Saturday, December 29, 2012

Looking Back, Moving Forward

My new scarf. Thank goodness I live in the tropics.


After discounting 2013: Year of Learning to Knit, I've yet to decide on a new blog title. All suggestions are appreciated, preferably by, um, Tuesday.

In the meantime, I join millions of others in looking back over the year of 2012, and wondering where the hours went and what I was doing while the hours were going there.

Way back in Week 1, I set modest goals for 2012: Year of Learning to Write, and I am proud to say that I stayed true to most of my endeavours, but acknowledge that my laziness got the better of me at times. So how did I do? Let's see now...
  1. Start and maintain a writer's blog. I'm not sure how I reached Week 52, but, by jingo, I did.
  2. Read one classic piece of literature a fortnight. I read at least thirty novels of various styles and genres over the year, and about as many 'how-to-write' books. To me, the two complemented each other nicely, that is, the 'how-to' books provided me with a better understanding of what I should be stealing from the literary masters.
  3. Write at least 500 words a day. I doubt I wrote 182,500 words during 2012, but I did draft an 85,000-word YA story (which is unlikely to ever see print, I fear), 51,000 words of a travel memoir, and lots of gumph in between, so I forgive myself.
  4. Complete one short story a fortnight (preferably one I've already started). I failed this one miserably. Those unfinished short stories are still pining for attention.
  5. Enter at least one writing competition a month. I entered six competitions, and won none. How could that happen?
  6. Submit at least six pieces for publication. This was a psychological and physical test. I submitted four small pieces, received two encouraging rejections, and two go-away-fool rejections. And I lived.
  7. Commence at least one writing course. No, I was very lazy and didn't do this, snivel, snivel.
  8. Establish a support network (of some sort). I attempted to establish local connections and have so far failed (such is the nature of a small island and my own lack of persistence), but the support I've encountered in the blogosphere has been most humbling.
  9. Maintain a tracking system for all of the above. It's all under control, folks. I know exactly what I'm doing.
  10. Learn and have fun! Not only have I revelled in the reading and writing challenges I set myself, I have met some fantastic people who - poor souls - think a little bit like I do, share similar dreams to me, and are brave and proud enough to open their hearts through their writing and their websites. Thanks a billion times over. (You know who you are.)

So at the end of it all, what did I learn about writing, if anything?

I've learnt it's more about heart, and less about technique.
I've learnt an original story and true characters will trump well-executed composition.
I've learnt verbs are the key.
I've learnt that to be a writer, one must write... a lot... and be incredibly courageous, or crazy, or both.
And I've learnt that one can never stop learning, about the world, about oneself, and about writing.

Happy New Year

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Week 52 - Family Dynamics

23 Dec - 29 Dec: 'We are family. I've got my brothers and my sisters with me.' Sister Sledge

It's that time of year again. Family fun. Laughter. Good times.

But is everyone as cheery as they seem? In real life, I sincerely hope so. If you're writing fiction, I sincerely hope not, or your readers are in for one yawn-inducing ride.

In Breathing Life Into Your Characters, psychoanalyst Rachel Ballon discusses the common sources of conflict within families, and encourages writers to draw on these to create believable relationships and intriguing characters that we can empathise and sympathise with.
  • Dysfunctional Families: These can occur in any shape or size. Members may be extremely distant from each other or extremely attached. Both extremes may be emotionally damaging, especially to children. Dysfunction may occur when death or divorce traumatize members and emotional adjustment and balance is threatened. Members may feel insecure, guilt-ridden, angry, out-of-control, fearful, paranoid etc.
  •  Family Triangles: Family members assume the roles of persecutor (dad's being mean), rescuer (mom, dad's being mean) and victim (mom, dad's being mean to me). 
  • Oedipus Complex and Electra Complex: This is Freud's version of specific triangular relationships where the son wants to marry his mother and kill his father (Oedipus) or the daughter wants to marry the father and kill the mother (Electra). 
  • Family Secrets, Myths, and Lies: Many families will do and say anything to hide the truth should it threaten the family name. [I recently found out my uncle, one of twelve children in a Catholic family, impregnated a girl when he was a teenager. This was kept a family secret for fifty years!]
  • Co-dependency: This is common in families of alcoholics and addicts, that is, one person lies or makes excuses to 'cover' the other person. 
  • Addictions: Irrational, criminal or violent behaviour may stem from an addiction and cause depression, fear, and low self-esteem within the family unit.
  • Physical or Mental Abuse: Abusers may be suffering an addiction or be a victim of abuse themselves, and they often display unpredictable behaviour, e.g. abusive one day and overly loving the next.
  • Sibling Rivalry: A child may feel that a parent favours a particular sibling and be driven to extreme behaviour in an attempt to win approval from parents, peers, or self.
  • Family Rules and Beliefs: Beliefs about race, religion, politics etc. are often handed down through generations and may provoke extreme behaviour.
  • Family Injunctions: These are messages that parents pass to children and which carry through to adulthood, such as 'You're too fat to be a dancer,' 'You're so lazy,' or 'Writing doesn't pay - study and get a real job.' These can result in low self-esteem, resentment, determination, recklessness etc. 
  • Family Values and Traditions: What would your characters die for? What values could you not tolerate in a life-partner or friend?
  • Dysfunctional Romantic Relationships: Unrealistic expectations of a mate may result in role playing, lies, disappointment, confrontation, avoidance, resentment, infidelity or violence.
Family units and individuals react differently to family conflict. Some people scream and throw large heavy objects; some people sulk; some people scheme; some families deny everything; some families actually sit down and talk their problems through (boring!).

Do your characters experience conflict through realistic family dynamics?

Exercise 99. What family conflicts do you recall from childhood or have in your family? Do you lend them to your characters? Can you intensify them to heighten the suspense in your story?

Exercise 100. Bah to family conflict. Show your own family that you love them. Have a very, very, merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Week 51 - The Submission Package

16 Dec - 22 Dec:

Be Prepared
Scout Motto
To stay true to my objective for 2012, I am returning to technicalities this week, and touching on the basics of submitting to an agent or editor.
Following a whirl-wind trip through ,
  • Creative Writing for Beginners,
  • Common Mistakes,
  • The Writer's Brain, and
  • Editing,

it is time for me to start thinking about submitting a manuscript to an agent or editor.

Below, I have outlined the recommendations contained in Your Novel Proposal: From Creation to Contract by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook.

[This book was published in 1999. If anyone can and would like to offer more accurate or up-to-date advice, especially from experience, please do so.]

