Saturday, July 31, 2010

Name, Please

A name is part of who a person is. It's the label that stands for everything you've done
 and everything you are. --Orson Scott Card, Characters and Viewpoint
I have this pretty vine growing next to the house, and I've loved watching it flourish this summer. It started out as a couple of tiny sprouts and tendrils then shot forth into tangled leafy runners that sometimes seemed to grow inches in minutes. The bright red blossoms are small but spunky. This is the first year that we've trained the plant to climb a trellis, one which sits just under our porch room window. From inside looking out, you'd think we have a window box out there. It's  a summer bright spot for us--especially when the hummingbird visits!

But the problem is, I don't know the flower's name. The neighbor lady who gave us our first seedlings didn't either. And the not knowing is bugging me. What should I be calling it, besides my "pretty little vine with red flowers"? What is its name?  

I'm in a similar quandary with characters in my next project, especially my MC. I don't know her name yet either. What I do know is that she, too, is spunky. I know she will have to climb and stretch. I also know that she will grow--and maybe sometimes so fast it will take her breath away. But just what is her name?

I'm on a quest to find out.... 

And so, as I embark on this challenge, I'll ask you: how do you come up with names for your characters? Any tips? How do you know when it's a perfect fit?
And, please, can  anyone tell me the name of my flower?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Patching Holes

I blame a hole in the asphalt for the song that's been tormenting me.

There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza. There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a hole.

Remember that old song? As kids we loved the Burl Ives version. Later a Sesame Street rendition came along. But the tune actually originated in Germany in the 1700s.

No matter. The hole in the side of the road that I've been watching grow bigger on each of my walks recently--a hole that without attention will become a major tire-swallower--triggered the memory. And I can't get it out of my mind.

Well, fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry. Well, fix it, dear Henry. Dear Henry, fix it.

With every one of Liza's suggestions, Henry counters:

With what shall I fix it? he asks...With a straw, she answers.
But the straw is too long...Then cut it.
With what shall I cut it?...With a knife.
The knife is too dull...Then sharpen it.
With what shall I sharpen it?...With a stone.
But the stone is too dry...Then wet it.
With what shall I wet it?...With water.
In what shall I carry it?...In a bucket, dear Henry.
But there's...

Can't you just picture Liza tearing her hair out about this time?

I hope I'm not so contrary when it comes to fixing the holes in my manuscript. If someone says my characters are like straw, my plot needs a trim, my description falls as flat as a stone, my dialogue needs honed, or my whole story leaks, I'm going to have to do a lot of patching in order for it to hold good stuff!

Do you have any leaks in your writing bucket? How do you propose to patch them?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Treasured Connections

"A morsel of genuine history is a thing so rare as to be always valuable." --Thomas Jefferson

Adjutant General's Office...
Know Ye That the records of this office show that
Charles Gardner
Was enrolled as a private in Company D
95th Regiment Ohio Vol Inftry
on the 25th day of July 1862
...mustered out Aug. 14th 1865

The document showed up once in papers my dad gave me, and caught me by surprise. In all my research through the years, with multiple files, piles, books and clippings I've accumulated, nothing felt more like treasure than this--the discharge paper officially documenting my great-great grandfather's military service in the Civil War. I was amazed to find I had it in my possession.

Upon discovery, questions began to fly. Who was Charles Gardner? What was his life like? Under what circumstances did he live, fight, cope? What were his motives, opinions, the things that fueled his decisions and actions? What about his family, and the young woman--Josephine, my great-great grandmother--whom he would marry the same year as his discharge? What was his/their story? Oh, how I would have loved to have picked the brain of someone with whom he might have talked about his experiences, but I didn't know anything about him until it was too late.

I've been trying to organize my files lately as I continue moving back and forth from finished mss to queries to the first words of my next WIP, set in the 1860s. This document resurfaced in the process and now sits as a special friend nearby as I go forward--a treasure piece that, hopefully, serves to trigger the imagination.

I'm looking forward to the upcoming work. And I value the real-life, hands-on, hands-across-the-generations connection to that era in history--something quite special to me.

