Drawing Art for My Novel Writing

Jun 10, 2017 by

Novel Writing With Pictures

I have 51 days left to finish revising my novel writing for The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club and to turn it in to SMU’s The Writer’s Path program.

I have spent time each of the past few days with iPad Pro and Apple Pencil in Adobe Sketch and in Notes drawing out scenes and characters of my book. Why would I devote time to drawing when I’m in a writing medium?

Creative writing is NOT about putting down emotions on the paper. Not expressly. Creative writing IS about drawing word pictures with words. If you aren’t telling a story with word pictures, you’re locked into telling your readers how you or your character feels. And that’s BORING.

So I have been stepping back from the keyboard and spending more time focusing on what I could see if I was in the scene with my characters. Not how I feel, that I mad that Rose dumped Kirk for Billy Banks, or that Billy Banks is a bully, or Billy’s mom is pretty hot. Those things can be told by drawing word pictures that set the scene. How does a character move his/her face? How are they sitting? Are they biting their lip?

Little Laughing Whitefish Falls

The Little Laughing Whitefish Falls, KI Sawyer AFB. Art done by Donny Claxton for The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club.

A crucial piece of the work is Little Laughing Whitefish Falls. The problem is, there is no place outside the back gate of KI Sawyer AFB in 1977. There is a Laughing Whitefish Falls, which is a beautiful place, but there is no Chimney Rock and a lagoon where kids and alike can jump from four levels into the water. The highest height is called The Devil’s Ledge. It’s 55-feet above the water. But it doesn’t exist.

Now Chimney Rock exists. It’s in Lake Martin, Alabama. The Devil’s Ledge doesn’t exist either, but there’s a piece of rock that sits at the top of Half Dome in Yosemite in California that’s called The Devil’s Diving Board.

Blend all that together and you have a whole new fictional place to build some incredibly important scenes around in The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club. I wind up using the lagoon from behind it, under it, down the face it, and from the four levels to jump.

So I decided if I’m going to write about it, I need to SEE what it looks like. The only real way to do that is to blend elements of each place into a piece of art. And this is where the drawing of the Little Laughing Whitefish Falls came from.

You might try doing this, too, in your own writing. It doesn’t have to look like a Norman Rockwell piece of art. It just needs to have enough visual cues in it that will prompt you in your writing, to help you draw better, more convincing word pictures and leave the emotional dumps and figuring out to the imaginations of your readers. They’ll love you for it. They will.

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I’m Under A Writing Deadline

Jun 5, 2017 by

I’m Under A Writing Deadline

So what does that mean? Naturally, my mind is trying to find everything it can to NOT write. And I have 56 days to meet a writing deadline.

My kitchen is clean. My sock drawer indexed in a way that would make Sherlock Holmes envious. My Scrivener file is full of sub-folders. And I keep rehashing my Resurrection, Supreme Ordeal and fighting with myself about how to actually re-write my Call to Action.

Why is this?

The Quest for Perfection

In Chapter Seven of The Artist’s Way this week, I’m dealing with PERFECTION. Or my mental quest to put out something that is as close to perfection as humanly, or me-ily possible.

I’m on a writing deadline and doing all I can to NOT do what I should be doing.

“The perfectionist is never satisfied,” says Ms. Cameron. “Midway through the project the perfectionist decides to read it all over, outline it, see where it’s going. And where is it going? Nowhere, very fast.”

I’m trying to break out of this syndrome. In a video on the CREATIVE app today for Apple TV, the screenplay writer teaching the class said to “Imagine your harshest critic sitting here on your shoulder. Most like, if you’re fortunate, it’s your mother. Pick a place she would love to be on a vacation to, and send her there for the time being.” Get her off your shoulder, is what he said.

So yeah, I get that. Mom probably isn’t alone perching on my shoulder. I know I have several critics who I need to send packing.

And not just until I finish this draft.

The Artist’s Way

Julia Cameron’s book, done right, a chapter a week, is altering my creativity. She is healing my heart. She’d argue more so that it is ME who is healing my own heart. And she’s right.

