Monday, April 29, 2013
I'm sure that there are many different approaches to critique groups, and you may have had your own experiences. In this one, we allotted an equal amount of time to discussing each author's work. We spent a little less than one half of this time discussing things that we liked about the piece. Some of the second half was spent on things we thought needed improvement. The author was not expected to participate during these sessions. She (only women were present) then given the remaining time to address issues that had been raised and to ask questions.
I submitted the first few chapters of Book 4 of the Caribbean Adventure Series, Fury on Soufriere Hills. I was particularly interested in seeing how an American audience would perceive and understand the book, so firmly set in the Caribbean. I received a very positive response from the group. Interestingly enough, those positive comments will help me to strengthen the book just as much as the negative comments. For example, one reader said that she looked forward to reading more about Chee Chee's antics, the mischievous monkey at the center of the story. This made me realise that I needed to further reinforce his role in the story.
I found it very difficult to keep quiet as the readers discussed a particular area of the story that one lady did not follow. It was a section that I had wrestled with quite a bit and the discussion made me realise that I had not yet conquered that beast. Another lady had difficulty believing a bit of the action and I was very happy that I did not interject as another participant used her experiences climbing the Peruvian mountain, Machu Picchu to explain why the scene might seem confusing. Both ladies gave invaluable insight into how the scene could be perceived negatively and how I could solve the issue.
All in all it was a very civilised and extremely helpful afternoon. I hope that I made helpful contributions to the other authors. Perhaps I was fortunate in being thrown into a group that worked well, at least on this occasion, but it is something I would definitely try again and recommend to others who have not tried it.
Saturday, April 27, 2013
Thursday, April 25, 2013
This episode of the List came on the heels of a “Pretty Little Liars” by Sara Shepard reading marathon. One of the things that struck me about Sara Shepard’s writing is that she is a very sensory writer with the sense of smell being dominant. In her books characters seem to make associations based on smell. When they have a memory, the distinctly remember the scent. Every place that is described seems to have an associated or a characteristic smell. And that is pretty powerful.
Sensory writing appeals to the senses, not just the obvious ones like sight and sound. The readers not only get an idea of how the settings or characters look physically, they get the texture, and they get smells that they themselves associate with things and experiences. Sensory writing transforms you to the place and you could smell the honeysuckle, you could hear the faint voices in the background as well as the birds chirping loudly, the rhythmic thumping of the shovel, you could feel the goose bumps on the character’s arms and the rough jeans chafing their skin; you could smell the character’s fear, feel the character’s love or anger or anxiety without the author being overly descriptive.
Liane’s last post Local Color deals with capturing the atmosphere of a setting; the unique color of a place. This is how it is accomplished, through sensory writing. We incorporate things from the outside world through our senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. Therefore the best way to capture the essence of a setting is to appeal to all of those senses. And just like the aromatherapy that was addressed on the episode of The List that I saw, smell can be a very powerful sense to appeal to. One of the reasons is that people make emotional associations with aroma, even if the aroma is unpleasant.
In my home country of St. Kitts, there is a lovely fortress set on a hill called Brimstone Hill that sticks out from the central mountain range. I had a lot of great memories picnicking there, exploring the fortress with its intricate engineering and being transported back to a time in history; seeing the lovely Caribbean Sea in the distance like a diadem sparking in the sunlight and looking at the lush green vegetation of Mt. Liamuiga. But to get to the hill, you have to pass through an area infused with the noxious sulfurous scent of Brimstone; you know, that rotten egg smell as if someone just farted. As unpleasant as the smell is, every time I get a whiff of it, I am reminded of all the pleasant experience I had at Brimstone Hill.
Sensory writing is powerful writing. Are you a sensory writer?
