Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fun With the 50s

I’m making progress on the reworking of my Tangled Strands story, and as I move ahead in it, I am finding more ways to show that it is happening in the 1950s. For someone like me who lived during that time, it is a lot of fun.

I’ve chosen to give the characters in my story cars that are not longer in the market. Sharon drives a little green Rambler, Agnes drives a “vintage Studebaker” (in honor of my grandfather who never drove anything but a Studebaker), and young Chris drives a classy Chevy Bel Air. We caught an old Mayberry episode tonight, and Barney Fife was splurging his whole nest egg to buy a car for $300! Of course there were no seat belts in any of those cars, and Interstates to drive them on were just coming off the drawing boards.

Other things were different, too. Not only were there no cell phones, there were no cordless phones. Most homes had only one phone, and it was anchored to a wall or sat on an end table. And the phone numbers began with words, like MOntrose 8-6931. You dialed the MO and the numerals, which gave you the seven digits we still use. Area codes were perhaps being dreamed of by those who had to think about such things, but the rest of us had no idea about them yet. And when Barney's car broke down out on the road, Andy set out to walk to the nearest phone he'd noticed in passing at the gas station a half mile back.

And then there was music. The only music you could have in your car was from the radio—yes, we did have radios. In your home, the only music you could play would be on what was called a record player because—guess what? It played records. The round black record spun on a turntable and a needle “played” the music by riding in the ridges in the record. Though it was nothing compared to what we have now, it was still a rather amazing thing, if you think about it.

As for stereo, I have to tell you a true story. This happened in the early 50s, just a few years before my fiction story takes places. I was in a Christian boarding high school in central Florida. A special speaker came to visit named Jim Voss. He had been a gangster with perhaps the most famous gangster of the time. Jim shared with us his testimony of how he gave his heart and life to Jesus at the end of a crusade with a new young evangelist named Billy Graham.

Jim had a treat for us—a brand new invention that was not available for sale anywhere at that time. He had a truck load of equipment with him, and it took him almost all day to set it all up on the stage at the front of our chapel. The equipment covered the whole platform, and some of the pieces were as big as Jim, which was pretty big. Then we all came together for a demonstration of this new marvel—stereophonic sound! I remember him playing some music where you could hear some instruments on one side of the stage and some on the other side. But the pi├Ęce de resistance—with all the lights in the auditorium turned off—was the sound of a train going from one side of the stage to the other. It sounded like that thing was going right through our building.

I’ve never forgotten something Jim said at the end of that demonstration—and you can imagine how it has returned to me many times as things have changed in the decades since. Jim assured us that such equipment would never be available for home use because it just wouldn’t be possible to make the equipment small enough.

I thought about that again today when my son was showing me his new iPhone.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Discovering Facebook

I’ve known about Facebook for a while now as I’ve heard my kids talk about it. My first thought was oh, no, not another social network! Don’t people have enough to do these days but to sit around cultivating invisible relationships? It’s true many people find such relationships easier to carry on than face to face ones. I also figured it would be one more great way to waste time, or at least to spend time that I should be spending on something else. Besides, as a still-active missionary, I already had enough relationships to keep up with, including lots of long-distance ones and some online ones. I didn’t have time to add any more.

At the same time, I knew I would sign up with Facebook eventually as a means of spreading the word about my book, if and when it gets published, but I figured I could wait until such a time as I knew for sure that was going to happen. Then this week I got an invitation from a long-time friend, and next thing I knew I had gone and done it. Yikes! And the next thing I knew, friends were coming out of the woodwork. That was cool, though I soon learned my daughter was putting them up to it. “Oh, but that’s the only way they’ll know you’re there!” For now, I have to take her word for that. The truth is, it has been a pleasure to make a lot of connections, including old friends and former students.

So now the challenges for me are keep it in balance (i.e., not let it become my master), to learn enough about it to make it really serve me, and to find ways I can perhaps use it to be a blessing. And would you believe that God threw in a little confirmation that this is a good move and the right time? A real-life friend gave me a heads-up about a blog just posted by a writer about the many ways writers can use Facebook to network and get the word out. By jumping in now, I have time to learn about those things so that when the time comes to use them, I’ll be ready to roll.

If you’re a new reader of this blog, be sure and read the two paragraphs at the right that tell about this book I keep talking about. You may even want to go back and look up some earlier posts about what’s going on with it. And feel free to make a comment.

I never cease marveling at how things have changed in my lifetime. Growing up in a missionary family in central Africa during WWII, we went months without any connect with the outside world--not just relatives far across the ocean but even coworkers a few hundred miles away. Now I can not only “talk” to family members on other continents, but I can peek in on the lives of friends all over the country and the world. If you’re too young to have experienced that difference, you’ve missed something.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Improve or Destroy?

Before I got seriously involved with today’s community of Christian writers, a number of my friends and family read Tangled Strands. I readily admit that the fact that they liked the story (one even admitted to shedding tears over the ending) is what gave me the motivation to bring it up to today’s standards in order to see it published. In fact, though they are polite about it, I’m pretty sure some of them have never understood why I had to “mess with it.”

Today I was going back over a seven-point framework developed by another author. He calls is the “seven beats of your story,” and we in our local writers’ group were challenged to apply it to our “work in progress” (aka WIP). I forgot that I worked my way through the whole thing several weeks ago, so it was most interesting to read my analysis. Perhaps the most interesting thing was at the very end after I’d made a stab at the seven points. This is what I wrote:

A BIG questions is this: If I try to pour my story into a mold made to fit all the “rules” and style matters of today, am I going to improve my story or destroy it?

Ouch! But it is a fair question, and it deserves an answer. There are two issues main to address in the answer.

First, I can truthfully say I am confident the end result is going to be better for all this work I am putting into it. I’ve been sharing some of the reasons with you as we go along in this blog. Some I’m electing not to get into because I don’t want to bore you to death. In fact, it has been an encouragement to me, as I’ve worked on this new beginning, that I never find myself wishing to go back to the original or wishing I hadn’t decided to make the change. So many things in that old beginning had bothered me for years, and they are now gone.

Another important issue is that, in all the things the writers teach about what makes good fiction (and not just in this day and age), they all agree on one thing and say it over and over: “It is your story, and you have to tell it in your voice. All of that supersedes any rules.” Admittedly, that makes for a challenge—to follow the principals of good fiction, to learn from what others have learned along the way, and yet to apply all of it in your own “voice” without destroying your story. (Author’s “voice” is not easy to explain, but it is related to the unique way in which one uses language.)

Another thing that everyone agrees about is that “story is king.” In other words, if the author tells a story that captures imagination and holds readers’ attention, that is more important than whether the author followed a bunch of rules.
So that is my challenge, and I’m doing my best to walk that tightrope between following proven methods and staying true to my story and my own writing style. Feel free to say a prayer for me after reading this (smile).