Wednesday, September 21, 2011

New Characters

I'm in the throes of working on the first draft of my new book.  I had a great idea for this one some time ago, and the members of my writing group agreed (which encouraged me) but I realized, after getting a couple of chapters down on paper, that I didn't know enough about my protagonist to make the story work.

In thinking about this dilemma, I reasoned that I've spent so many years honing the characters of my first novel I just wasn't "comfortable" with these new people I really didn't know.  This probably sounds strange to someone who isn't a writer but it's true.

My remedy for this kind of writer's block involved creating a written character backstory for each of the characters I've introduced in the first three chapters.  It included their physical characteristics as well as details like education, employment background, living arrangements, lifestyle, personality quirks, and specific life circumstances that occurred which place them in the situation we find them at the start of the novel.

Molding these backstories, I drew from both imagination and real life people, something every writer does.  It was fun, but also eye-opening because I suddenly found ways to craft the story that I hadn't previously considered - all based on who these people really were once they took on a "real life feel" for me.

This exercise has given me new interest in this project, and I'm proceeding with abandon now, as eager as I hope the reader will be to see how it all turns out.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Anniversary Weekend

Can't help myself - have to brag: my husband and I will be celebrating our 46th year of marriage tomorrow!  When people learn we're having an anniversary, they usually ask, "How many years?" and when they hear the answer, most respond with astonishment followed by a "Good for you!"

Definitely 'good for us'.  It hasn't always been easy but it's always been worth it, and I love that man more today than I knew it would be possible to love him when we said our "I do's" in 1965.  I think the past three years have been the most harrowing as far as finances are concerned, but we give thanks that we have a roof over our heads, the light bill is paid for and we have food in the pantry.  Our priorities change with the current situation - maybe we wish that weren't so - but we deal with it.

Take this weekend as an example of the resiliency of our relationship.  Because of two recent and unforeseen jobs my husband recently had (he's a freelance artist and those have been unheard of during this Great Recession), we had decided to splurge a bit going out for drinks and dancing this evening, then dinner out tomorrow night.  All those plans evaporated when we learned, on Friday afternoon, that all the money he'd made was going to have to go into unexpected car repairs.  Were we disappointed?  Of course.  Were we angry about our plight?  Briefly.

BUT.  Because we work constantly on helping each other weather the unexpected, it didn't take long for us to come up with an alternative, stay-at-home evening that would not require any money outlay but would give us some special time together to mark our important occasion.  No, it isn't what we planned but wishing things were different won't make them so, and expending energies moaning about it won't result in changing what can't be changed. So, with the strength of my partner, coupled with attitude adjustment on both our parts, we make do and enjoy what we can.

I don't want to sound like some wise sage, or somebody who is always happy about dealing with the unexpected; neither of those is true; I am human.  I've just learned, over many, many years of living with a man who can always make the worst situtation in the world livable - and who's taught me how to accept that edict - that as long as we never miss out on what could be because we're too busy lamenting what might have been, our marriage is the better for it.  And that's what we'll celebrate this weekend and toast to many, many more years of the same.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Piles of Books

The title of this blog describes the state of my study - and my bedside table - and my living room, on occasion.  My husband and I are avid readers, always have been (it's one of the things that made me know we were meant to be together), but I carry it to extreme.

I never go to the library without coming home with a bagful of new pages to read.  I'm always looking for work by new fiction writers - to check out my competition as I pursue selling my first novel.  I look at the new books section; something always catches my interest there.  I'm big on biographies, books on theatre, travel, history, how-to's on writing, books about writers, magazines that contain stories or info. I want to research, and the list could go on.

Once at home with my new stack of tomes, I peruse them all first and sometimes discard ones that prove to be not as interesting as I originally thought, or not very well written.  The rest I divide into books I need in the study for research, those I might read at night go into the bedroom, and a few are placed in the living room for scanning when I have some free moments or want reading matter while I drink my morning tea and examine the new day from my picture window.

My son, Sean, shares my affinity for never having enough books, and, when he is combing his local library, he usually has Fletcher (his almost 5-year-old) in tow, who will have his own pile of books and videos to check out.  I love that all the members of my family are voracious about books.  And I agree with Sean that always having a variety of things to read is a plus, and worth toting heavy book bags, and paying the occasional fine for the ones that get returned late.

I believe in the Stephen King maxim that a good writer is a good reader.  I feel I become a more accomplished writer every time I read a new novel, or discover something I didn't know about the world in the pages of nonfiction.   I never have a day when I don't read something.  I'm always rewarded by books, and I don't plan to change my habits in their regard. I recommend the practice highly - and having stacks like mine are not required!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

First Day Of School

Our two older grandsons begin school this morning.  For one, it is a return to the same school he attended last year, now a sophomore therefore much wiser.  For the other, it is his first day of high school, luckily with some friends he made last year in middle school, but still a new experience - and he has to deal with the inevitable question from students and teachers: "Are you Alex's brother?"

I remember this social pattern from the times when our daughter (Alex's mom) and her brother were in the same position.  They were 3-1/2 years apart in age, so they were separated by a larger grade difference, but the question was always there for our son.  At times he didn't mind the comparison but, on occasion, he resented it, especially when it was a teacher who was asking.

The ramifications from such an innocent inquiry can range from teasing by a classmate to an unfair parallel being made about personality and intellectual acumen.  I don't remember any serious problems occurring because of it, but I do think it makes for one more adjustment in an already crowded social agenda.

Being an only child, I never had to deal with the question when I was in school.  But, it seems to me that a better way of getting to know someone in that "sibling situation" would be to say, "It's great to meet you.  Do you have any brothers or sisters who go to this school?"  That way, the new student has a chance to present himself and his sibling in a manner that makes him the topic of conversation rather than an addendum to someone else's personality.

Keep in mind, this is just a personal quirk of mine, and I hope I don't make too much of it.  I just feel that, in today's chaotic and complicated world, an adolescent doesn't need to worry about whether he measures up to what people expect of him before they even know him as an individual.

Your thoughts on the subject?  I'd love to hear them, including your own personal experiences.