Friday, May 29, 2015

Fitting in the Jansson Five

Curtis Hawkins leaves Denver to travel back to Bishop Hill for special occasions. While in the area he often performs with former band members at local venues. His Facebook page lists the gigs he has arranged. I managed to catch up with him at the River Music Experience's community stage in Davenport for his birthday visit last year.

Curt grew up next door in Bishop Hill and is close to the same age as my boys. It’s my personal opinion, but I do believe his present musical career outshines by far his earlier efforts at pro wrestling. I would have thought a career as a bass player safer too, but he had a story that nipped that idea. At least, he hasn’t broken any bones, yet.

My husband and I sat in the audience, listened to blues tunes for a couple of hours, bought his new CD, and thought we’d had a successful night. But before we left, Curt came over with another CD. He gave us a copy of Jansson 5: Whiskey on my Breath. While this was not a full album as yet, it was a welcome treat in another sense: characters.

Characters, as in more people to add to my novel. More local color. Is it a good idea? Maybe. Maybe not. But it sure is fun to think about. Novel writing is supposed to be fun after all.

The question is where to put this windfall. I’m too close to the end to add major players that will shake things up and change the course of the narrative action. But I can’t leave them out either. The name is too perfect.

I’ve decided the easiest thing to do is have this new group make a cameo appearance in a Galva bar while my protagonist is waiting for some other folks to show up.

The next book is a different matter all together and there’ll be more time and room to work in Curt, Josh, Kathy, Ian, and Carol.

It should be fun.

And fun is what it is all about.

Friday, May 22, 2015


I haven’t written much in the last couple of weeks. I’ve kept up my blog posts, started a story, and collected info for contests and freelancing. Except for jotting down notes about pertinent insights and ideas, I’ve done little on my novel.

The novel may have languished, but my garden is looking pretty good. I’ve weeded and trimmed. I’ve transplanted and watered. I’ve started some seeds. It’s all been about my springtime commune with nature, my annual ritual of digging in the dirt. I’m fairly pleased with myself and I’m sure the neighbors appreciate my tidiness, too.

However, as that ritual winds down, another is in the works. Cleaning. When starting a new project, or, in this case, continuing with an ongoing one, I have to start with a clean slate. So, for the last two days I’ve gone through stacks of notes, lists to myself, newspaper clippings, and assorted tidbits of information I thought I might use one day to see what I could recycle, throw away, or add to a notebook I’ve started that will organize the essential details of my novel. I’ve sorted and sifted and tidied up my indoor space. I take it all as a sign of progress.

While going through a file drawer, I found printouts of earlier versions of my novel. I can’t help it; I like to use real paper. I can write notes in the margins and just see everything better. What I found distressing was the sheer amount of paper I’d accumulated. On a whim, I picked the stack up and stepped onto the bathroom scale. The result: eight pounds of paper. I had no idea. It’s kind of embarrassing. I have to seriously think about using a novel writing program next time. 

But for now, I have clear space on my desk and a list of reasonable goals ahead of me for the next rewrite/revision. The novel will be better and another step closer to DONE.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Reading Lists

I’m currently a member of 2 book clubs and a short story group sponsored by the Davenport public library. That means I have 3 reading lists to keep up with every month. Over the past year and a half I’ve managed to keep pace and get all this homework done.

I appreciate the librarians who’ve put these lists together. They have done a great job. They’ve included books I would not have chosen on my own. Books that I’ve found challenging. One book in particular became quite timely when the author was found not to have been entirely truthful. He made headlines the month we read his book. Needless to say, it dampened the group’s discussion.

I mention this because at some point I, as a writer, could be asked, “What are you reading now?”

I’ve been to readings where this question does get asked. So, yes, I’ve thought about it. Right now, I would pull out my trusty book club lists and that would become my answer. It would get me off the hook.

Now, if I were asked about my favorite book, I’d be hard pressed for a good answer.

