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My friends call me Elldee. And breaking the half century mark has been highly motivating: happy wife, mother, writer, teacher, day dreamer.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Family builds my characters and my stories

Branch of the family tree, okay vine.
Often when I read science fiction, the main characters and certainly the supporting and stock characters rarely have family.  I don't mean they don't ever have family, but family is not the cause of change or action in them.  Family is window decoration in most novels.  Yet family is a basic component of my fiction writing.

Family can drive my characters to do things they have been avoiding or things they would not have done without the influence of a member of the family.  In my first book In Times Passed, Brent Garrett jumps to another time period claiming the excuse that he had to get away from his mother's interference.  After he makes a life in the new time period, it is family again that affects him, influences his actions.  Loss of family nearly destroys him.

In No-Time like the Present, family motivated Misty Meredith to trust a stranger and jump two hundred years into her future so she could stand before her father and prove to him he failed by leaving her, that she didn't need him anyway because she had her Uncle Mick and Aunt Emily, family that cared to raise her.  And she is surrounded by family, starts her own family and ultimately learns that family means no one ever really leaves anyone behind.

Mick and Emily never had children of their own, yet they raised a family.  They keep taking in the orphans, granted they are family, but this act of parenting the parentless is a basic feature of their lives.   So in Next Time We Meet, this couple think they have nothing to give the future, but what they are always offering is future to those who need it most.  All their efforts are directed at creating, supporting and reuniting family. 

I am currently working on the fourth book in the Students of Jump series, working title Testing Time, and family is again basic to the story.  Sarra Marsh's family must break up in order to survive what is happening in the world and time she lives in.  The group she ends up with is guided by two individuals, Ma Potterby (a mother to all the assembled renegades) and Carnegie, (a sort of patriarchal figure whose terse manner ensures discipline in the ranks).  As she endeavors to enact change in her society as dictated by her father from a distance, she is always aware of her disbursed family.  Until change occurs, they must remain separated.  And the change may be far too late to bring them back together.

I have an anthology of short stories.  Not one of them lacks the basic feature of family.  The title story, "Gardens in the Cracks," is steeped in the fact that major change was made in how families are established, maintained, organized and torn apart.  Marga Graber has already given up one child to the demands of planetary survival and is now facing more tears in her family fabric no less damaging.  The novella sequel that follows it in the anthology deals with the events that should pull family together but often does the opposite.  Still the pull that drives us from within to desire and seek family lives on and is at times the only thing that keeps these characters going.  Thus, in Scrapper, a boy finds his way home greatly changed from the boy who was excited to leave family.

Family is integral to us all.  I cannot separate it from my writing.  I am forever influenced by a woman I don't even remember because she was at one very brief time my mother.  My father now deceased more than eight years is daily a part of my life.  For a time he held a dual role in a time period when few men could imagine being a mother to two children: one a toddler, the other an infant.  He potty trained me, and when I was becoming concerned about my daughter reaching that milestone in development, who did I call?  Yup, my dad, who offered his usual sage advice.  Potty trained in less than a week and my little girl made the decision.  I just offered opportunity and a willingness to listen. But that's a story for another time.  Family, gotta love them.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The other half of a writer's life: family, friends, the other work

Write when you can.  Be there the rest of the time
All writers juggle their private and public lives with their writing lives.  It doesn't matter if they write for a living or write part time.  Yesterday, I had a rare day free from any after-work demand from my job.  I had a post for my blog to write, and the possible chance that I could work on Book 4 of my Students of Jump series during that open evening.  All in all getting home and working on my computer was definitely one of the options open to me.  But it was not to be, and I knew that at the start of my day.

My daughter had a project to do for a scholar's program she was accepted into.  That project called for her gathering quite a few pictures, audio and video together.  Normally, this is not a problem.  We have a computer we used to use, before we got out of the business, for wedding videography loaded with all the necessary software and support features needed.  But technology is not always reliable, and the monitor started intermittently failing.   It is not hard to figure out what sort of delaying factor this had on her project.  We worked for hours nursing this monitor along from the time school let out and her midnight deadline arrived.