STEP 1 - The Approach:

1. The Query Letter is a one-page letter usually sent on its own, in accordance with the agent or editor's submission guidelines. It should contain,
  • the hook - a special plot detail or unique approach;
  • the handle - something to hold on to, like a theme or comparison;
  • a mini-synopsis - main characters, core conflict, plot high points, setting and time period;
  • your credentials - how are you qualified and why are you interested?
  • your credits - do not apologize or mention no credits;
  • what you are offering - title, word count, genre;
  • the closing - offer to sent the complete manuscript.

2. The Pitch:
pitch line is a short, punchy, oral presentation of your plot. It must contain the 'hook' that your book contains. It can be used,
  • when meeting an agent at a writing conference,
  • when friends and family ask about your project,
  • when you unexpectedly meet someone who could help you find an agent or editor (like Stephen King in an elevator - you know what I'm talking about),
  • as the first line of your query letter.

STEP 2 - The Package:

Okay, you're talking the talk, and your query letters have been sent far and wide. When the phone call or email arrives that says, 'I want to see more,' any boy scout could tell you that zipping the material through straight away will carry more oomph than material sent after weeks of fluffing around. Here are the things agents or editors might ask to see:

3. A Cover Letter:
This may not be requested, but if it's not included, the recipient will have to sift through stacks of paper to find basic information. It should,
  • be formatted as a business letter, with date, names and addresses left aligned,
  • reference previous correspondence if appropriate,
  • summarize your purpose and reason for approaching this particular person,
  • state credentials,
  • close professionally.

4.  Sample Chapters:
This means the first chapters (perhaps one through three), not what you consider the best chapters. Camenson and Cook recommend sending the prologue if it is similar to the rest of the story, and not sending the prologue if it is set in a different time and place.
5. The First Fifty Pages:
Instead of sample chapters, an agent or editor may ask for the first fifty pages. When editing and preparing for submission, keep in mind how your chapters or first fifty pages end. Think, "I've got to know what happens next!"
 6. Synopsis:
This is a summary of the story, ideally no longer than a few pages, written in present tense and third person, and in a tone that reflects the style of the work. This is no time to be shy: jump into the action, and reveal the ending.

A synopsis should include:
  • the hook,
  • sketches of the main characters,
  • the core conflict,
  • plot high points, and
  • the conclusion.

7. Chapter Outline:
A chapter outline employs the same style and tone as the synopsis, but describes the story in much more detail, chapter by chapter.

8. Completed Manuscript:
No fiction writer would send out a query letter without first having a completed manuscript. Would they?
Exercise 97. Next time you need a break from your Work-in-Progress, compile a query letter, practice writing a strong one page synopsis, and work on your pitch. Be clear and confident about the hook.
Exercise 98. Read your first three chapters and your first fifty pages like an agent might. Does your story's beginning 'end' in tension or suspense. Test it out on willing readers if you can, or try the flogometer at Flogging the Quill.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Week 50 - They Know if You've Been Bad or Good

9 Dec - 15 Dec: be good for goodness sake. Seriously.

Half of my household is Icelandic, and I suspect generations of falling down glacial crevices and inhaling volcanic ash has done funny things to these people. (Bjork?)

Let's take Christmas traditions, for example. If you think a jolly fat man in a red suit creeping through your house on Christmas eve is a bit weird, spare a thought for the Icelandic children who have thirteen santas to contend with.

And what dastardly santas they are. Check out these dudes (with English translations; sourced from

Spoon Licker (Dec 15) and
Pot Scraper (Dec 16)
Sausage-Swiper (Dec 20)
Window-Peeper (Dec 21)

Doorway-Sniffer (Dec 22)
Candle-Stealer (Dec 24)

Every night for the thirteen nights leading up to Christmas, a child (i.e., my daughter) leaves a shoe on her windowsill (i.e., a stocking hung next to the Christmas tree), and agonizes over whether she's been good enough to earn a small gift each morning, or naughty enough to earn a... potato.

This year, since I can't keep these critters out of my house, I'm joining in the Icelandic Christmas spirit for the thirteen days before Christmas. If I have been good, that is, if my day has been productive and I have been busily rewriting or writing, the scary santa of the day will reward me, probably with something bad for my teeth. If I have been bad (i.e., lazy), I'll be checking out potato recipes.

So far, my daughter has two cool gifts, and I have two potatoes.

The santa for Dec 14 is Stubby, an abnormally short dude who steals pans to eat the crusty bits off them.

I don't want a potato from Stubby. I'm sure I can get an hour or two of editing in. I just know I can.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Next BIG Thing (or the Next Best Thing)

Before I tackle The Next BIG Thing quiz sent to me by Mr. M. L. Swift, creator of Monty Tucker and all-round nice guy even though he's over forty, let me tell you a little story.
Once there was a woman who cut her hair short, bound her chest, stained her skin with furniture polish, and began to walk funny, all so she could join the British army as a war reporter.
This woman fell in love with her comrade, who, believing she was a man, thought the woman was just a friendly kind of guy with a squeaky kind of voice.
During one especially trying day on the battle field, the woman was mortally wounded. The object of her affection carried her to shelter and attended to her wounds, only to discover - SHOCK HORROR - she was a woman!
Needless to say, the two ran away, got married and lived happily ever after. (Note: The story above is fiction. The real story of Dorothy Lawrence aka Denis Smith is very different and a great deal more tragic.)

So, what does this badly told story have to do with the Next Big Thing? Absolutely nothing unless it triggers a fabulous idea in your brain and you go on to write something wonderful.

But before I answer the questions posed to me by the excellent Mike Swift, I would like to say that I have noticed that some people in cyberworld seem to think I have a penis.

I can assure you, I don't.

(Having said that, a number of my college buddies accused me of harbouring penis envy, but that's another story altogether.)

Okay, so now that's out of the way, let's move on.

I have two W'sIP. Both I consider 'practice novels' and neither represent the genre I ultimately see myself writing. A waste of time? Perhaps, like training for a marathon by jumping on a trampoline, but I am enjoying myself immensely and learning rapidly.

I have applied the questions to my Wrimo attempt: A Tent Called Simba.

1. What is the working title of your book?
I changed it from Travels With Ro: Namibia to A Tent Called Simba, because the original concept was too simple, and I expanded the story to include escapades in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Tanzania. I'm hoping my sister (and sake when we meet up in Japan next month) will help me come up with a GOOD title.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
The idea to write simple came from the challenge of NaNoWriMo. Also, I had just finished reading Bill Bryson and a travelogue seemed like a fine idea at the time. Silly, silly me.