How about you? Do you have a personal treasure you hold dear, something that gives you a connection to your story-in-progress--or to your past?

"People tend to forget the word 'history' contains the word 'story'." --Ken Burns

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Heart of the Matter

"To imagine yourself inside another what a story writer does in every
piece of work; it is his first step, and his last too, I suppose." --Eudora Welty

Artist: Margie Lakeberg

I love the goldfinch. He's a bright and cheerful burst of joy. I saw a whole flock of goldfinches on my walk yesterday, dipping and soaring like sparkles of sunbeams on the wind. What heart they have. My friend, and artist, Margie knows this particular bird is my favorite, and I cherish the gift of her oil painting that hangs in my office. I am continually inspired by it.

Sparkles. Heart. I look for sparkles, too, in my last read-through of my manuscript. I also find myself asking hard questions about my main character. Have I gotten to the heart of her story? Do I really know her--and what's deepest in her heart? Did I, as Eudora Welty suggests, imagine myself inside her? Welty says that that's what a story writer does, first step and last.

I think I did. I hope I did. And I hope the querying process in some way encourages me that I have been on the right track (or flight). But no matter what, I take inspiration from the goldfinch and look for the moments of joy in the writing--and in the finishing.

James Michener summed up the writing process when he said, "I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions."

I wonder if he was inspired by the goldfinch, too.

In all of the great outdoors, what is your greatest inspiration?

Friday, July 16, 2010


"After the cheers have died down and the stadium is empty, after the headlines have been written and you are back in the quiet of your room and the championship ring has been placed on the dresser and all the pomp and fanfare has faded, the enduring things that are left are: the dedication to excellence, the dedication to victory, and the dedication to doing with our lives the very best we can to make the world a better place in which to live." --Vince Lombardi

The week was somewhat busy, including an overnight trip out of town. But still, writing goals were addressed: another touch at revision, updating the one-sentence pitch, progress toward querying. With all that, it seemed fitting to celebrate by taking a quaff of a few suds--the suds of a root beer, that is!

Our special destination for a root beer treat is, appropriately, The Root Beer Stand. Around since the 50s, it is a (used-to-be) car-hop kind of place. Though servers no longer come out to your car to take orders, it is still a quaint little location that offers not only root beer, but coneys, popcorn, and the best BBQ sandwich you ever ate.

What a fun break--sipping and munching, observing and enjoying. A great time to clink glasses. Cheers!

So, as the week winds to a close, I propose a toast. Cheers! to those who:
  • set writing goals this past week and made progress, no matter how great or small.
  • achieved breakthroughs in a knotty part of their story.
  • got a positive response from an agent/publisher.
  • registered for a writing conference.
  • had the courage to ask someone to read their work.
  • paid it back and critiqued someone else's work
  • read to their kids.
  • read to someone else's kids.
  • are dedicated to excellence and to doing with their lives the very best they can to make the world a better place in which to live.
And, on a personal note, Cheers! to:
  • my daughter who received notice that she has been named a finalist in the Thin Threads Story Writing Contest--this, her first big writing break-through.
  • and to my daughter-in-law who became a U.S. citizen this week, in a swearing-in ceremony in Los Angeles that included over 3300 other new citizens.
Cheers! to all.

Anything you'd care to toast?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Meeting the Challenge

"Fear of failure must never be a reason not to try something." --Frederick Smith

I never learned to ski. Truthfully never desired to. Besides, the ski lift always looked a bit risky. What a wimp, huh?

But once a few years back, I finally did it--I rode a ski lift. Hubby and I were on a cross-country road trip and stopped at a ski resort that offered summer rides to the top of the mountain. At first I balked. I would only ride the gondola, thank you very much, even if it meant just going half way. But hubby was patient (bless his heart) and convinced me to go on. I'm so glad he did.

For the lift took us to an amazing, mesmerizing view. Supposedly we could see three states (Idaho, Washington, Montana) from up there, as well as British Columbia, Canada. I felt like Maria/Julie Andrews in the opening scene of The Sound of Music. It was that beautiful. And to think I almost passed on the chance...