Sunday, April 21, 2013
I'm from the Caribbean so a reader might expect to find a certain island flavor in my stories—infusions of hot sunshine, white beaches, clear turquoise waters, lush vegetation, and market stalls heaped with mangoes and pineapples forming the perfect pictorial background to my scenes. They might expect colorful characters from the postcolonial melange of cultures, the syncopation of soca, calypso and reggae—and they would very likely find these. But local color extends far past the touristic image of a tropical paradise. Those elements are not the whole picture.
Some myths blur the lines between reality and fiction. When I was a child one of the tales with which my father held us in thrall was the story of the giant snake. It lived in forest pools, he said, and every so often it would come out and raid nearby villages, swallowing livestock and children whole. This horrifying creature was called a wheel, and years later, whenever I swam in deep forest pools after a long hike, the image of the wheel lurking below never failed to send shivers down my spine even as I laughed and splashed with my fellow adventurers. Suppose the thing was real? Why was it called a wheel anyway? Did it put its tail in its mouth and roll through the forest like a hoop? Suppose one lived down there? Would it emerge from the green, shadowy depths and pull me under where it would proceed to swallow me whole as I thrashed in vain, while my companions ran (or swam) for cover?
I subsequently discovered that the snake is not a wheel but a huile, French lexicon creole for oil, and the name is derived from its fluid movements in the water. The huile is also known locally as macajuel, a Spanish creole form, I think. It is a type of boa constrictor and is related to that famous South American giant... the anaconda. My father did not invent the huile; the darned monster is real.
The more I write, the more I feel the urgency to capture the colors of this place. The old spaces are being razed; the old words are dying out, replaced with the Americanisms of cable television. I remember standing in front of a literature class a few years ago—we were reading a novel by local novelist Michael Anthony—and not one of those teenage suburbanites knew what laglee was. (It's the sticky white sap of the chataigne or breadfruit tree that's spread on twigs to trap birds.) When I was a child no boy worthy of the name would be ignorant of the existence and applications of laglee. The colors are fading fast, including those of the old characters, the lagahous, douens and that man-eating she-devil, La Diablesse, who are retreating further and further into what's left of the tropical forests.
There's only one way to keep them alive: on the pages of our books. Keeping them alive has become an important part of my mission. Do you feel a compulsion to conserve the colors of your patch of earth?
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
When my day job called for me to commute to a corporate workspace, my home office was my primary writing realm. I had it set up just so, with oft-used references close at hand, a television and requisite DVDs and such situated nearby (one of the “hazards” of writing media tie-in fiction is the need to refer to relevant television episodes or films), and a fully-functional arcade game in one corner.
That’s for reference, too. Honest. I use it to…uh…choreograph space battles. Yeah, that’s it.
Then, my day job converted all of us cubicle dwellers into full-time telecommuters, and now I work at home. So, what used to be my retreat after a long day at the office was converted into my primary office for that work. I had to reconfigure a few things to allow for a second computer and its peripherals, shelf space was given over to work-related reference manuals and other assorted bits and items, and so on. Instead of being here a few hours a night and on weekends, now I’m here. All. Day. Every. Day.
By the time the schedule calls for me to sit down and write in the evening? I’m sick of this place. When the weekend rolls around, I want to run screaming into the woods behind my house.
Then, what had been obvious to everyone else...you know, ever...finally dawned on me: I could probably write almost anywhere, if I tried hard enough.
This was not an easy sell for me, you understand. I used to make jokes about all the so-called “writers” who seemed to always be taking up space in the coffee shops and bookstore cafes around town, hunched over their laptops and trying to look accomplished and/or erudite while they checked e-Mail or updated their LiveJournal or played Solitaire or Tetris. Now, I aspired to be one of these people, if only for a few precious hours. I also hoped to be more productive.
I started with baby steps, with trips to the library one or two evenings a week and the odd Saturday morning. Of the various things I’ve tried, this one still seems to work the best. But, I like a little background buzz while I work, so I soon began experimenting with other locales. I used to go to the coffee bar at a local Borders book store, but soon after I started that, Borders imploded. I’ve avoided Barnes & Noble for that reason. Alternatively, I’ve made use of table space at a favorite restaurant, while being sure to order generously from their menu, of course. And hey! The game’s on! Fancy that.