I recommend this book for everyone. In 2014 I bought a copy and gave it to each of my three girls who never did anything with it. That’s not a criticism, because in 2014 I started reading it and thinking, I don’t have time to devote 13 weeks to this.

Three years later, that’s exactly what I am doing. I don’t peek into the coming week’s lesson. I review those of the past. I re-read my Basic Principles, and The Affirmations I need to hear. I also read An Artist’s Prayer every couple of days to help keep my mind fresh and healing.

Writing Deadline

I have a third of fourth draft I’m working to revise of my book, The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club. A revision of it must be ready for submission to the head of The Writer’s Path Program at SMU on Aug. 1. The first 15 pages are going to be judged and determined whether or those those of us who submit should be selected to go to New York in November to meet with publishers and agents who work or represent the Big Five.

In the meantime, I’m struggling to not self-sabotage this effort. But it’s hard. I’m finding plenty of excuses to not write. I need to go for a walk. Three miles and an hour’s time. But while I’m walking I’m thinking about the book. And a dozen other things. The garbage needs to be taken out. The floors haven’t been vacuumed in several days. Oh gosh, there’s dust on this computer. Oh my, look, it’s about to thunderstorm. What’s being said that’s dumb on Twitter? How about Facebook? What did Simon Cade or Matt W post in their video feeds about filmmaking today? What’s Hazel Hays up to? What’s in my Mail inbox? Julia Cameron says I need to throw some old clothes out. What can I really do with this closet? Ah, yes, what am I going to eat for….

Chapter Seven

This week Julia Cameron affirms that my story is written. I just need to get it down on paper. Or into Scrivener so I can push it out of Word. I need to think of the writing process as being lowered down via a well into an sub-dermal layer of consciousness. She says writers, creatives, should not be trying to think things up. Then you’re reaching for something that’s out of reach. Visualize being lowered down into that river and the words are floating past. It’s my job to offer them rescue. To gather them into the boat and then put them in the right order onto my pages.

That is a much easier way to see writing. It seems to be working today. Today.

The teacher in the CREATIVE network on Apple TV says that we should schedule time on our calendar for writing and then adhere to the calendar.

I’m going to do a little of both. But it’s not easy. I keep trying to find a way to not sit here. To be elsewhere. And yet to retrain my brain to stay fastened to the chair.

I will say that the extracurricular things I am doing are not all bad. Yes, they are excuses, but they’re also allowing my brain to play. And Cameron also says that a playful mind is the most creative one of all.

I hope she’s right. There are only 56 days left until submission and I have 56 scenes in my work at present…..

And that’s how an extra blog post gets written, too…. 🙂

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A Mile Into The Woods

Apr 27, 2017 by

A Mile Into The Woods

I walked a mile into the woods today to be further away from you and closer to me.
Perhaps I succeeded.
But it was time for another view.

I walked a mile into the woods today.

I hear planes in the distance.
The wind rushing over my ears.
The rustle of the leaves.
Feet padding along the trail.
Cars way off in the distance.
Birds.
Cracks and smacks of branches and sticks.

The whisper of the wind across my ear drums.
The pulse of God’s breath moving across my arms.
The bursts of sunlight breaking through the crown of the trees above.
The dancing shadows across the ground.
The to and fro of branches wafting in the wind.
The colors, greens, darker; brown, black, bright green and gray.

I hold out my hand and the sun catches it, throwing a shadow across the ground.
But it’s not crisp, it weaves in and out of light.
There, it’s solid.
No, now it’s not.
There are patterns from shoes that have been here before me.
V-shapes, circles, squares.
At deeper depths.
Tire tracks, from bikes.

A broken branch lies a few feet away.
The light above illuminates the top, worn from who knows what.
The rest of the bark is intact.

A tiny yellow flower, no bigger than a diamond clings to nature’s floor, protected by fronds of green petals.

A yellow star of a flower.

It’s a miniature star, yellow, with a darker yellow center.
And it was waiting for me to come along and sit here today, for me alone to capture.
Or maybe, just maybe it’s my metaphorical reflection, a quantum physics of sorts I do not yet comprehend.
But I’m trying.
My eyes are open.
Again.

A bird chirps overhead. Now it’s gone.

