends. Otherwise the gaps were too huge. Other novels in linked short stories would have to have another kind of thread going throughout, but you always need a thread.
  
2.  Blogging makes me think about story arc...not just the individual story, but the arc of the novel from one story to the next. If I haven't done it already, I need to drop in references to former events and characters in other, earlier stories.

3.  Blogging pushes me forward.  When I was writing a blog each week, it made me think actively about my writing, and my novel.  How much was already written?  How much was there still to write?  If I'm not producing I have nothing to write about.

     So now I am ready to put myself out there again.  I am anxious to finish the first draft (almost there, and more about that next time).  I am looking forward to posting regularly over the next months.

      I'm back.

     

       

     


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Hurricanes, Holidays and Hiatuses

        Life does get in the way.  First there was Hurricane Sandy at the end of  October, and although we were more inconvenienced than hurt, we did have two weeks without power and the internet.

        Then came preparations for Thanksgiving and the shopping and cooking for twenty-five guests on Thursday and various groups of family all the rest of the weekend.

        Finally there was a long awaited adventure trip to Costa Rica with kayaking, whitewater rafting and hiking.  And all the while I kept thinking I should be writing, I should be writing.  And I actually did make some notes for another story in my novel of linked stories.

        But suddenly it is December, and my self-imposed deadline to finish the first draft of the book by the end of the year is looming. I have to face the fact that it is probably not realistic any more.  I still have two stories to write.  I think I know what they will be about, but they are currently floating amorphously on the right side of my brain.

        So I have to ask myself, is it terrible to let self-imposed deadlines slip, or just disappointing?  And if I am disappointed in myself, can I stop the self flagellation and get on with the writing? I guess there is no other choice.  Sit down at the computer, or at the table with notebook and pen, and just get to it.

        And keep the mantra going:  I'm almost there, I'm almost there, I'm almost there.