In the past, I think I would have said The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. I think about it a lot. Of course, it might be that clues about Eloi and Morlocks keep coming up in crossword puzzles. I might just stick with that one anyway. It’s safe.

In thinking about the books I’ve read over a lifetime, I have to admit that I’ve enjoyed them all, for all kinds of reasons.

There have been a few exceptions. The Exorcist and Jaws were good reads, but, in my opinion, proved that movies could be better than the books. The lesson here probably relates to sagacious editing and not liking pretentious profanity.

Fortunately, I’ve only had a handful of books that I couldn’t actually finish.

My memory of specific books may be becoming cloudier, but I remember the first grade and its oversized Dick and Jane books. I can still recall the day when “See Spot Run.” actually made sense. I was amazed by the transformation.

I still try to keep myself open to that feeling whether I’m reading or just exploring the world.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Character Acting

Each of my novel’s characters started out as a composite collection of people I’ve come across in some way in real life. I picked a personality trait here; an odd bit of history there; mixed in a different job or career choice; and, with the aid of my stash of magazine clippings for facial features, came up with a new person. Someone I had to get to know.

It has taken time, but it’s worked out pretty well. I have a cast of characters that I can count on. I set up the scene, give them a goal, and let them go to work. I know how they’ll talk to each other and move around. I sometimes get a bit of surprise when they provide fresh insights on how things should go. It’s a surprise that has always turned into a pleasure. They know their stuff.

Now, take my 103-year-old retired teacher. She objected to being called honey by the 22-year-old protagonist. Seemed like a reasonable point to for an oldie to make. I thought it a good bit of business and left it at that.

The surprise, in this instance, came then it started happening to me.

In the past month, I’ve been called honey and dear numerous times while I was checking out at the grocery store and waiting at counters in coffee shops. I seem to have made this transition to cute, familiar pet names. Maybe my hair has suddenly gotten grayer. Maybe I’ve started looking more confused than what has been normal for me. One thing for sure, I can identify with Pearl’s annoyance.

The only difference is that I let these incidents go without saying anything. Pearl doesn’t do that. She speaks her mind. Ya gotta love a character that can fill in a personality void.

I just hadn’t counted on life imitating art. Or is it art imitating life? I am getting a little confused.

I will endeavor to be true to myself and let my characters be true to themselves within their story world. Each to our own. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

One Year

I’ve had a successful year of blogging.

My personal goal of posting 200 to 400 words once a week about writing my novel have been met.

There were only two occurrences of outright panic when a Friday morning dawned and I realized I’d almost forgotten all about the day’s blog post.

Somewhere along the course of the year my fear and uncertainty subsided and I developed a pattern. I started thinking about the post in general terms on Wednesday. I wrote down some ideas and thoughts on Thursday. Friday morning became the time to fine tune and get ready for the actual upload.

But before I ever sat down to design my site, I made a list of potential topics that I thought I could write about: one, to see if I could even come up with 52 items of interest; and two, to have reference material when I needed it.

I went so far as to begin six posts and then saved them off in a special folder. I’ve added to that reserve pool as I’ve dipped in and used them. I still have some sitting there waiting to go. (I just checked and I have a dozen. Some are no more than titles, but I feel secure knowing I have something there.)

Of my list of 59 blog topics, I’ve actually used 22. The difference means I’ve had 30 weeks where prompts/ideas came to my attention in a current and timely manner and I was able to write a post that made a connection to my novel or writing in general. With time and experience the whole process has gotten easier.

I’m grateful that Blogger has been so very easy to use. I went with a very simple design with lots of white space and stuck with it. If I needed to go back and edit, no problem, Blogger makes changing text easy. I’ve added photos on 4 occasions. Not all that much by other peoples’ standards, but significant by mine. I have remained focused on the writing, on the words.

All and all, it’s been an important year for me: I’ve accomplished something new, I’ve stuck with a regime of writing, and I’ve found a really useful tool for understanding the inner workings of my novel.