Divergent travelers surround me.
Another over-crowded airliner moans eastward overhead.
I hear a truck far off, backing up, backing up, backing up.
Both are in a race.
While I sit here.
Still.
Forgetting to breathe.
Or think about anything but the moment.

The sky above is blue.
The leaves above reflect the white light of the sun—not greenness at all.
While others are shades far darker in the shade.
And then there are the branches where from many feet below I can see the chloroplastered canals of leaf after leaf after leaf.
Like a playground bully, the wind pushes the leaves.
Like me in my inner frights of seeing too many parental fights, they never push back.
So many forces working against them and they continue a dance in the wind as if none of their opposition matters.
These are Spring leaves.
Deep inside I must resemble a crumbling one in Fall.

I see bees buzzing past me.
Clumps of white spores float along in the air.
A blue butterfly.
Then a Monarch.
A bird is somewhere off in the distance.
This snack he’s missing.
I’m glad.
There go two more now, chasing each other into the leaves like lovers in a Hollywood musical.

A water fall of sorts is no more than forty yards from where I sit.
The water rushes.
Like the mass of human drama beyond, it doesn’t relent.
A constant wash of white noise blending in with all the other orchestral parts employed around me.

The wind is blowing the branches above my head making the leaves look like a million pinwheels as they sway two and fro.
A kaleidoscope of light and shadow and mystery.

I want to lie down on the path in front of me.
On my back and flatten against the earth, staring up into the azure blue, and then just close my eyes and take it all in all the more.
But my inner parent voice says that’s not allowed.
Or maybe it’s an echo of an actual parent voice.
Maybe tomorrow.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll bring a blanket or a towel.
Or maybe I should just try it.
Who will know?
Those damned inner parent voices.
What do they really know?

Now a dog behind me somewhere has joined his bit part in the symphony of outdoor sounds I am awash in.
At home, if it were my dog, this would bug me, but in the distance, the sound is different.
Not annoying.
Not troublesome.
Now it’s stopped.
No, it hasn’t.

To my distant right I see one lone purple flower at the seam where the grass is no longer edged and bushes, Mother Nature, takes over.

The pink/purple flower. I took a picture anyway.

Just a lone purple and pinkish dot on the horizon.
And it, too, dances in and out of the bright light overhead.
Maybe I should go take a picture.
Maybe I should let the one in my mind’s eye be enough.
Click.

There goes a wasp.
Keep going.
Arms dropping.
Pincers ready.
I’ve been stung by you and life too many times already.
Keep going.

Maybe it’s time to load up the pack and head back.
Or maybe I should close the computer and open my mind more.
There went a shadow of a plane from overhead, racing on its way.
Why do I want to follow in pursuit?
A yellow butterfly just swooshed off to my left.
It doesn’t need clearance to fly.
No flight plan required.
Without a set destination.
Gate to gate time is of no concern.
Pushback.
Just the will to be.
It’s gone now.
I’ll go now, too.
There is so much more to see.

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Subjunctive Text–The English Answer to a Lack of Emotion

Apr 25, 2017 by

Subjunctive Text–The English Answer to a Lack of Emotion

Saturday in Montgomery, Alabama, famed novelist Rita Mae Brown spoke during a workshop at the Alabama Book Festival about the hole in the English language caused by our vocabulary lacking the adequate words to “articulate emotion.” She says Subjunctive Text is English’s answer to our language problem.

Rita Mae Brown at the Alabama Book Festival April 22, 2017.

I had expected a lecture on how to get published as a writer and got 50 minutes of mind-bending perspective on the tools we writers have–think of a mechanic with a red Craftsman box.

We have a “warriors’ language,” she said. It’s not equipped to describe emotions. At least not like Spanish or French.

Thankfully, Ms. Brown says we have an answer to this problem–the subjunctive text–what is imagined, wished or possible.

Her challenge to all writers: “Can you put the truth on the page?”

Hmmm.

The Close Your Eyes In A Restaurant Test

Ms. Brown offered writers a great tool about observation. “Go to a restaurant, close your eyes, and then listen to the falsity in what you hear,” she said. “You’ll hear people change their voice, derogatorily, to talk to children. You’ll hear the fake laugh of conversation. You’ll be amazed at the anxiety of social situations,” that you can hear by sitting there with your eyes closed.