It's time now for me to take a chance on query submissions, the writer's personal mountain to climb. But my ski lift experience taught me that it's worth the risk--even if it means rejection. For if we concentrate too much on risks, we risk talking ourselves out of something neat before it has a chance to fly. So we'll see how this goes. At least I'm not afraid to ride the lift this time!

And certainly I'm grateful for all the fellow travelers along the way. Special thanks to Karen (Write Now) for her book give-away last week--and for being named her winner. That was exciting news. And not only do I have a chance to read a new book, I've been introduced to yet another wonderful author. A Distant Melody was written by Sarah Sundin. Read Karen's two-part interview with Sarah here and here.

So, what about you--are you a nail biter, too, or do you love the challenge of the climb?
(Photo: Silver Mountain Gondola,

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Beyond the Hazards

"The great secret of writing is not becoming a writer, it's staying a writer." --Harlan Ellison

Off and on while on my walks, I come across different hazards. This time of year a healthy crop of poison ivy is a threat. It grows alongside the most vulnerable stretch of road--there are no sidewalks out my way--where space for walking is already at a premium, and a driver's visibility is most restricted. Do I hug the road and risk a car passing too closely, or do I jump into the midst of the one kind of plant that can cause me so much misery?

Oh, the hazards. A few weeks ago it was snakes. Other times it's stinking road kill. Once it was a Mama deer with two young ones that stared me down. Her snort made me take several quick steps backward.

"Would a deer charge if it had a mind to?" I asked my husband upon my return that day.

"You better believe it," he answered.

Oh, the hazards. And it got me thinking, what are some hazards in a writer's life? For many of us, I'm sure the list would include doubt, discouragement, distractions, dry spells.

Ralph Keyes, The Writer's Book of Hope, says such problems are common. Nerves, he says, are normal, frustration happens, and periods of despair are inevitable.

So, if writing carries with it such hazards, why write? If, as Keyes says, "desperation is the writer's norm, serenity the exception"--why go down that road?

Well, just like E.B. White once said, "I am still encouraged to go on. I wouldn't know where else to go."

There is hope. In Chapter Nine, "Keeping Hope Alive," Keyes suggests several helps to aid in our journeys, including writer's groups, conferences, continuing education in the craft of writing. He also advises we "go easy" on ourselves. Don't look too far down the road. Write on good days and bad days. Join up with those who will encourage you. Encourage others.

So what do you say? What hazards make you apprehensive? What helps keep you truckin' forward? What gives you hope for the journey?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Sharpening Pencils

A new week--a new writing month. Time to sharpen pencils and get down to work. July's goals? Tie up loose revision ends, tighten up query letter--and target initial markets that I've researched. Maybe a bit optimistic for what I might actually accomplish--after all, it is summer--but a girl can dream can't she?

Like Joyce Myers said, "A #2 pencil and a dream can take you anywhere."

What else has been said about the pencil? Well, how about this: "The average pencil is seven inches long, with just a half-inch eraser--in case you thought optimism was dead." --Robert Brault.

Optimism is not dead.

Other pencil-themed thoughts (thanks to BrainyQuote):
  •  "When you write down your ideas, you automatically focus your full attention on them. Few if any of us can write one thought and think another at the same time. Thus a pencil and paper make excellent concentration tools."--Michael LeBoeuf
  • "I don't know how many thoughts we have a second, but it's quite an amazing number, and just to pin down the appropriate sequence of those, all you really need is a pencil and a piece of paper." --Robert Wyatt
  • Ideas are elusive, slippery things. Best to keep a pad of paper and a pencil at your bedside, so you can stab them during the night before they get away." --Earl Nightingale
  • "The idea is to get the pencil moving quickly." --Bernard Malamud
  • "I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil."--Truman Capote
And a personal favorite:
  • "You can lead a horse to water, but a pencil must be led."--Stan Laurel
Happy writing this week...this month! What current goals have you sharpened your pencils for?