I was there for advice, instruction in software usage and emotional support as that monitor raised her stress level.  Fearful of  finding herself with a two-minute film imprisoned on a hard drive we could not access, she was working from a flash drive which slowed her progress as well.  But when we came close to the deadline and she had completed the video, we switched to another computer to upload the rendered product.  You're probably wondering why we just didn't shift the software to another computer. Well, it's been some years since we were videographers and that software is old and cannot work with Windows 7 or 8.  She was managing with the oldest computer in the house because she had no choice.

Usually it takes a few days to hear back how she scored on a project.  Today we arrived home, and she checked her email to find she had been notified that her grade was posted.  My daughter told her father and I about the notification then accessed her grade book.  The nervousness she was feeling was evident in her grip on her iPod and how she turned away from looking at its screen.

If I wasn't nervous myself, it would have been funny watching her slowly turn her head back toward the image, her eyes squeezed as though anticipating having something thrown at her as she tried to make out her grade.  With a dramatic "Oh, my, God," she threw back her head and leaned against the back of her chair, a picture of sudden enervation.  We weren't sure how to interpret her response and asked how she did.  To avoid bragging, I'll just say she did very, very well.  Neither of us had much sleep last night, and there was some uncertainty about what was actually wanted, so I would have clapped my hands over just about any grade.  She had reason to be pleased.

So you found me out. This is one long excuse for not posting my weekly Wednesday post this morning.  But tired as I am, and though I did not get to work on my book and went through a school day feeling a bit fuzzy and running on my "I'm not a tired teacher" gear, I'm glad I was there for my girl. 

Family, friends, work: we write in and among, around and through these demands every day.  Sometimes they are big events; some inconvenient; some, like this activity, part of being a mom.  All of these are part of being a writer.

What have you had to write through and around?  What moments are you thankful for that got in the way of writing but left you feeling proud you were part of it?  Tell me your tale of distraction/connection.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Though we seek perfection, we must recognize the value in a good flaw, the unintended potential it grants

Flawed yet potentially beautiful.
We all face demands that require near perfection, sometimes even perfection.  Those of us naturally conscientious try hard to meet them.  In fact, we often demand them of ourselves, without an outside force motivating us.  I am a perfectionist, so I can certainly sympathize with those who demand it of themselves and others.  But the writing of a draft should never fall victim to this expectation.

To avoid binding myself by those unreasonable demands, I remind myself that humanity is strong because of its imperfections.  Flaws offer opportunity, diversity and adaptability which is a necessary ingredient for survival and for an author's creativity.  I cannot possibly count the times a flaw in my writing or a student's has opened up a new aspect of a story's conflict, a character's motivation or an image that adds new light to the matrix that makes up a story or poem.

I love to tell my students of one of my long-graduated, creative writing students who had not made much effort in her regular English classes to gain skills in punctuation and diction.  She wrote several poems and submitted them for our first workshop.  Of course, as her teacher, I was familiar with her faults having combated them for years.   But her peers were not.

The first day we reviewed her work was comical.  Several diction issues cropped up.  Her peers, whose feedback was provided before I wrapped up the review, took her diction choices at face value and tried to make sense of them.  They offered advice on how to tighten the images she was casting.  They suggested ways to connect these unusually phrased constructs creatively together.  I watched in my silence her increasing concern.  As a student receiving feedback, she was not allowed to defend or explain her choices.  I knew she was trying to figure out if she should admit that spelling and comma placement had made a mess of her original intents for the poems.