At first, I was worried about the distractions which might come from such environments, but I long ago figured out that I’m able to tune out the worst of the chatter and other noises, even if I don’t have my mp3 player with me. After a few tentative fits and starts, I figured out how to write pretty much anywhere with little or no trouble. Airplanes, on a patio or in a waiting room, sitting on the bleachers while my kids take their Taekwondo lessons, and so on. Sometimes I even eschew my laptop and kick it old-school, pen and paper style. While I’m driving, I talk into a recorder and then transcribe my rough descriptions and dialogue into something more coherent.
Another option I’m considering is a “cowork” space, a few of which are starting to pop up here in the Kansas City area. One particular location that’s caught my attention seems geared to teleworkers and freelancers who are just looking for a change of venue as a means of boosting productivity. You can rent a desk and have access to printers, scanners, and copy machines, conference and presentation space, a business address for mail and packages and even a break room with complimentary coffee and tea. They offer pricing plans from half days to full months, with a sliding scale of amenities based on your plan of choice. Such a location provides a relaxed yet professional atmosphere that’s a step up from the library or coffee shop, and seems to present a nice change of pace from my home office. Plus, you never know; I might meet a potential client or two.
How about you? Are you adamant about your dedicated writing space, or can you wing it just about anywhere?
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
|Janis F. Kearney|
Author & Book Publisher
Why? I often think back to my childhood in the Arkansas Delta. I knew nothing of writers who looked like me. And, because of that, I decided early on that I must be different, or just plain strange to dream of becoming something that no one like me had ever been…or, at least that is what I, in my narrow experience, believed. Yet, dreaming was synonymous to breathing for me. I dreamed of becoming a writer or a missionary - two divergent dreams that filled my nights and days. Albert Schweitzer was someone I sought as I read about his devout goodness, and his obvious courage, as he traveled the continent of Africa. Even as a child I hoped that a life of doing good wouldn’t have to be the same as a life of drudgery. If not a missionary, I found myself praying; then a writer, an author, like the women and men who spent their lives creating worlds that girls like me could travel without ever leaving my small world of cotton fields, and graveled roads.
So, these days, when I find myself speaking to youth about overcoming the handicap of growing up wanting to be something that no one believes you can be; their responses are more often than not, disbelieving smirks. The beauty and tragedy of youth is the belief that the world begins and ends the moment they arrive within its orbit. To say that anything was ever better or worse…or, different before they arrived, is almost always met with cynicism…or, at the least, fodder for close investigation. `Were there really no black writers in existence during your childhood?’ They ask. The answer, of course, is… no. But, for a little black girl growing up during the pre-civil rights era in the Deep South, no black writers existed, just as there were no black engineers or doctors, or firefighters or policemen.
Real writers of my childhood were people like Betty Smith, author of my favorite childhood novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; or Kate Douglas Wiggins, who wrote the American classic Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm; or, a bit later…the iconic Ernest Hemingway, author of For Whom the Bell Tolls. Great writers all…but, there was no Go Tell it on the Mountain, by James Baldwin; or The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, or Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison, in either my parents’ threadbare bookcases or the bookcases at Fields Elementary School.
Yet, miracles do happen. I left southeast Arkansas at 17, and learned that real writers come in all colors, cultures and hues. I also realized that I could one day become a real writer if I worked hard enough for it. I had no desire to become a real seamstress, cook or homemaker…but, writing; that was something that gave me reason to dream. A real writer whose name aligned the spines of books, and whose face smiled out at each reader. A real writer who was once that little black girl from Arkansas’ cotton fields and gravel roads, who believed her dream of writing made her both different and strange.