3.  What genre does your book fall under?
Travel Memoir, Creative Non-fiction.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Cool question. At last I can be better looking than I really am. If the movie was shot ten years ago, or with a good make-up artist, or even a bad one, I would nominate Toni Collette and Claudia Karvan, both fine, Australian actresses. The obligatory boy actors? No idea, but it's fun thinking about it.

Claudia Karvan
photo source: Courier Mail
Toni Collette
photo source: The Daily Telegraph

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
When many young women are thinking about settling down and starting a family, sisters, Erica and Ro embark on a road trip through Namibia: no GPS, no internet, no idea. With a tent called Simba and a nose for adventure, the sisters discover the different faces of southern Africa, and learn a thing or two about each other, and about themselves.

(DERT - fail. That's two sentences.)

6. If you plan to publish, will your book be self-published or published traditionally?
I'm not sure how marketable my efforts are, but I might consider self-publishing, just so I have something to keep my daughter busy when she asks what I got up to before she was born. (That might be how 'the next best thing' got into my head.)

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Twenty-eight days. I suspect plugging the gaps will take much longer.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I have not yet read African Journal by Bill Bryson, but if my story is one-tenth the style of Notes From a Small Island (with a dash of chickie talk), I will be happy.

9. Who or What inspired you to write this book?
My older sister, Ro. She has lived (and does live) a darn interesting life and can tell a great yarn. I am urging her to inject her wit into the story, but so far she been too busy on her quest to conquer the world.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
I consider the story to be about breaking out of comfort zones, taking opportunities when they present themselves, and getting stuck into life, even when you have no clue of what you're doing, in fact, especially when you have no clue of what you're doing, because then you are stupidly fearless.

If I leave in the personal stuff, some might even consider it chick-lit (whatever that is). It talks about love lost, freedom found, and tent farts. And what's not interesting about tent farts?

So that's me. Thanks, Mike, for pushing me closer to... something.

Now I kick The Next Big Thing grid iron ball over to Rob Akers, a man with a mission and a hootin' tootin' story to tell.

And, if he's up for it, the word magician himself, Joseph Schwartz, author of The Crossover Test.

The rules are simple: answer the quiz so us nosey people know what you're up to, and then hand the baton to other writers who sound like they're onto something that might just be The Next BIG Thing.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Week 49 - Writing Between the Lines

2 Dec - 8 Dec: Actions really do speak louder than words.

Sixty to eighty per cent of communication occurs through gestures, most of them borne from primitive instincts, so forget the dialogue, and hone your kinesiology skills.
"I've got this," (for I am big and strong).
"Look at me," (I have features of a good baby-maker).

Back in my managerial days, I considered myself somewhat of a body language expert. I read the hilarious books by Allan and Barbara Pease (check out Allan’s YouTube videos), and on my quieter days, I studied my colleagues to learn what they were really thinking.

Real Life Scenario #1:

My little-big-man supervisor, Barry, would always, without fail, take a seat in my office with his knees far apart and his hands behind his head. “I am big and powerful,” his body would scream while his mouth asked about the project, “and so are my genitals.” Barry would then offer his suggestions regarding the issues at hand, his fingers touching in a classic steeple gesture, confident that his way was the best way. When I offered an alternative viewpoint, Barry would swing his ankle onto the opposite knee, ready for an argument, and then rub his eye and look at the carpet. “I think it’s a good idea,” he would lie, “but stick with my approach for now.” While I pressed my point, Barry would perch himself on the front edge of the seat, his mind already in the HR Manager's office. “I hear you. I really do.”

Real Life Scenario #2:

Although Barbie was engaged to be married to Bert, whenever Ken was close by, Barbie would play with her hair (a lot), tilt her head to expose her neck, flip her hand to show the fine skin of her wrists, slip her shoe on and off her foot, and cross and uncross her legs. I would guess that she was ovulating if she went so far as to twist her foot around her calf muscle and hook it behind her opposite ankle, as men cannot physically do this.

I found body language an ally in the workplace - when feeling especially childish, I would call a stand-up meeting and study whose feet were pointing where to determine who liked who the most - but the wordless messages we send to people are universal, and so ingrained that it’s difficult to disguise them.

Try this exercise: Cross your arms (a negative, defensive gesture in warm places). Seventy per cent of people will fold left arm over right; now try unfolding and refolding your arms with the other arm on top.

This is relevant to nothing, but here are some interesting historical facts from Allan Pease:

·        Nodding originates from bowing, a sign of submission, or subordination, that is, an effort to appear smaller when intimidated. Tipping one's hat and its offspring, saluting, are off-shoots of the bowing gesture.

·       Shaking one’s head is an instinctive gesture that babies learn when they have had enough to eat.

·        Smiling is a teeth-baring gesture that says, ‘I am fierce and can hold my own. If you don’t mess with me, I won’t mess with you.’

·        Crossing arms instinctively protects the heart and lung area.

·         Men’s brains are wired for hunting food. Women’s brains are wired for bearing children and protecting the nest. This is why men are generally more spatially aware than women (run, throw rock, hit deer), and most woman can multi-task better than most men.

Exercise 95. Do your stories reflect an understanding of wordless communication?
Exercise 96. Do your stories reflect an understanding of the cerebral differences between men and women, that is, why men don't listen and women can't read maps (see Pease's lecture if you're not convinced).

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Week 48 - Cracked but Not Scrambled

25 Nov - 1 Dec:

No eggs were harmed in the production
of this post. Okay, maybe one.

Thank all the King's horses and all the King's men that's over.
This is how I feel, and probably look, after writing like a crazy person for the last four weeks.

But, of course, it's far from over. The end of NaNoWriMo is just the beginning.

Now it's time to refocus.

There has been a great deal of discussion lately on 'other works.' What we consider good writing and good stories, bad writing but good stories, bad writing considered by critics to be good writing, bad writing and bad stories considered by the masses to be good stories... and so on.

I use good and bad to represent the assortment of subjective terms that can be applied to our opinions. What is mediocre? What is a ripping good yarn? What is literary brilliance? What is spirit-sucking, brain-numbing drivel?

And the big question at the bottom (or perhaps at the top): What sells?

But, is this the overriding question?

My 2012: Year of Learning to Write is drawing to a close, (though the learning never will). I have honoured my objectives, even if I have not yet met them all. So, for 2013, I'm asking myself: What am I trying to achieve?

Back in January, I asked: Why Do I Write? During December, I'm asking: Why Am I Writing That?

Before I hit 2013: Year of ..., I intend to write Mission Statements for all the pieces important to me.