It was a definite struggle as her peers had found complexities in the writing that had not naturally been there.  They had offered valuable advice based on misunderstandings that had come out of her word choice (and the unfortunate assistance of Word's spellchecker).  Honesty and the intrinsic humor of the student won out, and she admitted the confusion her writing had created.  She had a good laugh at herself, but she also could not help looking at her poetry in their new light.  The conscientious notes her peers had made on her workshop copies could not disappear, and they were hers to take home, review and consider.

It took another two similarly confused but still highly useful workshops (much of it spent laughing as her fellow writers were more knowing now and found making her strangled diction work as much a game as an effort to bring clarity to rough drafts) to motivate her to make change.  When she graduated, after two years of creative writing class, she told her story to the  students new to the class and those considering taking it.  She admonished them to learn the tools of the trade and not be proud of their lack.   And she laughed at how she learned to find deeper complexity in her work through playing purposely with word choice.

Imperfection at its best and received for its potential can lead to tremendous growth, not just in the work but also in the writer.  Certainly, one should write with the intent to provide text worthy of growth and must start with the best of production, recognizing that the effort will not bring perfect production.

I sit down determined to move what I imagine before my internal eye into words on the screen before me.  Later in the shower, on the treadmill, sitting in the passenger seat on the way to work, the missing bits that develop scenes, dialogues, and crucial interactions between characters slip forward now that room has been made for them.  In my imperfect prose, I can make my way toward perfection, just as my students do daily.  Each flaw offers a moment for consideration of alternatives and growth for the work and the writer.

So write your flawed constructions, traction your prose with the early confusion of imperfect muses, then with patience and consideration, and a good dose of humor, find its near perfection.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Computer lap desk lacks frills but has plenty of room for imagination

 Last year's Christmas gift is still one of my favorites.  My daughter gave it to me (via my husband).  She actually saw the item a couple of days before Christmas when she was starting to get worried that she would not get me anything in time.  Ol' hubby told her he had already taken care of it, and she was not to worry.  When he showed her what he had gotten, she wasn't certain it was the best choice.  My girl prefers to buy me jewelry, which I do enjoy. But this time my husband chose well.  He doesn't often, which may be why he wanted my daughter to "give" it to me.

Lap desk.
So what did he give me?  A lap desk, a smooth, kidney-shaped wooden desk that can be used in a motor home, on the couch before the TV, in bed, anywhere your lap shows up and a computer or book or paper and pen has a person wanting a flat surface.  It has two horizontal, tubular beanbag pads running underneath which shape nicely to the contours of one's legs and distribute the weight while keeping the computer away from body-generated heat.  At under $30, a writer cannot complain. Turns out everyone in the household enjoys using it.  I get first dibs, of course, but if I'm not using the desk, chances are someone is.

So if you are still wondering what to get a writer:  a lap desk is not a bad choice, and it just might turn out to be a favorite.  There are fancier ones than mine; however, I am a simple gal, and this one suits me fine.  What handy dandy device have you found that is useful to a writer?  Let's pull together a list that non-writers can use to find just the right thing for the muse-driven mate.