She said men drop their voices a half octave to talk to women they’re interested in wooing. “It’s natural, like the male pigeon fanning his feathers, he can’t help it.” Women, she said, raise their voice, look upward, and raise their hands to gesture.

“Listen to the pauses and how people breathe when they talk. See how many of them talk from their diaphragm and mean what they’re saying.”

Governments and Passive Voice

Ms. Brown talked about the use of active and passive voice, saying men use active voice a lot, and governments use passive voice to cover their tracks. “Bombs went off earlier today,” she said. “That doesn’t tell you anything about who made that order, who set them off, who got bombed, or even the time it happened. Government makes use of passive voice to cover its tracks. Never forget that “language can be used to conceal as well as reveal.” 

Dramatic Epiphanies 

A real epiphany in life she says is something dramatic, though some are indeed quiet. “But they almost all paralyze us for a few moments when they happen.” Her point was that we, as writers, should pay attention to this in our characters. These events are like “faces falling off Mount Rushmore.”

There are times when epiphanies are “quiet and you suddenly realize you’ve changed and have either been deepened by pain or enlarged by success,” but they happen and when they happen in writing, we should give them the space they are due. “But then you must start again with a subtle pause in the action.”

Ms. Brown says people read because they need a break from the miseries of the day. So that we can learn how to survive the situations that life throws at us. “People look for curious characters,” she said.

Animals

During her first workshop and a later presentation, she spent considerable time talking about animals. “All higher vertebrates have their own language,” and she encouraged the study. “The fox is a vermin,” she said. “It’s hardly been studied at all, but don’t you think it’d be wise for us to spend some time trying to figure out how in January the fox seems to know what the food supply is going to be like in May?”

Another curious observation–“Animals, like your dog and unlike humans, don’t lie.”

Writers We Should Read

Ms. Brown said there are certain examples in the English language that we should all strive to emulate, but most likely will never achieve. Virginia Wolf was the top of the list. She loves Faulkner and then said Toni Morrison’s Beloved is crucial reading for its literary elegance and use of the English language.

I really enjoyed what she had to say. She bordered on controversial political jabs here and there, but no one seemed to mind, even in a Southern town like Mungumry.

She said some good things to know as a writer.

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The Emotional Craft of Fiction

Mar 9, 2017 by

Donald Maass is a literary editing GOD. There is no better way to say it.

I’ve now maintained a snail’s pace, using pen and stickies, to actively absorb every possible word of three of his books–Writing the Breakout Novel, Writing 21st Century Fiction–and now The Emotional Craft of Fiction.

During the fall, I took the Revision class offered by J. Suzanne Frank, the director of Southern Methodist University’s The Writer’s Path program. The go-to book Suzanne recommended for that phase of writing was Maass’ Writing 21st Century Fiction. What an amazing book it is. But….

Suzanne, whom I refer to as the Jedi Writing Master, didn’t know about this new work Maass published late last fall. Heading into back surgery last week, I had Amazon rush me a copy knowing the value of Maass’ work. Lord have mercy! At one in the morning yesterday I was photographing entire pages of Mr. Maass’ work, the part about the mirror moment–a term I’d only heard Suzanne use up until I found it in Maass’ book–and I decried she should just hand out the simple section on mirror moments where Maass says, “If you haven’t felt this emotion, essentially you don’t have a mirror moment!”

That was one of those sun-ray shining only on you during a dark, dank, cloudy day moments. My mirror moment in my present draft of The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club is heavy, but with the aide of Mr. Maass’ study suggestions it’s about to become a whole lot more intense.

Case in point: Kirk Carson, 14, has worked with his three closest friends all summer to build a the fort of his dreams in the woods off KI Sawyer AFB, (Upper Peninsula of Michigan), in 1977, largely in an effort to forget about his first true love, Rose Maxwell, dumping him for the base bully, Billy Banks, the son of the Wing Commander. While in the woods, the boys are met with a series of triumphs and setbacks, natural, self-inflicted, and mysterious–Lewis Luntz keeps saying it’s the Chippewa Haints who still roam the woods of Hiawatha–but what they don’t know is it’s a Soviet spy hiding out in the woods tracking the number of B-52s armed with nuclear weapons and by being in the woods off base, the boys have encroached on his hideout. The way it turns out, the spy has made it look like the boys will be safer under the leadership of Billy Banks and they vote to remove Kirk, and he feels their act is the ultimate in betrayals.