Janis F. Kearney, publisher, author and presidential diarist, grew up in the Deep South; the daughter of Arkansas sharecroppers and the twelfth of 19 children. In her first memoir, Cotton Field of Dreams, the author wrote with unvarnished truth of her early years of poverty and struggle, and the invaluable lessons learned from two amazing parents. In her second memoir, Something to Write Home About: Memories from a Presidential Diarist, Kearney relives a most unlikely chapter in her life – her days as President William Jefferson Clinton’s Personal Diarist. In her most recent book, Daisy: Between a Rock and a Hard Place, Kearney chronicles the amazing journey of one of America’s most unforgettable Civil Rights heroines – Daisy Lee Gatson Bates, the face and voice behind the 1957 Central High Integration Crisis. For more information about the author or her books, you may go to www.writingourworldpress.com, or visit her Facebook Page, https://www.facebook.com/writingtolearn
Sunday, April 14, 2013
Saturday, April 13, 2013
(Note, this is NOT a children's story.)
I don't recall what prompted me to write on this particular topic. This is unusual for me because I usually recall the passing word or image that planted the first seed of a story in my mind. I do know that the ending was never in doubt; it was the natural culmination of the chain of events and so it was a genuine surprise that so many readers have seen the ending as a "twist". Was this a failing on my part to use foreshadowing to prepare my readers?
Another response that has surprised me is from two readers who have connected personally with the story and have seen it as a warning of sorts. I wish that I could honestly say that I wrote it with that in mind; that I planned that the story would have an impact on someone, even save their life. The truth is that, while I usually write my children's story with a particular theme in mind, The Soup was just a story that came to my mind and out through my pen without a motive. (Of course, I won't admit that when I eventually accept my Pulitzer Prize ;-). )
Have you written a story and then been surprised at how others have perceived it, or the things they have discovered in it, things that were so well hidden they were invisible even to you?
Thursday, April 11, 2013
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Having absolute silence worked for me in high school though I shared a room with five garrulous siblings. During exams I went back to the high school in the evenings and studied. Yes other students were there and for most of them playing and socializing took precedence over studying. But there were always empty classrooms that I could occupy to get a few hours of studying done; and then there was the University of the West Indies Extramural Center and the teachers college all within close proximity to my home.
It worked when I was in college when I could sequester myself in a quiet room in the library and concentrate. It even worked in graduate school when writing my dissertation. I would put my baby to bed and then work on it most of the night into the wee hours of the morning surviving on just three or four hours sleep.
Recently I found what worked in college and high school was not working for me. Just like studying for an exam, I need total quiet when I write or prepare material for my classes. But each time I sit down to write I hear the inevitable “Moooommmmmmmmy!” followed by bawling. My ears perk up, my heart race and I rush to see what the problem is, fearing the worst until I hear the statement “My brother is being mean to me.” I’m relieved that my worst fears didn’t come to fruition, but now my concentration is broken as I referee the issues between the kids. When I finally resettle, before I can complete a paragraph, my older daughter delves into a longwinded spiel about the interactions between the kids in her class and all their dramas without an end in sight. I would like to tune her out but I feel obligated to listen, after all, how could I foster communication without lending my ears?
I originally wrote between the kids’ bedtime and mine to circumvent the problem. But now that my oldest is getting older, her bedtime has been edging a little closer to mine and my husband who was always an early bird, is now going to bed the same time as I do. Plus, as I get older, I find 3 or 4 hours sleep is not enough. I need at least six, preferably eight or else I get pounding headaches.
So what do I do? How do I get my writing in? I installed a filter between my ears and my brain. I had to. I have learned and I am still learning (it’s a work in progress) to tune out background noises. Right now I am writing this blog as I sit at the mall in the middle of a toddler play program with a microphone blaring out “If you’re happy and you know it,” and kids dancing and following the actions.
When I first started writing, a seasoned author gave me some very important advice, “Don’t find time to write, make time to write.” Now I totally understand.
How has your approach to writing changed over time?
Sunday, April 7, 2013
|Jaime L. Lincoln|