Friday, October 26, 2007

Weather, Lawn Mowers, etc.

The weather has finally turned cooler here in the Austin area. Lows are in the 50s at night and highs in the 70s during the day. It’s a lovely time of year.

My electric lawn mower burned out but so far I’ve managed to do what needs to be done with a string trimmer. In the spring I’ll have to replace the lawn mower but for now I think I’ll be okay.

It’s funny how one’s attitudes seem tied to the weather. When it’s beautiful and sunny like this I want to DO things. I want to get out and exercise and enjoy the sunshine. Just as on rainy days it’s harder for me to wake up and I ant to stay curled up inside.

If you’re a writer, these are the kinds of details that can make a story and the characters feel more real to the reader. Does your character love to go out in the rain or hate it? Does your character love to be out in sunshine or won’t because he or she is terrified of skin cancer?

My electric lawn mower burning out is a nuisance but if you’re a writer, how would YOUR character handle such a challenge? Try to fix it? Cuss and throw things? Borrow a mower? Hire a lawn service? Improvise? No right or wrong answers, just possibilities—to show who your character is and/or create a plot possibility. After all, if she hires a lawn service and the guy who comes out is a hunk.... If he’s frustrated and the cute neighbor knows how to fix the mower.... If when he takes it in to be fixed he overhears something relevant to a terrorist plot..... If it’s the breaking point and your heroine throws up her hands and decides to run away....

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably finished each of those sentences with a story beginning to unfold in your mind. And isn’t that the fun of being a writer? Everywhere you turn there are stories to be discovered.

For me, this is a lovely time of year. A time to celebrate what’s good in my life. It’s a time to reflect on how far I’ve come and how far I still have to go to where I want to be in my life. It’s a time to get outside, do things, and savor this ideal weather for the short time it will last.

Here’s hoping each of you has a wonderful week, too!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Writing Isn't for Cowards

Went to another meeting of the Writers League of Texas last night. The featured speaker was Amanda Eyre Ward who has written Sleep Toward Heaven, How to be Lost, and Forgive Me. She was an engaging speaker and cheerfully answered audience questions.

One of the things she talked about is something so important for new writers to understand: the importance of persistence. This is a woman who wrote a novel about women on death row in Texas. Her latest book involves violence in South Africa during apartheid. Not exactly prepossessing topics. She got turned down by all the major publishers for her first novel. She revised it and it got sent around again. Only one small publisher was interested. But it did get published. And the movie rights have been bought for both of her first two books. She’s a successful novelist.

The point is that she believed in the stories she had to tell. She was willing to do the hard work of revising those stories in profound ways to make them work better. She believed in herself and her stories and didn’t stop until they were right and they sold. She was willing to change agents when the first one gave up.

Being a writer isn’t for cowards. We have to have the courage to be honest with ourselves about our work and to persist despite apparently insurmountable obstacles. We have to throw our hearts into stories not knowing if anyone else will care. Because if we hold back our stories won’t be worth reading.

And if you’re interested in some powerfully emotional stories, check out Amanda Eyre Ward’s books.

Friday, October 12, 2007


It was just about a year ago that my friend was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. She went through surgeries, chemo, radiation, and a year of hell. She’s recovering from the last surgery but there’s no trace of the cancer.

This morning I had my annual mammogram. I don’t like them but I go. Because I know too many wonderful women who have had cancer and I know what a difference an early diagnosis can make.

I made my appointment yesterday. I had the mammogram today. That’s how it was last time, too. And I wonder then why my friend had to wait so many weeks to get hers, a year ago, after she found a large lump.

I know—different cities, different facilities. But it still seems a bitter irony.

Mind you, I still don’t know the cost, I just know that when the bill comes I'll be paying all of it. (I have the kind of insurance where I pay out of pocket a fairly large amount before the deductible kicks in.) I find myself wondering how many women don’t get mammograms because they can’t afford the cost and don’t have insurance that covers it or any insurance at all—either because they can’t afford it or because insurance companies are allowed to refuse to cover people they don’t want to cover.

Anyway, this is a reminder that if you're over 50 (there seems to be some controversy over the value and safety if you're younger) and you've been putting off getting a mammogram, please get one now. Your life and quality of life are worth the time and annoyance and expense.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Life, Emotions, and Writing

What are the predominant emotions in the relationships you have with the main people in your life? What are the conflicts? How are they based in hopes and dreams and fears—yours and the other person’s?

It’s not an idle question. If we understand those hopes and dreams and fears, we can resolve most conflicts—or sidestep them if we choose. Especially if we learn to step back from our own fears long enough to do so.

If we’re writers, well, it’s even more important to be aware of such things. Readers connect to our stories through emotion. That’s true of thrillers and mysteries as well as romance novels.

What do I mean by that? Well, with a thriller, maybe it’s connecting with the emotion of being terrified and the exhilaration of still going on to save the world. With science fiction, it’s often the identification with the sense of being a stranger in a strange land and perhaps rising above challenges as well. With romance, it’s discovering who we are and being loved (not rejected!) anyway. It’s about triumphing over challenges and being the best we are in our own unique way.

What this means is that the quicker the reader is drawn into the emotional lives of the characters and their situation, the more quickly the book becomes a compelling page turner.

This is why two people sitting and chatting usually isn’t helpful—unless whatever they are talking about draws the reader deeply into a compellingly emotional situation.

This is why having to choose between one’s child and another beloved person when there’s only room in the lifeboat for one more in the lifeboat is an instantly compelling situation.

What are the primary emotional tones in your story? How can you highlight them for the reader? What surprise perspective can you bring to a universal emotional challenge?

When I look at my keeper shelf, it’s the emotions I remember from each book even before I begin to remember the characters or the events in the story. I remember the emotions they evoked in me.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Fall Isn't Here Yet

I’m in Texas and fall isn’t here yet. We’re still hitting 90 plus degrees every day. And that seems odd to someone like me who grew up in snow country and has lived in places with snow most of my life. I’m not complaining—just noticing the difference.

It got me thinking that as writers, we can use the differences in climate in our stories. Do you have a character who is in a new place, one where the seasons are very different from what he or she is used to? How does your character react? Do they embrace the change or wish for what they know best?

Using details like this can reveal a great deal about the personality of your character(s) as well as ground the reader in the setting of your story. They also help to make your characters seem more 3 dimensional.

Suppose your character has always lived in this place. Is the weather unusual or is it the norm? Are you careful to let your readers (who might live in very different circumstances) know what the norm is—especially if it might be different than what many or most of your readers might be used to?

Weather isn’t always relevant and I’m definitely NOT suggesting putting in these kinds of details just because you think you should or to boost your word count but...having lived in and traveled to many places I’ve noticed that both weather and terrain can impact the attitudes and behavior patterns of the people who live there. Knowing and using this, where appropriate, can help make your story come more alive.

I love the diversity of weather in the different places I’ve lived. Mind you, I don’t think I want to go back to really cold, snowy winters, but I’m glad I had the experience at some point in my life.

Maybe it’s useful to you and maybe not but it’s worth considering whether weather has any impact on the characters in your stories.