Thursday, July 31, 2008

Slaying Darlings

That’s ominous-sounding, isn’t it? I first learned the term from Angela Ewell Hunt when I took her fiction-writing course at the first writers’ conference I attended in 2005. Since then, I’ve heard others talk about it in other terms, but since that was my intro to the idea, it’s the one that has stuck.

It sounds ominous, and it is. Everyone admits it is as “un-fun” as it sounds. It is not surprising that we authors have powerful and possessive feelings about the things we write. The stories we tell, the characters we create, and words we put on paper feel as if they are children we have birthed, and in a sense they are. We hurt when folks criticize them, we wince when others don’t understand our intent, and we bleed when an editor wants some of them CUT. That’s what is called, by this name and a few others, “slaying your darlings.”

As an author, you have to have a tough enough skin to endure all of the above, or you’ll never make it in the profession. You have to be willing to hear what others say about what you’ve written and to accept their words with grace. I’m told you have to learn to lick your wounds in private and then rise above them to make intelligent decisions about actions that may need to be taken. For most people, this is a cultivated skill, not something that comes naturally. And all of it is slaying your darlings.

So do I have the skill? Let’s just say I have developed a little more of the skill than I had years ago. Have I experienced slaying some of my darlings? You bet. And as long as I don’t throw in the towel on my writing efforts, I’ll have to do a lot more in the future. Even if you get published, you have reviews to face.

These thoughts are with me today because I’ve just figured out that by practicing some of the writing styles that seem to be mandatory for today’s readers, I have turned up with a result that I’m afraid is counter-productive. I may have to go back and pull most of those new sections that I wrote because they now make the story drag on too long.

Am I wailing about it? No. In fact, I’m not going to do anything about it right now. After thinking and praying, I’ve decided I’m going to go ahead and keep working forward in the story, continuing to look for where I can polish and make stronger. I’m going to keep in mind these conclusions but not do anything about them until I can talk to some experienced authors. That might happen in my local group, and if not, I’ll make it a goal at the conference in September.

Even if I end up not using those sections, the effort to write them will not have been in vain. For a writer, the important thing is that you write. Not everything has to be published or seen by others. For a writer, working with words is a reward of its own, and all of it helps you hone your craft.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Beyond the Bridge

It’s been two weeks since I posted here, and what a two weeks it has been. I’ve been to Alaska and back, I’ve spent an hour parked at the end of a glacier, I’ve been on a drive all the way around Mt. Rainier, and I’ve even made airport stops in Las Vegas and Phoenix. I ate four-course dinners seven nights in a row and had my bed made every morning by someone else. I’ve enjoyed two visits with long-time friends, including some we hadn’t seen in thirty years. I’ve transfers more than a hundred pictures from my camera disk to my hard drive, and I’ve deleted a couple hundred e-mails.

I succeeded in canceling the book club before I went away, I discovered how to make the insert key overwrite and how to change the default font. With the help of the IT people at headquarters, I have my work e-mail operating on the new computer, and just today a son-in-law (bless him!) spent over an hour getting my Thunderbird mail set up with my three e-mails that come through it.

I did not get anything accomplished on Tangled Strands, as I had hoped, but on the flights home I did spend solid time studying my craft. I learned about action objectives, subtexting, and the four Ds that make up a good plot. Sometimes I felt overwhelmed with what I was learning, but other times I realized that, oh! I’ve already been doing what it says; I just didn’t know it had a name. At the same time, I made note of places where I need to do some of those things more.

Am I happy to be home? You bet! The suitcases are unpacked and back in the attic. I’m cooking simple meals and making the bed myself. I have to get out and walk by six a.m. because of the heat. Life has returned to routine, and that is fine. Though I whole-heartedly reveled in the pleasures of the last two weeks, I like my life and my routine. I’ve grateful to God for His blessings and His goodness. It’s been a busy summer, but it isn’t over yet. We have another celebration on our behalf coming up, and I may have a workshop to conduct, plus I have two manuals on which to do my annual proofreading. So I won’t be twiddling any thumbs, you may be sure.

Life is decidedly rewarding or blessed.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Getting Past the Bridge to Pleasures Beyond

You’ve heard about valleys of life that follow mountaintop experiences? Well, I have not been in a valley following the mountaintop last week, but I have been in a strange kind of suspension between frustration and anticipation. I feel like I’m on a swinging bridge high above a chasm. A most delightful experience awaits me in less than 72 hours, but first I have to survive the bridge.