Do I want to fill others with the same pleasure of reading that I get? (Definitely)

Do I want to tell a great story? (Of course)
Do I want to send a message? (Maybe)
Do I want to educate? (Perhaps)
Do I want to inspire? (Possibly) If so, who?
Do I want to tell that story that's burning inside me? (I doubt it)
Do I want others to read it, so I feel like I'm not wasting my time? (I don't think so) 
Do I want literary awards and critical acclaim? (Am I even capable?)
Do I just want to be published and make money, preferably lots of it? (It would be nice)
I'm thinking that honest answers to each of these questions will affect how I invest my timewhat I chose to invest my time writing about, and what I do with the results.

Which takes me back to all those good and bad scenarios. In ten years, what would I like all those future writer-bloggers to say about my stories?

How about you? Through your writing, what would you like to be known for?

Exercise 93. Review the results of NaNoWriMo and write a Mission Statement about what you are trying to achieve through this particular story. Does it matter whether it's marketable or not?

Exercise 94. Are your objectives consistent? (Sell, sell, sell.) Or does each story serve its own purpose? Think about your writing priorities (e.g., 1. blog legend, 2. aspiring novelist, 3. paid magazine contributor) and decide whether your time allocation reflects the priorities in your mind.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Week 47 - Showing Up

18 Nov - 24 Nov:
Eighty percent of success is showing up.
Woody Allen
I am 35,000 words through November and feeling the strain. My prompt notes are thinning, my brain is getting mooshy, and my pencils are breaking - and we all know that writing with a broken pencil is pointless.

And so I turn to some of my favourite inspirational quotes to push me over the NaNoWriMo finish line.

The first one by Woody Allen reminds me that persistence and productivity are everything.

How many novels do we read that make us think, Man, this writing is ordinary? I can think of three books by best-selling authors I have read recently that prompted this reaction. I am not so disrespectful that I will mention names because I know how easy it is to sit on the side-line and criticize, and how difficult it is to write a book (and they are hugely successful authors making gazillions of dollars, and I am not).

And good writers or not, the three authors I am thinking of have produced over 100 novels between them, and they are still writing. And the books I have seen or read are generally not short either.

100 novels x 100,000 words = 10,000,000 words or over 3,000,000 words each.

That's three million words for those who get scared by lots of zeros.

And here I am struggling to squeeze out 50 thou'.

Whether the authors I'm speaking of are 'good' or not, they all have two things in common.
1. They write ripping good yarns, and,
2. They show up,
and again
and again
and again.
 And even if their work isn't brilliant, it's obviously extremely popular.

Now, I don't expect to be pumping out a novel a year for the rest of my life (but then again, I might), but I won't be too thrilled with myself if I give up before I have completed my piddly effort of 50,000 words.

So with a swift kick in the pants, I'm reminding myself that, unlike clichés, this book isn't going to write itself.

Success isn't a result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire.
Arnold H. Glasow
Brainy Quote


Monday, November 12, 2012

Week 46 - Learning by Writing

11 Nov - 17 Nov: Toughing out NaNoWriMo... and on track for completion.

The 'How-To' books are taking a well-earned rest. The excellent websites and blogs full of wonderful advice can wait. I have reached 25,000 words of my creative memoir, and am on the downhill run, with time to spare for edits (and lots of them).

And I am learning... heaps. Here are a few things I have observed about the writing process and my own working habits:

1. Subject Matter: During Week 44, I decided to keep my 30-day novel simple. My memory-driven story, with healthy doses of embellishment, was a good strategy for 'keeping me writing' if nothing else. If it's boring, I can add the flesh to my bones later.
2. Point-of-View: First person narrative is easy to maintain and can not be beat for a quick, intimate story. After an initial struggle between present and past tense, I naturally fell into past tense, and so it is so.
3. Outline: I began with obvious scene or chapter headings, and am able to pick and chose which ones to tackle on a given day. I commit myself to finishing the scene, and then, depending on the word count and energy levels, I move to the next heading, or guiltlessly call it a day.
4. Word Count: 50,000 words divided by 20 headings equals 2,500 words each. When I started, my scenes fell well below this mark, and panic set in. But the more I write, the richer my scenes become, and the word count is picking up.
5. Long-hand: I have always preferred to start things off in long-hand. During NaNoWriMo, I have become very particular about this. I have one exercise book next to my bed, and one floating round the living room, and a bunch of yellow, 2HB pencils scattered everywhere. About 90 per cent of my first draft has been written in long-hand first, and then typed into the computer. Not only do I get that buzz that comes from fingers flying across the keyboard, but when I stumble across a hand-written passage that I forgot to type up, it's like finding twenty bucks in the pocket of an old jacket. Ka-chow word count!
6. Just Writing: It's true, the more you write, the easy it becomes. And I would like to think the quality picks up, too. (Well, here's hoping.)

And for those lexophiles amongst us, instead of writing exercises, here are some other things I have learnt that are a bit more silly:
I plotted NaNoWriMo on my calendar to remind me that its days are numbered.
If a writer backs up to his electric pencil sharpener, he may get a little behind in his work.

 Writing with a broken pencil is pointless.
Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like the soggy banana left-over from a midnight snack.
 A backward poet writes inverse.
 The depressed writer who threw herself into an upholstery machine is now fully recovered.
And lastly, but most importantly:
A boiled egg is hard to beat.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Week 45 - Hierarchy of Needs

4 Nov - 10 Nov:

Our characters need goals, right? Things that drive a plot forward, and make characters behave in certain ways?

In Breathing Life Into Your Characters, Rachel Ballon, Ph.D. stresses the importance of motivating our characters, and includes a hierarchy of needs as proposed by behavioural scientist Abraham Maslow.

Simply put, this means that us humans will strive for things in a certain order. When one level is satisfied, we move on to the next one. This is worth noting when we devise plot and drive characters.

1. Physiological Needs: water, food, clothing, shelter. Humans will go to great lengths to sustain life. Many tension-filled stories are based on this highest level of need (e.g., The Hunger Games, Lord of the Flies, The Mosquito Coast).
2. Safety and Security Needs: This follows closely from the first need. Humans want to feel safe. A difference exists between feeling safe and being safe, of course. The perception of threat can be a powerful character motivator (and result in more people owning guns, but that is another issue).
3. Affiliation Needs: This is the highest sociological need, that is, the need to be accepted, loved, physically close to others. This is a common character motivator for young adult and children's stories.
4. Esteem Needs: Once our affiliation needs are satisfied, we begin to look for recognition that we are exceptional for some reason. We want parents, peers, and other significant groups to see that we are special. Fame and fortune are popular character motivators for some authors.
5. Self-Actualization Needs: To get to here, we will be fed, safe, accepted, and feeling good about ourselves. The 'self' need includes those things that make us feel like we are achieving something, or realizing our potential, or doing what we, in our hearts, want to do (like writing?).