#writers

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

There are advantages to being a 50something writer

50+ years of experience
I've been gathering experience for 50+ years
  1. I have already been told numerous times I was wrong and proved that I was right.
  2. I have been wrong before and survived and I will again
  3. I have paid my bills, and when I didn't, I learned to pay them the next time.
  4. I found out I don't have to answer any questions I don't want to.
  5. I have learned how to ask questions so people want to answer them (they don't always, but they want to).
  6. I refuse to sit in the corner and cry about it.  But I know some times a good cry works wonders.
  7. I know what my body does when it is terrified.
  8. I know what my body does when it is tired.
  9. I know what my body does when it hasn't slept for three days. (My husband and I laughed our heads off about nothing funny, but it was a blast) Not recommended more than once a year.
  10. I know that how I react is not necessarily how another person will act.
  11. Now I decide what I am going to do about it and do it.
  12. I wrote a book.
  13. And then I wrote three more.
  14. I published a book, and then I published three more.
  15. So I am writing another book.
  16. I plan to publish it.
  17. Creativity is in the mind, of the mind, doesn't always mind, but mind you, it never really leaves.
  18. There are days I don't want to write.
  19. There are not many days I don't want to write.
  20. I love my parents despite and in spite of all they did, tried to do and never got around to doing.
  21. I am a parent, and I think she's going to love me in spite of and despite of all of it.
  22. I married the right man, and he agrees.
  23. What I really know, really experienced and really care about can be a great help with writing about the things I didn't know until I looked it up, didn't experience but have an idea about, and don't care much about but can see how someone would.
  24. I know that crying is not proof that someone is hurt 
  25. I know that not crying is not proof that someone does not care.
  26. I know that silence is not agreement, and taking a stand is far more reliable.
  27. I know my opinion needs to matter to me more than it matters to anyone else.
  28. I have learned that opinion is not fact.
  29. I know that some believe opinion is enough to hang a hat on.
  30. I rarely wear a hat.  Don't have the head for it.
  31. I can wait a long time, I already have.
  32. I will not wait long for things not worth waiting for or things that should not be allowed to wait.
  33. I have learned that criticism can hurt, but even that sort can be learned from.
  34. I have learned to give criticism that teaches.
  35. Nothing is forever except ideas.
  36. Escapism is not a bad thing.  Writers depend on it. Readers need it well done.
  37. Every day I need to seek out knowledge.
  38. As often as possible I need to share knowledge.
  39. I know how to say I am sorry and mean it. 
  40. I have learned that some of the closest friends a person can have shed, and their only flaw is the amount of hair that can accumulated in the corners.  Dogs, kindness in the warm, occasionally wet-nosed package, that renews itself every morning and sometimes numerous times in the course of the day if you step outside enough times and make a big deal every time you come back in.
  41. I have been an infant, a toddler, a pre-teen, a teenager, a lover, a newlywed, a pregnant woman, a new mother.  I remind my daughter I am old enough to be a grandmother, but I am not ready, nor is she ready to make me one.
  42. I have struggled with self-consciousness and reached a point of mostly not caring what people think about me.
  43. I have found meditation has numerous benefits
  44. I have struggled with achieving a pregnancy, giving up, gone a decade believing and accepting that it was not possible.
  45. I have lost a pregnancy, and helped a friend deal with losing her own pregnancy.
  46. I went preterm and held out for a full term delivery.
  47. I have had a child remind me to pay attention. And I listened. I held her sitting in the crook of my arm.  She placed two chubby hands on either side of my face, turned me to share an eye-to-eye look, and she said, "Momma?" with the firmness of a drill sergeant. 
  48. I know how to hide the fact that I am a shy person. (Head up, chin up, eye steady)
  49. I know how to say no and mean it.
  50. I found out why mothers are never shy when a child is involved.
  51. I learned how to give orders so students do what I say (but don't ask me to explain how it works).
  52. I have made friends and lost friends and will forget neither.
  53. I have been lied to and lied, and carried the burden of both.
  54. I have fallen in love and worked hard not to climb out because holding onto love is not an easy thing.
  55. I know how it is to lose a parent to cancer.
  56. I know how it is to lose a parent to unexpected death.
  57. I know how it is to lose a parent to dementia.
  58. I have petted the family dog and felt her life flow out and cried for the loss. And I have explained to my daughter why she will not be coming back.
  59. I know how it is to watch my sister lose a child to a brain tumor.
  60. I know how it is to witness a miracle of survival.
  61. I have lived on the East Coast, the West Coast, the Northwest and South Coast.
  62. I have hiked the beginning of the Narragansett Trail and the end of Oregon Trail.  Missed the middle.
  63. I know the reality of not doing something now.  Do it now or it will never happen.
  64. I have graduated high school.
  65. I have graduated college, three times, different degrees.
I figure I still have plenty to learn, and all of it will be useful to me as a writer and a person.