This bridge is full of things that produce nostalgia for typewriters and a simpler life. Specifically, getting up and running on a new computer can be as frustrating as it is rewarding.

 Because things are not working as they should be, I’m still checking three of my e-mails on the web and my work e-mail on my laptop. I don’t have my primary IM program up and running.

 Because I couldn't access it effectively, I needed to stop the mail from my writers’ groups, including a course I very much need to take--but I went through all kinds of hassles before succeeding. Thankfully, when I can carve out the time, I’ll be able to access the course from the archives.

 I can’t find the way to decline this month’s selections from the book club, though I have done it many times before. That website keeps showing up with nothing on it.

 The insert key won’t work in my new Word 2007, but I don’t have time to ask those who I know will be able to help me.

 And I can't even count how many places are refusing my username and password. Could that too have something to do with the new computer?

While all this is happening, in our third bedroom open suitcases and piles of folded clothes are helping me keep my eyes on the pleasures that await me on the other side of the bridge. Awaits us—my Fred and me. In celebration of our 50th anniversary early next month, we’ve been gifted with a cruise to Alaska! I'm still not quite believing it. It's a Christian cruise, too, with times of Bible study and lots of music. I can assure you, I am looking forward to it, especially with the 100-degree temperatures we've had outside our doors here today.

I’m also looking forward to being able to think about my Tangled Strands story in settings of peace and beauty. Having never done this before, I’m not sure how it will work in practical terms, but the laptop is going with me. No, not for e-mail, but simply for me to work on my story. I’ve learned so many things in the last year that I’m eager to apply, things like "deep POV" and strengthening a story with layers. But not surprisingly, around here life keeps getting in the way. Writing efforts such as this can be done in snatches, but it is much more effective and enjoyable if one can focus and keep a smooth train of thought.

So I’ll live with this bridge for another 48 hours, but then I’ll walk away from it for a spell. If the frustrations above aren’t resolved, I’m all but sure they will wait for me until I return. Hopefully, the lovely memories and needed refreshment from beyond that bridge will provide inspiration and help uncover solutions.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Of Roots and Names

I’ve just come from two most unusual and memorable days. On Monday, along with my sister and her husband, my nephew and his three children, we visited the graves of sixteen ancestors and were graciously invited into two ancestral homes. Eight of the sixteen are third great-grandparents to my sister and me, which makes them fifth great-grands to my nephew’s children. One of the homes was built in 1860, and the stones in the basement walls were most surely laid by an ancestor, a stone mason, who was born during George Washington’s first term as President.

If Monday was a special day, Tuesday followed in its footsteps. On that day, we discovered the graves of a new set of great-great-grandparents that we hadn’t known were in the area. In fact, until a few weeks ago, we hadn’t even known their names. For genealogists, such a finding is a thrill, and this one was made even more special by the fact that Grandmother Maryette’s exquisite headstone carried the names of her parents, another generation that we didn’t have anything on.

With my interest in genealogy, I’ve ended up using a number of names from my family history for the characters in my Tangled Strands story. Agnes was my aunt’s name, and Porter is a major branch of our family. My maternal grandmother’s name works well in Fern Lake, Fernville, and Fern Haven. Betsey, mother of the stone mason mentioned above, is a fourth great-grandmother who died following the birth of her second child. And when I decided I needed to change “Sallie” because it was too close to another name in the story, I found a perfect exchange in “Mollie,” another great-great. Roxy, yet another, has a minor role in Tangled Strands but will have a major role in a later story called Silken Threads.

Given that every novel needs some unique touch that keeps it from looking like every other novel, I’ve thought a lot about whether genealogy could provide such a touch to Tangled Strands. However, since I didn’t include it from the beginning, I’m afraid it might feel tacked on (which it would be). If I ever sell TS and get to write the other books I envision in the series, I might be able to weave it effectively into that.

Speaking of names, we recently learned of some unusual names in our family tree. Ever hear of anyone named Consider Tiffany? Seriously—his first name was Consider and last name Tiffany. And we have two of them—a father and his son. We’ve done some speculating about what the ancestors might have had in mind in using “Consider” as a given name. If it had some other shade of meaning in those days, so far we haven’t a clue what it might be. I still have trouble picturing a person when my eyes rest on those words.

One thing for sure, I won’t be borrowing that name for a character in any of my stories. But I already have a good idea for how I can use Maryette .