It's my guess that Mr. Maslow knows what he is talking about. A man lost in the desert is unlikely to be worried about the writing course he's always wanted to attend; a woman living the good-life is unlikely to eat her dog because she is hungry - crazy perhaps, but not hungry.

The moral of the story here is simple: we, as writers, need to motivate our characters in accordance with the basic laws of human nature, or risk losing our readers through lack of believability.

And what do we do when our character's goals are in order, and we've shown our readers we understand human nature (a little)? Why, we up the stakes, of course.... (See Week 33 for how to mess around with our character's goals to build suspense.)

Exercise 91. Ballon advocates building characters from the inside out, and to use the writer's experiences to give life to characters. Recall a specific time as a child when you felt driven by one of the needs proposed by Maslow. Free-write on the memory, using all senses. Try to incorporate what you wanted to do, or did do, to satisfy the need? Lend your memories to one of your characters.

Exercise 92. Make up one or more simple scenarios based on the basic needs. Now list the possible reactions of different personalities striving to meet that need. For example, a woman has a young child and little money. She may; a) borrow from family, b) work low-paying but respectable jobs, c) work high-paying illegal jobs, c) steal, d) beg, e) contrive to hook a wealthy man, d) place her child in foster care... and the possibilities go on. What would your characters do?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

My Blogness. Me?!

This is a quick note before I move onto Week 45.

I know it has taken me a while, but thanks to Julie Luek for passing on the Leibster Award to me.

My face reddens and a shy smile curls my lips. (Okay, maybe I could drop the 'showing' in this instance and just admit that I'm pretty happy about it.)

Unfortunately, I am very slack at following blogs, even though I have visited so many wonderful sites, but I will hold on to the privilege of passing on the award in the future, if that's okay.

I've done a few searches on the award, as you do, and whether it's German for 'I like your blog' or not, who cares? It's nice to feel worthy.

Here are Julie's excellent questions answered, excellently or not.

1. Who is your favorite author and why?
Agatha Christie. Such wit and precision.

2. The ideal writing retreat would be....?
Almost anywhere warm, as long as I was alone with plenty of time.

3. What is(are) your current writing project(s)?
NaNoWriMo creative memoir if such a thing exists; an older YA novel.

4. What is the philosophy or mission of your blog?
Read, learn, share.

5. You get an all-expense paid week to do anything you want-- what would that be?
Learn to fly a plane. Sorry, the writing can wait.

6. If you could sit down and have coffee n' chat with anyone, past or present, who would it be and why?
My father when he was a young man, because I think he would have been a hoot, and for other more serious reasons, of course.

7. A maitre-de comes to your table and lifts the silver lid off the plate of the most exquisite meal, what is it?
New Zealand lamb shanks with baby carrots, mashed potato and gravy, served just the way that place in Queenstown served it... but with a silver lid.

8. One item from your bucket list is...?
Learn a different language. How slack am I not to have done that already?

9. What is your favorite place in your house to read a book?
Boring, I know, but it really is in bed.

10. What song are you most likely to be caught singing in the shower?
'Oooo, I bet you're wondering how I knew, 'bout your plans to make me blue....'

11. What talent, besides writing, do you possess?
I can sketch a mean giraffe.

Okay, for the future recipients of the Leibster Award (you'll know it when you get it), or anyone who wants to answer them - it could be the start of a great story - here are my questions:

1. Would you rather be a cabbage or a rose?
2. What do you read most (fiction genre, news, cookbooks etc)?
3. What is one of your earliest memories?
4. What era (pre or post civilisation) would you like to visit for one week and why?
5. In 25 words or less, describe the best story you think you've written so far.
6. If you could talk to one of your inanimate possessions and have them talk back, what would you talk to and what would you talk about?
7. What is the weirdest thing you have ever eaten (and keep it clean, please).
8. What is one of your favourite inspirational sayings?
9. Do you have a plan for the rest of your life or are you winging it?
10. Besides the bible, what book would you love to have written and why?

Back to the NaNaWriMo challenge.

For a break, I might do these exercises.

Exercise 89. List, what you feel are, your strengths and weaknesses (otherwise know as 'areas to improve') as a writer.

Exercise 90. Write a page of pursuasive prose explaining why you would rather be a cabbage or a rose. Use strong, passionate words to make your audience really believe your argument.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Week 44 - Time for Speed

28 Oct - 3 Nov: Excuse me, do you have the time? Or the speed?

Yes, I too have fallen victim to the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge. Blogs far and wide will spout news of the event, so I will save my words for my novel.

Or equivalent.

Let me explain.

I initially intended to write a light psychological thriller based on an outline from some time ago. Exciting stuff.

But then yesterday, I finished a short story that had been unfinished for too long. All it needed was an ending, and so I ended it. I knew what was going to happen, most of it was dialogue, and besides the catch-up reading and some minor tweaking, I wrote freely. A thousand words. That was all. I looked at my watch and was astounded to learn it had taken me two hours to reach The End.

1000 words in 2 hours? Seriously? It took that long?
500 words an hour. That's probably right now I think about it.
Okay, so my 50,000 word novel requires 100 hours.
Divided by 30 days. That's 3 hours 20 minutes per day, at least, to write the required 1666 words.

Now I'm not a terrible typist. Not great, but not terrible. And just for kicks, I took a typing speed test and found that I type at about 50 words a minute (with 99 per cent accuracy thanks to my pesky inner critic). So, theoretically, I could type my required 1666 words a day in about 33 minutes. Wouldn't that be awesome?

Typing speed: 3000 words an hour. Writing speed: 500 words an hour. Quite a difference.

And so I realised that my chance of writing in 30 days 50,000 words based on my psych thriller outline was slim at best. This story requires more thinking than writing than typing. I was kidding myself.

So now, I have decided to write a 'creative memoir.' (Just 'memoir' makes me sound like I think my life is interesting enough to write about - this remains unproven.)

I am writing about a roadtrip through Namibia with my sister: hippos threatening to tip our canoe in a storm; the lion three feet away from us; the sibling tiffs; all good stuff. Okay, so we were in a car when we came across the lion, but still....

My theory is that memory will get me through - the facts, the details, the feelings. I don't have to imagine a journey, because it has happened. I don't have to dream up characters, because I have met them. I have dot points about the trip's twists and turns as mini-cliffhangers and a map (literally) to guide me. Unfortunately, my photos and travel journals are a world away (except for the lion photo), but a part of my brain is alive with images of Africa, and I want to know if I can draw those images in words.

