Thursday, July 28, 2011

Growing Up, or I have a Real Website Now!

The time has come for me to bid this Blog a fond farewell. I will be continuing to write occasional opinion pieces, writing news and personal updates on my new website.

Thanks to all my followers and I hope you will follow me on the next stage of my journey!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Chasing Amy: a Viking's Lament

The news today is full of tragedy - one which was courted, invited in and danced with, the other which sprung out of the neverland of inexplicable hatred and madness. Both remind me of why a lack of imagination is the scariest monster we face and why we humans need story. Imagination is the key to seeing a place different than it is, to envisioning a better future, and to understanding our fellow travelers. Imagination is the fuel that will lift you out of the narrowness of self-focus and introduce you to the amazing world of possibility.

JK Rowling said it better than I ever could: 

Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s places. Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise.

And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.

I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces leads to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the wilfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.What is more, those who choose not to empathise enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.

The best method I have for fighting back against the tragedy that sees taking a life, either your own or that of a group of innocent children, as a solution to a problem is to exercise my imagination and encourage others to do the same. 

I will write stories that help to tell people there is more to this world than our own narrow thoughts. That life is precious. That answers come from unexpected places. That living in the skin of others for those few brief hours of turning pages can help us to know and love ourselves and others more.

Friday, July 15, 2011

What's the Story Anyway?

Many times in my reading and learning about the art of writing I stumble across people who define story as conterminous with plot. I feel this can be a limiting view of story and in the end is harmful to the 'long view' for our writing.

1.Also called storyline. the plan, scheme, or main story of a literary or dramatic work, as a play, novel, or short story.

1.the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing.

1.a narration of a chain of events told or written in prose or verse.
If you stick to these narrow definitions, Plot=Story; but we are missing one critical element here. All fiction is a narration from the lips of a storyteller - you the writer. An interesting thing happens to our idea of story when we consider the root meanings and origins of narration:

early 15c., from O.Fr. narration  "a relating, recounting, narrating," from L. narrationem  (nom. narratio ), from narrare  "to tell, relate, recount, explain," lit. "to make acquainted with,"

It is this last idea that is critical to how we view story. I find it helpful to think of if this way: I am a storyteller standing on a stage - I must let my audience know not only what happened, but also how, why, and to whom. Everything we write is an effort to make our readers acquainted with our characters, our themes, our ideas, our fictional events - in short, our stories. By keeping the whole tapestry of Story in our minds we will allow our readers to become acquainted with the entirety of our fictional world.

How do you view story?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

How Much Sex is Too Much?

First, read this: Sex in YA Fiction.

I have a comment on that post where I say this:

Ok - not to get too personal - but are we doing a disservice to YA readers?

I remember my first 'truly intense' sexual act with vivid clarity - and though the lead up to the act was all emotion - once the physical sensations started it was ALL about the physical. In fact, if someone had interrupted and asked my name I would have been unable to tell them. The physical was THAT powerful.

I think we sometimes color what we write or what we read with an adult sense of prudery. As older humans, we have weighed and balanced the sexual experience - we know the pluses and minuses - we understand the give and take. This was the number one problem with Twilight's "I'm waiting" philosophy - there was FAR too much consideration going on.

Currently YA sex IS less graphic - but in a way, wouldn't it be more honest if it was MORE graphic - or at least more focused on those crazy explosive physical feelings?

I realize this is a sensitive subject, so I have spent the day pondering and this is what I have come up with:

I think YA writers should try and remember the sensations of 'first love' in the physical. For example, I remember the first time someone kissed me on the neck. I felt it on my neck, but I also remember the feelings shooting down my arm; I remember the marked tingling of my fingers and a delicious tickle in the small of my back where his fingers rested. It made me giggle, and squirm and desire to be kissed there again. It created a hunger unlike anything I had previously experienced. This is the type of physical detail that can be added to YA sex, without upping the 'erotic' quotient of the writing.

I wonder at the tendency to self-censor our writing. If it was not inappropriate for me to feel those tingles at age 16, then why should it be inappropriate to write about it? And if we think it is inappropriate but we are writing about it anyway, isn't it coy to measure the language?

In the end run, I say this: If you are writing sex into your YA novel - be honest. Describe the physical sensations as well as the emotional ones. Remember what it felt like the first time you touched someone, and the first time you were touched. Do not view the scene through adult eyes, but through the eyes of your teen-aged characters.  If you do this, your 'sex scene' will come off as natural and not gratuitous.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Colorblind Writing

Every now and then a character decides to blindside me with a piece of the truth that I was oblivious to. I am not a big one for endless character description - I generally give a few sparse details and rely on the imagination of the reader to create the visual.