I have all that in decent shape in my MSS, but what I now need to do is the exercises in Maass’ The Emotional Craft of Fiction, to help my readers feel the utter agony and humiliation Kirk feels as he learns the other three have already made the decision, have invited Billy–and Rose–to their “secret” fort in the woods and everything he has worked for and dreamed of, has been ripped away from him like a scab.

Did I mention that the day before, Kirk was also humiliated by Billy Banks–coaxed into jumping off the Devils Ledge at Chimney Rock, a sixty-five foot plunge to a Little Laughing Whitefish Falls Lagoon liquid enema? Kirk has had two bad days back to back and so now it’s time to do some of the exercises Maass has on page 99–“Is your protagonist lost or seeing a way forward?” “What does it feel like to be suspended, lifted out of time, in a moment of pure being?”–I’m ready to write those answers.

The book is a GREAT read. I’ve had a dustup with some dude on Twitter the past few hours who is all bent up about marked/unmarked linguistics. You see I tried to respectfully convey to Mr. Maass that for me, he over uses the word BOTH when he links two items together with the conjunction AND. In my copy of the book, I simply began marking them out–there are that many. One of my peeves. There’s nothing wrong with the use of the word BOTH, but it becomes a visual stop sign with repeated use and many writers on my Heather Sellers inspired 101 book list do it, too. Other than that, I love Mr. Maass’ insight and his devotion to helping writers like myself learn more about the craft of fiction writing.

This is a very good book. I think, for where I am right now, the most important of the three and it could not have come along for me at a better time. Thank you, Mr. Maass. I’m looking forward to what you do next.

Oh, an by the way, Suzanne said yesterday she was jumping over to Amazon to order her own copy. Here’s the link if you’ve not already followed one of the previous: The Emotional Craft of Fiction

 

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Pretty Has A Price

Aug 6, 2016 by

I’ve now finished the first draft of my third book–each one unique and completely unrelated to the other. That’s three written since I began the Writer’s Path program at Southern Methodist University in August of 2014.

The word count of Pretty Has A Price, draft one.

The word count of Pretty Has A Price, draft one.

The working title of Book Three is now “Pretty Has A Price.”

The book begins with newly widowed Sterling James leaning over the casket of her husband Harvey, saying a few last words to him before the graveside ceremony is to begin when she opens her eyes to see Annabelle, her nemesis approaching those gathering around. A cat fight, at a funeral, begins, with pallbearers ushering Annabelle back to her car.

Caught in the middle of these two women is Kent Jackson, a New York Times bestselling author who is in Montgomery, Alabama to write so he can meet the terms of a book deal. I enjoyed writing about Kent, who lives in a fictitious house on Old Cloverdale Park, around the corner from the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum on Felder Avenue. At nights he walks down the brick paved street on Old Cloverdale Park and strolls over to sit on the porch of the museum at night, looking up at the stars, listening to the crickets and night traffic, while wondering how Scott must have felt with Zelda there in the house, or the emptiness he must have felt once she’d gone back east again to be institutionalized. Kent, Sterling and Annabelle all end up at the annual Gala in front of the house in April and enjoy the amazing sights, sounds, and amazing food that even you can enjoy in real life.

Throughout the pages, readers learn about the high society balls that are still held in Montgomery–their elegance, their grandeur and the impact they have on those around them.

This book isn’t about anyone I know, but I’ve heard stories and embellished them from there. The story has humor, love, and explores the impact of pain and societal pressures.

I was told the other night it borders on literary fiction and straight fiction. Revision is next but I’m going to take a month’s break from it and let the characters breathe.

Writing is my life passion. There is no greater joy that to find a blank screen or piece of paper and put two or more characters in a precarious situation and see what happens next. Hopefully you’ll be able to read this story some day….

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