So that's my plan. Is a memoir a novel? Not according to's genre selection. Am I cheating myself of the creative process? I suspect I will be incorporating a healthy dose of exaggeration into my story, so fiction or not, count me in.

For those embarking on the journey, may you have the time of your life, and may the speed be with you. Good luck.

Exercise 87. Check or do your story outline for NaNoWriMo. Set your schedule. On 1 Nov, write like a cheetah runs.

Exercise 88. Get some fresh air. Go for a walk. Pull your shoulders back. Raise your head high.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Week 43 - Editing

21 Oct - 27 Oct:

You might not write well every day,
but you can always edit a bad page.
You can't edit a blank page. Jodi Picoult.

Julie Luek is editing, rewriting, reviewing, updating... whatever you want to call it. She asked for advice on how to go about it; I understand this, as I have also sat down with my completed draft and muttered, 'Now what?'.

I can't offer much from experience (obviously), but I like to steal the ideas of those who do have experience.

The technical stuff is down below and includes both general and specific advice. But first, I found an interesting psychological tip about editing in Writing Without Teachers by Peter Elbow.

Elbow says: "learning to throw away more ruthlessly comes from learning to generate more prolificly." In other words, if we're scared we can't produce more and better, we will have a problem getting rid of weak work. Elbow's solution is to write like the clappers. 'Start writing and keep writing.' For those who think blog, journal, letter, review, and prompt writing threatens real writing, think again. The more confidence we have to produce, the more ferociously we can edit, and the better our writing becomes. Or so Elbow seems to think, and for what it's worth, I agree.

Have a look at Writer's Digest revision tips for more ideas about how to get the mind keen on editing.

Okay, now on to the stuffy technicalities. If you've read these a million times, reading them again can't hurt (or save your soul and skip it). If there's something new to learn - great.

50 Essential Tools for Every Writer by Peter Roy Clark, suggests:
  • Cut big, then small, that is, prune the big limbs, (blocks of text), then shake out the dead leaves (individual words);
  • Cut out blocks of text, whole scenes if necessary, regardless of how pretty they are, that do not support the focus. Convince yourself that they can be used in a different story if you need to;
  • Cut out weakest quotations, anecdotes and scenes to give power to the strongest (this is perhaps more relevant to non-fiction);
  • Cut anything written for a critic rather than a reader;
  • Assess each word and sentence for usefulness, and then treat them appropriately;
  • Never invite others to cut for you.
Okay, so my story's probably half of what it was. Here's more from Clark:
  • Cut adverbs that intensify rather then modify (just, certainly, entirely, extremely, completely, exactly);
  • Cut prepositional phrases that repeat the obvious; e.g., in the story, in the movie, in the city;
  • Cut phrases that grow on verbs; e.g.,  seems to, tends to, should have to, tries to.
  • Cut abstract nouns that hide active verbs; consideration becomes considers, judgement becomes judges, observation becomes observes;
  • Cut restatements, e.g., a sultry, humid afternoon, and tautologies, e.g., final outcome, rise up.
My Delete key is starting to look a bit shabby. 

Bruce Caplan has a whole book of these in Editing Made Easy. These are some of his thoughts from a life of professional editing, newspapers mainly, so read with caution:
  • Write and edit to express, not to impress;
  • Beware the split infinitive;
  • Clutter slows pace. Try to avoid of the such as in, the cover of the book (the book cover), the captain of the team (the team captain);
  • Avoid overusing others and both. See if the sentence makes sense without it. e.g., A car crash killed two people and injured four others;
  • Try dropping that;
  • Avoid there were, there are, there is;
  • Know the difference between which and that;
  • Use short and simple over long and complex;
  • Be clear when using pronouns. e.g., He told Bill he thought he was going to the shop. Repeat nouns, reset the sentence or punctuate;
  • Be consistent with style;
  • Watch out for see (or saw), such as, January will see the start of work on the road;
  • Do not use contractions except in dialogue.

After considering these pointers (and a billion others - The Elements of Style is a favourite source), I am expecting my 80,000 words to whittle to 30,000. So that's what they mean by rewriting.

But I'm not scared. I can generate endless material, and it will be better.

Won't it?

Exercise 85. Microexamine a scene or a short story. Look specifically for adverbs and adjectives that could be replaced with more effective verbs and nouns. Look for other extraneous words such as those mentioned above. Look for passive voice and change it to active (unless passive serves a role).

Exercise 86. "Write a short story on any topic in 500 words. Then write the same story in 50 words – this is called a mini-saga." (From Joan Rosier-Jones, So You Want to Write).

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Week 42 - The Magic of Travel

14 Oct - 20 Oct:
I've been around the world a couple of times or maybe more, I've seen the sights, I've had delights on every foreign shore.  Give Me a Home Among the Gum Trees by Wally Johnson and Bob Brown

Château d'Ussé in the Loire Valley is the birthplace of Charles Perrault's (and Walt Disney's) Sleeping Beauty. You know the one: the princess pricks her finger on a spinning wheel and dozes off for a hundred years?
Okay, so that story's taken.

How about this one? A deformed bell-ringer of this stain-glassed cathedral gets into all sorts of strife with a woman named Esme.

Also done?

Yes, I have travelled recently, and I am determined to add the experience to my writer's toolbox, but when I was sitting in a cafe along the Champs-Elysées, trying to see something interesting about Paris besides what I can read in Fodors or Lonely Planet, I realised that I knew nothing about France. I will probably never know anything about France, about what it's like to grow up there, about national pride, about how the driver of a Ferrari can zoom past a beggar without faltering in her conversation on her cell phone. And so I sat back and enjoyed the wine. I didn't not write - I just didn't write about France. How could this be? I was confused.
But still, I am determined....
Upon arriving home, I was heartened when I read William Zinsser's On Writing Well. He warns us about succumbing to platitudes when writing about places. "Half the sights seen in today's sightseeing are quaint, especially windmills and covered bridges; they are certified for quaintness. Towns are nestled - I hardly ever read about an unnestled town in the hills."
And although Zinsser is focused on non-fiction, I think his advice is valid wherever setting is showcased in a story: "If travel is broadening, it should broaden more than just our knowledge of how a Gothic cathedral looks or how the French make wine. It should generate a constellation of ideas about how men and women work and play, raise their children, worship their gods, live and die."
Aha, so I was right. My tourist experience was far too shallow. But was it?
Zinsser suggests: "So when you write about a place, try to draw the best out of it. But if the process should work in reverse, let it draw the best out of you."
The Cats of Château Villerambert-Julien

The cats watched our rentals pull into Château Villerambert-Julien with the indifference that only cats have, but when the children bounded up the path to pat them, the cats disappeared into blackberry bushes and over stone walls.