Partially, this is because I find too much description tedious to read, but mostly because I don't look at people as a collection of physical characteristics, but rather, as a dynamic bundle of changing expressions and moods. My kids used to accuse my husband of becoming Jaffar when he got mad, and it is true, he does turn red and grow VERY large when he is angry. It is this alchemy of the human appearance that interests me, and that cannot be captured by a simple catalog of physical attributes.

Occasionally, I am caught out by this lack of focus on specific appearance. For example, in my WIP, The Arc Riders, Trouble with Mexicans, I describe a secondary character as having black hair and eyes and very smooth skin. I had it in my head that he came from a troubled background, but as he only occupies half a dozen pages and most of those are action scenes, his background and specific lineage/history were not all that important.

Until today: I have decided to write a short story about this character for an anthology my writing group is putting together and in the process of beginning that story I discovered that he is black. Of course my subconscious brain said, "Well, DUH!" and promptly supplied the complete visual. I felt like an idiot. If anyone had asked me exactly what this character looked like, I would have told them he was 6'1", black, with close-cropped hair, sporting razored knot-work lines at the nape, full-lips and dramatically high cheekbones. He comes from South-Central LA and was in foster-care and suffered terrible abuse in his childhood. All of that information was there, just waiting for me to bring it to the surface. No one asked, and worse - I hadn't asked myself.

On the one hand, I am pleased that a black character didn't stand out to me as remarkable - I would love to live in a world where the color of someone's skin didn't matter. On the other hand, I might need to learn to put just a bit more information into the physical descriptions of my characters so that my readers don't feel blindsided. He's black?!?! What do you meant, he's black?!

What do you think? Is colorblindness as an author a good thing, or a bad thing?

Thursday, July 07, 2011

The Kid with her Foot in Mouth

I have been called blunt, abrupt, candid, outspoken, rude, forthright, tactless, frank, and matter-of-fact. I have spoken out when it would have been wiser to hold my tongue. I have blurted thoughts as they formed and asked the question 'but, why?' repeatedly.

Tact is not my strong suit. I have no personal boundaries. I say what I mean and mean what I say. Which means, I am often the one in the corner with her foot in her mouth.

Society is not very fond of bluntness - until it becomes irascibility, and then they dedicate books of quotations to you (W.C. Fields or Dorthy Parker, anyone?)  This is why I so often channel my words into story - in a story that you are making up, you can say anything and get away with it.

In the meantime, in case I am never published, I am on a personal quest to convert my mere bluntness into full-scale irascibility. If nothing else, I will be assured that my utterings will grace untold numbers of Toastmaster speeches and commencement addresses. One way or the other, my words will live on after I am nothing but dirt!

Saturday, July 02, 2011

The Fog Before the Dream

When I was a young girl (around 11 years old I think) I began having a series of dreams that all started and ended exactly the same way:

Dense fog blankets the landscape and obscures landmarks - a dense white space where all senses are deadened and any sense of direction lost. Through the billowing fog, a hoof-beat drumming, coming from no direction and all directions at once, surrounds my small pajama clad form. Out of the mist steps a large bay destrier, ridden by a battered knight. The horse has a proudly arched neck, and each hoof is as large as my head. The rider, on his seat towering above my head, carries a white shield with a black barbed cross on it. He gazes down at me through piercing blue eyes bearing an expression equal parts patience and exasperation. The corner of his mouth under a heavy mustache quirks with the ghost of a smile as he leans over to stretch out a heavily muscled and scared forearm. Not knowing what else to do, I reach up and clasp my arm to his; he swings me up behind the cantle with ease. I reach forward trying to wrap my arms around his waist as the great horse leaps into a run. For a time, the only reality is the rhythm of the horse and the pulse of his hoof-beats. Gradually the fog clears and I am set down in the landscape of my dream. The dreams changed nightly, and were, for me, normal dreams. When the night's dreaming has run its course I would look up to see my knight there and once again I would be swept into the saddle to take the run in reverse, ending in the fog.

Every single night for nearly four years this battle-weary knight came to ride me to and from my dreams. Over time I learned his name 'Sinclair', and we would have short (3 to 4 sentence) conversations about my life or about my dreams. The year I turned sixteen, Sinclair ceased to come. One night he was there as normal, and the next, he was not.

I was 38 the year I went to Scotland and 'found' Sinclair. I had always assumed he had told me his given name, after all, that is how he always referred to me. From the beginning of our acquaintance, I was Eddie, or Eddie Louise, none of the bogus 'My Lady' titles that other girls aspired to. Even in my dreams I was not a Princess or a Lady; I was an adventurer. While in Scotland, I toured Roslyn Chapel and discovered the Sinclairs, a Scottish family that bears the coat-of-arms I had dreamed of. I have no explanation for how a cowboy's daughter in rural Wyoming managed to dream specifically of a 600 year old knight down to his coat of arms. I blame it on the fog.

PS: My personal life is in a fog just now - between books, between jobs, between phases of life and possibly even between homes. I could sure use Sinclair to help guide me out of the fog!