Saturday Story Starter

Welcome to the Saturday Story Starter!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one, and I apologize — we’re long overdue for a writing date together. Too many deadlines + too much travel = crazy life! I’ve so enjoyed all the stories you’ve shared so far (click here and here and here and read the comments field to check them out) — I just love the hum and buzz of collective creativity!

As you know, the Saturday Story Starter is purely for fun, just as a way to exercise those writing muscles (think of it as Heather’s Literary Gym). There are no prizes, only the simple joy of putting words on paper (well, OK, computer screen). Also, I won’t be offering critiques, just brief words of encouragement, but I will read all your entries, that I can promise!

Here’s this week’s photo:

Heceta Head

If you click on it, you should be able to enlarge it for a better look. It’s a great shot, isn’t it? ::pats self on back::  My husband and I spent a week on the Oregon Coast recently, which is one of my favorite places in the whole world. We hiked and read and ate fabulous seafood and napped and watched old movies. Bliss. One of our excursions took us to this beautiful, windswept spot. It’s called Heceta Head. The fog started to lift shortly before I took this picture, but it still has an air of mystery about it, doesn’t it?

STORY STARTER:  Write about this place. Maybe something happens, or maybe you just describe it for us. It’s up to you. If you need a jumpstart, here’s a first line you can use:

The storm blew out to sea shortly before dawn…

Ready, set, write!

Monday musings: Inside the shell of character

I love buying eggs from my next-door neighbor.

Aren’t they lovely?  So many different colors! On the outside, anyway — inside, eggs are eggs.  Lisa has at least four varieties of hens running around her yard, maybe even five or six.  It’s so much fun to look out my kitchen window and see them scurrying to and fro in search of bugs and other good things to eat.

We used to have chickens, too, but they eventually went into chicken retirement.  (You can read about that here.)  They provided not only eggs (and amusement), but also food for thought.  Click here for a link to a blog post from a few years back that was inspired by a little backyard observation.

That’s the best kind of observation, really, isn’t it?

So what does this motley dozen nesting on my kitchen table tell me today?  Well, perhaps that despite our outward trappings–race, nationality, gender, faith, age, political leanings, etc.–on the inside, where it really counts, we’re all the same.  As a writer, I’ve learned that it’s the inside of my characters that counts, too. Whether I’m writing about a girl on an adventure at sea in 1835 (THE VOYAGE OF PATIENCE GOODSPEED), a mouse who dreams of being a secret agent and the fifth grade boy who helps her out (THE BLACK PAW), modern-day stepsisters on the receiving end of a spell gone terribly wrong (ONCE UPON A TOAD), or a whole cast of moms and daughters who end up reading the classics together (THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB), it’s the heart of the matter that’s most important.

Sure, I need to pay attention to details like dress and appearance and mannerisms and all that.  It’s part of my job (and a very fun part, I might add) to make the window dressing as interesting and alluring as possible.  But what is it that really connects us to those who live out their lives on the written page? What is it that makes some characters wrap themselves around our hearts?  Think Charlotte and Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web.  Or India Opal Buloni in Because of Winn-Dixie.  Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird.  

It’s what’s on the inside, isn’t it?  It’s their hopes and fears and worries, their dreams and yearnings.  Those “inside the egg” things that each one of us can relate to, and that ultimately connect us all.  So when you’re writing, be sure to crack open that shell and breathe life into your character from the inside.

Give your character a heart, and it will speak to the heart in your reader.

 

 

 

 

 

Tick tock

I’m on deadline this weekend — racing to finish the first draft of WISH YOU WERE EYRE.  I don’t know how it works for other writers, but for me, books tend to pick up momentum the closer I get to finishing them.  Kind of like a snowball rolling downhill.  All of a sudden the ideas start flowing thick and fast, and I have no choice but to sit tight and hang on for the ride.

Actually, I do have a choice, but I wouldn’t be a professional if I slacked off.  Slacking off is for amateurs, for wannabes.  Real writers need to be willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.

And so, I’ve been burning a lot of midnight oil this week — and even some 3 a.m. oil.  It’s all part of the job.  I’m not complaining, mind you.  I happen to think I have the best job in the world.  And when that flow kicks in, I’m more than happy to ride the wave.  Or the snowball.

But look!  There, on the horizon.  Do you see it?  I do.

Catch you on the other side!

Little snow, big snow

Have you ever had one of those writing days (weeks, months) where it seems it’s all you can do to eke out a paltry handful of words worth keeping?

The muse is napping, perhaps, or has skived off to go bowling with friends, leaving you to sit and stare at an (almost) blank page. Frustrating, isn’t it?

When this happens to me, I always think of my Nova Scotia grandmother.  Her name was Eva MacDougall, but we called her Nana Mac.  Nana Mac was full of sayings–some salty, some hilarious, some wise.  One of her wisest was “little snow, big snow,” which she attributed to the Mi’kmaq, a First Nations people from her region of Canada.

“Do you see that snow?” she’d say, looking out our window.  (I grew up in New England, and Nana Mac often came down to “the Boston States,” as she called New Hampshire and Massachusetts.)  I’d squint, because the stuff sifting down from the sky hardly qualified as snow.  A flurry at best, maybe.

“Little snow, big snow,” she’d tell me, nodding sagely.  “It adds up, you’ll see.”  She’d go on to explain that the biggest snowfall accumulations often came as a result of the smallest, finest flakes piling up gradually over time, while the big, fat flakes that arrived with such pomp and circumstance — look! snow! — often petered out quickly and melted away.

Nana Mac was usually right.

So I keep this in mind when I’m writing, and the going is slow.  Word by word, snowflake by snowflake, a story is built.  Stay the course; just keep writing.

Little snow, big snow.

 

Extraordinary ordinary life

Part of  a writer’s work is being observant.  I try and go about each day with my eyes and ears wide open.  You never know when an idea will come your way, or when you’ll see or hear something that might add color and life and richness to the texture of a story.

Plus, ordinary life is just so full of extraordinary beauty!  Look what I found tucked away in a quiet corner of the airport in Austin, Texas recently:

An art exhibit on handmade lace!  In an airport, no less!

These little wooden things are called bobbins:

And somehow, by an intricate system of weaving them over and under each other, beautiful patterns appear:

That’s a lace collar.  Breathtaking, isn’t it?  I can picture Elizabeth Bennet wearing it.  And check out this cami and shawl:

The intricacy and detail are stunning, aren’t they?

This is my favorite:

A rooster made entirely of lace!  Who could ever dream that something as astonishing as this would be possible simply by the weaving together of thread?

I have no idea whether I’ll ever use the art of lace-making in a story.  Viewing this exhibit added richness to my life, though, as well as to an idle hour at an airport.   And these kinds of “beauty” deposits to one’s memory bank can’t help but reap dividends when we put pen to paper.

Calling all Bay Area fans!

California, here I come!

For those of you who live in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’ll be appearing at the Castro Valley Library on Tuesday, November 16th from 6:30-7:30.  This event is a writing workshop geared for 4th-8th graders (with wiggle room in the age range), and the library is asking participants to pre-register, so give them a call at 510-667-7900.  A book signing will follow.

The Castro Valley Library is at 3600 Norbridge Ave, Castro Valley, CA 94546.  Hope to see you there!