The owner greeted us cordially and led us to the Old Chapel, the interior stonework painted white, barrels propped in the corners, the arched ceiling framing a modern chandelier. A long, black table, adorned with wine glasses awaiting the next tasting of the day, dominated the centre of the room.

Monsieur Julien tactfully suggested that the children play outside. "Zay weel get bored," he said, his smile as honed as the wines that bear his name. I volunteered to amuse the children, and to drive - a double blessing on any wine-tasting outing - and so the five youngsters, aged between three and ten, accompanied me in a self-guided tour of the estate.

The day was clear and warm, the children were bursting with spirit, and I was in a writer's daze. Our lively group marched past the processing shed where vats as tall as the roof loomed like thunder clouds. We surveyed the rows of vines from the bank behind the shed, an old, orange plough resting in the foreground the only sign of modern times. And when we had run out of places to explore, we turned onto the track behind the château that would lead us back to our starting point.

I glanced back the way we had come and saw a ginger cat dart across the track and bend itself under a wooden door. Returning my attention to the scenery, I scouted the horizon for an end to the vineyard, but the rows kept on going, around the earth to Australia perhaps. The children sprinted onward and the distant flicker of a brindle tail disappearing over the rise told me that the children were not interesting in grapes, or wine, or France for that matter - they wanted to meet the cats of Château Villerambert-Julien.

A pitiful meow tinkled through the country quiet. The children were huddled around a back door of the château, tapping the glass and laughing. A cat was stuck inside. Poor thing. When I reached the excited youngsters, I cupped by hands over my eyes and peered through the dirty glass. "Oh my God." The small room was flooded with cats. The startled eyes of fifty felines fixed on me from pet boxes stacked ceiling high against one wall, from litter boxes, and from atop a cupboard close to the door. But it was the table in the centre of the room, overflowing with cats like it was a life-raft and the tiles were the sea, that struck me. So many cats.

I nursed my fascination back to my taller travelling companions. "So how was the wine?" I later asked my brother.

"Very nice," he replied. "His reds have a distinctive taste that I can't quite place."

"Is that right?" I say.

Exercise 83. "Practice writing [a] travel piece, and just because I call it a travel piece I don't mean you have to go to the Mojave Desert or Mombasa. Go to your local mall, or bowling alley, or day-care center." "Find [the] distinctive traits." (From On Writing Well by William Zinsser.)

Exercise 84. For those not keen or not able to travel abroad, consider this: "What could be luckier for a nonfiction writer than to live in America? The country is unendingly various and surprising. Whether the locale you write about is urban or rural, east or west, every place has a look, a cast of characters and a set of cultural assumptions that make it unlike any other place." (On Writing Well, William Zinsser.) Write a story that takes the reader somewhere.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Week 41 - What Kind of Smoke?

7 Oct - 13 Oct: Where there's smoke... there's a character?

In On Moral Fiction, John Gardner describes a game he used to play with his boffin friends, called ‘What Kind of Smoke?’ The object is to guess the well-known figure being described through abstract association. Let’s see how I do….
Q: What kind of smoke?
A: Earthy clouds rising from a crackling campfire.
Q: What kind of car?
A: An old pickup, a bit beaten up, but still going strong and looking good.
 Q:What kind of animal?
 A: An Alsatian dog.
Q: What kind of sport?
A: Cross-country skiing.
Q: What kind of fruit?
A: Hmm… cantaloupe (rock melon to us Antipodeans).
Q: What kind of dance?
A: The classic waltz.
So who am I?

I’ll give you a clue: I opted for very individual ‘traits’ rather than the stereotypical associations, that is, all things western and cowboy.

Give up? I was thinking John Wayne. Agree? Disagree? Whether my answers are accurate or not depends on how your mind works, I guess. How would you answer the questions for the Duke?

So what’s the point of this exercise?

Three things:
  • We should know our characters well enough to know what sort of smoke they are;
  • How we paint characters is limited only by our own creativity (as if that isn't stating the obvious); and
  • We can trust the reader to associate creative images with the traits of an individual or type of person.

Let’s try again because this is kind of fun. Instead of me describing these people as manly, sexy, evil, and homely, try matching them up to their kind of smoke, or think of your own:
Cat Woman
Osama bin Laden
Oprah Winfrey
A wisp of smoke that slinks from the tip of a panatella.

The black, odorous cloud from the tailpipe of an unmaintained lorry.

The steam from a fruity, homemade sauce simmering on the stove-top.

The heady smoke from a Cuban.
Exercise 81. Think of the main characters in your story and describe ‘what kind of smoke’ they are. Think of the actions in the story that will have the reader associating characters with their kind of smoke.

Exercise 82. Think about how you have described your characters. Are the descriptions original or unoriginal? Can creative word or image association, weaved into actions, dialogue, setting and narrative make the characters more real?

Next week, I will attempt to relate how and what travel can add to the writer’s toolbox (or not).

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Week 40 - Self-Awareness

30 Sep - 6 Oct: Talk amongst yourself

In Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande recommends writing a piece of dialogue between your creative self and your critical self. The objective of this exercise is to highlight strenghts, areas that could be improved, and general awareness of oneself as a writer. It's worth a shot, I guess.

Sometimes you get caught up with describing images to the detriment of action. This slows the pace and things become, well, boring.
What do you propose I do?
Keep things moving. Focus on effective nouns and verbs. Keep images relevant to the action. Be brief with images that are not relevant. When you notice inactive periods, rewrite and rebalance. And don't forget that all-important first sentence.
 What about my dialogue?
It's not brilliant, but it's okay. It moves the story in your longer works, but you seem to avoid it in shorter pieces in favour of narrative.
You're right. I'm surprised at how differently I approach dialogue in short and long pieces.  I think it's developing okay.  So what about my characters?
You need to focus more on what makes a character unique rather than fall back on everyday traits such as hair colour and build. Or else incorporate the description into the action.  For example, 'he lumbered' to indicate size and awkwardness. You are able to characterize succinctly when you need to. This is useful for giving life to minor characters. 
What do I struggle with?
The quiet bits, like transitions.  If you can't connect briefly, interestingly and meaningfully, just skip them with transitional words and phrases.  Look for them when you edit your completed draft.  Shifts of POV in your novel.  Decide who's scene it is, and jump into their skin. Balance of POV's when ordering and structuring chapters.
Anything else?
Yeah. You're a lazy researcher but thorough when you get into it (like doing tax returns). Also, try not to be too tied to reality. Let your imagination go. Originality is the key.
 What are some of my strengths?
You've got the basics, so your writing usual flows well. You're picking up on rhythm (by reading aloud), vocabulary, and am learning concrete things from reading a lot. Short stories are getting better and easier. And of course, you're writing whenever you can, and you have a good attitude about learning, experimenting and not being discouraged by rejections.
Where do you think I'm at?
Never stop reading instructional as well as fiction works, and collecting material. You've procrastinated about starting a proper journal. Do it. You have a lot of material. Polish them off and send them out, dude.
Thanks Eureka. This was fun. Maybe we could go it again some time soon.
 You're welcome, and I look forward to it.

Exercise 79: Look at the objective-self's comments and recommendations. Spend an hour focusing on those issues, whether they relate to technique or working habits.

Exercise 80. Complete the sentence: "I can be a succussful writer because...." Keep it private, post on your own blog, or post it here. Now complete this sentence: "I am a unique writer because...."

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Week 39 - The Artistic Coma

23 Sep - 29 Sep:

In Becoming a Writer, first published in 1934 and still going strong, Dorothea Brande recommends a number of mind exercises for releasing creativity. (The page and the keyboard are in French so this could take a while).

1. Morning Writing:
  • Before seeing or hearing words, preferably whilst still in bed, write.
  • Write anything that comes to mind, especially dreams.
  • Write with the intention of finishing the piece in one sitting.
  • Wake up earlier than usual if necessary.

2. Wordless Recreation:
  • No T.V., no music with words, no theatre, no conversation, no reading.
  • The idea is to allow the mind to become partially hynotized by rhythmical, monotonous and wordless activities.
  • Examples include walking, knitting, whittling, fishing, cooking, gardening, horse-riding, shuffling cards, and in fact, anything that doesn't require a lot of concentration.
  • As the writer allows the mind to relax, ideas can flow freely, problems can be solved, thoughts can fuse into something meaningful, and better and easier writing follows. 
  • As a side note, those fans of Stephen King's On Writing will recall the author's dedication to his daily walk. Coincidence?

3. The Artistic Coma:
  • In a quiet place, shut your eyes and still your mind.  If it won't be still, focus on a dull object (like a black sock) and then close your eyes, still thinking of the dull object until that also leaves the mind. (This may take several days of practise.)
  • Think of someone else's story and replace one of the characters with someone you know. How does the new character react? What direction will the story now take?
  • Now think of one of your own characters. Imagine them doing things, saying things, living.
  • Go for a walk and watch your story inside your head. Start the story when you start the walk, and end the story when you end the walk. Think of the story, not how to write it.
  • Let your mind wander through your story as you have a shower or get a drink.
  • Back in a dark, quiet place, lie on your back, close your eyes, and take as long as necessary.
  • It could take ten minutes or two hours, but at some point, the overwhelming urge to write will hit.
  • Go and write.

My attempts:
  • Surprisingly, I have been successful in waking early and writing short, complete thoughts.
  • I have attempted the deliberate artistic coma and fallen asleep on three occasions.
  • Having said that, I do have a tendency to lie awake when I should be sleeping, thinking about my story, and lo and behold, I desperately need to get out of bed and jot down where I've identified a problem or resolved one. I'm guessing that I'm not the only one who does this.

The greater depth of thought brought about by a relaxed state of mind (when the brain produces alpha waves somewhere between light sleep and wakefulness) has been long understood, and there is plenty of research on the subject for those interested in the science.

Brande is suggesting that a writer can induce an artistic coma (otherwise known as 'the zone') anytime we want. I've read so many 'How to Write' books and articles from writers that insist on sticking to writing schedules and that dismiss inspiration as beginner's folly, but are we denying ourselves the opportunity to be inspired?

Who was the writer who said, "I write when I'm inspired, and I make sure I'm inspired every morning at ten o'clock."

Hey, why not?

Exercise 77. Relax.

Exercise 78. Write.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Week 38 - Scavenging

16 Sep - 22 Sep: Opening the Mind - Part 3

I just picked up this odd assortment of titles from the local Salvation Army Thrift Shop for the whopping sum of $3.

Since scavenging (and recycling) books has long been a habit of mine, I think I have some useful as well as unusual non-fiction titles to refer to anytime I think my world is getting a little narrow or I feel I need a boost in knowledge or a factual story idea.

Books on mythology and the Dark Ages are favourites. I have a guide for surviving the Rhodesian bush written by a member of the British Army (at the time); an account of the Chamorro people (Mariana Islands) written by a German Foreign Service officer in 1904; an impractical number of old edition writing textbooks; and, of course, a great many travel guides and magazines. (This collection comprises new as well as used items for those worried about the market being cheated.)

So let's see what gems I can find within the covers of my latest extravagance. If I can't find any, oh well, I'll just take them back for others to enjoy.

Models for Writers: Short Essays for Composition, Ninth Edition by Alfred Rosa and Paul Eschholz
Almost half of black boys wind up a grade behind in school, and only a third of 20-year-old black men are enrolled in college. All the more daunting is the fact that the majority of these boys and men were just like [my son] Jason, raised in a home by a single, black mother. I have a lot of work to do.... (Raising a Son - With Men on the Fringes by Robyn Marks.)

Flying With the Eagle, Racing the Great Bear: Stories from Native North America, told by Joseph Bruchac
...four is a number of powerful and magical important to Native peoples: There are four seasons, four winds, four directions, four stages in a person's life. It is interesting in these tales how often each young man faces trials in clusters of four. (From the Introduction.)

The Farther Reaches of Human Nature by Abraham H. Maslow
...the creative person, in the inspirational phase of the creative furor, loses his past and his future and lives only in the moment. (Chapter Four, The Creative Attitude.)
The Hedgehog Review: Critical Reflections on Contemporary Culture. Imagining the Future.
The term "utopia," coined by Thomas More in 1516, is a pun on eutopia/outopia - the good place that is also no place. (Being in Utopia by Ruth Levitas.)
Don't Panic: You Can Write Better! by Diane Teitel Rubins
A good piece of writing, like a good meal, leaves a person with a satisfying feeling. So, create your endings as carefully as you would a delectable dessert.
What unusual (subjective term, I know) non-fiction do others have or use to keep the mind open and active? Any strange magazine subscriptions that broaden the vocabulary and brighten the writing palette?

That concludes my week of Opening the Mind through sensing, stalking and scavenging.

I'll be in vacationing next week, but while I'm on the subject of cerebral stimulation, I hope to post some more mind-boggling insight during Week 39.